A taste of Tokyo
QLD blogger Andrew skips off to Japan with a bunch of mates for sake, sumos and shopping in Shibuya.
What has a combined weight of 1,017 kilograms? No, it wasn’t my luggage. No, it wasn’t the amount of delicious Japanese food we consumed over four days. No, it is not the latest contestants on the Biggest Loser, but getting closer…. The answer: The Mongolian sumo wrestling team that formed part of the line up at a recent tournament I attended as part of my winter sojourn in Tokyo.
Did you guess? These guys were massive! And not only were there Japanese rikishi (traditional name for the wrestlers) vying for the title, but several originated from Europe, South America and Russia. It was an experience I will remember forever. Cramped into our four person ‘box’ seating which was about 25-30 metres from the action, the atmosphere was electric as clear favourites and reigning champions stepped up.
I highly recommend booking your trip to Tokyo timed around a sumo tournament. They’re not held as regularly as you’d expect and you need to check specific dates, but it’s well worth it and something you wouldn’t necessarily think to do in your lifetime.
Where to stay
Jumping aboard a JR Line train, we headed back to our hotel, changing to the subway lines halfway. Bustling up through Akasaka-mitsuke station we found our accommodation for the week across the road and down a narrow alley. The Hotel Sunroute Akasaka was superb! The staff are extremely helpful and spoke excellent English – something we struggled with a bit whilst in Japan.
The rooms are comfortable and quiet at night plus they supplied free internet and sleeping gowns with slippers for those small enough to fit them (my gown was more like a pyjama top!) Also, Hotel Sunroute Akasaka is on the subway line – essential if you’re traveling for a few days in Tokyo – you need to be located somewhere within easy walking distance of a train station.
Whilst it was a whirlwind trip (tacked on the end of five fabulous days skiing in Hakuba) there’s still plenty to see around the city in three days if you put in the effort to wake up early and head out for hours of adventure.
My city highlights:
• Shinjuku nightlife and department store shopping.
• The famed Shibuya crossing where you can sit in one of the upper level coffee shops and people watch below.
• Takeshita-Dori Street in Harajuku for some bizarre fashion shopping and an abundance of pancake outlets. The Harajuku girls really do live up to their reputation but not all are fond of having their photograph taken.
• The Golden Gai district at night is for the brave few. Creep down the dark laneways past doorways and alleys leading to bars and ‘adult entertainment’ establishments, mostly closed to foreigners but still the experience is worth spending a few minutes just looking around, perhaps on your way out to dinner.
Getting around the metropolis
One tip for travel in Tokyo is don’t buy the tourist JR Pass in Australia. Once you arrive, get a combined Suica/Pasmo card and your entire above and belowground rail travel is covered. You just top it up when you run out. You can buy them at the airport or any train station; most convenience stores sell them and top them up for you as well. Plus they can be used in some shops to buy basic items like snacks and drinks.
I also recommend booking breakfast as part of your stay as we found that most places in Tokyo don’t open until around 11am – a morning coffee and toast is hard to come by unless you stay in a hotel with a nice café attached and breakfast included. Lucky for us Hotel Sunroute Akasaka provided this meaning we could get caffeinated prior to each day of shopping!
Explore Tokyo with one or two friends as we did and you’ll find it a lot easier to navigate maps and ask locals for directions when you’re lost!