So you are in Seoul, a magnificent city in its own right and home to a population of 26 million (yes you read that right, more than double the size of London). Having been all over, Myeong Dong, Gangnam, Dongmyo, Dongdaemun, Suwon, played football on top of a huge skyscraper in Yongsan, enjoyed a mean Korean dish in Jonggak and then marvelled at the Haenok village and the view of the city from Namsan Tower, it’s time to plan for the weekend. So what do you do?
Suddenly it hits you…you’re already in Far East Asia. You could be in Tokyo in 1 hour 35 minutes via Japan Air from Gimpo airport. You have a weekend free. You could leave Friday evening and be back in Seoul late Sunday night, ready for your return flight to London the next day.
You know what? Let’s do it…
Now usually with these short routes, the planes are not exactly the best. Bar the London-Helsinki route via Finnair, which operates a very clean plane with unusually spacious seats, it is easy to notice the hard cramped seats, and a general feel that the airline is more interested in cramming as many people on the route as possible whilst gambling on the shortness of the flight to limit customer complaints.
Not with Japan Air. For a seemingly short route, they operated a large Boeing 767 with a 3-4-3 seat formation across the plane. With spacious seats and a great selection of movies, the flight is actually quite relaxing. And given the short flight, you could take off having started Penguins of Madagasacar and land exactly as the credits are beginning to show.
AirBnB must be the greatest invention of modern travel. To be able to book a nice apartment for a reasonable price at short notice is so convenient. But we came across the legendary efficiency of the Japanese the moment we entered the flat. It composed of two small rooms which, on paper, looks cramped. But I am unable to describe just how expertly laid out the flat was, so much so that it felt…spacious. The beds were kept in a cupboard, so you laid them on the floor and folded them to return them to the cupboard in the morning, ensuring the maximum use of space. Now you must be thinking ‘sleeping bags?’ No. Not sleeping bags. These mini-mattresses are actually very comfortable. Your body sort of drops into them and it wraps your body, lulling you to sleep.
So, up the next morning. Now my brother being an electronics and technology disciple decided that Akihabara would be a great place to start.
Uncertain at first, we nevertheless ceded to the famous Arab saying “the people of the land are more knowledgeable of their affairs”. So we boarded the metro and took off. Now the metro is more overground than underground. So you are able to see the city, with its buildings and billboards. What struck me the most was the colours on the buildings, almost as if the Japanese had painted Tokyo. Billboards would also have smiley faces on them, almost as if there were attempts to create a ‘happy’ environment.
We arrived in Akihabara and suffice to say, the area was packed. Walk two minutes from the station and you see why; a huge building full of the latest electronics and technologies in the world, spread across multiple huge floors. Everything from the latest phones including the latest smartphones, laptops, over 60-inch TV screens, the new curved TV screens, touch-screen gizmos; you name it, they have it. You can probably see how limited my technology knowledge is but quite literally, anything tech you can think of, you will find it in this building. Hands down, it blew me away.
You are going to need a couple of hours in Akihabara but it is nowhere near the main highlight of Tokyo.
The next stop was Asakusa.
First, have a look at these pictures:
The colours, the huge numbers of people, the sunshine, the authentic buildings all around you…This place may be popular with the tourists. But it looks Japanese, feels Japanese, smells Japanese and tastes Japanese. For all the tourists, you cannot describe this place as a typical ‘tourist’ area. You look around you and its clear you are in authentic Japan. The alleyways surrounding the temple are full of stalls with local foods, ice creams of the strangest flavours, Japanese merchandise and accessories, and your ordinary Japanese man and woman occasionally exclaiming ‘Welcome to Japan. We hope you are enjoying it’.
The inescapable wonder of the temple is the architecture. It is unique even when compared to Seoul. The patterns on each ‘roof’, and the curves in between, the dynamic colours in the interior…it’s hard to escape the huge emphasis on colour across Tokyo. You could spend three hours in Asakusa and still be enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.
By nightfall, the lights of the city convince you that the night will always be young. So it’s time to visit the Sky Tree. The secret is in the name; this is a very tall building from which you can see all of Tokyo from the top. Suffice to say hunger prevailed and our attention turned to finding food rather than stand in the incredibly long queue to get to the top. Next time perhaps…
So on to food. Difficult to deliver an honest verdict. It took a while to get used to food in Seoul and so perhaps we were geared and ready for Japanese food. In our case, we went to a sushi restaurant. I have never seen so much variety, and I confess we were very lucky; the food was spectacular. So many different tastes and flavours and the different pallets were presented in extraordinary fashion. A must-visit. But beware the price tag…
Suffice to say by then, it’s a good time to turn back and prepare for Sunday.
This article is Part 1 of the 48 Hours in Tokyo Feature. Watch this space. Part 2 will be published on 26/04/2016.