Before, whenever I thought of Japan, Tokyo in particular, I envisioned a bigger, busier version of Hong Kong. With bright, neon lights, and over 32 million people, if you count the outlying prefectures. However, Tokyo was quite the opposite to what I was expecting. It really was a pleasant surprise. Spacious, efficient, and I rarely saw big crowds. The air seemed remarkably fresh for such a big city too. I was amazed walking around and exploring this city, with a feeling of tranquility.
The first two days Christina, Rachael and I were together (I had taken an extra couple of days off so would be solo travelling for the last half of the trip). The three of us had booked into a nice hotel and spa in Chiba, quite a last minute booking, by the time we looked at booking hotels, there was little choice left. Sadly, being Hong Kong dwellers, we hadn't taken in to account the fact that other cities really are much bigger than Hong Kong. Chiba, it turns out, is quite a distance from anywhere you really want to be in Tokyo. Other than a few incredibly expensive taxis, we didn't let this set us back. Up we got at the crack of dawn on our first day and headed out for our pre-booked cycle tour.
Cycling through Tokyo was a fantastic experience, it is such a bicycle friendly city, there are cycle lanes everywhere. I felt like we saw most of the 'must see' sights of Tokyo in this one trip as well as some other lesser known ones. Cycling around all these sights with our tour guide, Noel, was so much more fun than traipsing around the city and battling with the typical crowds that such attractions draw. Here are some picture highlights of the tour, my personal (and actually all round) favourite was the final destination, Kyosumi gardens. Incredible beauty and tranquility right in the heart of the city. Check out Noel's webpage, Tokyo Cycling Tours, if you're planning a trip to Tokyo. We did the cultural and historical tour. When I return to Tokyo hopefully later in the year, I will definitely try out the waterfront tour.
Here are a few highlights:
The lotus flowers of Ueno Park. In cherry blossom season this lake is surrounded by pink cherry blossoms. In summer, the lotus flowers bloom and the lake is a sea of white. This stop was quite interesting as the other guy on our tour works in material engineering, apparently the big smart phone companies are currently working on the 'lotus effect'. Lotus flowers don't absorb water, the water just runs off the leaves or forms a pool, applying this technology to a smart phone would make the phone waterproof, water would just run off it.
Kiyosumi Teien traditional Japanese garden. Incredibly beautiful and tranquil, it was hard to believe we were in the middle of one of the worlds largest cities.
According to Noel we cycled over 32km on this tour, although the roads are quite flat and undemanding, the after-burn had well and truly kicked in by time we were back at the hotel. As this was the girls only full night in Tokyo we wanted to make the most of it, Tokyo is known for its thriving bar/clubbing scene, so even though it was a Sunday, we forced ourselves out of bed post-cycle-nap, got dressed up and hit the bars of Tokyo. I was happy to find the drinks were quite a bit cheaper than HK and we met lots of lovely people out, both local and international. Needless to say the hangover was quite sizeable the next day!
After a slow morning, we pack up our belongings and headed into Tokyo, on today's agenda was shopping. One cannot come to Tokyo without heading to Harajuku to check out the notoriously outrageous fashion scene. I'm not normally one to make shopping a big part of a trip, however I was really impressed with the shopping in Tokyo, so many cool, boutique stores and very reasonably priced all round. I handed over a fair amount of yen during this afternoon! While shopping in Harajuku I was really struck by the European vibe of the streets, I found a lot of places around Tokyo in general had quite a European vibe actually.