Our flight landed around 20 minutes late into Narita and we were glad to be on our way and off the plane. With us already being behind schedule the wait to get our passports stamped with tourist visas and pick up our baggage felt endless. In the end it didn’t really matter as we still had plenty of time to pick up our Pasmo cards before getting our train into town. A Pasmo card is one of the many IC cards available in Japan that you can use on local trains, buses and even purchases in shops and from vending machines across the country. With the complex nature of some of the train and bus fares, having an IC card of some sort makes life significantly easier.
We then had a good long wait for our Sky Access train into town with a quick change onto the Asakusa Line.
We stumbled off the train at Asakusa, trying and failing to work out the right exit. We finally emerged from the depths into a clear Tokyo night with the golden illumination of the Asahi Beer Hall and the neon spectacle of the Tokyo Skytree to guide us to our hotel, or so we hoped.
As our pocket Wi-Fi was waiting for us at the hotel all we had were some Google Maps screen captures to guide us. We took a guess, with Anne-So leading the way and although we’d not chosen the optimal route we arrived at the Karimanon Gate of Senso-Ji and shortly afterwards spotted our home for the next two nights, The Gate Hotel.
Room: Essential (Hollywood Twin)
We were warmly welcomed at check in. The hotel lobby had spectacular views of the Skytree and immediately we felt at home in Tokyo. The hotel acknowledged it was our honeymoon and in addition to giving us a room on a high floor with Skytree views they gave us a voucher to spend in the hotel which was used the next day for drinks and snacks on the 14th floor bar. An envelope containing our pocket Wi-Fi was also handed over. We headed up to the room to drop our things and also found a beautiful card congratulating us on our marriage along with some of the hotel’s own brand bath products for us to take away.
After settling in to our room we headed out to Senso-ji to take in the atmosphere. The temple complex was beautiful at night with all the buildings and gates illuminated. It also proved a popular spot for selfie taking. Whilst the area was peaceful and quiet, it missed the daytime atmosphere when all the shops were open. We walked around taking pictures for a bit before heading back to the hotel to crash. It had been a long few days.
The next morning we woke up fairly bright and early and as we had planned, headed for Kappabashi Coffee. Our route took us past the so called Kitchen Street area, an interesting assortment of shops selling every odd and end required for the restaurant trade from rusty grills and ceramics to signs and that famous plastic food.
We enjoyed our coffee and breakfast set. I am a big fan of the Japanese style extra thick toast/sandwich bread. The coffee was also excellent as was the simple décor of the coffee bar. Fuelled up for the day we were ready for some studio Ghibli magic. But first we had some early teething problems with our new friend Mr. Wi-Fi Buddy who decided he did not want to give us internet access. Thankfully a quick reboot later we were friends again and he helped guide us towards the metro station.
Unfortunately we had made the mistake of turning off our Wi-Fi Buddy when on the train with the hope of saving battery which was actually unnecessary as the battery life on this pocket Wi-Fi was excellent. After taking the right exit from the station but turning in the wrong direction we fired up our friend and unfortunately our phones picked up about a zillion hotspots but not our buddy…
After a brief discussion we did an entire loop of Kichijoji Station ending up back exactly where we started. In the end we got our bearings and found the route through Inokashira Park which was a rather lovely spot that came with the added bonus of being clearly signposted. We were now looking forward to being Spirited Away to our Ghibli adventure.
Ghibli Museum (Cost 1000JPY, Advance Booking Essential) http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/
About 20 minutes later we knew we’d come to the right place as we found a beautiful house filled with flowers, colours and a huge Totoro that everyone wanted a selfie with. We got in line and awaited our turn where our paper print out would be exchanged for a magical piece of film strip that would be our ticket.
The details throughout the museum were what really made it special. There was an exhibition on animation techniques which we liked, a recreation of the main man Miyazaki’s work area and all of his influences from books to adverts, comics, art… you could really see where the Ghibli style came from. For better, for worse photography is forbidden in the museum with the exception of the rooftop garden and café areas.
Speaking of which, there was also a quite wonderful rooftop garden where you could pose with the giant robot from Laputa: Castle in the Sky (and we did) plus being in Japan everyone queued up and took it in turn to take each others photos with the robot, rather than the free for all you would likely find in most other places on Earth.
And finally, my favourite part of the museum was an exhibition on food in the Ghibli films. It showed how they brought the scenes to life with small details from facial expressions of the characters eating, to small movements in a bottle of lemonade and the difficulty of animating chopsticks compared to a knife and fork. Before leaving the museum there was time to watch a special short film exclusive to the museum about a day in the life of a small caterpillar named Boro.
We had originally planned to eat at the on site restaurant but the queues for the sit in option were huge. Instead we enjoyed a stroll back through the park taking a very scenic yet enjoyable walk as the rain began to fall.
Feeling hungry we decided on what looked like a decent curry rice restaurant chain and enjoyed a very tasty katsu curry for a very low price.
Feeling full of beer, curry sauce and holiday spirit we were ready to go again. For our afternoon adventure we had initially planned a walk around the more historic parts of Asakusa, however the rain had gotten significantly worse so we changed plans and headed back to Senso-ji to enjoy it by day and see inside the temple.
We also drew fortunes and I soon wished we hadn’t. Mine was quickly tied to the line and I thanked my lucky stars I’d not drawn it a week earlier… Though I think this bad luck definitely came back to bite me over the following 12 months.
We returned to the hotel for a brief rest and decided to cash in our compliments of the manager card at the 14th floor bar. With some regret I might add. Thanks to the awful weather we had completely lost the view that night. After some prompting all round it turned out our voucher was good for two glasses of wine and either a dessert or some bar snacks. We took two glasses of red wine and some bar snacks of which the beef jerky was particularly delicious.
We left the bar and headed out into the rain, dashing quickly to the covered walkways hoping to find somewhere to eat. Our original plan was to walk to the Skytree and check out a ramen place from our Lonely Planet guidebook but with torrential rain outside this was immediately scrapped. We did three tours of the area and eventually decided on an okonomiyaki place for dinner. It looked fairly busy and fun, filled with cooking smoke, extractor fans and good times. As it later transpired the only thing having a good time was a bug dancing inside Anne-So’s stomach that would make her ill for the next few days.
We finished off our food for the night by picking up some taiyaki from a popular looking stall. After years of watching anime characters bite happily into these steaming hot bean filled pastries I was expecting some delicious comfort food. What we ended up with was one of the biggest culinary disappointments of the trip…
We called it a night but Anne-So and her new friend had other ideas and with a full day of non-stop travel coming up the timing could not have been worse.
Me on the other hand… I was just fine, or so I thought.
Unfortunately the morning didn’t start as planned. Anne-So was not doing well having spent the night throwing up. However, at this point in time I was feeling just fine and rather than breakfasting somewhere special I popped downstairs and enjoyed a coffee and earl grey donut from Starbucks. Say what you like about Starbucks, or choosing Starbucks in Japan but the food items are significantly different at a Starbucks in Tokyo compared to a Starbucks in London. I enjoyed my donut whilst watching the various photos and videos posted from the wedding of the year. My friend S who was one of our witnesses had her wedding reception the day prior UK time and it looked absolutely spectacular and fun. We were gutted not to be there but we had an extremely good excuse!
Before checking out from The Gate Hotel I also popped up to the 14th floor for some top notch photo opportunities of the Skytree, Senso-ji and Asakusa. What a view, what a beautiful day. I couldn’t wait for our next part of our adventure involving quite a lot of trains!