The adventure continues as we head for the bright lights of Osaka and Tokyo.
Missed Part 1? Read it here.
Stepping off the train at Osaka was a shock after spending so much time in the beautiful, quiet Kyoto. Osaka’s full of high rises. It’s a commercial urban city of cranes, big shopping complexes and neon lights. But as it was the food capital of Japan, we had to stop by, even for a day.
We got the train from Kyoto to Osaka – a local one to keep the travelling costs down. A week of wandering around Kyoto had left our feet covered in blisters, so we took things easy after dumping our bags at the Willer Express bus terminal. A mother, who had managed to drop her keys in a shopping centre pond, and her toddler son kept us entertained while we chilled in a chilly concrete garden.
When we felt like our feet could be trusted to carry us, we walked to our destination: Dotonbori Street.
To save the Yen, we got the Willer Express overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo. It was a surprisingly comfortable ride – a lot nicer experience than going on the Mega Bus. I would recommend it as an alternative way of travelling – the Shinkansen is a rather pricey mode of transport.
We arrived at Shinjuku Station at 9am. We couldn’t check into our Tokyo accommodation in Ojima until past 3pm, so spent a while limping around Shinjuku before heading to Harajuku and Shibuya (we struggled to find anything to do in Shinjuku, and spent the best of our time there lost – we were definitely no longer in Kyoto!)
It was in Takeshita Street that we found our first taste of Otaku Heaven.
One thing I was desperate to bring back with me from Japan was music. I love J-Rock. Western rock has gone to shit over recent years, but J-Rock is holding strong on morals. In Shibuya we found the god of music stores – Tower Records.
Five floors of music; K-Pop, western music, anime soundtracks, blues, punk, metal… This glorious bastard had it all. Although it took us about half an hour to find OLDCODEX among the shelves and shelves of CDS, mostly because the Japanese organisation of music makes no sense to a westerner. They shove J-Pop and J-Rock together, and even though OLDCODEX fits into those categories, they are located in the anime soundtrack section…
It was gloriously nostalgic to wander around a music store, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager before Virgin Megastore closed, and HMV began to cut down on the number of stores.
Unlike Kyoto, Tokyo’s cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Walking through Yoyogi Park was spectacular. We sat under the blossoms among the Tokyo locals, and watching some glam Tokyo boys playing some terrible volleyball.
Not satisfied by the sip of Otaku Heaven we had experienced on the first day, we headed to Akihabara on day 2 of our Tokyo adventure.
To be honest, I was really disappointed by Akihabara. If you’re into collecting figurines, you’ll love the place, but for general anime goods like posters, badges and other merch, the place is very sparse. Animate was the only place we found that really quenched our thirst.
Day 3 saw the start of the wet Tokyo weather. It chucked it down, but being the idiots were are, we still walked to the National Tokyo Museum. We got soaked even with our umbrellas.
We passed Kaminarimon on the way, and stopped to have a quick jostle with the tourists to have a look at the massive lantern before trudging along.
The National Tokyo Museum was alright. It was a good place to go on a rainy day. Some of their statue collection was really impressive, as were the really old artifacts. It might have been because I was tired, and damp, and cold, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. The inspiration I hoped to pick up there didn’t heed my call.
The rain let up on the way back, so we stopped by Kaminarimon again to pick at the food stalls at the temple. A hot bubble tea cheered me right up.
Day 3 we discovered true the Otaku Heaven – Ikebukuro.
We hadn’t planned on visiting this area of Tokyo because it was so far out, but with nothing much else left on the list we decided to go for it. I’m so glad we did, because we ended up spending two whole days there – the first day exploring the streets, and the second rainy day inside Sunshine City.
We caught the plane from Narita International, flying back to London Heathrow, our hearts heavy with grief and our suitcases bursting with merch.
Most Japan guide books talk about the ‘culture shock’ you’ll have when you go out there, but we didn’t experience that. Instead, we experienced one coming back.
Coming back to the UK was bloody miserable. The tube was narrow and dirty. I miss Japanese efficiency. I miss seeing policeman riding around on bicycles. I miss seeing Japanese business men run across the streets pushing trolleys. I hate going to the park and having to see off YOBS who want to play footie with our volleyball. Of course, there are things that I sorely missed about the UK – good veggie food, brown carbohydrates, cheap fresh fruit and green city spaces.
I can’t wait to go back. Just give me another three years to save up enough money!
Sayonara for now, Japan!