Saturday 23 August 2008

Day 4 - Ginza

Central Tokyo and it's 5th avenue styled Ginza area was our destination for day 4. We kicked off the day rather late, not leaving the hotel until after 3pm! We really should get into a better daily routine as so far we've being going to bed at 5am and getting up after noon. Well it's working for us and this city really doesn't sleep.

It rained today but we still put on our shorts and sandals and hit the metro after picking up our morning/afternoon coffee at the local Starbucks beside our hotel.

Ginza is another shopping mecca - this city really knows how to shop, it has all the stores you'd expect to find on 5th avenue and more. Like most Tokyo hubs, the sides of buildings are decorated with rising columns of light and sound, some with TVs, other neon. Most of the designer stores try to make their mark with competing store fronts.

We visited one department store with a golf driving range on the roof! Crazy! The iconic Sony showrooms is also situated here with 7 floors of goodness and technology at least 2 years ahead of the western world. The worlds flattest TV technology was on show, organic LEDs, and wow, they are flat.

That evening we jumped into a taxi (we missed the last metro!) and headed up to the Shinjuku area where we have to return during the day. This is the Tokyo you see on TV with neon everywhere and more importantly another shopping hub. Our intention was pub and clubbing and was satisified. Dragon Bar and Arty Farty where our destinations. I managed to sample mint beer too! We retired for bed around 4:30, not before hitting the supermarket close by for late night nibbles.

Friday 22 August 2008

Day 3 - Shopping Shibuya Style

Shibuya is one of the 23 wards of Tokyo which has grown into a mecca for the youth and shopping. It's a non-stop party town within the Eastern part of the city. It was our shopping destination for day 3. The main pedestrian crossing consisting of many zebra crossings is one of the famed sights of the city and is a must see sight. 100's of Japanese wait in line only to spill out to onto the road once ever two minutes taking up all available space. It's something else.

Some 7 or so roads led off the central point, each with impressive department stores, noodle shops or gaming points; pachinko parlors are everywhere, noisy places full of locals inserting small metal balls into a game of luck, the only prize more ball-bearings! It's illegal to gamble for money here apparently. The music industry is well and truly still alive, the HMV store is some 6 stories high! Tokyos Apple store is also located here! We spent some 8 hours in the area and didn't even cover it all. We will have to return.

We braved a local noodle bar for lunch - we where so proud of ourselves. Inside they cook and prepare fresh noodle soups while patrons sit around the cooking point in a circle bar set up. You place your order outside at a vending machine, pay and move inside to await your food. We didn't know what we'd ordered, but the unknown meat dish was very tasty!

After some rest back at the hotel, we ventured out at 2am to a local Irish bar, which happened to be back in Rappongi! More dodging women pushing themselves at us! Makes a change!

Day 1 and Day 2 - Our Travel Days

It's hard to believe it look the best part of two days to get over to
Japan and recover from the journey. I write this entry on the morning on Friday 22nd Aug, what feels like our first day in Japan, but is actually our second.

We left a very cold, dull Dublin two days ago, on Wed 20th, taking the 7:20 AerLingus EI154 to London Heathrow. Our bags where checked straight through to Japan, which was class. Our flight was
perfectly on time; after arrival we transferred to terminal 3 to check in with Virgin, flight VS900 to Tokyo. I've only ever eaten in the pre-security area of terminal 3 before so it was a great treat to gain access to the vast duty free and food halls post security.

Our Virgin flight was such a pleasure. If you can, fly them anywhere. Their staff always have a smile and really made us feel welcome aboard. From free alcohol to little novelty gift packs (including socks and tooth brush) this really was how flying was and is meant to me. It had all the touches from sweets at landing to in-flight ice cream breaks. The food and entrainment was first class even through we flew coach. With at least three main course options to choose from and at least 50 odd recent movies on-demand we really where spoilt for choice.

Our route surprisingly took us directly over Russia, initially north and then south to Japan. The 297 other passengers and us took off at 1pm local in London and landed at 8:30am local in Tokyo, just shy of 12 hours later.

Clearing immigration and customs was a doddle, nothing like entering America. It did however take us some 3 hours to find our way to our hotel and attempt to check in.

The Tokyo public transport network is very clean, on time and well, all in Japanese! It's best to ask as many questions to the staff in the airport as once you leave, no-one will understand you. We purchased a SUICA card, the local equivalent to the London Oyster card for ¥2000 which comes with ¥1500 loaded for travel. A must; with 2 different companies running the cities underground and a very complicated pricing structure with fare difference machines and all sorts, its hard to understand. That's where the SUICA card comes in - swipe and go at entry and leaving, it works out the price and deducts from your credit. It works on all subways, JR trains and buses. It even is accepted in local newsagents for cash purchases.

We arrived at the hotel at 1pm to find out (1) check-in wasn't until 2pm and our room wasn't ready and (2) the room had feather pillows and duvets! NO! I argued a little but when we checked in at 2pm it was sorted for us. To pass the hour we walk around the local area,Akasaka . Its very beautiful and clean. The local TV broadcast tower and centre is right in-front of the hotel. On it's grounds they appears to have areas set up for each of it's main TV shows. Kids and adults mixed and laughed as they watched their stars on TVs and generally enjoyed the entertainment. Ice and wind machines blew cold air around, very much so needed, this place is HOT HOT HOT!

We checked into the hotel and went straight to bed around 3pm - we slept straight through a massive down pour and thunder storm to wake up at 1:30am. We dressed and took a walk up to Rappongi, what fun! This area comes to live at night. From bars, clubs, karaoke huts and women everywhere trying to sell themselves, it's and eye opener. As westeners we couldn't hide our out of town appearance. We where an open target and we where pounced on. Fun!

Returning back to the hotel for 5am with food in hand we drifted off to sleep. Aug 21st appeared to come and go without announcement, it was also my 28th birthday today too! Yahoo! Fully rested and re-charged Friday 22nd will be our first full day to experience Tokyo! Wish us well!

Wednesday 20 August 2008