Friday, 16 March 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 4

 Tokyo                                                                                          Japan

Friday 7th October 2016

The first thing I felt when I woke up was a brief moment of light-headedness maybe due to the jet lag kicking in. I headed downstairs to see if I could remedy the situation with breakfast, which was already prepared for us both. Craig had a head start on me so I had to play catch up with the nice yoghurt and small sweet buns waiting for me. The breakfast definitely worked on my moment of faintness and I felt great for today’s venture into the heart of Tokyo. We spent a short moment packing essentials and then with no hesitation, we left for Nishi Kunitachi station. No sooner did we arrive at the station did we climb aboard to the next station of Tachikawa; straight onto the favoured Chuo Line straight to Tokyo.

This would take a long while to get too so for the time being we would join everyone else on the train that were either sitting or standing. The one thing they were all doing though was concentrating on their phones. Not one person would look at each other, only what was on their screens. It looked quite strange in a way but I was fixated on this breathtaking urban jungle flying by the window. Overtime the train would fill with people and then it hit us that we were stuck in rush hour heading to Tokyo. There was hardly any room to move around for a while and as Craig and I were westerners, time and again, we were being stared at as though we were a couple of alien life forms. Time passed and then the call came out stating we had arrived in Tokyo. Excitement built up with the thought of being in this great city fantasising for months about being here.

As soon as we left the train, it was hectic beyond imagination with everyone going everywhere and anywhere; crazy would have been an understatement. Once more, we would take our time making sure we were heading in the right direction and so we found one of the many exits out of the station; maranouchi central exit. We were welcomed by the immediate sight of skyscrapers all around and these were huge compared to the ones in Shinjuku; for once I felt like an ant. To be honest as soon as we left the area we had no real clue what we were going to do with our time here. Therefore, we decided to wander down along towards one of the many main roads hoping to stumble on something interesting. We did hope to see top sights here such as the Skytree tower, Tokyo tower and possibly some hidden temples. For now, we were admiring the sights and sound around us especially the sound of trains clunking along the lines above us with the odd screeching.

Further down the long road we took, we noticed sections being cordoned off with no understanding of the reason behind it. We joked on thinking it was for us as a welcome to Japan. We faced reality though and moved on from the area focusing on the search for the sky tree. We found ourselves heading towards the area that had the highest skyscrapers as we had no real clue where it was. Whether we could find it or not, it didn’t matter as we were enjoying the sights around us. A new sound came to our ears which were several helicopters circling the area; I had never seen this many helicopters at one time so it was truly special to witness given the fact we were in Tokyo. We headed closer to the large skyscrapers and came across a bridge overlooking the congested traffic ahead of us. Once we got to the bridge we could relax for a moment and then we caught sight of what we called ‘transformer trucks; futuristic type trucks with chrome finishing. I couldn’t stop looking at them type of vehicles thinking they would transform into a robot; we were in Tokyo so anything was possible.

We continued on with no luck in finding the sky tree until Craig asked someone in his best Japanese. The woman escorted us both to the nearest subway station and stated that we would need to head to a place called Osiage, which was quite a few stops away; however this would take us directly to the famous Sky tree. The trouble was that we couldn’t use our rail passes on the subways so we had to pay for our tickets; they were extremely cheap though costing us 220 yen each so, we paid and immediately boarded the train. It was quite weird to be staying in the dark tunnels compared to whizzing by the city buildings; we weren’t on the train long as we made it to Osiage.

We made our way up the few escalators to the sight of a large group of people gazing up at the sky. We had to go join them and so we stood outside and gazed upon this humungous structure reaching the heavens; the Sky tree. What a magnificent tower it was and I was completely speechless at the sight of it; Craig couldn’t believe he was standing in front of this structure too and we couldn’t wait to get to the top. We took the short walk to it and my neck was beginning to hurt with the fact I was constantly staring up at it. We eventually entered the base of the building and joined the ever growing queue to get up it. 2,060 yen charge was ahead of us which was a bit of expense but I knew it would be worth it for what we were about to see at the top.

Luckily once we paid, Tokyo had a brilliant device called an elevator to the 350th floor; none of this climbing countless stairs to the top. Speaking of which, we were placed into the largest elevator I had ever been in holding about 20 people inside. The elevator was dark with a beautiful light show inside on the ascent up which also caused quite a bit of pressure due to the height we were at and speed we were going. As soon as we reached the top, the doors opened to reveal a huge amount of people overlooking the most breathtaking sight I had seen for a very long time; a 360 degree view of the entire city of Tokyo and beyond. We could see for miles even with the bright suns glare shining on the skyscrapers in the distance. Craig and I were amazed and gobsmacked with the shear drop far below us too as we got as close to the huge windows as we could. We covered the whole area looking at every detail and then we noticed an ice cream parlour when we reached the opposite side. Therefore, with no hesitation, we took an ice cream break with the best view possible.

We realised beforehand that we could reach a higher point in the tower but this would result in us paying an extra 1,030 yen to get to the 445th floor. We were reluctant to pay but we ended up paying and using a separate elevator to get us there. Of course once we reached the higher point, we were welcomed by a similar sight of Tokyo city all around us. Nothing changed much with the horizon from below but the only difference was the even bigger drop. I couldn’t believe it when I had seen workers right on the edge and on top of the lower level; that must have been one hell of a sight for them being where they were. The higher area we were in formed a kind of spiral to a higher point so we slowly made our way up and around just like the dozens of people following suit. We eventually reached the top with nothing more to see so we made our way back down the elevators to the 350th floor.

We were about to make our way back to the base but then we noticed there were floors accessible below which was home to a glass floor so we had to experience that. Therefore, down the stairs we went and joined the crowds of people who were mentally preparing themselves to walk on the glass floor. What was funny though was the fact that there was quite a lot of very young children walking or crawling along the 2 metre glass without a care in the world, whilst there was a few adults looking very scared putting one foot on it. There was one woman who caught my eye who looked so scared she was clinging onto the towers structure without moving an inch. Craig and I decided to take the young children’s approach and brave the walk across it; it was quite exhilarating to be honest as we stared down to the death-defying drop. It was time to head back down to the ground at this point and so we took the large elevator to the base quite rapidly and already making our way back to the subway station going over what an incredible feeling it was to actually be inside the tower overlooking the beautiful vast city of Tokyo.

We were getting the hang of using the ticket machines resulting in us receiving our correct tickets and quite surprising to us, we actually helped someone out with purchasing there train ticket. On the train,it was another short run before we decided to get off at an area called Shimbashi. It took a very long time to get out of the station as it was overwhelming with people moving around and about. We also decided to get lost in the station for a while becoming quite dizzy with our surroundings but with all the luck in the world, we found our way onto Shimbashi Square. It was truly a beautiful little square with quite a few unique features but no more so than a black steam locomotive as a centre piece of the square. What an incredible sight it was as well as the elaborate Japanese signage, large advertisement screens around us and a feminine type water feature to finish it off; every fibre in my body had to stop me from climbing into the train and so we moved on and stumbled on McDonalds.

We didn’t care we walked into McDonalds as we were starving at this point and so we had a quick bite to eat for the next hour. To be honest it was the most sophisticated McDonalds I ever sat in with businessmen on their laptops and phones. We eventually left and decided to take a wander down a very long straight street. Time went by still on this pathway and we felt as though we were on an endless walk until finally, something amazing appeared through the tall skyscrapers; Tokyo tower. It was a monstrous structure especially the closer we walked to it.

Beforehand though we had to walk through a very quiet small park area still gazing at this marvellous tower. The first thing we caught sight of once next to the tower was a unique happy looking mascot sculptures, surrounded by colourful flowers. What was even better was the sight of an ice cream stall, which we definitely took advantage of whilst resting.

At this point, we were beginning to lose the light and we thought the day was over; however, not far of a walk away we stumbled on the fascinating Zo Jo Ji temple. We were eager to see this temple, which poked out from the trees surrounding it so we took the walk over. The first thing we had seen upon arrival was an incense burner in front of a smaller temple. What looked magical was there was an elderly woman performing a small ritual waving the smoke towards her and breathing it in. We then entered the small temple and witnessed a most beautiful sight of the Buddhist shrine with unique Buddhist alter, drums, golden lighting and candles to finish it off perfectly. We stayed only for a short moment and then we made our way to the grandest temple we had seen so far on this trip. We walked into a vast area and we couldn’t have timed our arrival better as we heard the initial sound of Buddhist monks banging drums in the far corner marking the beginning of their ceremony.

There were only a few people inside but at first, we were the only foreigners inside as everyone else was there to pray. Craig and I were completely mesmerised with the sounds of drums and the sight of monk’s right in front of us. We decided to take a seat for another rest and enjoy the ceremony; then the monks left the area for a good few minutes. Suddenly we heard louder drumming from the back of the temple, which signalled the next stage of the ceremony. 8 monks came out synchronised with the front one banging a little chime. 6 of them placed themselves at each side of the remaining 2 at the centre. All of a sudden, gongs from a metallic pot type instrument began to echo the temple along with the soothing sound of the monks chanting a unique sound I have always wanted to witness. We were lost in thought by the sounds in front of us with the strong smell of incense sticks. A while went by until the ceremony was over and everyone began to leave quietly. The monks closed the huge wooden doors behind us all and then it was night time.

What an incredible day we had and it was over so we took the long walk back to Shimbashi as we gazed at Tokyo tower one more time. What a beautiful view I thought at the sight of skyscrapers at night with the scattering of lights in the buildings. By the time we returned to the beautiful square, it became clear we were going to hit hard with the evenings rush hour; everyone in their work suits were bombarding the area in order to get home. We were reluctant to even join them but we wanted to return to Tomoko’s house; so we braved it and went in with as much dignity as we could.

Onto the train we went heading back to Tokyo and we were soon becoming squashed and knocked around when we entered the Chuo line train. Craig and I actually shared a look to each other of disbelief of how manic it was. To be honest there was something quite beautiful being a part of this experience but as time went on we finally made it back to Tachikawa in one piece. One little trip to Nishi Kunitachi station ended our train riding for the day and thank god we thought taking the quiet walk back to Tomoko’s house. We took a quick trip into the local shop ‘Summit’ mesmerised with the unique items once more especially the sight of huge apples and grapes.

We eventually returned to the house and Tomoko was not in. However, she prepared us a Japanese selection of food placed in a wooden black box. As I was about to eat, I accidently knocked over a small bowl of my soup which I cleaned up; sorry Tomoko. Maybe it was meant to happen anyway as for the first time on the trip I turned away from this soup due to the unpleasant taste of the mushrooms. What an incredible day we had I thought as we eventually headed off to sleep remembering the beautiful ceremony sounds of the Zo Jo Ji temple; truly fascinating.
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