After our stay in Tokyo is was time to head out west to Yokohama to visit our good friend Yoshi. It turns out that Yokohama is the second biggest city in Japan which surprised me as I always thought that title belonged to Osaka but alas. Based on population size Yokohama is bigger but I digress.
As it was the 2nd of January, the New Year holiday was still in full force and so Yoshi thought it would be interesting for us to partake in the Japanese tradition of attending a local shrine and making New Year wishes.
When we lived in Japan we always avoided the temples at this time as it gets incredibly crowded and we didn’t want to get in the way of something important for the local people but I often found it interesting. He took us to Kawasaki Daishi, the largest shrine in the prefecture, which turned out to be a really nice experience.
Walking down to the shrine from the train station reminded me of the summer matsuris. The streets were lined with food stalls and New Year trinkets with people eating and drinking with their families everywhere. We followed the crowd along a well organised and easy to follow pathway before joining the end of the queue waiting to be let in.
There were hundreds of people and I was worried that we would be stood there for hours but every 15mins or so we moved forward as groups of people were let in, in waves. It took no more than 30mins to make it to the main building where we first let the incense smoke wash over us as a sign of purity (which Rob loved…) then lined up to make our wishes inside the main shrine building.
It was so interesting to see how the authorities organised the whole thing making sure everyone was moving but not in danger. It was also lovely to do something new that was traditional and culturally important yet so different from we do back home.
With our own wooden wishes at Zojoji Temple, watching of the first sunrise on New Year’s day and the wishes we made at Kawasaki we now feel like the luckiest people walking into 2023 and the fun did not end there.
Kawasaki is quite infamous for a traditional yet unusual festival held every spring. This part of Yokohama is home to the fertility shrine Kanayama Jinja which holds a huge fertility festival every April called the Kanamara Matsuri.
During this festival people sport penis shaped floats and memorabilia and as you walk around the shrine you can wish upon a giant penis in the grounds.
It is a truly fascinating place yet it is relatively unknown to tourists but it is definitely a must see if you are in the Kawasaki area and something worth researching if you plan on visiting in April.
That evening we were treated to an all you can eat menu in China Town which is always a pleasure to wander around.
People in the western world can often mistake Japanese and Chinese culture but when you spend any considerable time in one, you can start to see the stark differences very quickly. No where is more obvious than in China Town Yokohama where the colours, smells, sounds and architecture is completely different from the rest of the city.
We had so much fun exploring a different part of Yokohama that we had never seen before but the next day it was time to say our goodbyes and head to our final place… Odaiba.
We booked to stay at the Grand Nikko Hotel in the Odaiba area and it turned out to be a great choice. It was perfect for getting back to Makuhari to see the last of our friends before we left but it was also within close proximity to Haneda airport for our flight home.
Plus just look at this view on its doorstep. This was the sole reason why I wanted to finish our trip in this area of Tokyo. Most people do not like Odaiba. It is too new and commercial compared to the older parts of the city like Asakusa or Ueno or it is not as trendy as areas such as Harajuku, Omotesando or even Shinjuku. But for me it is the home to the best view of the entire city and my favourite view. When ever I think of Tokyo, this is my memory and it was just as good as I remembered.
The other reason we wanted to finish our trip here is because it is our favourite shopping area. With Aqua City, the Decks and DiverCity all within walking distance from each other, it is impossible not to find something to take away with you.
An added attraction, worth seeing is the huge Gundam action figure located outside DiverCity shopping mall. It is huge and to the none fans of Gundam, it is what you would imagine a ‘real life’ Optimus Prime to look like. At night it is all lit up and every so often, will move and speak in conjunction with a video show projected on the shopping mall wall. The stairs to the right light up like a flashing rainbow which is definitely something to see.
We had a fantastic time and even managed to squeeze in a quick trip back to my old school to visit some of my colleagues that hadn’t seen yet. We looked around the school, spoke to some old students then went for coffee after the school day to have a chat with some close friends. It was a fun but emotional day.
Our last day was a tough one. We were not due to fly until 10pm so we had a full day to kill. We started by hopping on the driverless monorail which operates between Toyosu and Shimbashi going through the Odaiba area.
It is really interesting if you can get a seat on the front cart, watching the route with an unobstructed view but even if you don’t, the monorail goes over the Rainbow Bridge which means you can get some awesome views.
We did some walking around Tokyo, ate sushi for the last time and headed to Hie Temple to pick up some last minute gifts which was a little busier that we thought it would be even though the holidays were over.
We headed back to Odaiba to get rid of the coins that we couldn’t exchange on the UFO machines where Rob won a Kirby and we had our last Starbucks for a while whist overlooking my favourite view.
Our trip back to Japan was everything I needed it to be and more. We were able to reconnect with friends we had missed, experience new things and say goodbye the way we wanted to but it meant leaving again was harder than I ever could have imagined.
Tokyo and Japan stole a piece of my heart but this trip made us realise that it is now very much in our past and that was a painful realisation. We will always feel like home in this magical country and no doubt we will visit again in the future but not for some time. So when we left, I knew in my heart I was saying goodbye for a while and it was hard… really hard but I have taken with me even more amazing memories to add to the six years we already had and for that, I feel incredibly lucky.
So that was the end of our two weeks in Japan. We hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did writing it and if you every get the chance to go to Japan yourself.. take it! You will never regret it!