Friday was Jon's last day in Japan, so we decided to do a number of things in Tokyo, before meeting Jon's brother Nick and his girlfriend Tomoe for Tomoe's birthday party. But the best-laid plans gang aft agley, and we endured a few disappointments as well as a stifling 28C heat during the day.
That was probably a blessing in disguise, really, because we had had a very busy Thursday and were more tired than we realised. After sorting out my arrangements for my final week in Japan, we headed out later than we'd intended but glad of the rest.
Joban line, 1120 Minami-Senju to Ueno
Yamanote line, c1142 Ueno to Shimbashi
So thoroughly urban is Tokyo that it can come as a shock to many visitors (and some residents) to discover that the city is actually beside the sea. But its bayside is home to the world-famous Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, where chefs and restaurants bid for the freshest fish from around the world. It's in full swing at 5am, but there's normally still some action mid-morning, so we headed down. However, we were unaware that it shut at noon, and so by the time we got there it had closed.
However, the nearby Tsukiji-Jogai Market provided Jon and I with the opportunity to try fresh sushi. Technically, sushi refers to the rice; the raw fish more commonly associated with that name is properly called sashimi. Whatever you call it, it was raw fish. For ¥2100 (about £16) we shared a tasting platter of raw fish and rice, and it was... interesting.
There was quite a bit of tuna, some of which was very nice indeed; those of you who have had tuna cooked rare can perhaps imagine what it tastes like. There were a number of other things, including shrimp, salmon eggs, shark fin, and various other unidentifiable things. Only one, which was yellow and slimy, was unpleasant; the rest had so much wasabi that you couldn't really taste the fish. I guess it's a bit like oysters: they don't really taste of much, so you have to season them to have them taste of anything at all. I can't say I enjoyed the whole experience all that much, but at leas I can say I've tried sushi.
Tokyo Metro, Hibiya line: c1340 Tsukiji to Hibiya
It being too hot to walk, we took the Tokyo Metro and headed over to the Imperial Palace, still the residence of the Emperor of Japan, who is technically head of state but has less power even than the Queen. We happened to catch an imperial procession taking someone into the palace and back out, but we didn't see who it was. Unfortunately the attached gardens were closed - apparently they're not open on Mondays and Fridays - so we looked around what we could - which isn't much - and then headed round towards the south-west if the city centre, to an area called Shibuya:
Yamanote line, c1550 Tokyo to Harajuku
The Meiji-jingu shrine was created as a memorial to Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912 having reinvented a stagnating empire and moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868. The shrine is set in a park, which provides some much-needed to Tokyo residents and visitors trying to get away from the bustle. The shrine is quite understated, typical of Japanese shrines, and the gardens provide wonderful places to relax.
After doing just that, we headed to the centre of Shibuya, where we were due to meet Nick, Tomoe et al for Tomoe's birthday. We were quite tired, so when we got there with an hour to spare we took a seat in Starbucks above the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. The junction outside Shibuya metro station has to be seen to be believed: for over a minute, all traffic at this crossroads stops, and pedestrians flood the black-and-white stripes; you wonder where they all come from, but a good proportion of them must surely come from the metro station releasing huge numbers of passengers.
Eventually we met up with Nick, Tomoe and several friends of theirs, and the eight of us headed for dinner in The Lockup - a horror-themed restaurant. A great night was had by all, even if I was a bit tired. The other six retired to the pub at 22:30, but Jon had a flight to catch on Saturday morning so we headed home.
Yamanote line, 2242 Shibuya to Ueno
For fun, we went the very slightly longer way round the Yamanote line, thus ensuring that we'd done a complete (clockwise) circuit of the line in a day (with a few overlaps).
Joban line, 2320 Ueno to Minami-Senju
We were sad not to have seen more of Tokyo, but Jon had certainly seen his fair share over three weeks in Japan, and I looked forward to heading west to Kyoto on Saturday.