Despite the weariness that travel creates, and having stayed up most of the night walking the streets of Shibuya, I was up bright and early and excited to make the most of the day ahead. My mother always said that the Cromie family were fowls, not owls. Whatever that means! I felt good. Really good. I was ready to check out some of the amazing parts of Tokyo.
When I initially booked my trip I had only schedule two additional things. One was a morning tour of Tokyo on a coach. The second I will write about in a later blog. The tour was on that first morning. I had booked it as a way to get my bearings and see some of the unique features of this incredible city. But, first things first! I made my way to the Shibuya Scramble Crossing and the famous Starbucks Coffee Cafe that faces the crossing and has appeared in many a Japanese anime, manga and movie. Very cute to get my Grande Latte in a paper carry bag.
They day was bright and sunny and warm. The activity and hustle and bustle of the night before had evaporated. There were still plenty of people around. But there was a much more subdued energy in Shibuya that morning. There were people who were clearly still “out” from the night before. Groups of kids just hanging around chatting or parting ways or smoking. Garbage trucks rolled by playing their crazy jingles. Workers in uniform were busy cleaning the streets, footpaths and storefronts. Amazing just how clean Tokyo is. Such a dense population and not a public trash bin in sight. Despite there being drink vending machines everywhere, dispensing every kind of drink available – even coffee in a can. I don’t recommend it. Nor any sign of rubbish anywhere. No trash in the gutters. No cigarette butts. Just a really, really clean city. Quite amazing. For that to happen, everyone has to play a part. So it comes down to values. They value their city and work to care for it. They have a lot of pride. Impressive.
So I carried my coffee in a bag and walked to the hotel where the Tokyo Morning Tour was to depart from. It was only a few hundred meters away. And I managed to grab some shots on the way. Met some funny and friendly characters also. A couple of them wanted to play with my beard. I let them…I could hardly say no. Follicle fondling done, I arrived at the hotel. I sat with a few other tourists and then a lady showed up carrying a flag with the tour company logo on it. That flag never once left her hand. Aboard the bus we made a very slow and meandering journey through the streets of Tokyo hopping from hotel to hotel to pick up the other passengers for the tour. Every time we arrived at a hotel the tour guide, along with her bobbing flag, would disappear into the hotel and return some time later with a few new people.
This was so excruciating. It was taking so long! And while we journeyed through the streets we passed so many interesting things and places and people that I wanted to photograph. I desperately tried to remember the path we had taken but that was hopeless. Whilst I have a good sense of direction I could not remember the way. I was feeling quite trapped and anxious to get out of the bus. We were sitting outside a hotel for around 20 minutes and the American couple sitting next to me were debating the merits of making a quick trip to the nearby cafe to try and get a coffee (cor-fee). They were loud and just a little obnoxious and that did it for me. I got up and made for the exit of the bus. The tour guide appeared just then with her flag bobbing along. I promise that I tried my best to communicate to her that I was going to walk and all was well. But she spoke little English and I spoke no Japanese. She was apologising profusely. I was gesturing with my hands to try and relay that I was going to walk and that it was all fine.
I walked away feeling a little guilty but equally glad I had made the move to split from the tour. I felt like I was wasting time. And I walked. I came across so many wonderful and interesting and unique places. Canals, with fishing boats tied up and silent, running directly under overhead freeways. Tori (gates) from another era would just appear at an intersection with cars and pedestrians passing through them. Amazing architecture from the glass business buildings to the apartment buildings and houses that all seemed to mash in together. I photographed it all. And was in the zone. This is what I wanted to do with my time. Explore on foot and absorb all that was on offer.
I eventually came up Zojo-Ji in Roppongi. A glorious Buddhist Temple and grounds that was a former funerary. The temple was originally built in 1393 and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years due to war, fires and earthquakes. What amazing history. The main gate sits against a busy multi-laned road and was an amazing sight to behold the modern-day world rush by this grand old structure. Beautiful buildings, immaculate gardens and many monuments and statues for prayer and contemplation. This was a slice of the ancient Japan nestled in the heart of a monstrous modern city.
The temple sat in the shadow of Tokyo Tower. This impressive structure is very similar to the Eiffel Tower but is taller and is branded in white and red bands of girders. I made my way up the hill to the tower but upon arriving was faced with a hug crowd of people in neat lines in the hot sun. As it turned out, up in the tower, on one of the floors there was a special exhibition for One-Piece. A Manga, Anime and Gaming story that is incredibly popular. So popular that hundreds of people were queued in the hot sun to see it in a tower! I was not so keen. Granted the view from the tower would be amazing. But I am very easily sun burnt and was already hot and sweaty from the humid Tokyo morning. So I took some shots from the outside and moved along. Once again just walking where I felt like going.
I still had no mobile data. For some reason it just wasn’t working. So I enjoyed getting lost. And it was a great feeling of freedom and autonomy. Fortunately in Tokyo it is very easy to find a train station. There are subway entrances everywhere you go that are well signed. I knew that all I had to do was to get myself to a train station and get myself back to Shibuya. Or to anywhere I wanted to go really. So I did just that. I had somewhere special that I wanted to go. A quick subway ride to Shinjuku would take me there. I made for an entrance to the underworld of Tokyo and escape the burning sun.
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