Japan; an archipelago - has more than 6,800 Islands - located on the eastern edge of Asia. The destination for the postponed summer Olympics.
Tokyo is a very busy, cutting edge, cosmopolitan city filled with skyscrapers, however, its history and culture shines through in the city’s countless Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and gardens.
I have been fortunate to travel to this amazing country and I share my experience of this amazing city.
The first thing I think of when looking back at my time in Japan are the people. They are the most polite, kind, thoughtful and courteous people I have ever met. Taking great pride in their country and culture and always went out of their way to help me during my stay. Etiquette is very important and you do have to bow when you greet anyone which gave such a sense of respect, whether you are receiving or giving this gesture.
The shops are amazing with a plethora of products you have never seen before and the widest pedestrian walkways to reach them.
My first trip was to take a train to visit the Senso-ji the oldest and most significant Buddhist temple located in Asakusa - the most visited spiritual sites in the world. Only a 15 minute ride from Tokyo station that was very clean (the whole city is clean) and the trains always run on time.
On arrival you reach a gate that has a giant red chochin lantern which you have to pass under leading to the temple. The temple is stunning inside and outside - the pictures do not do it justice - that is dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion.
Another tradition at temples is the Omikuji (means sacred lot) a form of fortune telling. I paid to pull a stick out of a long, cylindrical box and inside a piece of paper reveals a number which matches the one listed on a chest of tiny draws, where your paper fortune will be inside. It was fun to do and the fortunes were in different languages - I cannot remember what my fortune was but I do know it was very cryptic.
On the grounds I also visited one of the largest souvenir markets in the city, with 90 different shops selling traditional souvenirs such as Kimono's, Chinese lanterns to beautiful fans.
I didn't know that next door is Asakusa-jinja, one of Tokyo's original shrines - a hidden gem - that survived the firebombing of the city during WWII. Worth a visit just to get away from the hustle and bustle of its famous neighbour.
I did leave the city for the day and took a tour to the west via train. On arrival I took the Hakone Ropeway (cable car) to visit the Owakundani Volcanic valley which is around 3000 years ago as a result of an explosion of the Hakone volcano. This gave the best advantage point to see this rugged dry landscape of active sulphur vents and hot springs bubbling away.
I then travelled from Hakone over Lake Ashinoko on a pirate ship (very touristy, but was fun) which offered breathtaking views of Mount Fuji in the distance, with its snow capped peak.
Once back in Tokyo, I decided to take a visit to a hidden gem, the tranquil Hamarikyu gardens that has beautiful ponds and canals that are connected with Tokyo Bay so the waters rise and fall with the tides. I took part in a traditional tea ceremony in a thatched-roof teahouse. I removed my shoes and sit on a tatami mat and was served matcha (green tea) by ladies in Kimono's who serenely poured the tea into little bowls, felt quite spiritual.
Whilst in Tokyo I had lunch at a shopping centre that had a Sushi bar with the revolving bar. It was an experience sitting with locals; whilst watching the chefs prepare traditional fish sushi - which was delicious.
I also had dinner in a local restaurant, where I had to take my shoes off and put on flip flops to walk across the restaurant to the table. The tables were low in height and had to sit on cushions on the floor whilst eating a common dish in Japan, a bowl of tempura chicken and rice.
For quirky eateries there are many themed cafes and restaurants in Tokyo from Alice in Wonderland, Vampire to Alcatraz to name a few.
I didn't visit Ueno Park whilst I was in Tokyo, however, I am mentioning as its the largest public space in Tokyo. It has a large lake, national museum, Japans oldest zoo, that is home to Giant Panda's and one thousand cherry blossom trees. If you visit in late March to early April it has the most amazing cherry blossom festival.
Other hidden gems I wished I had visited whilst in Tokyo:
Gotokuji Temple - It is believed this is where the origin of the maneki neko (the waving cat trinkets) lucky charms started. As you travel through the temple there are countless "fortune" cats - of all sizes - left by visitors of the temple.
Shibuya Sky Observatory - Opened in November 2019 and is one of the best viewpoints of the city with its 360 degree rooftop viewing platform
Japan is progressing with its #sustainability and is ranked 15th of 162 countries for progress according to a report in 2019. However, Japan still has a lot to do.
It is the third-largest economy in the world, but unfortunately has a major issue with homelessness and children in poverty. This is a bigger problem than thought as the epidemic (COVID19) has closed "Internet cafe's refugees" where they used to sleep, and surprisingly 80% of these refugees are at work, they just cannot afford a home! Japan is finding a solution to reduce poverty in this prosperous country.
Do not let this put you off travelling to this beautiful country; to learn more take a look at this website: https://www.japan.travel/en/