Japan: Day 2 - Tokyo

So this is Tokyo ....

But firstly, back to the airport. 
After collecting my luggage and making my way through customs at Narita airport I was greeted by a little Japanese lady holding a sign with MR.WINTER printed in bold. She was from Green Tomato - an airport shuttle service that was organised for me by InsideJapan. She very kindly escorted me to a minivan that was ready to go, and with only one couple from the UK on board for company there was plenty of room to kick back and relax. We were quickly on the road and on our way to Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

I was told that WIFI in Japan wasn’t a regular occurrence and I might struggle at the beginning of my trip. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The airport had a real quick connection which needed no sign in mechanic or drawn out accept process, as did (to my surprise) the minivan!

The journey was around 60-70 minutes with barely any traffic. Ikebukuro is a commercial and entertainment district in Toshima, Tokyo and is where I would be spending my first night in Japan. Once we arrived I made my way to the apartment, which was being provided by Japan Experience. I was greeted by Mieke; one of the Travel Angels from Japan Experience. She gave me the keys to the apartment, took me through the manual for the apartment (WIFI codes, AC settings etc) as well as a tour of the apartment (which has a great view) and then offered to show me around Tokyo for the afternoon, which I gladly accepted. Mieke was Dutch but had been living in Japan for quite some time and her knowledge of the places we visited was pretty impressive.
We had a brief wonder around Ikebukuro, checking out the fascinating Pachinko parlours. Pachinko is a type of mechanical game and is used as a form of recreational arcade game … but much more frequently as a gambling device, filling a Japanese gambling niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Vegas. A pachinko machine resembles a vertical pinball machine but has no flippers and uses a large number of small balls. The player (mostly middle aged men smoking like their live ironically depended on it) fires balls into the machine, which then cascade down through a series of pins. If the balls go into certain locations, they may be captured and sequences of events may be triggered that result in more balls being released. The object of the game is to capture as many balls as possible. These balls can then be exchanged for prizes. And in turn the prizes for, you’ve guessed it … cash! 

We then made our via the underground way to Ueno; a district in Tokyo's Taitō Ward and walked around the famous Ameyoko shopping street. Ameyoko refers to America, because after WWII this is where people would shop to buy black market goods. It’s now home to more than 400 shops.

After nearly buying a few leather jackets we headed to Asakusa; a district of Tokyo and the center of Tokyo's shitamachi (low town or old town), where we walked through the Nakamise Dori, which is said to be one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. At the end of this street is the very impressive Sensō-ji Temple. It’s Tokyo's oldest temple, formerly associated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism.

After seeing about 23 different ways of how to spend money at and around the temple to bring you and your family good luck, we crossed the road to check out the view from the 8th floor of the tourist office where you can see the Tokyo Skytree. 
By now I was starving, so what better way to fuel the body than a trip to one of the tastiest sushi joints in Asakusa! I had my sushi selection made in front of me at the serving station and only cost around £8! (Have that Yo! Sushi) If I was around Asakusa more I’d definitely be making another trip to Tsukiji Sushi Sen.

After a tasty late lunch we headed to our last stop of the day before Mieke had to leave me. Akihabara is a district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo and is considered to be an otaku cultural center and a shopping district for video games, anime, manga and computer games … aka geek paradise!!! And it didn’t disappoint: There were dedicated buildings to specific genres of video games. My favourite was the SEGA building which was 5 floors of arcade fighting machines filled with 18-40 year olds lads smoking away and having a good old fashioned digital beat ‘em up! It’s not my thing but was really interesting to experience. 
Once Mieke and I parted ways I decided to check out more of Ikebukuro and see what was going to be on the menu for tonight. The back streets of Ikebukuro were filled with little Japanese restaurants all specialising in sushi, curry’s, noodles etc. It was strange how the nicer establishments were mixed with the more basic, run of the mill noodle houses.

I do love a katsu curry, but out of everything that was on offer I ended up at … MacDonald’s! I just can’t help but fall for special and this poster in the window for a pulled pork bbq burger caught my eye. And it was a good choice I must admit. I’m not sure what the patty was (possibly pork instead of beef) but the coleslaw and slightly spicy bbq sauce worked.

And to wash it down I popped across the road to Mister Donut to try their selection, which were also pretty delicious! 
And that brings an end to my first day in Japan as I enjoy the view from the balcony. So far it really couldn’t have been any better. Tokyo, I’ll be back for you in 16 days. Bring on tomorrow … Hakone hear I come!

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