We arrived at Tokyo airport pretty much on time, got the train to our hostel, which we managed to find without getting lost, and checked into our first dorm room. We knew that Japan was going to be more expensive than the other Asian countries we'd been to so wouldn't be able to afford private rooms, but we'd also decided that it was too easy just to talk to each other when you're in private rooms and we wanted to be more sociable with other travellers.
The room was quite cool, it had 4 sets of bunk beds in it, but each bed came with a set of curtains around it and its own lamp and plug socket so it was quite private when you were actually in bed.
We chose our beds and decided to have a top and bottom bunk that so other people coming home or moving about didn't disturb us (anyone who has ever slept in a dorm will know what I mean!) and in true me style I organised all of my stuff so that I had a 'bed bag' and could easily get anything I needed without making noise for anyone else. Grant just sat on his iPad and laughed at me faffing about! :-)
When I'd finally sorted myself out, we went for an explore. We were staying in the Asakusa area which was quite old worldly and had a lot of authentic little shops and restaurants. We found a 'pub street' (according to the tourist map) which consisted of tiny little restaurants / pubs that all looked very local and sat outside one preparing to not understand the menu or what was going on. Luckily the waitress spoke some English and explained that you have to order food as well as a drink, which we later found out is standard in most Japanese 'bars', so we ate a few little dishes (Japanese call them izakaya, its the same as Tapas really) ordered a beer and of course sujo, Japanese rice wine.
Afterwards found a more pub like basement darts bar for a couple of beers, while making flannel ducks with the bar staff out of the flannels they give you everywhere as soon as you've sat down, before heading home for dinner.
Our budget was pretty much spent at this point so for dinner we ended up with a micro meal from 7-11 for dinner, not very Japanese on our first night there but was all we could afford! We sat in the common room at the hostel playing monopoly and doing a pretty good job of still not talking to people and got to bed about 1am.
Surprisingly we slept OK in the dorm room, we were woken up at 3am by people in the common room but luckily ear plugs sorted the noise out so went back to sleep pretty quickly.
Our first task of the next day was to go the train station to swap our train tickets that we had bought in South Korea for our a pass that we could use the next 2 weeks. As we had all our passports and documentation on us we thought it would be a good idea to drop them back off at the hostel so we got the metro to the heart of Asakusa (we were supposed to go straight back home but got off the tube at the wrong stop J ) and had a slow wander back to hostel via an old budda temple and pagoda for a bit of culture (our first temple in Japan but pretty much the same as all other temples!)
We dropped our stuff off at hostel, formed a plan for the day and headed out for lunch - something more traditional this time in the oldy worldly shopping streets. After lunch we went on a longer than expected walk to find the sumo wrestling museum and luckily got there just in time before it closed. We even managed to get a sneaky photo (no photos allowed) of us standing next to massive life size sumo poster. The museum wasn't that impressive to be fair but I knew Grant was really interested in it and while there I secretly found some info saying there was a sumo tournament happening while we in Japan, but in a town we weren't planning on visiting, and set about forming a plan in my head of how to get Grant a ticket for his birthday.
Next to the Sumo museum was the old Tokyo history museum or Edo museum as Tokyo used to be called, which was pretty interesting. The most interesting part was the section on war. In China and South Korea we'd seen a lot about world war 2, and mostly how Japan were depicted as the bad guys so I was keen to learn about their side of the story. To be fair to Japan didn't deny all of the horrible things that they had done, but didn't give any reason for it either, it was all just very factual. It sounded like the Japanese people didn't have much choice in the matter really, and were convinced by the government that it was a holy war - I wouldn't say Japan was an overly religious place from what I've seen so not really sure what that explanation is about but it was still interesting.
On the way back and after another pretty long walk (and a bit of sumo stalking when we waited outside a bank for about 20mins for a sumo wrestler we'd seem to come out so we could take his photo!) we went to the Tokyo sky tree for a quick look round before heading back to our area for a Japanese curry (which wasn't overly Japanese) before having an early night ready to leave early the next day.
The next morning we were moving onto Kyoto so got up early and headed to the train station. By this point I had done quite a lot of sumo ticket research while shut away in my bunk bed and had realised there was way too much planning involved to do it as a surprise and so bottled out and told Grant all the different options I'd researched so he could make the decision of what he wanted to do. Not surprisingly he was completely up for going and we rearranged some of our travel plans to fit it in.
When we arrived in Kyoto it was absolutely pissing down and so we had a fun walk to the hostel in the rain. We weren't allowed to check in straight away but we had some internetting that we needed to do and used the hostel PC's to book Sumo tickets and re arrange some of our plans.
At 3pm we checked in and headed to our room. The room was OK, the beds were good size with curtains again but the room was a bit of a state. We had 4 American guys staying in our room so did our best to be sociable and managed to strike up a good conversation with a couple of them. As it was still heavily raining we decided to take the opportunity to chill for the day and went to a nearby supermarket to buy food and wine (I honestly didn't think we've been drinking that much since we've been away but a lot of my stories seem to involve booze!) then made ourselves comfortable in the really nice common room, having the odd conversation but mostly playing cards and getting pissed (must try harder to be sociable!!!)
The next day it was still pouring with rain but having not done anything the day before we wanted to see something of Kyoto. Luckily the hostel was pretty central to down town so we didn't have far to go and went exploring around the under cover shopping streets nearby by. All over Asia they love under cover shopping streets. They're basically narrow roads that they have made pedestrian only and are covered with a domed plastic roof, and they are everywhere! They also love under ground shopping centres and walkways, pretty much everywhere you walk on any street you can be sure there is some sort of station, walk way or shopping centre underneath you!
On our walk we found a food shopping street with loads of weird fish heads and random foods and strolled about taking pictures, it was quite cool, makes you realise how boring and same same all the food in the UK is!
We also managed to find a 200 yen bar - (about £1.50, 3 times cheaper than most drinks in Japan) where we spent the evening drinking cocktails which we were convinced didn't contain any alcohol, before trying out a rather disappointing MOS burger, the Japanese version of burger king.
The hostel we were in was fully booked for the next couple of days so we packed up our stuff and moved to different hostel a bit further out of town. We got there about 11am and were surprisingly allowed to check into our room (they are ridiculously strict with sticking to rules in Japan, like not being allowed to check in until bang on check in time - they made us wait 15 mins in the lobby once- or like queuing in a designated line on train platform stations, or not crossing the road when the red man is showing, even when there is obviously no cars coming from any direction!!) When we got to our room there was no one in it so we had a pick of the beds. The hostel had good facilities but didn't have much of an atmosphere compared to the last hostel we were in.
The weather had cheered up so we decided to take a trip to Arashaysma, one of the suburbs of Kyoto and a train ride away. It was a pretty nice town, quite traditional and obviously got a lot of tourists. The lonely planet described a vine walk which was apparently number 13 of the top 30 things you should do in Japan, we had a wander round it but who ever wrote that article obviously saw something in the groves that we didn't as we weren't that impressed. What we were impressed with tho was that there was a mountain (ok more like a large hill) that you could walk up which had loads of wild monkeys everywhere. You weren't supposed to look the monkey's in the eye or try to engage with them, and I found out why when one of them took a disliking to me and ran out of a tree and swiped at me for talking to it! Luckily it was only small and I had jeans on so it didn't cut me but it freaked me out a bit! About 500 meters up there was a cage that you could feed them from - the twist bring that you had to be in the cage and they were outside free! It was pretty cool, as soon as they realised you had food they became your best friend and just held their hand out for you to put food in it.
On the way back to the train station we found a large pond in a temple garden to have a wander round and a sit down. While taking photos of the shed loads of massive carp in the pond the local gardener was showing off by showing us he'd made friends with a carp, it would feed right out of his hand and let him stroke it. There was only one in then whole pond that would do it! Bit random! Guess that proves that fish have more than a 30 second memory!
Back at the hostel and we still had no one in our room so we took advantage and chilled out in the room before heading out to dinner. While we were in the room a young Asian lad checked it, was shown to his bed, said a quick hello to us, and then disappeared never to be seen again! Obviously didn't like the look of us!! How rude! J
The hostel had recommended a Japanese restaurant for dinner round the corner, which although was nice was nothing to write home about (or blog about!) so after a quick bite we went back to the hostel and sat in the bar downstairs for a bit people watching. We didn't have any money left in the budget so after a while headed to the common room for a game of socho shot monopoly (a game we'd invented to make it slightly more interesting) and then got to bed at 2am to find our room was now packed with people! Where did they come from?!
The next morning as quickly as the people in our room had appeared, they had now disappeared and we had the room back to ourselves again (no we weren't so drunk we imagined them… I don't think!) Today's outing was to a large Japanese castle, Nijo Castle, which wasn't really what you'd think of when you hear the word castle, it was actually a collection of massive low level Japanese temple buildings that were once occupied an emperor. Unlike other Japanese palaces that we'd been to however this one you were actually allowed inside to walk around so it was good to see. Next stop was the Geisha region on Kyoto, Gion. That was a pretty cool village town with cute cobbled streets and 'the most beautiful residential street in Asia' (according to the lonely planet) and it was nice just to wander around people watching and trying to spot (and not so subtly take photos of) as many Geisha's as possible. I didn't realise that girls , and some guys to be fair, still dressed up as Geisha's on a daily basis, and although I've told myself hundreds of times I'll Google it, still don't know why Geisha's are Geisha's and what its all about! Hopefully I'll get round to finding out one day!
We tried to find somewhere to eat but were pretty unsuccessful in that area, we seem to have issues with finding places to eat, generally there are so many places we find it hard to make a decision, especially as we're always on the look out for cheap places and we always think maybe the next one will be better... It's happened a few times that by the time we've stopped sodding about trying to decide, most of them start shutting anyway! On this occasion we decided to walk home, about 45 mins if you don't get lost, which we did, and find somewhere on the way and ended up at the only place that was open near our hostel by the time we got there. Luckily it was a lovely and fairly cheap Thai place by the river.
In the morning we packed up again and headed off to our net destination Osaka.
I really liked Kyoto, it had a really good feel to it, but after 4 days in the same place I was ready to move on.