It’s 17:00 on Saturday in Düsseldorf and I am about to leave for Japan. The first taste of Japanese efficiency and beauty hits hard and fast, just the way it should!
After a quick check-in and pass through security – if you travel in Germany, use Düsseldorf instead of Frankfurt – I get to the gate two full hours in advance. That’s when All Nippon Airways show me the Japanese way of working. The plane is already at the gate. People are busy inside and outside the Boeing Dreamliner.
What I experienced at check-in and in the plane was extreme politeness, getting thanked for doing the most simple thing and always being asked if there was something else I wanted. Guys, I like you already.
Thankfully, the Premium Economy seat upgrade allowed me to sleep during the flight. Totally worth it. The extra leg room and distance from screaming kids creates peace. The 3-4 hours you can sleep on the plane make the difference between being forcefully jet lagged and going through your day almost normally.
I check in at the hostel and an uneventful dinner follows before a long night’s sleep to be sharp on the first day.
Monday, June 4
For the first time in a decade, the jet lag bug hasn’t bitten me at all. It’s a super sunny day in Tokyo, without a cloud in sight. Perfect for the sightseeing ahead.
A small coffee shop located near the hostel provides perfect pleasure to start the day. I would never have thought of charcoal filtered coffee but that’s exactly what I drank. Although it’s filter coffee, it has a decent bite.
I wanted to visit the Imperial Palace and its East Gardens but they were closed on Monday. Let’s see if they are interesting enough for a second attempt later.
Everything else went well, though. A major highlight was the Yasukuni Shrine, founded by Emperor Meiji. Exactly what you expect to see when you come to this country.
If Tokyo is a good yardstick, train stations are a work of art just as they are in Germany. The central station is a classic beauty in a highly modern megapolis. Very colourful and incredibly orderly.
Speaking of modern, nothing could be more contemporary than the Tokyo International Forum, which is a few steps away from the station.
When you get to the courtyard, you have a very relaxed public space between the steel and glass buildings that host conference areas. What happens inside the buildings doesn’t interest me, but spending 15-20 minutes in the shade on a sunny day is a great idea.
Let’s change the pace by going to Senso-ji, another shrine. This one is highly touristy due to its older feel and to the presence of narrow merchant streets.
Where there are tourists, there is ice cream! Sesame is the highlight in this mix. Green tea is fine, but not spectacular. Chocolate represents the safe choice. Anyways, if you ever see sesame ice cream, allow it to delight you.
Senso-ji itself is eye candy, as long as you find a way to take pictures without too many tourists around. The impression that stands out, so far, is that Tokyo is extremely Japanese. I appreciate that. It doesn’t feel like a tourist hotspot such as Prague. You can take its pulse and appreciate being among locals almost all the time.
As the distances between sights are greater than in Europe, I must finish the day with two visits. First, Ueno Park is a mix of wild life and small shrines. A peaceful oasis in one of this world’s biggest cities.
Right after that, I head to the Tokyo Sky Tree. A massive tower with a glass observatory on top. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures in “open air” but the view of this seemingly infinite urban skyline is impressive to say the least.
What’s for dinner? Onigiri. Those are rice balls stuffed with all kinds of fillings and wrapped in seaweed. More practical to eat and clearly more flavourful than sushi.
The last word regards rules in Japan. If you have been to Germany, you know that it’s a strict society with codes and rules. You haven’t yet seen what the Japanese can throw at you.
Looking for a place to dump a piece of rubbish? Good luck. There are almost no bins. No one eats anything on the street, for fear of dropping anything and spoiling the amazing cleanliness of the cities.
Everything is squeaky clean but your hands may not be all clean. There is no paper to dry your hands in washrooms.
The final word regards smoking regulations. Unless you are lucky enough to find a place where the owner banned the activity, you cannot escape smoke in a closed restaurant. As a Westerner, I think: shouldn’t they do it freely outside? Nope. Tokyo bans it on the street, leaving only a few spaces here and there, on the edge of public squares.
“Interesting” public health policy.