Holiday, Photography, Travel

Japan Day 2: Tokyo, Shinjuku (28/03/2015)

We chose the buffet breakfast option when we booked our room at the Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku so we were able to fuel up before heading out for a day of sightseeing. Breakfast was an all you can eat buffet of western and Japanese foods and we had a strange mixture of grilled fish, spicy noodles, curry and rice, sausage, bacon and hash browns with coffee while we went through our sightseeing options for the day. Breakfast wasn’t especially cheap but it was essentially endless which is a good way to start a long day of sightseeing!

Being a bit dazed still from yesterday’s activities we decided on a relatively relaxed schedule taking in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with its 45th floor viewing platform, the Park Hyatt Hotel (from Lost in Translation) and the Tokyo Sword Museum.

The room at the Sunroute hotel was quite small but not as small as we had feared. There was just about enough room to put down our two cases and for one of us to move around the room if the other sat on the bed or stood in the corner out of the way. There was no wardrobe space so we had to live out of the suitcases for a week which was fine except for the fact that there was nowhere sensible to put the suitcases! We were reasonably high up which isolated us a bit from the bustle of the street which was nice. The room was too small to get any decent pictures of the inside but here are some pictures of the view from the window. I might write a separate post at some point about my impressions of the different hotels we stayed in on this trip.

The view from our hotel room in Shinjuku.
The view from our hotel room in Shinjuku.
Another view from our hotel room in Shinjuku.
Another view from our hotel room in Shinjuku.

The government building was an easy walk from the hotel and turned out to be more of a campus than a single building covering several city blocks with buildings of varying sizes and shapes connected by a number of walkways and bridges. It must be interesting finding your way to meetings in another part of the building. Maybe the government employs guides to show you where to go! Once we found the building, there were signs to the two observation levels on the 45th floor of the North and South towers. After a quick queue and another cursory Japanese bag check we were in the express elevator to the 45th floor.

From the observation floor, you can see out over much of Tokyo. Apparently you can see Mount Fuji but the day was too hazy to see that far and we would have to wait until day 7 to see the famous mountain. Although the views were not particularly dramatic, it was very interesting to see the layout of the city. Skyscrapers cluster together in groups seemingly randomly and are surrounded by low rise buildings jumbled and jammed together. The most amazing thing though in this densely populated city were the large expanses of green areas. From here we could see the large national garden we visited yesterday and also Meiji Jingu park and temple which we plan to visit later in the week.

Leaving the building we found a tourist information centre in the lobby and browsed for a while for ideas for things to do, although we already have a pretty full schedule!

The Park Hyatt was quite disappointing and apart from a rather grand lobby and elevator hall we weren’t able to see any of the building and didn’t recognise anything at all from the film. So after a quick snoop around we headed on to the Tokyo Sword Museum which took quite a bit of finding being on a back street too small to be on some of the maps. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the sword museum.

There are lots of parts of swords on display here, blades, handles, sheaths as well as guards, decorations and tools but as far as I could tell no complete items. It comes across more as an archaeological exhibition than a museum of actual swords. There is lots of information available about the historic significance of the items in Japanese but hardly any in English. While I enjoyed looking at the different parts that make up a sword, it would have been nice to see some more complete items and also to have a bit more information about what I was looking at. Disappointingly there were no exhibits or demonstrations about the physical making of the sword which I had hoped to see having heard that they have a forge on site and that the museum was founded by a group whose aim is to preserve the art of traditional sword manufacture.

We grabbed some takeaway food and headed back to a park attached to the government building complex. After a brief detour which found us walking through an area dedicated to children cycling strange contraptions, we found some kind of outdoor festival going on and took the opportunity to eat our lunch watching the world go by.

After lunch we decided to check out some of the shopping options in Shinjuku. First we visited Tokyu Hands in a large department store. Our first experience in a Japanese department store, we were very confused by how easy it was to accidentally stray from one shop into a completely different one. Hands has many floors of all sorts of goods and we spent a while in the stationery floors looking for souvenirs.

After Tokyu Hands we visited the famous Don Quixote store. DQ is a chain store famous for its eclectic range of goods and pile-em-high approach to selling. The stores are all different but the one in Shinjuku is a veritable maze of consumer goods literally piled to the ceiling across many floors. The narrow aisles between the goods wind maze-like and it is easy to lose your bearings. Added to the maze-like nature of each floor, stairs and lifts often seem to only link 2 floors together so to progress either up or down more than one floor you have to navigate the maze again making you feel a little like you are trapped in a dungeon crawling RPG.

After venturing far enough up the building to find the sex toys displayed next to the light bulbs, we decided it was time to head out. This was easier said than done as we had to retrace our steps through the maze and down the stairs only to discover that the entire ground floor had turned into a queue for the cash desks with the aisles too narrow to easily pass the queuing customers. Finally managing to exit I was glad to have visited DQ but even gladder to be outside and to have no good reason to ever go inside again. Definitely not a place for the claustrophobic!

Sore-footed we headed back to the hotel to gather our strength for tomorrow.

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