Travel broadens the mind – Japan Part 1 Tokyo

This year has been pretty full with travel mostly with work but also with a fantastic family trip. The work trips included January to Boston, February it was Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Las Vegas for an IBM event in March, end of April it was Hannover and I just got back from Santa Clara, California from an IoT event. Nestled in there between Vegas and Hannover at the start of April was the family trip to Japan. This was a 50th birthday gift from my wife that I received the previous August. It seemed to take an age coming, partly with all the other travel before it, but was well worth the wait.
We headed out from Heathrow airport stopping by Heston’s airline food place in the terminal

Heston at Heathrow

Our first stop was Tokyo (ignoring the part about the very long flight as I just zone out and get on with that now)
We arrived to be met by the local representative, as this was all book through the wonderful Trailfinders company. He presented us with all the train tickets and schedule reminders and navigated us to the hotel (we chose a to pay for a taxi though we had train tickets as … you know a long flight!). Driving through the Tokyo roads the place looked and felt just right, it was not even too crowded or busy. The taxi driver was wearing white gloves (no picture of that but it just came to mind)
We were staying in Park Hotel at the Shiodome Media Tower which was ideally situated for the train lines.

Park Hotel

The hotel took up the top floors of what a media office block but its internal atrium style made it feel miles away from anything.

Park Hotel

We still had some time to explore after arriving before crashing out, so we went for a walk.

Tokyo Sunset

Being in the media part of the city there was some interesting art. Which kind of hints at the wonderful Japanese mix of efficiency and buttoned down approach to life combined with a great expression of art and culture and the joy of life.

Odd Sculptures

Right near all the polished skyscrapers we found this district full of small arcades and shops. The loud noise of the pachinko places, where thousands of small ball bearing ping around pins was noticeable. We did not go in as they don’t allow under 18’s in to these gambling areas, despite the bright lights and manga window dressing.

Near the hotel

So here we were in Tokyo, ready for the adventure

Family in Japan

As expected, vending machines were everywhere, this was just round from the shops. Hot and cold cans of drink of all sorts.

Vending machines

Across from the hotel they were shooting a kids TV show, I was going to try and join in for old time’s sake 🙂

Japan trip

It made for an odd skyline picture but again, so very Japanese in its contrast and blending at the same time.

Character Hiding

With the potential confusion of a language that we have almost no possibility to read or speak with any degree of competence we had a guide show us around Tokyo on the first day. This was also great to be able to talk about the differences and similarities in our cultures. I learned an awful lot from our guide and we also shared our perspectives. One of the key things that we learned was about the religious side of life. Japan has both Shinto and Buddhist culture, plus a smattering of other things like christian churches. However the key is that there seems to be no specific religious tension, it is not a choice of believing or not in one or the other, the Japanese people have absorbed both, or all. Our guide said asking someone what religion they were in Japan would be a confusing question, as its melded and just all part of life. Shinto shrines are typically marked by the typical square arch, with rope and white flags and buddhism has ornate temples, they co-exist.
We first went to a temple though, obviously a tourist trap with lots of shops around it, but at the same time oddly tranquil despite the crowds. We were shown how to cleanse our hands with water and make an offering and a prayer. It did not, as an atheist feel hypocritical nor like being a tourist, just blending in.

Tokyo tour

Tokyo Temple

We were lucky enough to see some of the famous cherry blossom

Cherry Blossom

We also got to see a very rare art exhibition of panel paintings, not photos of those, but they were stunning. All telling various Japanese samurai stories and fables. The art style being 2d and not using perspective, yet at the same time feeling flowing and in motion.

Escaping hustle and bustle we entered the Japanese garden next to temple. The aim of these is to recreate elements of nature, ponds are lakes and sea, rocks represent mountain ranges.

Garden

Like our pond at home, lots of Koi

Koi

The garden is very old, again part of the absorbing of the old and new that the culture seems suited to.

Tokyo tour

Right next door, in the same grounds as the temple this was our first view of a Shinto shrine, we did not visit this particular one as we had more of that to come.

Shinto

We took a boat trip back to our next destination, but our guide pointed out these buildings and highlighted the symbolism that is often used. The Horns on the building in the background are the logo of the beer company, the building to its left has golden windows and a white top, representing a glass of beer!

Beer building

we were heading to another park, in the background one of those buildings is our hotel.

Park

The park offered more peace and quite from the hustle of the city

Cherry Blossom

Park

We were heading to a tea house, where we had our first tach of Matcha (Green tea). This is not the normal weak green tea, but frothy almost broth. Sweet paste is eaten first then the more sour tea is slurped down.

Matcha

No chairs (or shoes)

Tea house

Tea House

On leaving we saw one of the original 60’s capsule architecture examples. Still nestled in and preserved and absorbed.

Capsule architecture

Then it was up to a very high floor to have a meal.

High up

They did have an english menu but our guide talked us through this

Menu

It was also really nice to get this, and odd as I had forgotten it was now april 2018 and my birthday was in August 17 🙂

Birthday

An yes there were robots, Softbank’s Pepper made an appearance on this trip a few times

Pepper

In Tokyo, whilst navigation may have been a worry, once you get there its pretty easy, every is labelled and numbers and signs tend to have English too.

Sign

We went past or through a shopping district and ended up in a toy shop, thousands of collectibles. Including dancing storm troopers

Star Wars

I nearly bought this wonderful predator Mr Potato Head, but showed some restraint. In Second Life my full name is epredator potato, just to add to the serendiptiy! I bought a mini Deadpool instead.

Tokyo trip

We were headed to the main Shinto shrine, we were shown how our guide respectfully crossed each arched boundary, at the side of each, bowing with respect as we got deeper into the shrine.Not something everyone was doing by any stretch, but it seemed the right approach.

Shinto entrance

Organisations have barrels of Sake and of Whiskey stored as an offering for good luck and prosperity.

Sake Barrels

Whiskey

The centre of the shrine was a very large structure and area.

Shrine

Then for utter contrast we were taken to the “teenagers” favourite shopping street and hangout. An utterly crammed area that we battled around so that the kids could take a look, but I was very glad to escape.

Teenager alley

Tokyo tour

We then hopped on the train back to our hotel.

Train

I didn’t photograph all my food, but there is more of this later. Stunning textures and colours and presentation on every dish we ate everywhere

Soup

The next day we were on our own heading out into the city

Japan Tokyo day 2

More to come…….

The entire album of photos (all 550+ of course!) https://flic.kr/s/aHskBD8Lbw

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