This May, I finally got to fulfil my lifelong dream of travelling to Japan. I spent nearly three weeks there, soaking up as much of this incredibly rich, complex, historically isolated, and enigmatic island nation as I could – although I really barely scratched the surface. My 32GB memory card was luckily just about enough to capture everything that filled my eyes and brain. Because I’m running out of space on my WordPress account, and because Flickr is one of the best services out there, I’ve decided to start saving all my travel pictures on Flickr instead. You can find my Tokyo album here.
Everything was a massive and fascinating culture shock. Here are my top highlights from the Tokyo section of the trip.
Tsukiji Fish Market is a very large, legendary wholesale fish and seafood market between the Sumida River and Ginza in downtown Tokyo. It opens almost every morning at 3am, when fresh fish and seafood arrive by trucks from all over the world, with the infamous visitor-limited tuna auctions starting around 5:20am. Although the market isn’t open to general tourists and visitors from the public until 9am, we ‘didn’t know’ about this rule, and wandered straight in to the market around 8 in the morning one day, to find a chaotic market just winding down after the busy activity of the early morning hours. Market traders were relaxing, taking in the quietness, slicing huge pieces of fish to wrap and sell later, and chatting casually with each other in between the containers and water and fish and knives whooshing through the air and nets and turret trucks.
Matsuri is Japanese for ‘festival’, and the Sanja Festival is one of the largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo, in celebration of the three men who founded the Senso-ji. Digesting the morning’s impressions and tuna sashimi from the Tsukiji Fish Market, we wandered around the Sumida River area for a while wondering what to do next, when we decided to visit the Asakusa Temple in Old Tokyo to cross it off our list. As we drew nearer to the temple, we saw more and more people dressed in hakama and other traditional Japanese clothing, either sitting on the streets in groups having jolly conversations or parading mini mikoshis around. Arriving at the temple, we met a spectacularly colourful crowd of people, singing and dancing and playing music in a massive procession. It was astounding stumbling across such a harmonious and brilliant celebration, attracting people of all ages.
The Ghibli Museum was my one main objective of travelling to Japan. Had the weather been terrible; had an earthquake stopped all the trains; had I lost all my belongings for some bizarre reason that’s hard to conceive of because there is no theft in Japan and even if you’re stupid enough to lose your things, the Japanese will still go to the greatest lengths physically possible for them to help you; visiting the Ghibli Museum was the one single thing I had to do in Japan. Words cannot describe how much I love and adore everything that’s been produced by Studio Ghibli. The boundless imagination and the grande philosophical musings of Miyazaki should be experienced by anyone. My Neighbour Totoro in particular will always have a special place in my heart and DVD collection – mostly because I’m a hoarder -, and so I was just like a little kid at Hamley’s when we arrived at the very cute Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, seeing the massive Totoro in the window, and the Laputan robot appearing in the distance. The 20-minute clip from Totoro which can only be seen at the museum itself no matter how skilled you are in pirating actually brought me to tears – something only the likes of Toy Story 3 and Armageddon are able to accomplish (I have good taste in films, I swear.)
We were incredibly lucky with the weather the day we decided to visit Mount Fuji. Normally, you can only get a clear view of the entire mountain on crisp and freezing winter days, while in the spring and summer, it’s usually too obscured to reveal more than the ice capped mountain top. By way of magic, we saw the entire side of the mountain on the lovely, occasionally very sunny, 30-degree day, much to everyone’s amazement. We also visited some of the areas around the mountain, i.e. the Fuji Five Lakes. I even completely randomly bumped into one of my old coursemates from my psychology degree right in front of the mountain, on top of a ropeway at Lake Kawaguchiko – how cool is that?
It was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on, and so a couple of weeks after I came back to London, I booked new flights to Tokyo for March. Cherry blossoms here I come!