Back in 2014 I visited Japan for the first time with my wife (you can read about it here) and I discovered a country that was far different to any other place I'd ever visited. From the stunning temples to the futuristic cities we visited it never failed to impress me. The people we met there were so incredibly friendly and helpful and did all they could to ensure we enjoyed our time in this wonderful country. As soon as we got home we realised we hadn't seen enough so decided to return again to further explore Japan. After saving for nearly 2 years it was finally time to return to once again, this time we would be spending 3 weeks In Japan and visiting some new places as well as revisiting a couple of favourites from our previous trip. We wanted to visit some unusual sounding places we had read about online and explore the cities we were visiting on foot as much as possible, this way we could see everything in much more detail. We had no interest in visiting expensive restaurants, instead we wanted to discover the local street food and what the average local restaurants and supermarkets were offering.
With return flights from Norwich to Tokyo via Amsterdam costing £797 each it seemed insane to travel direct from heathrow for over £100 more. Flying from Norwich also mean't we could leave home on the day we intended on travelling instead of staying at a hotel the night before. It did however also mean paying the slightly annoying £10 airport development fee but this seemed like a small price to pay for the convinience of flying from our local airport.
Through gritted teeth we paid our £10 airport development fee and entered the departure lounge where we sat down to a fairly awful breakfast in Cafe Oasis, you can read the breakfast review here.
We boarded a Fokker 70 for our first flight to Amsterdam, my wife is terrified of flying so wasn't best pleased about boarding such a small plane.
Once in the air we were offered a small carton of water and a muffin, I could hardly contain my excitement.
At Schiphol airport my wife went in search of some chocolate and returned triumphant with this bar of Tony's Choco Lonely. It's not only a great bar of chocolate but also the company has a vision of 100% slave free chocolate, read their story here.
Our time in Amsterdam was brief so after a quick look in the gift shops we headed towards our departure gate.
The message on the jetway filled us with joy and the Boeing 777 seemed like a fine choice of aircraft to get us to our destination. With no delays we boarded the plane on time, nice work KLM!
My initial excitement over Bloxx soon turned to frustration after realising the touch screen wasn't particularly responsive. I was however delighted to spot a USB port under the screen, arriving at your desination with 100% battery power on your iphone is a huge bonus.
My wife and I had considered learning Japanese on a four month course earlier in the year but decided the £400 course fee would be better spent on the trip. In hindsight we both agreed that learning Japanese would have been a really good idea though and worth every penny. It was too late now though as we would be landing in under 11 hours, all we could do was to attempt to memorise a few basics on the KLM language app.
Not long after take off the drinks trolley arrived and we were given some earphones.
Shortly after that the first meal arrived, tropical coleslaw, mustard chicken and pofriteroles in what tasted like dream topping.
The thought of double cheese and crackers filled me with joy but my wife decided to eat hers.
As my wife settled into the movies I studied the flight information screen for quite sometime. On this version you could rotate the plane and view the map from many different angles, I was in flight info heaven. Something had occured to me though as I looked out of the window throughout the flight, we had followed the sun and avoided darkness.
Before landing another meal arrived, this time a cooked breakfast with fresh fruit and yogurt. Having had some wine and beer during the flight and no sleep the coffee was much needed.
The time in Japan was 8.30am, it was midnight UK time and we hadn't slept at all. Feeling a tad tired we made our way through Narita Airport.
After queueing for nearly an hour to get through the security check and then having my luggage checked on the way out of the airport we queued at the JR office to have our rail passes validated.
We paid £355 each for our JR rail pass, it would allow us to travel across Japan on nearly all the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and JR lines. Without a JR pass travel in Japan can get very expensive so it's definitely worth getting one if you plan to explore different parts of the country.
There are many ways to get into Tokyo from Narita Airport, we chose the Narita Express which takes about an hour. Before boarding the train we grabbed some snacks and drinks for the journey from a kiosk on the platform.
Onigiri are rice balls that are usually triangular and covered in seaweed, they come in many different flavours and cost very little. This one had a tuna mayo centre, they can also contain plums, eggs, salmon etc.
Feeling ever more tired we made our way to Ueno station where the sun was beating down. With map in hand we headed towards Asakusa where our hotel was located.
I switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping in February 2014 and feel much healthier for doing so. This vaping shop close to Ueno station caught my eye, we headed inside for a closer look. The owner explained to me that lots of shops like this were popping up over Tokyo and that vaping was slowly getting more popular. In Japan it's illegal for shops to sell eliquid with nicotine in, from what I could gather though many people were buying the nicotine free liquid and adding the nicotine themselves later.
As we reached the Asahi Beer Hall on the banks of the east bank of the Sumida river we knew our hotel was not too far away. On our walk from Ueno station we'd spotted temples, Torii Gates, ladies in kimonos, men in Japanese straw hats and an old guy pushing a cat dressed as a lion along in a pushchair.
At 2pm we arrived at Hotel Mystays Asakusa, the room cost £42 per night for a double. I'd booked nearly all of our rooms for this trip using Booking.com, no deposits were required, we simply paid cash on arrival. Before booking hotels I always check out the reviews and then used google earth to see what area the hotel is in.
We were not supposed to check in till 3pm but the hotel allowed us to check in early which was a huge relief as we were so tired. Finally we managed to get some much needed sleep for a few hours.
By 5pm we were up and about again and exploring the streets of Asakusa. I'd seen this realistic plastic display food outside restaurants and cafes many times before but it never fails to impress me.
Nakamise Shopping Street was clearly very popular with tourists, towards the end we spotted an impressive looking temple.
The Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) with it's giant chochin lead to the Senso-Ji Temple. We went to take a closer look whilst trying to avoid being poked in the eye by selfie sticks.
Being in the centre of Tokyo it was interesting to see the contrast of traditional and modern buildings. In the background Tokyo Skytree stood proudly at 634 metres, it's possible to visit one of two viewing decks inside the Skytree. We didn't bother doing this though, why pay over ¥2000 for a view over Tokyo when you can get stunning views from the Metropolitan Government building at no cost at all.
This street in Asakusa was lined with bars and yakatori cafes, we decided to stop for a beer.
I'm not really a huge fan of beer, my usual tipple is cider or vodka. When it comes to Japanese beer though I love it! We ordered Asahi which cost ¥500 (about £3.50) for a large glass, Asahi is currently Japan's best selling beer and when you taste it you can understand why.
The person serving us explained we would need to also order a small tapas dish each, this is quite common in some bars that serve food too.
We ordered some Edamame beans, delicious and perfect with beer.
We also ordered some really creamy potato salad, something that would crop up many times over the coming weeks, it seemed really popular in Japan.
We passed the Asahi Beer Hall once again but this time the sun was starting to set. It was the first time we would have experienced darkness in two days, it really was the longest day ever!
We crossed the Sumida river with curry on our mind, Dam curry (Damukare) to be precise. We'd read an article a week or so before arriving in Japan about restaurants serving these impressive looking curries and there was one close to our hotel that we decided to search for.
Due to my pre-planning on google maps we found the restaurant quite easily. I didn't realise whilst taking the exterior shot of this dam curry restaurant that I was being watched from upstairs.
The plastic display curry in the window confirmed that we had found the correct place to sample this dam spectacular. Our excitement soon turned to concern though as we entered a totally empty restaurant, never a good sign. The lady serving us looked delighted to see some customers but we struggled to communicate our need for dam curry so I showed her the photo on my phone. She made it clear that we could have anything on the menu but tonight there would be no dam curry. We had no idea why but felt quite relieved that it was an ideal reason to leave.
On our way out the lady handed us this dam curry map. Initially I though there would be many more chances to try dam curry during our time in Japan, look closely though and it soon becomes apparent that this map gives very little information for anyone who can't read Japanese.
With curry on our mind we remembered that the hotel we were staying in had an Indian restaurant below it. On trip advisor many had said it served an incredible curry, feeling quite knackered we decided to give it a try.
Multi-coloured prawn crackers arrived with the beer.
The curry didn't look particularly special when it arrived but it tasted incredibly nice, the reviews we had read all added up. This was a pretty special curry house and the service was superb.
At home I sometimes stop off for a kebab after a few beers, In Japan though it's all about 7 Eleven. These places are everywhere and they sell some seriously tasty treats at incredibly low prices, many are open 24 hours.
The vast selection of meals that can be heated up instore, sandwiches, onigiri and bento boxes make it quite tricky to make a final decision.
We wern't particularly hungry but couldn't resist sharing an egg sandwich (trust me the best ever) and some Macadamia cookie balls. The longest day was over and it was time to get some sleep, we were heading to Nagoya in the morning!
My wife beautifully sketched our time here so far in Asakusa.
My wife beautifully sketched our time here so far in Asakusa.
Click here for day 3
Next stop Nagoya