Hibiya Park on a sunny, and sweaty morning.
Our first full day in Japan dawned. After finally dragging ourselves out of bed we decided to head out and begin exploring. Walking outside the air-conditioned freshness of the hotel was something of a revelation - I had no idea that Japan was so very, very hot! Thirty plus degrees and the humidity well over eighty percent, the heat was shocking and like walking into a wall. As we started down the street I convinced myself that it wasn't going to be too bad, but a short distance later I was already sweating profusely and getting tired.
We were aiming for the Marunouchi district, and on our way there we came across Hibiya Park. Designated a park in 1903 at the height of the Meiji Restoration, the area is surprisingly large, and has a Central Park vibe as you can look over the trees to see the surrounding sky scrapers looming above you.
Looking up at the some of the towering monoliths of capitalism gone made. (Not in picture: insanely loud cicada chirruping)
As we wandered through we came across a beautiful pond and fountain. By this stage I was getting uncomfortably warm and seriously considered diving in to cool off but restrained myself admirably. It was a very pleasant wander, accompanied by the loud chirruping of the cicada in the trees. We couldn't be sure if there were millions of the buggers, or just a couple of loud ones; but at points under the trees the noise was nearly deafening!
We emerged from the park to be greeted by the wide most and unwelcoming walls of the Imperial Palace gardens. We skirted these for a while, admiring the koi, herons and huge dragonflies flitting in and around the green water. We then broke off into the city.
As penance for his ineptitude with booking his holiday, my companion had to have a couple of meetings the following day with some investment firms.
A nice pond - I was tempted to dive in to cool off!
We wandered with our necks at a permanent ninety degree angle, gawping at the shiny edifices of rampant capitalism, ostensibly looking for the addresses of the meetings, but actually being dazzled by the scale of what we saw. We then nipped down what we thought was an underpass to try and get to a metro station; what we actually found was a subterranean extension of the city, populated not by morlocks or mutants, but by many busy consumers. This was a little unexpected to say the least, but it did enable us to visit a small supermarket - where I stocked up on English tea, one of the few luxuries I can't travel without.
Meeting venues found, (possibly), we decided to commence with some more touristy sight seeing and jumped on the metro to head to the Edo-Tokyo museum in the Sumida-ku area of the city.
About as much as you're allowed to see of the Imperial Palace - well the walls of the garden anyway.
The indispensable Bible that is the Lonely Planet had promised much of this place - not least the stunning architecture of the building itself, and the museum more than delivered. Telling the story of the city from the Edo period (when the capital was Kyoto), to the name change and becoming imperial capital in 1868, to the mass westernization and modernization and the war. The story was fascinating, told through intricate displays, models of houses and bridges and some stunning artifacts. I especially enjoyed the history of printing woodcuts, books and manga and the descriptions of the evolution of kabuki. The thing that really struck me was how backward the country had been, (at least to western eyes) prior to the war. Considering Japan's position in the world now as a large, if faltering, economy and innovator in science and technology; it seemed hard to believe that homes didn't have electricity until just before WWII.
After spending a couple of happy hours being diverted by the museum, we left and sat on the roof garden looking up in awe at the design of the building itself, and at the surrounding views of the nearby buildings. This was almost as good at the attraction itself! By now, however, the heat and jet lag were taking their toll, so we headed back to the hotel for a 'brief' nap...
Later, much, hunger bit so once more we braved the bustling streets of the metropolis, this time in search of some grub. My companion, after many hours of scrutiny of the Bible had selected a restaurant called Inakaya in the Roppongi
area. It served, he told me, robatayaki. When this didn't illicit a cheer, or indeed reaction from me he went on to explain in that patient way one talks to an idiot that this was grilled food.
"Ok", I said, "is it cheap?" A pause. "Well... the guidebook gives it a rating of two, so yes." Yumm.
Turns out the flipping place was hard to find, hampered by two things: 1) our inability to read kanji causing us to walk past it twice without realising, and 2) the amount of people trying to grab us and hurl us into strip clubs. With admirable persistence, these hawkers of the female form of Roppongi were loathe to let two muppet tourists clutching a fistfull of yen each escape; and our journey soon became reminiscent of Luke Skywalker's attempts to blow up the Death Star as we scurried left and right, up and down alleys and all over the show to avoid them. Finally, we made it to Inakaya.
The food was amazing. The establishment was no less.
Pillars covered in foliage? Great idea!
We were immediately bombarded with shouts and greeting from the many staff. We had no idea what they meant and the fact one man was brandishing a knife did little to settle the pre-dinner nerves. Soon we were sat on stools at a kind of bar facing a variety of uncooked produce, meat and fish. "Pick!" Shouted one employee (a cry taken up by the others), waving his hand across the raw spread. We picked, nervously pointing at some beef skewers, green peppers, asparagus, okra and mushrooms. Soon a beer appeared. Soon a beer vanished. Then the food arrived ingredient by ingredient. It was delicious I've never tasted better peppers in my life.
Finally, it was time to go. With some more shouts of encouragement from the staff the bill appeared. This was the moment we nearly fell off our chairs.
European town hall meets skyscraper.
The 'feast' had cost us twenty thousand yen - slightly unexpected to say the least. We paid and scuttled off, vowing to eat on the cheap for the rest of the trip. Still, the taste of those peppers will always be with me...