Last year we were able to take a pretty amazing holiday, 5 days in Tokyo followed by 5 days in Hong Kong. We had a lot of airmiles so our flight cost was minimal and we splurged on the rest – namely hotels and restaurants (and cocktails, more about that later!) … Because this could be a very long blog otherwise, I’ll break it into two – starting with Tokyo, our first stop. First thing, Narita airport is a LONG way from Tokyo, about a 2.5 hour drive… which is a bit ugh after a very long flight. But worth it! This blog is also a bit of self indulgence as I’ve been able to relive our trip, spend time looking at the photos and thinking about what a fabulous 10 days we had…
Before we went, I was unsure, would I like Tokyo, would it be for me… I was sure I’d love Hong Kong more. Now Hong Kong is amazing but Tokyo took my breath away, there’s just something about it. I’d go back in a heartbeat. If it’s not on your places to visit now, put it on.
As mentioned at the top, we were splurging on hotels so checked into The Peninsula, Tokyo, a truly amazing hotel. It’s located in an area called Marunouchi, next to Ginza, with the palace and gardens on one side and streets of designer shops and restaurants on the other. There’s a train station a couple of minutes walk, Yurakucho and from here you can take the Yamanote line train which is a railway loop, one of the busiest and most important lines, connecting a lot of Tokyo’s major stations and the main tourist spots, around Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjuku… more importantly for tourists, it’s also a circle or loop so you can’t get lost on it, important when you’re not 100% sure you are going in the right direction or to the right place! So it’s the perfect way for Tokyo novice (like me) to get around!
Back to the hotel, it’s just wow. The hotel itself is a modern building, not particularly impressive from the outside but inside the lobby is ornate and stunning with a dining area each side and a central walkway through to the reception area. The bedrooms are huge, they start at around 500 sq ft. Our room was possibly the most perfect hotel room I’ve stayed in (and there’s been lots!) in layout, with seating area, walk in wardrobe/dressing area … some hotel rooms are so badly designed, wasting space but there’s nothing I would have changed here. The Peninsula staff couldn’t do enough for you, from reception, concierge, lobby, bar….that’s also Japanese culture I know and something we found in every shop, cafe, restaurant we visited.
On the day we arrived it was raining, really heavily but out we headed not wanting to waste any time in our short stay. We had a good wander around, got our bearings, had a coffee and looked in a few shops and also gawked at the very stylish people… I have never felt as under dressed as I did in Tokyo. The women are so well-dressed and look effortlessly elegant. So when I go back, I’m bringing a whole different wardrobe.
The funny thing you see in Tokyo is Italian restaurants, lots of them, they seem to adore Italian food so don’t worry if sushi and Japanese food is not your thing, there are plenty of other options … We ate in the hotel restaurant, Peter, on the 1st night, which probably leaned towards European / French cuisine. Having only arrived, jet lag was catching up with us! The Peter bar in the Peninsula is fabulous, and where I totally fell in love with margaritas. The barman made the most heavenly margaritas… haven’t matched up yet but it does seem a long way to go for a margarita!
At the hotel’s back entrance there was a very cute little coffee cart, run by The Peninsula also, where you could get hot drinks, snacks and also wine or champagne and sit out on the street watching the world go by, not the cheapest but very nice. Across from the back of the hotel was a very small Italian coffee shop, or so we thought… at the back was a small room that was the restaurant…there I had possibly the nicest pasta I’ve ever eaten… Cova is a Milanese cafe originally (have been to the one in Milan, equally lovely for breakfast!)…the place itself could do with a makeover to be honest but the pasta and food was just wow. Definitely not cheap (very little in Tokyo is) but delicious.
At the time we traveled there, my husband was working with a company in Japan, and they very kindly offered us two of their employees as our guides for a day. We had a day we never would have had on our own, starting with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (which is huge) and where you can learn all about Tokyo’s history and culture through the ages. Think it was made more interesting as we didn’t know a lot about ancient Tokyo and their history so a couple of hours wandering through passed by in a moment.
Following that we went to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This is a Buddhist temple and so colourful and full of people. You enter through a large gate and onto a street, Nakamise, with stalls along each side selling snacks and souvenirs, and through another gateway to the temple itself. There was a play or performance taking place on a stage to the side of the temple also, I’m still not sure exactly what it was for but it was beautiful!
Not far from here we had lunch, we sat on stools at the side of the street, in a place had we not had 2 Japanese people with us, we would hardly have known it was a food establishment! We let our hosts order (no English menu or anyone who spoke English and our Japanese does not stretch to food ordering!)… one of the dishes was to all intents and purposes like Irish beef stew with a Japanese twist of tofu and flavour…Also had a drink called Hoppy which is a beer-flavored non alcoholic that originated in Japan many years ago and is widely drunk here. After our lunch pitstop, we were ferried around the area in a rickshaw for about 45 minutes, so got to see more of this area.
Now for the dinner, they asked us what we would like and we said Sushi… I know you’re thinking Yo Sushi type of thing… oh no, this was ‘real’ sushi… not a California roll in sight here… the best way to show this is in pictures. The nicest chef, not a word of English, in a teeny place up backstreets, somewhere in Tokyo we would never have got to by ourselves. Such an experience, I ate things I’m not sure I knew what they were half the time, some amazing, some awful that I never want to eat again but fabulous couple of hours that I know we were lucky to experience.
Akihabara – for anyoneo that loves all things electronic and techie… sensory overload! Bright, brash and fabulous! You can buy absolutely anything electronic, technology, computer, games, or associated accessory you could possible think of!
We also spent many hours wandering the designer shop streets around Ginza. This area is Tokyo’s most famous high end shopping and dining area with designer boutiques, make-up and jewelry shops and galleries, restaurants and cafes… I could have spent hours and hours window shopping … and the cartier shop…wow! It was November when we were there so it was getting all set for Christmas…
Possibly the cutest car garage ever in Ginza for Mini…
One thing everyone said to me was that Tokyo is so busy and full of people and could feel cramped… yes it’s busy but I never felt like it was too much. We were sensible and didn’t take the train during rush hour, things like that, but for the most part we were able to get around easily and never felt like there was too many people or we were squashed! And the people, stylish, as mentioned earlier, but just so nice and helpful even when I’m trying to communicate with dire sign language they never got frustrated, just tried to understand and help.
We visited the Meiji Shrine on another day, which is totally different to the Sensoji Buddhist temple… its quite austere and dark, set in very large park. There’s a prayer wall where you can write wishes on pieces of paper and place them on the wall…
On our last morning, we wandered around the palace gardens. So very pretty and a perfect way to end our visit.
Final word for the wonderful toilets… I couldn’t do a blog and not mention the all singing all dancing toilets… with a button for everything you could possibly think of wanting to do on a toilet…
We were so sad to leave Tokyo. It’s a special place, I want to go back to see Tokyo again and explore of Japan. I fell in love… next stop Hong Kong… look out for the next installment, coming soon!