Story and photos by Edwina Keelan
I went on holiday to Tokyo, Japan in the first week of April. Here are my favourite things about Tokyo that you HAVE to check out…
The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the first week of April. These pretty trees are found everywhere, especially in Ueno Park (pictured above). Ueno Park is a colourful place, containing an art gallery, Tokyo National Museum, and is home to a community of homeless persons. The Museum displays vintage kimonos and traditional Japanese dresses, and they were all absolutely beautiful (see some of the exhibitions in the rightmost column).
Japanese vending machines are very different to what I’m used to. Not only do they dispense a very wide variety of hot and cold drinks and food, but some of what they sell is quite strange: bananas, eggs, hamburgers, ramen, socks, puppies…PUPPIES?!
On the subject of eating, some of the ultimate foods in Japan are sushi balls (onagiri) and novelty chocolate bars. The national alcoholic drink is Sake (rice wine). Sake is served warm in small porcelain cups, often alongside some hot tempura.
You can get a card called a Suica or Passimo that lets you travel on public transport, sort of like an Opal, but you can also buy food with it. Really thick crowds are common on the subway, but the carriages are quiet and there’s no talking or headphones.
When it comes to places to see, Shinjuku is always a hit with tourists. It has a large market selling everything from souvenirs to soba noodles, and is decorated with huge billboards of all the popular manga characters.
Tokyo has many fashionistas and iconic styles, from the platform shoes and miniskirts of Shinjuku to the old lady in Ginza who was wearing a turban. Most Japanese men wear suits and ties, and are well-dressed even on a Sunday.
People in Tokyo often wear surgical masks to protect against germs when they’re walking or catching public transport. Tokyo’s locals are very neighbourly, and they keep the city clean. There’s no littering, no messy people. Tokyo has the best toilets, which heat up when you sit on them and play music.
The worst thing in Tokyo is going through Haneda Airport. They have very strict searches when you arrive and depart. The staff at the airport are allowed to search and pat you down, including in between the legs and breasts (while clothed, though). It pays to have a doctor’s letter to explain why you are carrying medication in your bag, and your medications should be placed in the carry-on luggage you take with you on the aircraft. Also, as I hold a Special Category Visa as a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, the airline staff temporarily detained me at the airport when I was departing from Japan. I had to explain the conditions of my visa to them when it was time to board my flight back to Australia.
It always pays to arrive at the airport really early to save unnecessary drama and to ensure you don’t miss your flight. Remember that the gate usually closes 15 minutes before the plane departs.
This trip was more affordable than I’d expected. The plane ticket was only $700, and 5 nights accommodation in the Taito prefecture set me back under $500. The hotel even provided slippers, toiletries, a brush, sponges, shavers and very tiny, very deep bath that runs hot water at 40 degrees. Going online to prebook everything as a package certainly saved me a lot of money.