I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting my travel experiences in Tokyo here on my blog. And equally love the comments and discussions that result from fellow bloggers and others that follow me on social media. People that have also been to Japan, Tokyo or specific things like a suburb or an experience. Equally rewarding is hearing from people that are about to or intend to travel to Japan. It is exciting when I hear from someone that is going for the first time or just got back. It reminds me of that incredibly excitement and joy I felt in the same situation. But in actual fact I have felt the same every trip to Japan – three times now. And so it is with a little sadness that I write today about my last day in Tokyo this year. It was mid August. Now it is almost Christmas! Three months have already passed since my trip. Surely that is a suitable wait time before booking my next trip? Surely?
The last day of any holiday – even a weekend away – is always a mixed bag of feelings. For me there is the feeling that I need to make the most of my last day. Then there is the longing for home and the family and children and my fur babies. Quickly followed by the dread of returning to normality following an overnight flight with likely no sleep. I guess we are spoilt in life when these are our biggest concerns at the end of trip away. So my last day was upon me.
I woke to a day that was no longer drizzly but it had clearly been raining overnight. The humidity had returned and the endless buzz of the cicadas. I took things very slow as I didn’t need to be at the airport until 8pm that night. I got up slowly and made my way up to the top floor restaurant for a full buffet breakfast. I started with a selection from the traditional Japanese buffet first. Some chilled salmon and Japanese omelette accompanied by a cold noodle stir fry. Then I headed back for just a little bacon and eggs. It was going to be a long day and I needed my energy. Once back in my room I carefully packed my bags ensuring that any items that were a little fragile were carefully wrapped in cloths and cushioned. Fortunately I had enough space in my case for everything and was able to ensure that my carry-on bag (my camera bag) was not overburdened.
One last check of my room and then down to check out and put my bags into a secure room. I strolled through West Shinjuku to the Shinjuku Station and took the short trip to Shibuya. My first experience of Shibuya had been in 2015 on my first trip to Japan. It was my first stop after the airport and it blew my mind. It was late but the area was alive with a sea of people thanks to a long weekend celebration. You can read all about that experience from my blog right here. That was a very cool and amazing experience. One that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
This time I was far more confident and had my bearings of where I was and which direction to head. Much like Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station is massive – both above and below ground. Coming out of the main entrance I was presented with a large courtyard that held an old rail car that was now an event and information station. And of course the eternal statue of Hachiko. A loyal dog of local urban legend. Given my patience in getting the day started the area was already very busy. Moving beyond the paved area I came across the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. For a first time westerner this place seems insane. And it is. Thousands of people cross this giant zebra crossing every few minutes day and night. Night times in particular are crazier. So many people. And it is a magnet for the youth of Tokyo. Public holidays and festive occasions draw massive crowds here. None more so than Halloween.
On this day I walked for quite a while along the main roads and then spent even more time exploring many of the back streets and laneways. I had explored this area extensively in 2015 and was pleased to see some of my favourites stores and local hot spots still existed. I walked in and out of stores and also stopped at the amazing Tower Records for a late morning coffee and snack. Tower Records is around 6 or 7 floors of retail for music and movie products. CDs and DVDs, some video games, a cafe and book store and much, much more. A very cool place to stop and browse as stores like this don’t exist in Australia. The closest is probably JB Hi-Fi stores.
Whilst wandering some back lanes I came across a Ramen bar that I first encountered in the middle of the night on my first trip to Tokyo. Out the front there was a machine that allowed you to choose your food and drink preferences, plug in the required cash and then take the ticket inside to the host. That’s how a lot of ramen places work. I am all for nostalgia so I played along and ordered a standard serve of their house ramen and made my way inside for some delicious noddles and brothy goodness. Oh I love ramen. I visited a few more stores to walk off my lunch but before long I was getting tired and was quickly running out of inspiration for taking street shots. I made my way back to the station. One last destination before the airport.
Back on the subway I took the short trip to Harajuku. I had been here a few days ago but it had been early in the morning – well early by Japanese standards – and Takeshita Street had been all but deserted. The odd school age child in uniform on their way to school and a few businessmen making their morning commute. Getting off at the train platform made it clear that at this time of the day – mid afternoon – was going to be very different. The pedestrian underpass from that forms the exit of the station was packed solid and the area around the station was very busy. The short walk across the road revealed that Takeshita Street, the heart of Harajuku, was jam-packed. Such a contrast to my previous visit. I braved the masses for a short way into the street but grew tired of the heat and the crowds before long. I managed to grab a few last shots but I believe these were my last shots for this trip.
The rest of the afternoon went as I had expected it would. A little more shopping in Shinjuku for last minute gifts. Then back to my hotel to grab my stored bags. I took a cab for the short trip back to Shinjuku station and then waited for the Narita Express or the NEX. It would take about one hour and ten minutes for the ride from Shinjuku to Narita station. I ended up grabbing a meal at a restaurant in the airport before boarding my flight. It was late and I dreaded the long journey without sleep. But as it turned out it was not so bad as the plane was only about a third full and as it turned out I had the three seats to myself. I was able to push the armrests back and lay across the three seats. I even managed to sleep for a little while. And before too long I was back home with my babies handing out gifts and telling them about where I bought them this or that.
My trip had truly come to an end. But I was super glad to be back home with my kids. And I was keen to go through my photos and begin this process of editing, sharing and writing about my journey. Tokyo is such a fantastic place to visit and I highly recommend for anyone to travel there to experience such a diverse and bizarre yet beautiful culture. For now I have to sustain my longing to return to Japan on my blogs and exploring my photos. But I am sure that the drive to explore more of Japan will become too great to ignore and before long I will be making a new set of travel plans. This may or may not be the last blog about my travels this year. I have a couple of ideas still floating around. But regardless thank you for staying with me on this journey.