Hi everyone! I'm back. I gave myself last week 'off' blogging to finish my holiday, re-acclimatise to the UK, recover from jetlag, and prepare for my first ever Bird in Borrowed Feathers Market. I've been desperate to start sharing the exploits of my trip to Japan since I got back, but in an effort to not be the most annoying person in the universe, I've decided to spread my posts out rather than post, like, 7 solid japan-related posts in a row. (Also I get to live vicariously through my posts for like, weeks longer this way so who's the real winner here).
I wanted to start off with my first two days exploring, Asakusa and Akihabara! We chose these because it was a short hop on the metro to Asakusa where we could spend half the day, then walk virtually 'down the road' to Akihabara. We then went back to Akihabara the next day, too, to actually get off at the Akihabara metro station and take in 'electric town' properly.
Waking up on the first day, taking our first subway train and being immersed in all the 'history' in Asakusa was insanely exciting. It was a complete culture change and satisfied everything I had been hoping for when I dreamt of Japan. Sure, it's super-touristy, but I felt that the enormous Senso-ji temple and it's huge hanging lanterns was kind of a right-of-passage for Tokyo visiters. The main feature is a huge walkway leading from the 'gate' to the actual shrine which is lined with shops and stalls selling street food, geta (traditional japanese footwear usually worn by geisha) Ukiyo-E prints (which I did be a big tourist and cave in to) and hundreds of other tourist-enticing objects.
We were both pretty overwhelmed by the clash of historic little buildings juxtaposed by the enormous high-risers, and the Tokyo skytree on the skyline. We probably took the most pictures this day (except maybe some of the trips out of 'inner Tokyo') due to our sheer excitement at everything - cold coffee from the vending machines at a meagre 100yen, shaded streets concealing tiny restaurants and glimpses of the huge, red-clad temple peeking through the streets.
Today was also the day that we realised how safe Japan was, and I could leave my phone in my backpack with blissful security, and not clutch onto my camera in crowds for dear life.
We saw the temple, visited the gardens, browsed some of the smaller backstreets and then headed over to Akihabara to satisfy Martin's geeky requirements. I'm still regretting not buying a fan from the first image, and I wish we could have had more time in Asakusa. If we go back to Tokyo, I would love to return.
A word of advice regarding visiting/photographing temples: generally, it's not permitted or is disrespectful to take pictures inside one, where the shrines are located and people, yknow, pray. Some bigger places have guards enforcing the rule, but sometimes they just rely on you having a bit of tact. Don't be that tourist clicking and clacking away whilst someone is trying to have a spiritual moment. However, most places are cool for you to take snaps of the outside and of the shrine gates, which are usually equally as gorgeous and decorative.
Akihabara is like, the Otaku mecca of the world. An Otaku is generally believed to be someone who loves Japanese gaming, anime, manga etc, which is a culture Martin definitely subscribes to, so it was only the 'to-visit' list from the very start. Walking to Akihabara from Asakusa, we passed very normal-looking hotels, apartments, houses, until we turned a corner and saw an enormous, multi-floored universe, plastered in gaming and anime references spread out in front of us. Martin took one glance of the huge SEGA sign and promptly went mental.
Akihabara is mainly based around one massive street, known as electric town. Though turning the corner to that sight was pretty exciting and cool, it also made it slightly harder to find all the big places that Martin was interested in visiting, so I would recommend getting off at the metro stop, in order to step out and be immediately immersed in it.
Electric town is a brightly-lit, super-overwhelming affront of lights, sounds and people. The streets are littered with throngs of 'maids' hoping to tempt you in to their maid cafe, which is quite a sight. They are pretty spectacular to behold but don't take photos, it's rude and might upset them. We didn't do a maid cafe because I thought I would probably find it quite cringy, but it supposedly a bit of the Akihabara experience, though probably a bit of a tourist trap.
Aside from the maids, the walls of figurines, entire floors dedicated to Manga, Akihabara is where we discovered the arcades! If you've never been to one, there is nothing in the UK that compares. These arcades are not your generic coin dozer and time-crisis affair. Arcades in Japan are filled with insane rhythm games, drumming games and strategy games that inevitably have some enormously talented person flying through the game at a pace. We became fond of Groove coaster, maimai and Project Diva, check out this video for an example of the games and the sheer noise! The cool thing about the arcades is, they're not just the reserve of geeky teenage boys wasting their pennies. On lunch breaks full-grown men and women take to the machines to relax, or use the claw machines to get a figurine for a hell of a lot cheaper. In Japan there is less of a negative association with the arcades, and perhaps gaming as a whole.
You have to hang around to see Akihabara by night, though. The shops and arcades stay open until around 10pm, and the darkness is the best place to see all the lights. Akihabara was also the first time we realised that Japan, or Tokyo at least, had like no benches. We found out it was supposedly to discourage the homeless population from sleeping on them which I found kind of sad. Instead, most people perched on railings or bollards, but as a tourist it is tough on your feet.
We returned the next day to give Martin more of a chance to pick up some of the stuff he had wanted to seek out here, so I didn't take many more photos. We just hung out, shopped, ate and then made our way back to our apartment.