Alarm clock set on 08:00. Today is all about Tokyo! We started the day with a delicious home-made breakfast and rushed our way to the metro station to be in time for the guided Tokyo Imperial Palace tour that only runs twice a day. On our way to the subway there had been to be a little miscommunication between Jangwon (my couch surfing host) and me. I wanted to join the tour on 10:00 am but Jangwon thought I just wanted to arrive there around 10:00. Since breakfast took a bit more time than planned we were never going to make it in time. This was a little disappointing. But then Jangwon told me that it’s very difficult to join the tour without registration. He checked the schedule on the internet and showed me that the next two week all tours were already fully booked. No change of getting in anyway. We stopped rushing and took things slow to get to the palace.
The first things that go unnoticed when exiting the station are the huge buildings that rise high into the air. Impressive to watch and in good contrast with the low-ground imperial palace site. I saw only a glimpse of the castle before I learned that the palace is closed till the 3rd due to the holiday season! Too bad because I’ve heard the palace and it’s gardens are pretty impressive!
Since we were already in the Marunouchi area we decided to explore it a bit more. This area is all about high buildings and shopping centers. We first brought a visit to the Tokyo International Forum where numerous cultural activities take place. The building has an interesting architecture of glass and steel. Then we continued our way to the Kitte shopping mall that also has interesting architecture and sells unique Japanese designed products like origami bags, clothes and jewellery. Next stop was the Marunouchi building which is also full of shops. We went to the top floor for a nice view on the city, but unfortunately the outside area was closed so we couldn’t really see a lot. By this time I’d seen enough shopping centers and felt the need to explore Tokyo in the open air. It’s a super sunny day with a cloudless sky. Perfect for a day strolling around Tokyo city :D!
We walked to the nearby Tokyo station. A renaissance style red-brick building from 1914. The station is completely restored in 2012 which makes the building give a kind of new appearance. The old renaissance style is in contrast with the big surrounding sky scrapers.
At Tokyo station we booked tickets for tomorrows day trip to lake Fujikawaguchiko. And continued our way to ‘a busy street in Tokyo’ as that was something I wanted to see. Jangwon took me to the Ueno area and the Ameyoko street market in particular. On our way to the street market there were more and more people until we’re in the middle of probably today’s most crowed shopping street in Tokyo! There are people everywhere and police are controlling the crowds. Organized chaos! Of course I wanted to participate in this chaos so we joined the crowds into the market street. Even though it was fun to walk between all these people I couldn’t see any reason why to go here for shopping today. There’s no way you can easily get what you want as it takes ages to get from one point to another. Anyway, I had a lot of fun walking between the Japanese and taking pictures of the crowds. After this adventurous walk we searched for a more relaxed surrounding in the nearby Ueno park and the Shinobazu pond in particular. We had some tasty soba noodles and enjoyed the sun, scenery and birds in the park.
Searching for things to do around this area we continued our way to the Kanda Myojin Shrine. Only a 15 minute walk from the park. Our maps application told us that we’d arrived but all we saw was a large building with apartments. It felt like we were in a more rural area and questioned if we were in the right place. Then we saw a glimpse of people passing a nearby street. That had to be the place! And it was! We arrived just in time to watch a new-years ritual. A couple of hundred Japanese had gathered together to write down their new-years wishes. There where men dressed in white garments who performed a ritual that included singing, playing a traditional instrument and bringing offers to the altar. When the men were finished the people walked to the temple to present their wishes. I felt very lucky to experience this new-years ritual. Even though I couldn’t really understand what was said or going on it was special to watch.
As the day was passing by Jangwon and I still hadn’t made plans to celebrate the new year. We wanted to go for some life music in a jazz bar but a quick search on the internet learned us that we had to pay quite a high entrance fee just to listen to the music only. No drinks included. This didn’t really fit my budget so I felt the need to check some other options. We took place in the Tokyo subway and I connected to the wifi. I quickly learned that in Japan there’s no firework to celebrate the new year. I found some countdown parties in the city center, but again there was a pretty high entrance fee. Then I searched for some new-year couch surfing events and saw that there was one in Tokyo with many attendants. The event started off as a house party in the organizers house and later moved to the Shibuya city center area for a countdown and pub-party. Sounded like a lot of fun to me! I messaged Hero if Jangwoon and I could join before we continued our way to the Tokyo tower.
It’s been quite a day so far, with many sightseeing and walking! And the day is long from being over! When we arrived at the Onarimon station the sun had already set and the Tokyo tower was lit in bright orange-and- yellowish colors. While we walked toward the tower we passed the Zojoji temple where also new-year preparations were being made. Lanterns were lighting the way to the temple, food stalls were selling toys and Japanese food, incense was burning and monks were preparing the evening ritual. Something big is going to happen tonight! It’s nice to see everybody preparing the new year celebration. Other than in my country people in Japan tend to visit a temple during the new year. It’s called Hatsumode; the first temple visit of the new year.
Because we’d been walking quite a lot and I watched the Tokyo tower from a distance I didn’t feel the need to actually walk all the way to the tower. Instead we returned back to the metro station to check if we got a reply to our message. And we did :D! We were invited to the party that had already stated by this time. Jangwon and I had one last stroll down Roppongi hills before we bought supplies and continued to the party.
When we arrived at the house there were already lots if people. At first it seemed like there was no place for us to sit, but since everybody there is a couch surfer (generally friendly and open minded) people quickly squeezed in a bit more to make us some space. Great! The relatively small space was packed with people, drinks and food. And the ambience was great! Many (solo)travelers from all over the world gathered together to spend the new year together! Perfect J! There was just one big issue; Jangwon told me the last metro home would be at 23:30. This meant that I was about to celebrate new year in the metro! That was a turf off! Especially after finding such a nice party. With no other public transport available and taxi’s being way too expensive to take the long way home there seemed to be no other option than to take the train.
It was around 08:00pm now so still enough time to enjoy the evening. I decided to just accept everything as it is as you cannot always control everything.
I made contact with new people and had a very good time before Mark from Alaska (first person I’ve met from Alaska) invited Jangwon and me to leave this party for another party in Shibuya. He opted that we can sleep in his house if we wanted. That sounded good! But with no actual plan in Shibuya I rather stayed at Hero’s place with all these couch surfers instead of a small solo party. I asked Hero for other transportation options and he told me that because of the new-year public transportation is available all night! Yay :D! From this moment on my part mood was really unstoppable! I connected with many more people from over the world and called with my brother before we all left for the Meiji Jingu temple for our Hatsumode! Super exciting!
Hero, the host of the night turned out to be a great organizer as he smoothly guided this huge group of more- and- less drunk people from his house to the station, to the train and into the next train. And he was so relaxed while doing it. Really admirable! And what a lot of fun I had! It was great to travel through Tokyo with this large group of people. All in the mood to party!
It was when we arrived at the Shibuya area where my part of the group made a quick stop to buy more alcohol that we lost the rest of the group in the Japanese crowd. But it was okay. Even with this smaller group we still had a lot of fun. We originally thought to meet up around the Meiji Jingu temple but when we arrived there and saw the thousands of people waiting to enter the temple for some reason we just joined the line instead of searching for the rest. I guess it was kind of overwhelming to see so many people gathering together in the well-lighted street that nobody even thought about finding the others. We just joined the line and moved slowly into the direction of the temple. Just before 12 there was an actual countdown, but it happened so fast (and in Japanese) that we sort of missed it and just stated cheering when everybody else did. No happy new year hugs but just a short cheer before we all got back to talking and waiting.
We waited for about 1.5 hours before Jangwon checked the time and opted to go home. We were only 40 minutes away from entering the temple, but considering the time and the fact that we need to take the bus to Fujikawaguchiko at 07:40 I decided to join him to the house. I was surprised to see so many Japanese out on the street. Policemen were guiding everybody in the right direction. It was very well organized. On our way to the station we saw a huge place where people ate food before getting home and that was exactly what we did!
At the metro station we didn’t have to wait long for the train and just a little over 03:00 am we arrived in Jangwon’s apartment. With less than three hours of sleep scheduled I asked if we could maybe change the ticket date but that was no option. By that time I really regret not having planned everything a little better. I would’ve loved to finish the temple visit and continue the party instead of heading home for a super short night. On the other hand I again just decided to take everything as it is. I had a great day sightseeing in Tokyo, experiencing Japanese new-years rituals and meeting nice people from all over the world. All together it was a fantastic day and experience! Happy new year everybody :D!