This December, my adventures took me along the old streets of a country I had been dreaming to visit for many years, Japan. It was by far one of my most exhilarating and mindblowing change of scenery I had ever experienced, and all I dream of now, is to return to that country in 2019.
It all started in Tokyo Haneda Airport, as soon as we landed. I was invited by TokyoLuxey to review a non-typical experience of Japan, from Tokyo to Saga, in the South, on Kyushu Island.
After the most comfortable of flights, but still mildly jetlagged, I blindly followed my lovely guide Wakana, from spotless trains to even more spotless trains, to my hotel in Shiodome. Going up the escalator and looking all around me, it hit me. I had landed in a different world. Somewhere in the future, a parallel universe, where everything is perfectly orchestrated and works, shines beautifully and makes the cutest noises.I’ve travelled a lot this year, but it was the first time that I felt what I could only describe as a “Dépaysement”, my native French word to beautiful and unexpected change of scenery of what you are used to, and I couldn’t wait for what was to come (and I hadn’t even tried the infamous Japanese toilets at that point).
First up, we had only one full day day to visit the Old Streets of Tokyo, visiting temples and shrines and walking around Shibamata, Shibuya, Omotesando and Takeshita-dori, before flying South to the Island of Kyushu and visit Saga the next day.One day isn’t really a lot of time to visit the whole of Tokyo for the first time, so we did not attempt to do that. Instead, we concentrated our efforts in visiting some lesser known attractions, away from the usual tourist spots, with amazing guides to help us (well, me) understand more about the beautiful Japanese culture.
Our first stop was Shibamata. As soon as we stepped out of the train, we were introduced to the local hero’s Tora-san and his little sister’s bronze statues, before stepping onto Taishakuten Sando, a street best described as forgotten by time. My eye got caught by the old school sweet shop at the corner of the street (of course it did, what did you expect) and I started photographing away the old bubble machines and old the wonderful things that were surrounding them. We were expected at the Shibamata Taishakuten Temple, so carried on our way, punctuated by a flow of laughs and smiles that brought us straight back to childhood. One of my favourite moments was when this old grumpy cat was hissing at us from the frontage of that shop just before the gate of the temple and his owner tried to retrieve, and for once, I was quick enough to photograph this moment on my camera.
Then, we entered the Temple. The first thing I noticed was how the light hit the roof of the buildings, and how eerie everything looked. I got taught how to pay my respects and pray, but also got my good fortune read, which was surprisingly very good. We visited the gallery and admired the unbelievable wood carvings on the building, then went for a walk around the gardens, before walking to our next destination, Katsushika Yamamoto-tei, a traditional house in the heart of Shibamata, where we could admire some beautiful gardens whilst drinking some traditional tea.
Finally, my favourite time of the day had arrived, it was time for lunch! We enjoyed a lovely traditional lunch at Yebisuya, where we ate some of the local specialty, eel. The best part about this place was its location, right next to the sweet shop, where Felix and I played pinball and tried to guess what all the different snacks actually were. Right in front of it was a nice little street food counter with smokes flowing of the best smells. It was a feast for the nose as much as for the eyes.
Time to take the train again. Off we are to Shibuya and the Meiji Jingu Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. We bowed and stepped through the first imposing Torii door, walking through the forest to the Shrine. The playfulness of the elements in that forest were instantly hypnotising. The way the light played with the shadows of the trees, and the calming sound of the wind blowing through the leaves, the flowing water in the streams, everything seemed so perfectly orchestrated to help you find yourself in a state of mindfulness. I didn’t know much about Shinto religion before coming here, and this was the first shrine I ever visited, but never have I ever felt so much energy from a place. There was a lot of people there that day, coming to pray for a successful new year to come, writing their wishes on planks of wood and hanging them to the beautiful tree inside the shrine. We got our good fortune read again, and a poem by the Emperor Meiji. It’s still all good news for me.
As we stepped out of the shrine, the sun was about to set in Tokyo, the streets were basked in the most amazing golden dew. It took me a while to come back to earth, my head yet again lost on another planet, the jetlag and the peacefulness of the shrine had put me in a sort of state of meditation, as if all that mattered was only what I saw. I liked it. A lot. I remember noticing a little (tiny) cyclone of wind swept some fallen leafs around someone’s feet. The moment only lasted a few seconds, but it felt as if the time had slowed down all around me. It was such a refreshing feeling.
We were in for a little change of scenery short after as we tackled walking the streets of Omotesando and Takeshita-dori, some of the more commercial streets of Tokyo, before taking the train and heading to Shinjuku, and walking through Golden Gai and Kabukicho. My eyes didn’t stop taking mental photographs of all of these places, but also record some sounds and smells that we’re so not used to here anywhere in Europe.
This was already the end of my day in Tokyo, and I can’t believe how much we did and saw in such a short period of time. It was just the beginning of an amazing trip and the start of a love affair with Japan and myself. Tokyo, I’ll be back in 2019, that’s for sure.
For more impressions of my day in Tokyo, please watch my stories highlight on Instagram
*this is a paid partnership with Tokyoluxey and the Japanese Government, as part of #KYUSHUxTOKYO