Japan Day 2 – Tokyo

Saturday 7 January 2023

We’re starting our first full day in Tokyo with a parkrun. There are no particularly central park runs; they are predominantly in the suburbs. And they are held at 8 am. So it’s an early start to catch a train 9 miles out of town town to Hikarigaoka Park.

Buying a train ticket is significantly more complicated than I’d anticipated. After several failed attempts, a passer-by takes pity on us and helps us fathom out the array of different machines and ticket options. We don’t succeed in obtaining our first choice, which was a 3 day metro pass, but we each have a (different) ticket which will get us to our destination. Although the whole process took so long, that getting to parkrun in time for the start is now marginal.

Hikarigaoka Parkrun

We catch our train to Hikarigaoka and walk the 10 minutes to Hikarigaoka Park, arriving just as the pre run photo is being taken. There’s only one other tourist there – another Brit, but the regulars are very welcoming.

Hikarigaoka Park

Until I take my fleece off, thus exposing my 250 parkrun t shirt. Then I am treated like a rock star. Everyone wants their photo taken with me. Then someone asks me if I’ve met Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the founder of parkrun. I say that I have. Then I am treated like an actual god.

Hikarigaoka Parkrun

Once the furore has died down, we can actually run. The course consists of two very flat loops of the park. I run with the old man for the first mile, then he stops to tie his shoe lace. Meanwhile, I continue but take a wrong turn. He notices the cones I failed to spot and turns left as I happily continue straight on.

Hikarigaoka parkrun

I rectify my mistake but am unable to catch him. A fact he is keen to remind me of repeatedly for the remainder of the day. After a few more photos, we can return to our hotel in the city, shower and change and set off to do some sightseeing.

Hikarigaoka parkrun

Train to Marunouchi

The plan is to take the train (from a different station to the one we used this morning) to Marunouchi in order to visit the Imperial Palace. At Sendagaya station, the ticket machines are outside and you can’t even access the station without a ticket. Once again we fail to work out what to do, and when we do manage to purchase a ticket, we accidentally pay twice as much as was necessary.

Marunouchi

After much palaver, we finally work out what to do and head for Tokyo Station. We had planned to have brunch at the station, but somehow manage to take the wrong exit and end up in an area with literally zero cafes or restaurants. By now, it’s 21 hours since I last ate and I’m starting to struggle.

Marunouchi

Brunch at La Boutique de Joel Robuchon

After a lot of wandering around, we find a bakery and decide to buy a snack to keep us going. The Boutique de Joel Robuchon is a French style bakery. All the food is labelled in French, as are any allergens. This is not particularly helpful as it would appear that the staff don’t actually speak French. For example, the Croque Monsieur (allergens wheat and dairy) is a bread roll covered in cheese and embedded with walnuts. Or maybe pecans. That’s not really the point. The points is who the hell puts nuts on a cheese sandwich? And why the hell isn’t nuts on the list of allergens? I select something which I hope won’t kill me; a mushroom tart. It’s really greasy and the mushrooms are rather bitter. But I’m no longer hungry and I’m not dead. So it’s a win, win of sorts.

Imperial Palace

Then we walk to the Imperial Palace. I had assumed that an Imperial Palace would be easy to locate, but the site is far larger than I’d imagined and we walk and walk until we finally locate the entry to the palace.

Kokyo-Gaien Plaza

My guide book recommends heading for this enormous gravel lined plaza for views of the Niju-bashi (iron bridge) and Megane-bashi (stone bridge) which link to the Fushimi-yagura (watchtower). In reality, the area is heavily guarded and you can’t get particularly close or see very much of aforementioned attractions.

Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace Guided Tour

You can only access the palace grounds on a guided tour. These free tours take place between Tuesday and Saturday at 10 am and 1.30 pm. There are 70 places available on a first come first served basis. So we queue for the afternoon tour to find we are around 80th in the queue and therefore cannot participate.

Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace East Garden

So we walk on to the East Garden. This is free to enter, although there is a quota system. However, we don’t have to queue. Again, this is significantly larger than I’d imagined. In addition, I was expecting a traditional Japanese style garden. But it consists mainly of enormous lawns of rather parched grass.

Imperial Palace East Gate

There are some more traditional areas of bamboo and a lake full of koi carp.

East Garden

Tokyo Station

We walk back to the 100 year old station, stopping to admire its red brick facade. The plan is to go inside, locate Rahmen Street, have lunch, then catch a train back to our hotel.

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station is massive. It’s probably bigger than my home town. Its underground shopping and dining streets go on and on and on.

Inside Tokyo Station

Lunch in Rahmen Street

After some considerable effort, we eventually find Rahmen Street, select a restaurant and choose, with the help of the plastic replicas, our meals. I opt for Udon Noodles with Tempura vegetables.

Rahmen Street

A thing I meant to learn but didn’t get round is to eat with chopsticks. Apparently, the way to eat noodles involves chopsticks in one hand and a spoon/ladle in the other. I attempt to go spoon only but the noodles are slippery little buggers and lunch is slow and laborious affair. Much of it ends up on my jumper.

Noodles for lunch

We return to the hotel, stopping at the local 7-11. We purchased sumo tickets online and apparently I have to give a code at any 7-11 and they will print the tickets. Sounds simple and it is. It’s our first Japanese ticketing success. In the evening, the old man settles down with a family pack of KitKats to crush candy, while I explore the hotel. It has a nice little roof terrace with views across the Olympic Park and the city.

Hotel View

Then I head for the Public Bath. I’m not sure quite what this entails, but I don my swimming costume and off I go. It’s basically what it says – a big bath. It’s very hot; rather like being in an oversized jacuzzi which hasn’t been turned on. I’m not sure I get the point.

Hotel View

Apparently, you don’t wear clothes in a public bath. I come waltzing in in my swimming costume and everyone else is naked, leaving me feeling extremely overdressed. I’m not sure how to react; immediately whip my tits out or just get in the water demurely and not draw attention to myself. I opt for the latter, but I feel rather out of place surrounded by exposed fannies when mine’s all covered up. So I don’t stay long, then wander down the road to the shop to buy a salad for tea. He gives me a set of chopsticks to eat it with. How the hell do you eat a salad with chopsticks? I think that Japan is the most different place I’ve ever been to in all my travels. And Tokyo is massive. On our first day we have walked 12 miles (in addition to the 3 we ran). So it’s time for an early night before another instalment tomorrow.

Author: Jane's Midlife Journey

Stopped work, started travelling. Sometimes I run - combining the two with some parkrun tourism.

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