Thursday, 15 March 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 3

Tokyo                                                                                          Japan

Thursday 6th October 2016

Nothing was rattling in the morning meaning the typhoons tail wind had disappeared. This resulted in a bright sunny day when we eventually woke up from a descent night’s sleep. We headed downstairs to a most welcoming sight of breakfast courtesy of Tomoko. There was a nice spread of food such as small bowls of diced fruit as well as a plateful of French toast with syrup; macha green tea too; all absolutely delicious and definitely filled our stomachs. Our main priority today was to retrieve our Japan rail passes, which meant a trip to a place called Shinjuku. Because we had just arrived late the previous night, we had no real bearings of the area we were in but not to worry though as Tomoko was kind enough to escort us around the area and show us how to get to the nearest train station. Therefore, we left her house to explore the area and there was never a time I didn’t smile at the thought I was in Japan.

We took a slow walk revelling in the sight of very small cube like cars passing by as well as Japanese citizens going about there day to day life. We passed a small supermarket called ‘Summit’, which we would take advantage of throughout our time here. We also walked alongside a very small temple area, which I wouldn’t have minded taking a closer look but for now, we were closing in on our train station. We had arrived at Nishi-Kunitachi train station where Tomoko took her leave with us now figuring out how to use the payment machine and understanding the train’s route to Shinjuku. It took quite a bit of time to figure out but we had managed it after numerous attempts. This was also the first time we caught sight of the vending machines, which were famous around Japan. There were some bizarre items such as green tea, coffee in a can and even isotonic drinks called ‘pocari sweat’. I went for the pocari sweat and to be honest it tasted like sweat; horrible.

Our next concern was to stand at the right platform; luckily, this station only had 2 so with a brief look at the directions on the signs we stood at platform 2 hoping it was the right one. As we were at a quiet area, there was hardly anyone at the station but I had a feeling it wouldn’t be like that on the train. Speaking of which, the train finally pulled up with us climbing aboard straight into an empty carriage. We both had smiles on our faces realising we were beginning our adventurous trip. The train made its way to the next station of Tachikawa and then when we arrived, we were confused whether to leave the train or not as this was where the train terminated. We did get off it but then straight back on to see where it went. We didn’t care at the fact this was happening as we weren’t in any hurry to get to Shinjuku.

We eventually got moving again back towards our previous station so we had a browse at the onboard route map and realised this train would not take us directly to Shinjuku resulting in us having to get off the train further down the line and transfer to the correct one. For the time being though I would admire the fact we were whizzing by compact tall buildings. At times, the land would span out below us revealing the huge mountains far to the west; it looked quite magical knowing adventure was in that direction too. We eventually left the train onto the next one finally heading in the right direction and back into the urban jungle of Tokyo’s outer city. What was great about this train was that it was a rapid service meaning we would miss quite a few train stations. This resulted in us arriving at Shinjuku a lot quicker than we thought and we were raring to get off and explore this wonderful place.

As soon as we got off, the whole area was very busy compared to the quiet train station we left from. Everyone was rushing around as though they were late for work or a meeting whereas Craig and I took a slow walk through the station trying to find the exit; it was as though everyone was in fast forward. Finally, we made it out of the station straight onto the main street and this was my first taste of experiencing skyscrapers and busy city life. What an incredible feeling to feel dwarfed by these monstrous structures in this surprisingly hot weather. We made our way across to the opposite train station to locate the office for our passes and with a bit of searching for it we managed to locate it welcomed by the sight of a queue forming. This was the area we encountered quite a lot of English travellers for the first time since being in London so in a way it was quite bizarre to be amongst them. Anyway, we eventually retrieved our passes for the 3 weeks ahead and I felt a sudden relief when we finally received them knowing the feeling of freedom we had using them. For now though we would enjoy the fact we were in Japan taking in all the sights Shinjuku had to offer.

We headed back onto the main street loving life as we made our way amongst the hustle and bustle towards the largest skyscraper area. The temperature was at an outstanding 32 degrees and I could feel all of it on myself. We tried to blend in with the crowd as best as we could but to be honest it was hard given the fact we were a couple of idiot western travellers; we couldn’t have stood out more even if we tried. We took our time walking around admiring each unique detail of convenience stores, restaurants and Japans way of life. There were times we had to move aside from cyclists passing by especially the unique looking ‘Mama Chari’ bikes as women were carrying quite a lot of things on them including children. We were wandering around for a while until it looked as though there was nothing interesting further down to see. Making our way back the opposite way we came upon a nice-looking area to browse. This small section was the most elaborate with exaggerated advertisements as well as Japanese kanji writing spread all around us. We entered into a tech shop amazed by what they had to offer. We eventually left the area back out into the humid and hot sun wondering where to head next.

We consulted a large map of Shinjuku and I noticed a huge patch of green marking out Shinjuku National Garden Park. It sounded interesting so we headed easterly finding the entrance with ease. It was quite nice to look upon a bit of greenery in this city but for now, we headed for the closest restaurant as it was dinner time. The first place we came across was a ramen restaurant so then we thought, let us begin the trip with tradition and then we entered into a quiet area. We sat at the closest table and went through the menu trying to figure out what it had said; luckily for us, the menu was a picture menu therefore, we decided to have the same thing of ramen noodles with pork and boiled eggs. We received a free glass of cold water, which was brilliant. We sat and actual admired the tableware and condiments of spices and soy sauce until two large bowls arrived at our table. We both slurped our way through the delicious food more so Craig than me until we ran out of noodles. We paid our cheap bill and made our way back out to explore the garden park.

With a cheap 200-yen charge, we entered to the vast green area wondering where to explore first. We immediately began walking along a huge avenue of large trees already lost for words with how peaceful the area had become. The park opened out to large fields and then above the treetops, I could see large skyscrapers and towers poking out giving me the feeling as though I was in central park in New York City. For now, we were in Shinjuku and already heading to our next area of the garden. We were making our way to a Japanese garden area and then the first sight we came across were pruned bonsai trees, bushes and then the sight of a majestic small lake with a temple as the central piece. What a fantastic sight to stumble on so we made our way towards the temple admiring the large carp gliding under the water so peacefully. We made it to the temple structure and so, we stood overlooking the lake below us as well as the greenery stretching far in front with complete silence around; it was fantastic for our first full day in Japan but now we had to move on.

We made our way towards a French garden area, which was home to colourful roses and beautifully designed bushes at the centre. We were only here for a brief moment until we decided to head towards the exit; along the way, we encountered quite a few large spider webs, which looked quite horrifying to be honest but not as horrifying as the spiders themselves. They looked like the scariest creatures I ever did see but to be honest, they must have been the most harmless; the vibrant colours from some of them were incredible. We were nearing the exit when we decided to get our first taste of Japans ice cream. Craig was eager for me to try it and so we did and it had to be one of the top contenders on my worldly trail of the best ice cream. We left the wonderful park late afternoon with a slow walk back to Shinjuku train station.

We took our time going over the train routes understanding them a lot clearer now and so we made our way through the busy crowd to the correct platform. We were boarding the Chuo line rapid service back to Tachikawa. The train was quite full so we had to stand up holding onto the handles trying to stay on our feet. A long while went by watching the city become distant until eventually we made it back to Tachikawa. Next train to Nishi-Kunitachi was only one stop away so we quickly made it back to where we started. The short walk brought us to the supermarket Summit so we entered looking on at the unique items they had to offer. Craig was ecstatic at the sight of his most favoured hotel bread, which was an inch-thick soft loaf. We browsed around looking at all the unique fish, drinks and savoury snacks until we left for Tomoko’s house.

Once we returned and settled down, we made our way to receive our evening dinner thanks to Tomoko. We sat down to a noodle and bolognese type dish and a crème caramel; no chopsticks required which was a relief. For the remainder of the evening I was talking to Tomoko about our day and my travel stories, which she enjoyed quite a bit. By this time, it was getting quite late and so we headed up to bed going over how brilliant our first full day in Japan hoping the rest of the trip would be similar or even more fascinating.
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