Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
Today’s postcard is from Amy Feldtmann, an Australian who once lived in London for a couple of years, and New York for a summer, but is currently living in Melbourne. As you can tell, Amy loves to travel, for most of the same reasons everyone else does: to discover new cultures, see new sights, experience new adventures, taste new dishes, and meet new people for a fresh perspective. She says that for her, “travel always doubles as a photography project – my travel companions have gotten used to being very patient while I wait in the right spot to get the shot I want.” You can see Amy’s photos on Flickr, or on her blog Amy Feldtmann – and don’t miss her previous Postcard From… Mustcat for a fascinating read.
Welcome back to Postcard From, Amy! Where have you been lately?
I went to Tokyo, for five days, for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time travelling to Japan and it was fantastic. Tokyo is a city with an intense mix of old and new and something for all tastes and ages.
Ooh, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I’m jealous already! How was the weather?
The weather was very warm and sunny (high 20s) but not humid. Sunscreen was a must and light clothes made up the wardrobe. I was there in late September (this year), and locals told us that that was a great time to be there, and I agree!
Can you recommend somewhere good to stay?
I stayed in the Roppongi district, which is a combination of corporate offices, embassies, and the red light parts – options for everyone! All of Tokyo is very safe, and this area is no different. My hotel – Hotel Villa Fontaine was in an excellent location (subway station out the front), with a food/café options nearby. The rooms are good; staff friendly and it seemed to be popular with business travellers. There is Wi-Fi on the foyer, but only cable internet connection in rooms (all free). The breakfast is fairly basic and not many Western options are available so the nearby cafes great for anyone who has to start the day with cereal or bacon and eggs.
So, besides the all-important wedding did you manage to do any site-seeing?
I had limited time, so built two tours into my time – one was an evening walking food tour which was great, and the other an all-day tour of the main sights (which included a river cruise for a different perspective). I also did some exploring on my own and managed to visit Tokyo Tower, Tsukishima, Nijibashi Bridge at the Imperial Palace, Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shine, Takeshita-dori in Harajuku, and Tsukiji Fish Market. Something that I wasn’t expecting was how many public gardens and park spaces were in the city.
Wow, you got a lot done! What were the highlights?
Other than my friend’s wedding (!) the tea ceremony that I took part in on one of the tours, and the Tsukiji Fish Market. I especially loved the market. As someone who loves travel mainly for taking photos, it is like a playground. I got there about 8am after the auctions that are on much earlier, and you must queue up for. It was great being there as the city was starting the day – seeing the fishmongers at work, locals picking up fresh ingredients, workers dropping by for sushi breakfasts before work.
Speaking of fish, how was the food in Tokyo?
It is Japan – all of the food was excellent! The sashimi is so fresh, and it is a sushi-lovers paradise but I recommend venturing to some of the backstreets for yakitori and other local dishes too. And be sure to enjoy some sake and plum wine.
Were there any disasters?
Maybe not being able to spend more time there! Something I would do differently next time is get to Harajuku earlier on the Sunday – I think more of the ‘kids in costumes’ are around earlier in the day. And be sure to find them on the bridge near the park (I went to the wrong place).
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
- Pack your manners – this is a very orderly and well-mannered city and culture.
- Surprisingly, Tokyo seemed to be very much ‘cash economy’. Many places, even tourist ones, won’t always take cards, so be sure to have cash on you.
- Buy a PASMO pass – it is like an Oyster/Octopus/Myki/Opal card – for the subway for a deposit of about $5AUD and top-up as you need. The subway is big, the stations are big, and the maps are big, but after one journey, it is fairly straight-forward. Be aware that some trains have women-only carriages on weekdays, usually the last/first carriage (and usually pink!).
- If you have limited time, look at the tours. You will be sure to experience the main sights that way – it is a big city so you don’t want to waste time getting lost. If you have more time, it is worth doing a trip to another city because the trains make everything so well connected.
- The best vantage point for Shibuya crossing is from the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing (a tip given to me by someone else).
Japanese is a pretty tough language to learn. Did you pick up any useful phrases?
Not so much a phrase, but to give a little nod/bow as a sign of thanks. The Japanese also pass everything with two hands – from change in a shop to your bill at the hotel. Try to do the same in respect.
The locals don’t talk openly in public on their mobile phone – not on the train, on the street – and it is not common for them to eat on the street/walking around either. Visitors should do the same.
NB – All images are owned by Amy Feldtmann.