On August 23rd, we were brought to the Lima airport by Marcos, who waited with us until he couldn’t stay anymore. It was nice to see a familiar face before our long flight to Tokyo!! Thanks for all, Marcos!!!! Our first flight left at 2AM with the Chilean company LAN, which had movies we could choose from, food in porcelain, real utensils as well as free booze! The flight took around 9 hours. Unfortunately, the second flight from San Francisco on United Airlines was total economy; it had no leg space, no movies, nothing, for 11 ½ hours. They fed us, of course, but it wasn’t super luxurious or anything like the other one, haha. The plane itself was super huge though, I think they call it a Boeing 747.
We arrived in Tokyo 24 hours later, on August 25th, 2PM local time. We pretty much skipped half a day, but slept a big majority of the time in the plane so we arrived in mint condition. But now, we had to figure out the local trains and subway to get to our hostel. Check out the nightmare we had to face:
The first time we wanted to do was get a nice hot bowl of noodle soup, which we did! I got some beef soba with a half-cooked egg, and François got some cold soba noodles with tempura stuff:
Although everything was salty as hell, the food was to die for! It had so much flavor and everything! I had high expectations for my first true Japanese meal and was very much satisfied.
In the late evening, I went to a Sento (public bath house with spring water). That experience was quite strange at first because as you know, you have to be completely naked and freshly washed/dried in order to bathe! I went with another girl from our hostel who knew the bath house etiquette. I got used to it after a while (although a lot of people were staring – I was the only white person in the place) and it ended up being really cool! Inside there were three baths – one really hot, one really cold and another hot one with Jacuzzi style water massages. I left with really beautiful skin because of all the minerals of the water! Sorry, no pictures for that one hahaha!
Anyway, our hostel was located in Asakusa, a Tokyo neighborhood famous for its traditional “Edo” (old name for Tokyo) style streets and temples. Walking around there was like being in a samurai movie; the restaurant and shop signs are written in calligraphy and everything looks so ancient! We were right next to a very famous temple called “Sensoji temple”. It is apparently the oldest in Japan, dating from the year 628.
The Asakusa neighbourhood also featured the Asahi brewery, which is shaped like a beer glass with foam. Beside it is a weird sperm-like golden thingie.
On Saturday, there was a fireworks festival in Asakusa that attracts annually around one million people to the area. Excitement was in the air – and we walked around to see what’s going on!
The local food specialty is the rice cake, cooked in front of you to be as fresh as possible.
And there was a bunch of other food sellers on site
Yasuyuki (ABIGAIL/BARBATOS/TIGER JUNKIES) came to meet us to start some record hunting. We took a photo in front of the temple gate:
First shop we went to was Record Boy. Located in the district of Suginami, it was really hard to find due to being completely hidden and without an outside sign (it costs too much apparently). On top of that, there was a summer festival going on in the area, which limited our access to streets.
We finally found the shop, and it turned out to be absolutely killer as expected! had a very good variety of GOOD metal and punk CD’s and LP’s from all over the world, as well as some patches and shirts. I bought tons of Japanese metal re-issues there. Their “rare” vinyl section was more than tempting, with unbelievably killer albums but I knew I had to keep my money for other things.
After this, we went to Nat records/WAREHOUSE – which are located in Shinjuku. They are two stores that are joined together, and cater different musical genres. Nat records is more metal/punk and Warehouse is psychedelic, proto-metal and everything else… so the two really complete each other.
After this, we went on to the Shinjuku branch of Disc Union. They are a chain of record stores scattered all around Tokyo. This particular one had 3 floors; one floor with used metal CD’s and vinyls, another with new metal CD’s and vinyls, and the last floor sells punk/crust/hardcore stuff.
Honestly, in Japan, if you are looking for an album, you will find it – but you will need to pay the price if it is rare (that’s the down side of it!). I never saw such a variety in my life!! Apparently, Osaka record shops are even crazier… so I guess my wallet will suffer very much in the next few weeks haha
We visited the streets of Shinjuku with Yasuyuki; he brought us to the famous red-light district. I thought it was going to be super dirty and chaotic, but it was really orderly – like most Japanese things are!
We were hungry as hell after our long day of record hunting! We went to eat ramen, and tested all their varieties:
After this, we went to Tokyo’s only metal bar, “Godz”. We stayed there for one beer only, as they played shit music (at least we requested some Angel Witch and Candlemass!) and the beer was way too expensive (8$ a beer for like 300ml). Screw that! So we bought a last one in the department store and drank it in the metro on our way back. Did I mention that it was totally legal to drink in the streets, subway AND stores there?
When we came back home to Asakusa, the fireworks were finished so people were going back home. The subway exit was absolutely crowded but the policemen took care of discipline and everything went very nicely.
The next day, François and myself went to visit the Yanaka Cemetery in Ueno, the Onshi park and its temples. Seriously, there are temples everywhere we walk, but these ones were located near a pond, so we wanted to check them out.
The cemetery was located in a large garden, with tons of loud crickets and beautiful green trees. Unfortunately, it was also filled with mosquitos so I got eaten alive. I must have gotten 15 bites, which grew each to a diameter of 4 inches (I got an allergic reaction – my body doesn’t know these moquitos yet so it reacts strongly!). In any case, it was kind of worth it to see the cool Japanese tombs and hang out with ghosts:
We then came back home, had supper, then met my friend Mirai (SIGH/CUTTHROAT) for a little drinking session at a traditional Japanese bar (Isakaya):
That evening was really fun – you could order beers from a computer screen and the host would bring them directly to your table. Also, did I mention that Japanese beer was amazing? They served Kirin the whole evening, and it was such a feast!
Oh yeah, on the way back home, we noticed a beer vending machine on the street! How cool is that?
Our final day in Tokyo started at 5:30 in the morning. We wanted to visit its famous Tsukiji market – biggest and busiest wholesale fish/seafood market in the world, moving 700,000 metric tons of fish per year!!! Unfortunately we weren’t free to walk around too much or to buy fish directly from the sellers, but that wasn’t our goal anyway… we wanted to try the world’s freshest tuna sushi, at a famous shop called Daiwa Sushi! The Tuna is fished at 3AM – 50km from Tokyo’s shore, brought here at 5PM, then the best Tuna fishes are auctioned around 6:20 and we are able to eat it at 7AM. So, that’s what we did!
We ordered two medium-fat tuna nigiri sushis each (the best and most prized parts of the tuna). “Chutoro yottsu nigiri kudasai!” With our fingers, we took them and flipped them upside down in our mouth, so the fish touches the tongue.
The fish was really tasty, and melted in the mouth like butter. By far the best tuna sushi I’ve ever had in the past!!! Unfortunately, two wasn’t enough to really have the full experience (I would have loved to eat a lot of it to really explore the taste!) but we stopped at two each. It’s a really good thing that we did, because the bill turned out to be 40$!!!!! We didn’t see the menu, and we knew it was going to be pricey, but not that pricey! We are always trying to save money, eating 2$ lunches and all, and here we are – eating two bites each for 20 times the price. Haha. Ahh well, it was still a very exciting experience.
So we explored the area a bit… there were merchants everywhere selling sushi preparation material, seafood, veggies, tea and other stuff.
For lunch, we had to be cheap-asses again (especially after the wallet disaster of this morning!) so we feasted on convenient store snacks:
After lunch, I had a nap in the park, Japanese style. Going to bed at midnight after a night of drinking and waking up at 5:30 for two days in a row is hard – especially that I’m still recovering from the 14-hour time difference with Lima!
We wanted to visit the Imperial palace, but unfortunately it was closed to public on that day… but at least we could still see the famous main gate stone bridge. It was really beautiful, total postcard scenery!
In the afternoon, we met up again with Yasuyuki, and went to another part of Tokyo called Shibuya. I think they have the biggest metro station in Japan! The area outside of it was like New York’s time square, but much more Japanese:
We went to our last Tokyo record shop, the Disc Union Shibuya branch. It’s hard to believe, but it was actually better than the other one in Shinjuku!!! What made it so great is that they had 50% sales and cheaper prices. I bought quite a few sweet rare LP’s and a Japanese metal comp from the 80’s (on CD). They had of course alot of collector’s items, like this Heavy Metal Super Star ABIGAIL “Live in Osaka” boxset:
While walking around, we saw a very strange thing… a gigantic truck advertising phone sex!
We then visited Meiji Jingu, a shrine in Shibuya, which featured a nice long walk in the forest (!!!). It was hot as hell so we decided to bring some beers with us again… hahaha
We bought a wooden plate (plate for making wishes, and hung on the temple grounds) and made our own special wish:
Afterwards, we walked to Harajuku, which is a shopping neighbourhood for young Japanese people
We then had to part with Yasuyuki to go meet up some friends so we took the subway, and experienced a real Japanese rush hour!!
We met with Yukino, Yuno, Kanae and her fiancé. I met Yukino and Kanae about 10 years ago in Canada when I was doing volunteering one summer, and we kept in touch since. We went to another Isakaya, and had one hell of a gigantic feast!!! We had edamame, sashimi, teppenyaki, fried cheese, cheese balls with salmon eggs, bibimbap, curry with cheese, fried gyoza and a nice salad. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery power so I couldn’t take photos at all of this extremely amazing gastronomic event. NOOOO!!!!! But Yukino and Kanae lent me their iphone so I could still take a few photos:
After the supper, we went to one of those “purikura” machines, which is like a photo sticker booth. A really popular totally Japanese thing that has been going on for more than 10 years:
Overall, our stay in Tokyo was really short, but it was so filled up that we feel like we stayed here for a good two weeks haha. We really loved that city, but it was one hell of a challenge to be careful with money. We discovered a few tricks (buying food at 100 yen shops, walking instead of taking the metro, buying beers in the convenience stores), which we will now use in the rest of Japan… hehe
We are in Kyoto now, and then going to Mie and Osaka. More news in a week!