Why hello, it is with great pleasure I found a moment to get back in the saddle and detail my last international trip: Japan! With all honesty I hadn’t really put Japan that high on my bucket list due to a lifelong antipathy towards cold weather and the assurance that personal space was a rarity. That was until Moo suggested we go skiing over Christmas to which I nodded excitedly in response. So long as we had at least 48 hours in Tokyo! Known for the land of POW I hastily dusted off the ski pants and phoned a friend for appropriate clothing. The last time I’d skied was in New Zealand and while it was full of adrenaline, I feared there wouldn’t be anything remotely similar to any snow I’d seen before.
Moo, myself and 4 other game adventurers packed and departed on a thirty degree day from Sydney, landing in minus two degrees in Tokyo. We were collected promptly and transferred to Nozawa Onsen (feature image), a small (population 3.5K) traditional onsen packed village sitting at the foothills of some pretty impressive peaks, including Mt Kenashi.
A little bit about Nozawa Onsen.
With forty four runs, seventeen chair lifts, seven direct from the village, it was safe to say this was unlike any ski trip I’d experienced. To those who are surprised of my amazement, it’s not uncommon to travel upwards of forty five minutes from your accommodation in a shuttle bus to the slopes. In fact, I thought it was common practice. Who would’ve thought you could actually stay on the mountain! The seven days we stayed here were a blur of daily fresh powder. Post ski onsen (a bath in naturally heated water), onsen boiled eggs, uncountable ski runs and a never ending tally of who had fallen over the most.
Experiencing a white Christmas was a lovely treat and whilst I’d normally be spending Christmas on the beach or in the countryside it did have a serious Winter Wonderland vibe to it. From here, we shuttled back to Tokyo for a blurry 48 hours of hustle and bustle. My tips below are in no way overly researched or overly recommended, but they had fit into our schedule nicely and hey, they were a lot of fun. We stayed in Shinjuku which was perfectly situated between loud action and peaceful suburbia.
Read on for my top 5 things to do in Tokyo:
High Speed Sushi – Uobei Shibuya Dogenzaka
Who wouldn’t enjoy sushi delivered at high speed? This experience was the first activity on the schedule and turned out to be everyone’s highlight. It took us far longer than I care to admit to find the place and I blame the intensity of the infamous Shibuya crossing for interfering with my GPS directions. However, once we found it, it was beyond rad.
We were sat in a row, side by side with a touch screen in front of us. Navigating sushi options on the touch screen was a never ending bout of enthusiasm. Once we’d made our selections, we sat and waited with baited breath. In front of us were 3 conveyor belts in tiers. Without a moment to spare, the sushi would arrive at high speed and stop right in front of you for you to collect and inhale. I truly enjoy the experience of customer and waiter communication in foreign countries so despite the lack of this, it was a 5/5 experience.
For anyone with claustrophobia or personal space issues, this probably isn’t the place for you, but truly is a must see. Take a walk down Takeshita street and breathe it in. It’s a sensory overload for the eyes and ears. Bright colourful clothing, flashing lights, music blaring, rainbow hair and statement fashion at every turn. You could easily spend days in Harajuku with it’s back streets, side streets and winding alleyways. Quirky food, great coffee and fashion upon fashion will not only keep your heart content but will spur you on from dusk until dawn and back again. We perused for hours before eating at a DIY okonomiyaki restaurant, Sakura Tei whilst visiting some dear friends that I’d met on the camino last year.
I mean, did you really think I was going to visit Japan and not sing karaoke? There are probably more karaoke bars in Tokyo than there are coffee shops (*I may need to research that) but truly they were on every turn. One hour just wasn’t enough. After applying our dress up’s (complimentary) and ordering drinks, the vocal chords were only just getting warmed before the hour was up. “We’re going to need another hour, Arigato!” I say to the attendant cautiously, because honestly, was another hour really enough? We went to KaraokeKan we found it affordable and did the trick.
Kawaii Monster Café
Bizarre is probably the first word I would use to describe the Monster Café. Expensive would be the second. If you don’t mind either of those words – then this is a fun and wacky place for you. And truly, I think kids would love it! Think; rainbow coloured spaghetti, five coloured dipping sauces for french fries. Also, colourful shakes and cakes just when you think there can’t be more colour, there it is. Beers are served in foot long test tubes and spirits in syringes. It was fairly odd.
Not one to frequent animal attractions, I felt compelled to visit the hedgehog café. Truly deep down, I was skeptical because I feel really strongly about using animals as tourist attractions due to mistreatment. But there was an element of the spiel that I found believable. Japan is one of the only countries where hedgehogs are domestic pets and their mission to condition the hedgehogs to welcome human touch.
If you do go, my advice is to listen to the attendants advice (avoid yelling or make loud noises). If you’re taking kids be really gentle, try not to hold them too close to yourself or away from their tank. We all love a selfie, but maybe take a couple and then put the phone down and enjoy the experience. I trust that the café do take care of the hedgies, but I’m not sure I trust the many hundreds that visit daily. It made it on the list due to the shear excitement to see a hedgie… but would I recommend you go back and see them time and again – no.
There you have it! A whirlwind 48 hours in Tokyo! There is plenty more to see in Japan so it will remain on my list to explore. Next week: my heavenly 10 days in Esperance, Australia. But before I go, A few more pics from Nozawa Onsen…