Japan – Tokyo

6th January (travelling)
And so our time in knee deep snow comes to an end. I can’t say I’m sorry but I did enjoy seeing and experiencing the snow like this. It’s been something that is impossible to imagine when you’ve spent 47 years in Australia and similar places. Our departure was not without its hassles and 7 of us ended up walking up to the welcome centre with the smaller luggage due to a shortage of taxis and a system that means booking a transfer is difficult. Despite that, we make our connecting bus in good time and enjoyed a relaxed trip from Niseko to Chitose. Our departure was made in teeming snow which followed us almost all the way.

Our onward trip to Tokyo was simple, if a little hungry. Limited time between connections and some serious exercise getting the bus left me hungry. Thank goodness for potato chips, a staple of travellers around the world. It’s certainly was not the first time I have partaken of such fare when travelling. Arriving in Tokyo we navigated the transfer bus to the hotel with simplicity. Tokyo, like other cities, caters for the lowest common denominator and therefore most things are easy for those of us slightly above that denominator.

The Keio Plaza hotel proved to be a great place to stay with full size beds (a luxury after the lodge), full size hot showers and a bath tub, fantastic views from the 25th floor and centrally located to everything. With just enough time to wash hands and use the loo we were off in search of dinner and some karaoke. The attractions are not hard to find in Tokyo at night, with everything lit up in neon spectacularity. The crowds seem as thick at night as they are in the day and yet I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Dinner was in a nice little restaurant with a sweet Japanese waitress who “learns Engrish at college” and can carry 4 beer tankards by the handles, in one hand, while balancing a tray with 3 juices and a sangria on the other hand. No mean feat at all.

As for karaoke, it’s possibly #1 on my list of must do things in Tokyo. We walked into a high rise, corner building, lit up with neon and requested to have a go. They accommodated the 9 of us, including 3 children, for an hour in a private booth, at a cost of just over AU$10. The lift took us up 6 floors of a 14 storey building to our booth, one amongst five on the floor. Sanjay, our wait person left us to navigate the machine and returned to take drinks orders. By this time the children had murdered Uptown Funk and we were cruising through Bon Jovi’s Blaze of glory. With sake in hand (a national drink to accompany a national pastime) we had a crack at Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Photograph (Nickleback) before The Newby finally got his turn to give us a full blown version of Feelings, complete with backing tambourinists and flashing lights. Nothing will ever be the same again.

No karaoke is complete without a slow love song, in our case Adele’s Hello, and then we funked it back up again with with All About the Bass (Megan Trainer). I think Sanjay had had enough of bleeding ears by this stage so he gave us the wrap up signal and allowed one last hurrah. The Newbie suggested Down Under (Men at Work) and 9 proud Aussies belted it out like only we can do. What a super way to spend an hour. I can’t recommend this highly enough so make sure you have a go. Don’t expect too much in the way of Aussie stuff (no Cold Chisel, so no Khe San) and I suggest you have a song list before you go in. An hour is just enough time for lots of laughs and not too long to kill your love of music forever. A couple of pre-karaoke beers also help with some Dutch courage.

7th January (Disney Land)
This was something I suggested months ago,when our trip was in the planning stages so I only have myself to blame for the sore feet I got today. I can safely say I’m not a Disney convert despite loving Mickey Mouse and all his pals. Perhaps it’s because we are spoilt with our theme parks in Australia that seem to be dearer but better value for money. Our day was fun nonetheless, filled with rides, shows and lots of spending. We tackled the Star Tour, Space Mountain, Snow Whites Mine Tour, the Western Railway, Buzz Light Years, (Lilo and) Stitch, the teacups and a carousel.

After 47 years of Disney I got to see the castle that Tinkerbell flies around at the end of the Wonderful World of Disney show as the song When You Wish Upon a Star is sung. In the evening it is lit up and then a show is projected onto it, complete with laser lights and fireworks. We watched this and the evening light parade, in the freezing cold. As with all theme parks the queues were long and the distances between the rides was vast. Unfortunately the characters do not wander the park although we did snap a pic with Tigger before we entered and I saw a couple of soldiers from Toy Story marching about. If you’re planning to go to Tokyo Disney in winter make sure you wear warm clothes. Pre-arrange a transfer to and from your hotel and check the closing time of the park. During the week, and on the. Ought we went, in closed at 7pm. If you can’t get a transfer the train runs to the park and is simple to catch there and back.

8th January (Tokyo)
How to do as much of Tokyo as possible in a day. Given that Tokyo is a city of 37.8 million people there is a lot to do. We only had the one day so we tried to squeeze in some culture, some sight seeing, some shopping and some other stuff. We did well and our sore feet from yesterday attest to how far we walked. We spent the day in and on the JR and the Metro and Subway. Initially we thought we’d buy an IC card but this proved challenging with a child so we just had a crack at the ticketing system ourselves. Standing at a ticket machine underneath an English map (recall the lowest common denominator principle), we pulled off our first ticket purchase with ease, travelling three stops from Shinjuku to Harajuku.

Our first visit was the Meiji Shrine on the northern side of Yoyogi Park where we undertook the hand washing ritual before paying our respects in the shrine. There were some dignitaries visiting, so a small man was beating a huge drum while we were there. Despite heading into the area from the quiet side of the park (accidentally but as it turned out, prudent if you want to see the park without the crowds) we left with the masses before heading for the oriental bazaar on Jingumae in Harajuku. I can’t recommend this place highly enough and we got some great souvenirs and gifts here including sake sets, a platter and happy coats. They have kimonos, good quality t-shirts, ninja costumes, postcards and much more, all at reasonable prices and offer tax free purchasing.

Next we had a wander through Kiddie Land, a 5 floor toy shop, the 5th floor devoted entirely to Hello Kitty. I got the DIY candy that The Drummer requested and we saw an array of only-in-Japan toys and other stuff, like light sabre chopsticks and a 12000 yen dress for a Barbie sized doll, locked in a glass display case (equivalent to about AU$140). Fortunately we escaped without the loss of too many yen and made our way for lunch at McDonalds, as easy choice for a quick sit down without too much interpretation required to make an order.

Our next stop was Yoyogi Park to see if we could find any of the people who hang out there. Apparently the park is the place to go if you want to perform, practice your performance, or see a performance. Fortunately we encountered a guy painting with spray cans, as he danced some hip hop type thing with his sound system. When he finished he offered up his art to The Piper because he discovered that we are from Perth and he’d been here in 2015. Nice souvenir from Yoyogi to take home to hang on the wall. Apparently from this guy, the park was fairly quiet but perhaps that’s because it was Friday and very cold. Nonetheless the walk was lovely and we continued through to Shibuya Square to witness and participate in the famous street crossing that occurs every time the walk sign turns on. It certainly is a mass of people that move in any direction they want to. I’m grateful I don’t drive it that part of the world.

Back on the rail system we headed across town to find the Mori Tower to check out the city views from the 52nd floor observation deck. This is a fabulous thing to do in the hour before dark, so you can see it in the daylight, experience the sunset over Mount Fuji and watch the city light up. We spent a good two hours there watching Tokyo, picking out places we knew, wandering through the current exhibition and then doing it all again as the night set in. We topped it off with a champagne. A great way to toast Tokyo and our success in navigating it. We didn’t do either the sky deck (too cold) or the art museum (time was our enemy) but we certainly did more than enough and had a ball.

With the evening well set in we headed for our next adventure in Akihabara. This part of Tokyo is the electronics precinct and we entered one building of the many in search of a smart watch. The Yodobashi store is massive with a floor for just about anything you could want from rice cookers and foot spas to computers and mobile phones. Unfortunately our time here was very limited, as we had a dinner date with the other travellers, but the watch was no cheaper than in Australia. Nothing lost, nothing gained. One final rail trip and we were back in Shinjuku in no time ready for our last meal in Tokyo. We did so much today but there is still so much to do, so I think we’ll be back in Tokyo sometime in the future.

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