18 Oct 2015

Back to Japan - Day 8: To Tokyo We Go!

I don't think there's anywhere else on earth quite like the city of Tokyo. There's just something about it, densely-packed (mostly) with skyscrapers, sprawling out for miles and miles, and so we returned with excitement. It is a really big city, so choosing where to stay had taken me some time, but we ended up having a 3-part stay while we were there - firstly near Tsukiji, then up at Shinjuku, and finally Shibuya. On previous visits I'd stayed in Ometosando (nice) and Akasaka (a bit dull), so we were looking forward to some new areas (which I had visited during the day, but not at night).

The journey back from Yudanaka was pleasant-enough, and we got a "fast" train all the way to Nagano, passing the fruit orchards and rice paddies. It wasn't raining, but was still cloudy with the odd break allowing glimpses of sun.

We had a while to wait at Nagano, having missed a train owing to a massive queue to buy our Shinkansen tickets. I tried to find a loo and had to walk miles outside the station, down a couple of flights of stairs (or via the slowest lift in the world). We watched a couple of trains come through the station.

The train eventually came and we were in Tokyo fairly quickly. We took a metro train a couple of stops and walked the short distance to our hotel, the Tokyu Stay Higashi Ginza. It was a funny little place, but absolutely perfect, on a street within the Tsukiji Outer Market. The room was small, but in the entrance area was a washing machine (and we were handed a sachet of washing powder at check-in); a week into our trip, it was very well-timed. From the window I could look out over the streets of the outer market and see the roof of a temple (if I actually climbed out of the window onto a ledge!).

We headed straight out for lunch, in search of some sushi (what else?!). We stopped in the visitors' office and acquired a map, which listed all of the restaurants and shops that make up the Outer Market (as well as instructions for the morning visit to the inner market). I'd looked on TripAdvisor for some tips and found a highly-rated place (Sushisay), but it was closing, so we were directed to their sister restaurant along the road which stayed open all day. We sat at the bar and watched the sushi prepared in front of us, as well as re-stocking of the display. I always love watching the sushi chefs at work (they all seem to be men), and love even more eating the fruits of their labour. I looked up to see if they have a name, and the junior chefs are wakiita and the senior chefs are itamae. We ordered a large selection of sashimi (and the obligatory sake to wash it down, even though it was only 3pm). When that was finished we had some fatty tuna sushi, some normal tuna sushi, two different types of mackerel, and some red clam sushi, which looked a bit, er, rude.

We polished it off with some tamago (sweet enough to act as pudding), before heading back to the hotel to sort out the laundry and work out where we'd spend the evening (craft beer beckoned...).

All over Tokyo there are plenty of bars - the city certainly has a strong drinking culture - so we did some planning on how to make the most of the bars given where we were staying each night. Like Osaka and Kyoto, lots of craft beer bars have been cropping up around the city. Tsukiji is in the south-west part of the centre, with not a great deal of nightlife around, so we wandered up towards Yurakucho station and got the train a couple of stops north to Kanda and the Devil Craft bar. I took just my 50mm f/1.2 lens with me - always good for a bit of street photography and low-light work.

We had a quick beer there before heading across the river to Pop Eyes, near Ryogoku station. It's a rather English-like pub, huge, popular - with a strange, touristy atmosphere, unlike the cute hole-in-the-wall type bars we were used to. There were all sorts of food offers, but none of it appealed. Instead we headed south again to the Shinbashi/Shimbashi area, where there was another craft beer bar - Dry Dock. First we headed away from the railway track in search of somewhere to eat. The lack of English signage made it tricky, but we found somewhere that looked okay and headed upstairs. The usual photographs of food helped, and we ordered a round of gyoza and some noodles - all quite tasty given the unexciting surroundings of the place.

After we'd eaten we headed back to the railway tracks and along a street that housed dozens of bars and restaurants, all tiny little places poked under the railway arches. The place was bustling - it was busy for a Monday night - with lots of salarymen in their white shirts and black suits out for a few drinks after work.

At the end of the street we found the Dry Dock bar, situated beneath a junction of railways and roads overhead. The beer pumps were on a ship's wheel, and some of the windows were portholes from a ship. It was a cool place with a hip clientele and a nice selection of beer. We tried a couple before heading home as we had to get up ridiculously early in order to get our spots to see Tsukiji fish market.

Click here for Day 7 blog - The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

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