During our visit to Tokyo, we stayed at the Hotel Grand Fresa in Akasaka. We chose it because the price was so reasonable,and it turned out to be a fantastic base for us during the trip. It was only a one minute walk to Akasaka station, which was on the very useful C line (sealion!), and you could walk to Roppongi in about 20 minutes.
When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered we weren’t able to check in for about three hours. While this was not ideal after such a long journey, we decided to use this time to our advantage and scope out the local area. The receptionists took our bags and lent us a big umbrella, and we stepped out to experience the city for the first time. They actually came running out of the building, chasing us with the umbrella, which was quite sweet. God, Japanese people are nice.
When we did manage to check in, we were able to pick and choose from a large selection of toiletries and teas on offer to guests in the reception area. Laden with bath salts, we headed up to our cosy room, which was actually in a different building. Although tiny, the room was well equipped, with a small kitchenette (kettle, sink, microwave), little wardrobe, TV, and JAPANESE BUM-WASHING TOILET!!! Yes, all my dreams had come true. It was wonderful.
At the end of Akasaka-dori, across Sotobori-dori, we discovered Hie-jinja shrine at the top of an escalator! The instant we stepped off the escalator, we found ourselves in an oasis of calm, completely different from the bustling city below. We had a little wander around, watching people praying, and enjoying the peace and quiet, before heading back down to earth.
Taking Akasaka-dori in the other direction leads you to Nogi-jinja, a shrine dedicated to Count Nogi Maresuke, a general in the Japanese army who committed ritual suicide on the day of Emperor Meiji’s funeral, in accordance with the samurai tradition of following your master into death. At 8am on a drizzly Sunday morning, this was a peaceful place to while away some time with just the gardeners for company.
Akasaka-dori and the roads around it are full of great looking places to eat and drink. Embarrassingly, we got breakfast from Starbucks on quite a few days, but in my defence, they drew cute little cats on our cups, and the cinnamon buns were gigantic.
On our first evening, we met up with Paul and Jamie at Akasaka metro, before taking a walk along one of the livelier looking roads to find a spot for a drink and a catch-up. We found a spot in a bar which had covered its walls with posters of J-Pop stars, and had an inflatable vicar playing guitar outside. We ordered highballs, which are incredibly popular in Japan – you can buy them premixed in supermarkets. I wasn’t a massive fan of the ones made with just whisky and soda, but the flavoured ones were a lot more interesting – ginger was a particular hit.
After drinks, we spent a long time looking for the perfect place to eat, dismissing the many Korean restaurants on offer as it seemed right to eat Japanese food on our first night in Japan. We eventually found a fantastic little Ramen place, where the lady running the joint helped us to work the machine where you selected and paid for your (very reasonable, delicious and enormous) meal. Inside, the restaurant was cosy and felt very down to earth. Although, it seemed that they regularly had famous Japanese guests (and Bruno Mars), as the walls were covered in signed sheets of paper.