Japan is often noted as being a whole world away from the West, but on Monday morning, we awoke to something that, as British Nationals, we were were utterly unprepared for; warm, sunny weather in April.
We made our way on the metro to Otemachi station, and surfaced in Tokyo’s corporate district. Glossy skyscrapers rose into the clear blue skies above, the tree lined pavements clean and bright. We made our way towards the Imperial Palace.
The first thing that struck me as we arrived at the Palace walls was that this humongous sprawl of Palace, the moat and it’s walls, we’re right in the centre of this bustling city. It felt so out of place, but I would come to understand that this dichotomy of modern futurism and tradition is the beauty of Tokyo. We began our orbit of the palace, looking for the entrance, passing our very first cherry blossoms, a few worryingly large hornets, and a remarkable number of Akita dogs.
When we reached the entrance, we discovered that the Imperial Palace is closed on Mondays. Whoops. Important lesson – do your research. Thus, despite the blazing heat and sore feet from the day before, the three of us began our trek.
After a walk through some beautiful gardens, we found our way to the Tokyo Science Museum for a spot of lunch, and even though most of the exhibitions were entirely in Japanese, we still learned and experienced a lot.
We continued north to Yasakuni-jinja, passing under our first Torii (the Japanese shrine gates) and visiting our first shrine. Yasakuni-jinja is a controversial shrine as, amongst the nearly two and a half million souls “intered” at the shine (listed and said to reside there), fourteen are considered to be Class-A war criminals. Despite the controversy, this shrine to those who served the Emperor in the Great Wars, is a beautiful and peaceful place. Not knowing the protocol of the rituals, we kept our distance and quietly paid our respects before heading West towards Ichigaya, then north to Kagurazaka.
Kagurazaka is a picturesque district of quaint shops, bakeries, and kimono taylors. It’s also historically famous for its geisha. We made our way up the steep hill to Akagi-jinja, a shrine near the station, then returned back to Ichigaya, in search of a legendary miso ramen restaurant, called Kururi.
Kururi is completely unmarked. The only way the guide explained to find it was by the queue outside and that it was next to an off-licence with a yellow and red striped awning. We queued for a while then seated ourselves at the bar. There was no need to order as Kururi only serves one dish, the most delicious pork miso ramen that I had ever tasted, and remarkably cheap despite its size at only ¥500.
Bellies full, and feet weary, we decided the night was not yet over and we made the dubious call to walk all the way to Shinjuku. This proved to be considerably further than we had anticipated, and after a blistering hour and a half walk, we found an “English Style Pub”. Unable to fight our curiosity, we sat down in a remarkably accurate “English pub” (complete with Premiere League football on the TV) over a cool beer, before we made our way through Shinjuku’s red-light district to the metro station, back to Ayase. Ridiculously weary, we decided we would go back to the Imperial Palace tomorrow. Then we all collapsed and lost consciousness within seconds of entering the room.