Bars and Teahouses; Drinking our way around Tokyo

We definitely weren’t quite done with autumnal colours after Friday’s adventures and so spent Saturday making the most of Tokyo’s spectacular gardens. First up was Shinjuku Gyoen, which was divided into a Japanese, English and French garden, all of which were so distinct yet beautiful. The French garden looked like something straight out of the grounds of Versailles, while the English one reminded me of the beautiful, open parks of London. Of course my favourite was the Japanese for all its quirks, intricacies and attention to detail, which accentuated those wonderful oranges, reds and browns.

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After some udon for lunch we headed to Yoyogi Park to find the Meiji Jingu shrine that is tucked away amongst the trees. A wide path led from the road, with trees lining both sides and towering over us. The shrine was rather inconveniently covered with scaffolding while we were there so there wasn’t much to see, however luck would have it that we were there at just the right time to witness a traditional Shinto wedding procession pass by. In their beautiful kimonos and rather uncomfortable looking clogs they slowly made their way followed by all their family and friends. Outside the shrine, colourful and uniquely designed barrels of sake stood as offerings from breweries to the shrine’s deities.

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As the day came to a close we headed back to Golden Gai, where we had eaten the first day, to enjoy some of its teeny-tiny bars. Most of them had enough space for about six people to sit at the bar and nothing else. Need the toilet? Expect to crawl behind the bar if you need to get to the bathroom on the other side! Over the evening we hit up three little places, none of which we paid a cover charge for (although for many of the bars you had to) and all of which were equally charming.  It was impossible to be there without making friends with the people we were practically knocking elbows with next to us and so by the end of the evening we were all chatting together in the bar, sipping on plum wine and continually playing a game musical chairs as people left and came in. All in all, a fabulous experience!

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On Sunday our drinking experience was to be one of a completely different, more refined experience. After enjoying some views over the city from the Government Metropolitan Building, we took the train out of the centre of the city to Jiyugaoka. It felt like we had left Tokyo completely and entered a calm small town in the middle of nowhere. Home to what I gather must be the well-off of Tokyo, the cobbled streets were lined with expensive cafes and international restaurants. In fact, it was difficult for us to find some Japanese food for lunch! However, our stomachs were soon almost filled with just enough space to justify a trip to Kosoan, a traditional Japanese teahouse, and the reason for our trip out of the centre. We made our way up the beautifully designed garden into the small traditional house. After waiting for a while we were given a table and spent the next hour enjoying some delicious tea and traditional desserts. The atmosphere was calming and conversation around us was quiet. Everyone was sat of the woven straw floor, and those with tables by the window (ours sadly wasn’t) looked out over the garden that was gradually lighting up as dusk fell. This was undoubtedly one of my favourite experiences during our time in Tokyo and being the only foreigners in the teahouse at that time made it feel like we had come somewhere special that was definitely worth the extra effort.

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Unbeknown to us, we were going to be left awe one more time before Sunday was over, this time for totally different reasons back in the manic centre of Tokyo. We headed to an arcade to get our fill of Mario Cart and the dance mat, in a throwback to our teenage days. There was only one dance mat game (that fact alone seemed unbelievable) and on it was a guy who clearly must literally be a world champion of the thing. We stood and watched (waiting our turn) for song after song, as he smashed them on expert mode, hitting the arrows with his feet faster than I even had time to read them on the screen. This guy was Insane. After about the fifth song we did become a bit impatient and slightly nervous at the prospect of having to follow on after him. But just as we were about to give up hope of him ever letting us have a turn he failed the level and took his cue to leave, thankfully not staying around to watch us do our thing. After a bit of fun we walked around some more to find that it seemed everyone that was playing a game here was a pro. From guitar hero, to this one where you could be a DJ and spin some decks, everything was done at lightning speed on the hardest level. It seems like the arcades in Tokyo aren’t there for just a bit of fun to spend your loose change!

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