After a heroic 5:30am landing, and successful navigation of the monorail, metro and labyrinth that is Tokyo central station, we were thrilled to welcome Simon to Japan (which involved flying leap-hugs from the girls). After fuelling him with a few rounds of expresso while the girls finished school, we then hit our fave conveyor / Ipad sushi joint to get the foodfest rolling. Si quickly navigated to pole position as ‘bravest eater’, staking his claim on day 1 with full consumption of this opening platter which raised the stakes with mini-critters (bottom right) and peaked with raw-‘cheval’ (middle left).
We took Simon on an open top bus tour of the city during the early afternoon, which turned out to be not the best jetlag cure, despite extreme cold and the wind chill factor. Our circuit didn’t appear to take in many of the more impressive prestigious Tokyo tourist sites, but made a big deal when we took a slip road onto the inner-city highway (we struggled to see the appeal of the multi-lanes and traffic, especially given our direct exposure to the fumes!). The audio overview was so tedious and overlaid by such soporific music that Simon eventually hit a wall and nodded off.
So we took him to the Ninja Cafe! Where he woke up. Whilst unapologetically a themed restaurant, tonnes of locals go to the Ninja Cafe (as well as hordes of tourists) because the food is genuinely very good (as well as flamboyantly presented), and the experience manages to transcend its inherent naffness. Getting to our ‘food cave’ involved a prolonged ninja walk over a hidden trap door, down darkened corridors and through secret entrances. Sashimi arrived peaking through billowing dry ice, and soup was prepared at the table by dropping 300 degree stones into cold stock, and adding vegetables once it boiled. The tricks continued after dinner when we were treated to a private Ninja magic show that genuinely blew all our minds (jet-lagged or not). The only bummer (literally) was that it was a sit-on-the-floor job, and a few of us are generally too creaky to find that comfortable.
On Wednesday morning we hit teamLab’s Borderless, which had been vociferously recommended to us by so many friends. team-Lab is an art collective interdisciplinary group of ultra technologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world (and yes I did copy that off their website!). Various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians ands and architects delivered this experience which aims to explore a new relationship between humans and nature. More below if you get off on the bollocks……
…..otherwise just take a look at the amazing photos below that don’t even 5% give justice to what it was like to explore the cavernous rooms and corridors which made up the Borderless experience….
Afterwards we stopped in at the Toyota exhibition to check out the future of motor vehicles – pretty spacey!
Nighttime brought a trip to the 52nd floor of the Hyatt for cocktails, sunset and twinkling lights. It didn’t disappoint!
We went on a private tour of the fish market the following morning (who thought that was a good idea after a night on the cocktails?!?!). There was an incredible array of dried fish, live fish, whole fish, sliced sashimi, sea urchin, oysters, uncountable grades of tuna, snappers, crabs legs and the essential pickles to serve them with.
There were also various literally terrifying giant shell-fish each about the size of my head. Go on – take a good look (if not a bite).
We learned that the local children charge up on calcium by eating lots of tiny small whole dried fish (milk is not really a thing here). However intrepid they have proved themselves to be, Bella and Emily proved unwilling to go THAT local……
By lunch time, Yuki, our impeccable guide took us through several dark smelly alleys to this pristine gem of a sushi restaurant where we watched a master at work, and ate by far the best tuna that we are ever likely to get our chopsticks round.
And then as we navigated our way out of the market, watched this dude hacking out the eye from a tuna head.
The next morning progressed at an altogether more peaceful pace, starting with ‘stretch yoga’, and next an impromptu drop in to Akasaka Palace which we happened to pass by, intriguingly hidden behind high walls. It turned out to be beautiful, but on discovering its architectural style we slightly wondered what we were doing wandering round the ‘Versailles of Tokyo’ rather than exploring somewhere a bit more traditionally authentic!
Taking advantage of a babysitting night, Si, James and I explored the tiny twisty alleys of Shinjuku Omiode Yokocho and squeezed ourselves into a few of the slimline bars serving beer, whiskey, yakatori and other delicacies.
Talking of delicacies, after a few beers, the fearless Simon tucked into some juicy gizzard, but drew the line at James’ rejected intestines. Speaking as the member of the party that stuck to vegetables on my sticks, they were all tasty, and thankfully I kept my head despite devouring a few mashrooms! And in case you are wondering, no one got stuck into the womb.
On our way to a few more late night drinkeries, we popped into this huge slot-machine metropolis. The incessant din of hundreds of machines all screeching and clashing at top volume was literally unbearable. I lasted long enough to be asked (via the universal Japanese arm-cross) not to take a photo, and I think Simon was back out the door before even me! James obviously stayed for a game. His head seems impervious to repetitive irritating noises (as illustrated by his calm execution of general fatherhood duties!).
Our final afternoon in Tokyo was spent in a vast VR gaming studio, with more than 30 games to choose from. For me the experience was far worse even than the day 1 Tokyo Thunder Dolphin rollercoaster. I barely lasted 2 minutes in the ‘flying-bicycle-castle-mission experience’ before I had to make it go away by closing my eyes and asking to have the headset removed from me. I then sat on the floor for nearly an hour (until the floor stopped moving…..). The girls and James obviously loved it! Below is evidence of them enjoying the white water rafting, the cycle-flying, and walking the plank (200M in the air!) to rescue a small kitten at the end of it.
James took it up a level to do some kind of 18+ horror experience where he was strapped to a chair in a hospital surrounded by people decapitating themselves (and others), general guts flying around and avatars trying to disembowel him. Apparently this falls into the category of fun!
We then took the bullet train out of town to spend the weekend with Ryo (an old schoolfriend of James’s) and his lovely family Tash, Skyla, and Otto.