Welcome to the second part of my trip to Japan. Today I kidnap you to Hakone and Tokyo. I was incredibly happy to get such a great feedback about the last post about Japan and that I was able to convince one or the other of the beauty and to consider Japan as a travel destination. For the doubters among you, I will try to give everything again today and convince you with my impressions from Hakone and Tokyo. In contrast to the first part of the trip, we didn’t have the best weather in Hakone and also partly in Tokyo. When it rains in Japan, it really rains. This means that you have little leeway to do outdoor activities and have to limit yourself to things that are roofed over. In Hakone it was really annoying because we didn’t have a chance to see Mount Fuji. That’s the only thing I didn’t see in Japan. Maybe this will change sometime in the next years, but it shouldn’t be on this trip. But let us rather talk about the things we have experienced and not about those we could not experience! By the way, for all those who don’t know what I’m talking about and didn’t realize that I was in Japan: Here’s the first part!
Impressions from Hakone and Tokyo
We should spend our next days in Yugawara, which is near Hakone. They started very eventful, because by chance there was a parade on Sunday. Unfortunately, the man from the Ryokan could not explain to us on what occasion this parade took place. His knowledge of English and our knowledge of Japanese were not sufficient. Even googling after the parade was not enough. So we only had the chance to watch what was really very interesting. Many were dressed in traditional soldier uniforms and waved white flags. Children played marching music in an orchestra and geishas drove along the streets in a moving van. I show you here only two pictures, because otherwise it would blow up the already very long post. In the video you get some more impressions of the parade.
Then we took the bus to Hakone to Ashi Lake. As you can see, we really didn’t have the best weather, but since we drove on to Tokyo the next day, we wanted to explore the area a bit, even in bad weather. Lake Ashi belongs to the community of Hakone, but is located on the Japanese main island Honshū. In good weather you have a good view to Mount Fuji. Of course we didn’t have that in this case. If you want to know what this view normally looks like in good weather, just google Ashi Lake. Otherwise there are red torii on the shore. Torii always mark the entrance to a Shintō shrine. Even though the weather was unbelievably bad, I still think the pictures were full of atmosphere.
Not only did we go to the lake to look at it, but we also had the plan to walk from there to the Hakone cable car. That was very adventurous, as we obviously didn’t walk the official way (I still don’t know where it is), we had to walk partly on the road. This was not necessarily recommendable, as the roads there are very curvy and we were often in an angle where the cars could not see us before the bend. Fortunately nothing happened, but if you want to go there, please take another way.
Maybe you’re wondering now why we want to take the cable car even though the weather was so bad. Well, hope dies last and we just thought that the cable car might go over the fog clouds. Unfortunately this was not the case. What annoys me to this day is the fact that they had opened the cable car despite the fog and sent all the tourists up, although they knew there was no view of Mount Fuji. Also here you can see some pictures in the video. But what can I say? That was our lesson money and a piece of advice to you: If you’re there, it’s really only worth going up in good weather.
To be honest, I really can’t tell you much more about Hakone. It was just bad luck with the weather, otherwise I could have shown you more here. The next day we went on to Tokyo, where we experienced more. Promised!
As already mentioned above, we finally went to Tokyo. From the capital I had a divided opinion. Even though I had heard a lot of positive things about Tokyo, I imagined it to be dirty and full. Maybe a bit like New York. I’ll tell you later if my suspicion was confirmed.
Directly when we arrived at noon, we set off to explore Tokyo. Our first stop was the Asakusa shrine, as it was relatively close to our hotel. Even though it is a little further away on foot, we decided to walk there. One simply experiences a city in a completely different way on foot than by bus, train or car. In contrast to Kyoto, where the cherry trees began to blossom, the trees in Tokyo were already in their full splendour.
You can see for yourselves, on the site you get to see an incredible amount. There are beautiful gardens, through which small streams flow, in which Kois swim. You could just stand there all the time and watch the fish. Also the shrine itself has a lot to offer. At the Asakusa shrine the three men are worshipped, who are said to have been responsible for the construction of the neighbouring Sensō-ji. Legend has it that two of them found the statue of Bodhisattva Kannon in the Sumida River (the river that flows through Tokyo) in 628. They threw her back into the water, but she appeared again and again. Therefore it was declared holy and the temple was built around it.
The advantage is that everything is free and you can still see a lot. So once you’re there, I would recommend that you go there.
Not far from the shrine is the Sumida River, which flows through Tokyo. If you are in Tokyo at cherry blossom time, you should definitely visit this river. There is an avenue of cherry blossoms and the Japanese have lunch here as well. You also have a great view of Tokyo Skytree, the city’s radio and television tower.
On this day we didn’t see much of Tokyo anymore. We strolled around a lot, went to 100 yen shops (here I explain what it is) and went out for dinner. By the way, I shot you a food diary by telling you what we ate. That will be online soon!
Already on the first day you could see how versatile Tokyo is. This really surprised me. Tokyo’s first places were the same as I had never imagined. There is a lot of green in the city, which only underlines the Japanese’ connection to nature. Then there are also small temples between all the skyscrapers, which have not changed for centuries. Here you can see this extreme difference between tradition and modernity. Both are lived out so strongly by the Japanese at the same time.
So my prejudices that Tokyo is only dirty and noisy haven’t been confirmed at all. Nevertheless, we finally wanted to see “Tokyo”, which you know from television. High houses, flashing signs and everywhere mangas and animes. Therefore we first went to the train station Shibuya. There is the famous crossing with the huge zebra crossings. We sat down in a Starbucks that was exactly at this crossing and watched the hustle and bustle from above with a coffee in our hands. You can see this in the video very well. I have cut you extra two traffic light phases in the video to show how full it is continuous and that it is certainly not a phase. There we experienced the cliché Tokyo with huge advertising spaces, flashing lights and crowded streets.
As you may have noticed, many people in Japan wear a mouthguard. This is normal for the Japanese and socially accepted. It is even advertised that the modern woman of today does that. On the one hand, the Japanese don’t want to infect others when they are ill themselves. On the other hand, it is also a preventive method for them not to infect others. The Japanese are generally very afraid of germs. You always wash your hands before eating. In the restaurant, hot cloths or disinfectant wipes are always served first to clean your hands.
The curious and pleasant thing about Tokyo, however, is that you can really go to the next side street and you don’t notice any of the hustle and bustle anymore. Because cars hardly drive on the streets. Tokyo is simply a total railway city. Everyone travels by train or bus. There are only a few trucks and taxis on the streets. Besides, there are only a few places, the hot spots, which are so full of people. Apart from that, the streets are not particularly crowded.
It is particularly fascinating how the manga culture has prevailed and can still be found everywhere today. Not only in the Japanese comics the manga figures are depicted, but also posters, safety instructions, flyers, signs, commercials and and and… The figures can be found everywhere.
Wednesday finally promised good weather and sunshine! That’s why we were driven to the nearby Ueno Park. Before the area became a park, there was actually a temple. It was completely destroyed in 1868 during the Boshin War. Thereupon, the government decided to build a park at this place. One can also visit a zoo and the national museum.
During the cherry blossom season, this park is of course especially beautiful, as here, too, there is an avenue of cherry blossoms that are so big that their branches and blossoms almost form a roof. The night before, many Japanese had already slept in sleeping bags underneath in order to reserve the places for the next day. Really crazy, right?As beautiful as it was there, we naturally wanted to see more of Tokyo. That’s why we drove to Tokyo Station, Tokyo’s main train station. Directly away from the station are the business district of Tokyo and the imperial palace.
The business district shows another side of the city. Everything here is very tidy and modern. There are high houses and you might think you are in New York. The only difference is the tranquility. Because even here there are hardly any cars. Everyone comes by train. With this quarter, the Japanese prove that modern architecture can be very stylish and at the same time incredibly beautiful. Everything is very well maintained, all the way to the last tree and swans float on the immediate waters. One hardly believes that one is still in one and the same city.
And then suddenly there’s the Imperial Palace. There is hardly another place where you can see and feel the extremes between tradition and modernity. One looks at the castle walls and the traditional houses and sees the modern skyscrapers in the background. It was simply breathtakingly beautiful in a completely different way!
Unfortunately we could not see anything of the imperial palace itself. The gates are opened only two days a year – on the birthday of the emperor (23 December) and on New Year’s Day (2 January). Therefore we could not visit the palace here. But you can walk along the palace walls and get a glimpse of the inside. In addition, one can also enter the eastern gardens.
At the end of the day we visited the Meiji Shrine. The shrine was built in honour of the emperor Meiji-tennō and his wife after their death. This shrine was also destroyed in the Second World War and rebuilt afterwards. As at the other temples, one can follow the typical Buddhist customs here, like washing hands or writing and attaching wishes and prayers on blackboards.
It’s hard to believe, but the last day of our trip to Japan started and it rained again. And it was pouring again. Therefore we decided to visit the fish market on the last day. The Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest in the world. Therefore, fish is sold on the market mainly for the wholesale trade. But you can also buy fish privately.
If you are a big fan of getting up early, you can also go there at 5 o’clock in the morning and experience the fish action. This is limited to 250 places, but is free of charge. Nevertheless it was a little too early for us…
I must honestly say I had mixed feelings when we visited the market. On the one hand, it is very interesting to watch the market go on. The sellers, they just caught the seafood. But there’s also the downside. You can see them cutting off the heads of the fish, swimming the shells in their own blood and keeping the crabs waiting half dead in a container. I didn’t really feel so well when I walked across the market there. But you have to keep in mind that this is Japanese culture. There, fish and other sea animals are simply the main food. Japan is still harmless compared to other Asian countries. In China I have seen them throw the animals into the pan alive. But that’s another story.
In any case, it is also unbelievable what big fish there are. We are really only used to small fish. But when you see a fish that is at least one metre long, it makes you feel different. That only strengthens me even more that I’m really a little afraid of the bottom of the sea and what’s swimming around!
So this was my trip to Japan! I hope you found it interesting. It was really enriching for me and I am so happy that I made this trip. You really should see as much of the world as you can. It’s just so fascinating and diverse, it’s unbelievable!
By the way, you can still look forward to a travel guide and a food diary and then hopefully Japan fever has gripped you too!