Tokyo to Shanghai
September 2016

Tokyo, Day 1

Thursday and Friday,15th/16th September 2016

With our flight not leaving until 2.30pm we had a leisurely start to the day, with the taxi picking us up at 11.30am

The first leg of the journey was a six and a half hour flight with Emirates from Gatwick to Dubai. The time simply flew by, mainly because we both found that the on-board entertainment system  was so good. We had a two hour stopover before boarding another Emirates plane that took us to Tokyo. This leg lasted for over nine hours, and with my watch still set to UK time and the cabin blacked out, it was like flying through the night, even though outside the sky lightened early on as we flew towards the dawn.

We both managed three to four hours sleep, and when we landed at Narita our body clocks told us it was late morning. However, we’d just had breakfast and Friday evening’s dusk was settling over Tokyo! It took an hour to get through airport security, immigration and customs, which seemed quite reasonable. Gill had booked us a transfer to our hotel, and meeting up with the company concerned in Arrivals was straightforward.

Our hotel is over an hour from the airport, but the minibus was very pleasantly air-conditioned against the 28 degree heat. As soon as we checked in we sought out the restaurant on the 40th floor with panoramic views over the city. We had a glass of wine and a main course each, and the bill came to over 13,000 Yen – about £100! Ouch!

That expensive hotel meal!
The hotel's magnificent grounds
Tokyo from our window
(click once to zoom)

Saturday 17th September 2016

Gill had booked a morning sightseeing bus tour of Tokyo before we left home. This included pickup from our hotel, which was good. What wasn’t quite so good is that we had to be in reception at 7.50am!

The tour had three mains stops; the Tokyo Tower, the grounds of the Imperial Palace and the Senso-ji Buddhist temple at Asakusa.

The Tokyo Tower was built as a TV tower fifty years ago and at the time was the tallest structure in the city. Since then skyscrapers have sprung up all around, disrupting signals, so five years ago a new one was built a few miles away to replace it. Both old and new are now tourist attractions, offering superb view of the city and far beyond. In good weather you can see the top of Mount Fuji, 100 kilometers away – but not today ;o)

The Tower looks like a red-painted, more spindly version of the Eiffel Tower and is slightly taller – both are about 300 metres tall. Halfway up is an observation deck, with several clear glass panels in the floor that let you see that there’s only fresh air beneath your feet! The views are OK, but suffer from the skyscrapers crowding around it.

The Imperial Palace and its grounds are only open to the public on a couple of days a year, so we could only walk around the moat. The Buddhist temple area was absolutely packed. There’s a long avenue full of little stores selling food and souvenirs. Gill bought some nice snacks to eat back at the hotel this afternoon.

Tokyo Tower
View from

Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower

The temple has a nice little side-line in fortune-telling. You pay 100 Yen (about 8p), shake a drum, make a wish and pull out a stick. The stick has Chinese characters at one end that you match with the same characters on one of about a hundred little drawers. You open the drawer and take out the piece of paper that tells your fortune relative to the thing that you wished for. It can be one of four things – excellent, very good, good or no good. If you get bad news you just roll up the piece of paper and twist it round a wire on a frame that is there just for the purpose. You then walk away and leave your bad luck to Buddha ;o) There were any number of suckers giving this a go, and seemingly not just for a laugh! We got back to our hotel on Tokyo’s impressive and inexpensive Metro. It was all quite simple until the point where we had to find an exit!

Back at the hotel we ate the snacks that Gill had bought on the tour before extreme weariness overwhelmed us and we both slept for a couple of hours. Just after 4pm we set off again, by Metro, to join the food walking tour that Gill had booked. There were only five in the group - us and a young Mexican couple with a one-year-old son in a pushchair. While we were waiting for the guide to arrive we boggled at the swarms of young people milling about in all directions. Mind you, it was Saturday night.

Imperial Palace grounds
Senso-ji Buddhist temple
Senso-ji Buddhist temple
Senso-ji Buddhist temple
Shimizu - starting point
for food walking tour

In the three hour tour we made only three stops for food and drink – in other cities it’s a light bite at six to eight places. The first stop was immediately interesting. We sat on bar stools with an enormous hotplate in front of us running the length of the counter. The proprietors made two dishes directly on the hotplate. One was a traditional Hiroshima noodle-based dish with shredded cabbage and bacon and the other an Osako-style dish with shredded cabbage and seafoods. Both dishes had plum sauce spread over them shortly before serving. All of this was cooked while we watched and was delicious.

We were pretty well full by the time we left, but the next stop was a bar specialising in food from Hokkaido, the island to the north of Japan. We started with drinks. The Mexicans weren’t very adventurous and stuck to Kirin beer. Gill and I both chose saké - I had the ‘normal’ dry one and Gill opted for a sweeter, cloudy variant. We both emptied our glasses without trouble during the meal, but neither of us would choose saké again.


Preparing our food
Traditional dish from Hiroshima
Traditional dish from Nagasaki
We still don't know why she
was dressed like this!
Unfamiliar fruits

We then found a procession of dishes arriving at the table, which made us wish we’d been more restrained at the first stop! By the time we got back to our hotel we were already struggling to remember what we ate! There was a nice dish consisting of deep-fried chicken served with what looked like scrambled egg, next came spicy squid that had been cooked in a sealed foil bag followed by fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, radish, cucumber, sweetcorn and cabbage with a miso dip, then pork dumplings in a lovely soup flavoured with lime and ginger, then cooked edame beans – there might even have been another dish or too that we’ve already forgotten.

Luckily, the final stop was simply for things that looked a bit like eclairs, one chocolate-covered and one filled with strawberry sorbet. I don’t think that we could have managed one calorie more! The tour then ended after three hours, with the Mexican couple catching a cab and our guide very kindly accompanying us back on the Metro to our hotel.

Bar specialising in food
from Hokkaido
One of the nicer dishes
Traditional bird-shaped biscuit

Tokyo was an eye-opener. It looked exactly like you would expect, but being amongst the throngs of humanity milling about was envigorating. Frankly, Tokyo puts Times Square and Piccadilly Circus to shame. Heaven only knows how much electricity needs to be generated simply to power all of the video screens, LED screens and neon. It’s all a bit like Blade Runner but without the grime!

In spite of all the high-tech modernity the old style standards of politeness shown to not only each other but also to foreigners are staggering. A shop assistant left her counter to guide us through the maze of shops towards the Metro station, and when we thanked her she put her hands together in delight and bowed to us as if we were the ones who been kind to her.

Believe it or not this is all
artificial display food!
Okinawa street parade
Okinawa street parade

At the end of the tour we stumbled over a street parade of musicians and dancers from Okinawa, where traditions are different to the rest of Japan. As our guide pointed out, our evening had now embraced all of Japan, from the far north to the very far south.

Tomorrow at 12.30 pm we’re collected from our hotel and join our cruise ship in Yokohama. The ship stays in port overnight and we’ve got another tour of Tokyo on Monday. We’ve already had a great time in Japan that has whetted our appetites for the cruise.

[Tokyo day 2 [Shimizu]  [Kobe]  [Kyoto]  [Kochi]
[Kagoshima]  [Nagasaki]  [Jeju]  [Busan]  [Shanghai]