DAYS 6 – 8: RAIN AND HANGOVER

We didn’t do much on Sunday. Writing, reading, watching tv series. Sometimes you need a day off. Traveling over a long time can be exhausting, because you’ll be confronted with new things everyday and you move a lot from town to town. So we stayed in our flat and literally did nothing. We even had dinner at home. But later in the evening we wanted to go out for a walk and ended up in a small district called “Golden Gai”. A friend gave us the tip to go there. We didn’t know what we could expect and were surprised to find a small area with very small bars on the first and second floor within very small houses in narrow streets. We found a Whisky bar where almost only Japanese Whiskys were served. “Bar Asyl” was the name. And the owner Abe-chan welcomed us very friendly. We had some Whiskys and beers and talked a lot about Japanese culture and food. Abe-chan had some interesting recommendations. Later he told us, that Golden Gai consists of 250 bars and Sunday isn’t a very busy day. That moment four Australian guys came into the bar and it was full and didn’t seem like a calm day. Almost every bar in Golden Gai is extremely small: 6 to 8 people can sit at the bar, leaning with their backs against the wall. In front of them is the bar, where normally one barkeeper is. We had fallen in love with these sweet little bars and ignored the touts surrounding the district. After we had a whisky too many we left, bought some food in a Seven Eleven (or was it a Lawson’s or Family Mart? In Berlin we would just say “Späti” and that’s it) and weaved home. The next day I was ill and Torben had a hangover. Again we didn’t do anything, except for having great “Shabu Shabu” round the corner for dinner.

We had planned to visit Asakusa on Tuesday and when we woke up it was raining. It was still raining when we left the house and when we arrived at Asakusa station it came down in buckets. Looking at the sky told us, we couldn’t expect anything else than rain on that day. So we tried not to think about it and walked to the Sensoji temple. To reach the temple you have to pass the Kaminarimon gate. A huge very beautiful decorated gate with a big lampion hanging in the middle. Once you walk through it you find yourself on a narrow and crowded street with shops that sell all the tourist stuff nobody needs but everybody buys anyway. On that day the street was decorated with plastic cherry blossoms and around us were a lot of young Japanese–mainly women– who were dressed up in Yukatas (The cotton version of a Kimono). 

The temple itself is a Buddhist temple and rich in decoration. It’s made of wood and painted in black, white, red and gold. Inside were monks singing and people praying. But because of all the tourists we didn’t feel any aura or special atmosphere as I sometimes do, when I visit shrines, temples or churches. We left the crowded place quickly and walked through the gardens and other smaller temples of the area. A few days later in Nagano, we learned a lot about Buddhism. Right now it was just beautiful to see the small temples, statues and plants around not knowing what they meant for the religion.

Asakusa is a place filled with restaurants and tourist shops. You can buy Kimonos and rice crackers, bags and shoes, small items for luck and fake swords. We strolled through a mall to escape the rain for a short time and bought some rice cracker in the shape of a cats head. Why they chose that shape, I don’t know. But my guess is: it’s cute. Everything that is cute sells. And it worked, we bought them.

By now we were hungry and the mall had nothing else to offer. But Asakusa has something else. Something better: Okonomiyaki! One of my favorite Japanese dish. Basically it’s cabbage, eggs, flour, herbs and water mixed together and grilled on a hot plate in the middle of the table. Usually seafood or meat is added and when it’s done you pour sweet soy sauce and mayonnaise over it. At the end put some bonito flakes (pieces of fish) on top, watch them move due to the heat and then eat it. It’s extremely delicious. And fills you up quickly. We also tried Monjayaki which is similar but more fluid. You start eating it half raw and by the end it’s almost burned, that’s because it’s on the hot plate all the time.

Of course we also walked over to the bridge to see the main building of the Asahi Brewing company, one of the major brewing companies in Japan, which is on the other side of the Sumida river. But just a photo, a short walk over the bridge and back was all. We were already completely soaked and the cold had reached our bones. So we decided we had seen enough for the day and tried to get home. The subway in Tokyo can be frustrating sometimes. It’s the biggest subway system I have ever seen and it covers the city like an invisible and tight-knit network. Most of the trains run every five minutes and they are always exactly on time. Millions of people ride the trains and on the Yamanote line at peak time you find staff who pushes the people into the train because there too many. Some stations like Shibuya and Shinjuku are so busy it’s sometimes difficult to walk your own way because the masses push you into their direction. But normally it’s easy to slip through all these people, because they do the same. Japanese people are extremely good at not seeing other people but recognize and walk around them. Everybody tries to avoid everyone so they move around each other like in a dance. It’s amazing to see. Not Japanese people seem to be like bombs in those crowds. They don’t move elegant, they break into all the lines of moving people, they stop suddenly and become overwhelmed by the masses of people. We were exactly like that and annoyed a lot of rushing salarymen. Plus we didn’t know the stations by heart and had to search our way out. There are a lot of signs leading to exits and other subway lines. But sometimes at crossings signs are missing and you start walking around searching for the next sign. We often walked through stations for over half an hour just to find ourselves at an exit we had never seen before and which didn’t lead us into our preferred direction. Lost in the underground. But luckily not for long and at the end of two weeks in Shinjuku we had seen almost every part of the station and every exit. So we could check off the most busiest station in the world! 😉

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