With the country hosting huge sporting events now with the Rugby World Cup and setting up for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, it’s becoming more and more visible and of interest to tourists. Although I was definitely not there for the sports, I joined the growing crowd of 3 million annual tourists and visited Japan for two weeks in June. This was a huge adventure and I could wax poetic for thousands of words, so to save printing costs for The Courier, this will only explore my time in Tokyo.
After an obscenely long thirteen-hour flight, we touched down in Tokyo. Navigating the airport armed only with extremely limited Japanese and Google Translate was not what you wanted after travelling through space and time to a totally new culture, but somehow we successfully found our way to the train that took us into the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Unsurprisingly, Tokyo was almost overwhelmingly huge and busy; Japanese business people have no patience for tourists peering up at the signs for all the metro lines or daring to cart suitcases onto the packed train carriages. But it was also beautiful and exciting; our first night we wandered without any sense of direction and found ourselves in the heart of Shinjuku’s entertainment district and it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Neon lights of brand names in Kanji characters, skyscraper length signs with beaming anime girls overlooking the city, the hustle and bustle as hundreds of people crossed the road in unison, the enticing sights and smells from the many tiny bars nestled into the alleyways of Omoide Yokocho, a series of tightly compact bars that could barely squeeze five people in to be served.
We sampled sake, Japan’s signature dry rice wine, served the traditional way; shot glasses filled to the brim balanced inside small wooden boxes which were filled with the remaining sake to refill once the glasses were empty. It was spirit-like in taste and packed a punch, with the alcohol’s effects being aided by the claustrophobic close proximity to the other patrons in a tiny bar that quickly steamed up. It’s hard to capture the essence of Tokyo, other than an onslaught of sensations and unfamiliarity that felt exciting rather than daunting. We visited temples, parks and the impressive Tokyo Tower, taking in just snippets of what the huge city has to offer; it would be impossible to see all you wanted of the city even if the whole two weeks were spent there. And now with the Rugby World Cup’s first ever visit to an Asian country, visitors are likely to add Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium, home of the opening and final games of the competition, to their wishlist.
Our holiday involved travelling across the country to Shiroishizao in the northern mountains, down to the incredible cities of Osaka and Kyoto, and the wildlife hubs of Nara and Ohkunoshima Island (better known as Rabbit Island). After this whirlwind, we ended with a few final days in Tokyo, this time staying in Shibuya. Shibuya is home to the infamous Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersection in the world, as well as the busiest railway stations in the world.
The key word here is busy. Everything in Tokyo is already over-the-top huge, but Shibuya was next level; the most normal attraction was their Hachiko statue dedicated to a loyal dog. We visited Tower Records, nine floors of heaven for music lovers, and ventured out to the borderless labs digital art museum in Aomi to up my Instagram game, and took great pride in concocting a pick and mix of never-before-seen Lindts in their store. Tokyo has so much to offer, more than I could ever see or even share here, and it is definitely one for the travel bucket list. And with the Olympics coming up, Tokyo is sure to see even more tourists taking advantage of witnessing a monumental event in one of the best cities around. If you ever get the opportunity or want to see your life savings go to something really memorable (before spending a summer the brokest you’ve ever been, like I did), you have to go to Japan. You’ll never forget it.