Temples and craziness in Tokyo

We arrived in Osaka on Monday 28th November at 5:00am after a long mini bus journey and two flights (Puerto Princesa to Manila, then Manila to Osaka). In Osaka airport we had to queue for the Japan Railway office to open at 5:30am where we collected our weekly passes. Make sure you order your passes at least a week in advance guys! We had no idea we needed to do this until someone in the Philippines told us. We had to order them online here, then our approval letter was to be delivered by post to an address of our choice. We chose the airport hotel we stayed at in Manila as we thought they would be responsible enough to look after them for a few days until we were able to pick them up just a few hours before our flight from Manila to Osaka. Once we got our actual tickets from the JR office we got on the JR line to Shin-Osaka where we then changed to get the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Tokyo. The bullet train took three hours to get to Tokyo central station, and it’s roughly 500 km away!

The Shinkansen was so cool. From the front it looked like one of those NASA rocket cars or something. The train started off at a normal pace but got faster and faster until everything out of the winder was a blur - the maximum speed for the bullet train is 200 mph (320 km/h)! After the Shinkansen we needed to pay a small amount extra to get the underground to Asakusa station which was the closest one to our hostel, Oak Hostel Fuji. The hostel was a short walk from there, and as usual we used our trusty Maps.me to help navigate us. We arrived at the hostel about midday and couldn't check in until 3pm. We hadn't had a shower or eaten properly in over 24 hours so after an amazing hot shower (a very rare thing in the Philippines where we had just been) we quickly got out and about to find some food.

We had a wander around a market near the Asakusa Sensoji Temple, a short walk from our hostel, before finding a restaurant to have some lunch in. We found a cute looking restaurant that lots of tourists were going into so we settled there and ordered a fried pork and rice dish which came with a seaweed drink (vile!) and we stupidly ordered a Japanese rice wine called Sake. This was the most intense, overpowering and strongest alcoholic drink we think we have ever tried and after a few sips each we were well on our way to being drunk. It was honestly pretty disgusting and we suggest only trying it if you have a strong stomach!

After lunch we walked around Asakusa Sensoji Temple, Hōzōmon temple, the Buddhist temple and the small surrounding Japanese gardens. Sadly the famous 5 story pagoda was closed for restoration. This area was so pretty to walk around, and so typically Japanese, with lots of geishas walking around in their beautiful floral and colourful dresses. We could sense the madness of Japan here already as the market was heaving with people ordering all kinds of strange snacks, both sweet and savoury, and buying unusual toys such as motorised toy animals and cars. It doesn’t sound weird but trust us, it was.

On the way back from the market we spotted a Cat cafe and immediately had to go in! (We love cats in case you didn’t know). We were so excited to experience a Cat cafe, and this one said it was free of charge to enter if you bought a drink each - little did we know the drinks would be super expensive. We entered and ordered a drink before sitting down on the floor to play with a cuddle the gorgeous cats. The whole experience felt a bit strange actually. The cats weren’t bothered by us as they clearly have people wanting to pet them all day everyday, so they really weren’t interested. And the cafe felt rather seedy as it was pretty dark and there was hardly anyone else in there. The cats were super cute though and we got some good pictures.

We spent an hour there (you have to pay extra for longer) and then walked back to the hostel to check in and have a sleep as we were so tired from all the travelling. We woke up around 6pm and Natalie wasn’t feeling well. We were due to go out for dinner and try a good ramen (noodle soup) place down the road from our hostel. Unfortunately just as we were about to leave Natalie got very ill and started being sick! There was no way she was going out so Jordan went on his own to the little restaurant whilst Natalie went back to bed. Although (without being too graphic) she couldn’t sleep for the whole night as she was throwing up every 15-20 minutes! This was definitely the worst she has ever felt on this trip and it almost ruined her first few days in Japan.

On our first full day in Tokyo Natalie was still ill so she stayed in bed all day, watching films and sleeping when she could. Jordan researched where he wanted to go in the morning (but no where major because he didn't want to see any main tourist spots without Natz). He skipped breakfast as he was still full from the large Ramen and gyozas he had for dinner the night before. He had a sandwich for lunch at a cafe called Pronto, purely because he could read the menu! Then got on the subway to Ginza. He walked through the Ginza strip window shopping (as all the shops were far too expensive). Afterwards he had a stroll in Hamarikyu Gardens, an old duck hunting ground, where he took some pretty pictures of the city skyline against the rural garden.

He then got the subway to Ueno to walk around Ueno Park, where he was very very lucky to spot two cherry blossom trees (Sakura) still in bloom, which is crazy for that time of year. He then decided to walk back to the hostel from Ueno so he could soak up some of the city at night.

That evening Jordan went for dinner at a sushi restaurant with three people from our hostel. It was his first experience of fish sushi (he’d tried chicken sushi in Melbourne) and he actually quite enjoyed it considering he's not a big fan of fish. He chose salmon, tuna, eel and squid. Eel was his least favourite, finding it hard to even swallow (and said he could taste it for three days afterwards), but the salmon and tuna were his favourite.

On Wednesday Natalie was finally feeling a bit better so we caught the train to Yoyogi where we walked through Yoyogi Park to Meiji Shrine. There's not much to see actually in the park, other than the shrine. It's not like a typical Japanese garden. It's nice to say that we’ve been to The Meiji Shrine, but it's not the most beautiful of temples to visit. It's quite new and plain to look at. It's lovely to read everyone's well wishes for the future though, and pay our respects by throwing some money into the shrine and bowing and clapping afterwards. We enjoyed getting into the Japanese spirit.

We then walked through the rest of the Yoyogi Park to Jingumae which is a main area for shopping. It had a combination of high street brands such as H&M and Zara as well as some designer brands such as Vivienne Westwood. It was here we decided to get some food. Natalie was still feeling very fragile and the thought of most foods made her feel ill. But we found a place that specialised in fried potatoes (Natalie loves potatoes!) next to Guzman Y Gomez Mexican where Jordan could fill his boots on nachos. After our food had gone down we walked for about 20 minutes until we came to Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. It such an iconic Tokyo spot and it's cool to say we've been there, however it wasn't as busy as we thought it would be. We went in the middle of the afternoon - perhaps rush hour is when the crossing is its craziest.

We had a wander around the crossing, taking pictures and videos before heading into Shibuya station to go to the technology and electrical district called Akihabara. When we arrived there we were disappointed that we did not see robots walking the streets (as we had read on the Internet) but we were impressed with all the bright lights and the hecticness of the tiny shops and restaurants. We had a look in a few shops and saw some cheap unlocked iPhones that we would have been tempted to buy if we had any money to spare. We then had some fun in an arcade building called Game Taito Station which had five floors of different arcade games. Jordan played a shooting game and a driving game, and we both played a zombie game which was 4D and pretty scary. After more of a wander looking at the bright lights (it was starting to get dark now) we headed back to the hostel for a bit so Natalie could nap - she was still feeling a bit rough. Nap time over we headed to Shinjuku for our last night in Tokyo. We were keen to see some crazy lights and weird and wonderful bars and restaurants, and we knew this area was good for both.

After a wander around the streets we walked to the Government Building which allows customers to go up to the Observation Deck for free. It was 45 floors up and provided incredible views of the city. Unfortunately the pictures didn't come out well as there were many bright lights behind us causing our reflection to interfere with picture taking. You don't need to spend long up there and Jordan was starving (it was 9:30pm) at this point, so we headed back into the streets with all the lights to find some food. The strange thing about Japan is that although there seems to be restaurants everywhere, it's really hard to find places to eat. Firstly because all the signs are in Japanese so you have no idea what you’re reading. Then when you realise you're walking past a restaurant, the menu is in Japanese so you don't know what food they actually offer. More often than not they'll have pictures of their dishes, and occasionally they'll be plastic versions of their dishes out on display which do not look appetising at all. Lots of the restaurants are very small too and often too busy to go into as you can't sit down anywhere. We eventually decided to eat at Cafe Pronto, where Jordan had eaten the day before, as he knew it was nice food, and there was something that Natalie would eat without making herself feel ill. After dinner we walked to find a cool restaurant and bar that we'd read about online. The Robot Restaurant apparently has girls in bikinis fighting robots!! We found the restaurant but unfortunately it was closed. We didn't realise but you had to buy tickets for each show and they only did three shows a night so we'd missed the last one. Just as well though as tickets were 8,000 yen each (£56) and that didn't include your meal or any drinks! It was starting to rain at this point and we were both very cold - it was 9 degrees and we’d been used to the heat of the Philippines - so we decided to head back to our warm cosy hostel and go to bed. We couldn't recommend Oak Hostel Fuji more. It was very clean, nice and warm in the winter, comfy beds, hot showers and a great kitchen/communal area. It's a little bit out of the main city but there's still a few bits to do around Asakusa and public transport is surprisingly easy that it didn't bother us at all.

On our last day in Tokyo we walked to the Skytree which was only 5 minutes from our hostel. We didn’t want to pay to go up it so just had a look around some of the shops there before collecting our bags from Oak Hostel Fuji and walking to the underground. We caught the Ginza line to Ueno, then the JR line to Tokyo, and finally the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.