Why Travelling As A Couple Is Wonderful And Awful: A Tokyo Case Study.

Every couple who has ever travelled together abroad will have had a ‘Separate Planes’ moment. Tokyo was ours.

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Kimono Girls [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com], crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
Kimono Girls [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com]

Every couple who has ever travelled together abroad will have had a ‘Separate Planes’ moment. It’s the one where, incapable of dealing with the language barrier or ridiculously complicated transport system or simply because you’ve been in each other’s pockets for a really long time, someone calls it: “You go your way, I’m going mine. I’ll see you at home/ at the hotel/ in [next destination] when I get there later!” and off you go your separate ways, perhaps taking different trains or planes home. It’s not a breakup. It’s just a f***-off-out-of-my-face-because-I’m-so-frustrated moment.

Our most recent ‘Separate Planes’ moments occurred in Shinjuku Station, Tokyo, where instead of blissfully holding hands as we immersed ourselves in Japanese culture oblivious to the needs of any but our own, we turned on each other like mad cats.

Picture, if you will, a pair of tourists, clearly lost and bamboozled, aimlessly wandering around the biggest and busiest train station in the world having a no-holds-barred fight about where, how, and when to get train tickets. That’s right; they haven’t even managed to buy a ticket yet.

I guess the good thing is that as time has gone on, our ability to come out the other side of the ‘Separate Planes’ moment has sped up. Previously we would have separated for the day and gone about Tokyo in a sulk alone. Now it’s a matter of having the moment and moving beyond it. Because that’s what it is: a moment. A moment of complete and utter frustration and the only person who can understand this shit show of ridiculousness is your travel buddy, because they are the only one in a kilometre radius who speaks your language and naturally, that’s who bears the brunt of your travel tantrum.

So we had the moment, spoke to a couple of information entities and finally had a ticket for the trains, a platform, and a direction. I was tired and we’d only been touristing for 90 minutes.

Anyway, we got our s*** together enough to head over to the Island of Odaiba, a manmade island in Tokyo Bay and go for a cruise up the Sumida-gawa River. The Himiko ferry ride is 45-60 minutes long, depending on the stops it makes, and is a really nice way to get a different view of Tokyo. This city is enormous- 37 million people live here and there are multiple ‘cities’ within Tokyo. The river is quiet though and you can sit and look peacefully, slowly. We bought a couple of beers- mine was aniseed flavoured (Bluurgh. Naturally, I forced it down), ate weird potato snacks and watched the city slip by.

Asahi Brewery [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com], crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
Asahi Brewery [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com]
We got off at Asakusa and against every traveller instinct in my body, I followed my husband to the Asahi Headquarters to drink a brew from the ‘source’  (it’s not- the building just contains the Asahi businessmen, not the actual brewery) underneath the Golden Dog Shit.

Which is what lunch tasted like there.

Anywho, we brushed that off (but tasted it again and again for the next few hours) and headed through the streets to the Senso-ji Temple, where we walked underneath the enormous 1 tonne lantern to the courtyard full of hand washing Shinto worshippers and clouds of incense smoke. Young pairs of kimono clad girls tottered through the crowd, happily posing with tourists for photos, combining that magical Japanese way of tradition and modernity by taking selfies with each other.

Kimono Girls  [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com], crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
Kimono Girls [image source: unitedstatesofmama.com]
We wandered around, stoked and awed by it all. We should have had a tour or at least bought an explanatory guide, but we didn’t. It was enough at this late stage of the holiday game, after a week already in Niseko, just to look on.

Like locals (LOL! No not at all) we caught the subway over to the Metropolitan Government Building just in time to see the outline of Mt Fuji in the distance and the lights of Tokyo go from twinkling to full blast. The viewing floors are free on level 40 and it’s interesting to gain a different perspective of the city from up here; to spot the monuments we’d passed on the ferry earlier that morning and the endless city scape we’d missed by riding trains and subways. By this stage it had been at least three hours since our last alcoholic beverage so naturally it was time to top up the holiday tank. Old mate Google came up with a list of suggestions for rooftop drinks, but the closest and highest rated was the Park Hyatt (of Lost In Translation fame), and all the muppets over on TripAdvisor reckoned it had a stellar Happy Hour. Happy Days.

And it was pretty spectacular in a fancy hotel kind of way and the view was magnificent. Except the happy hour was expensive… Oh alright, it was all-you-can-drink cocktails for three hours for around $70AUD, which is cheap if you’re in for the long haul, but we only wanted one drink and when the English-speaking businessmen the next table over started comparing notes on whose wife could slam down the most martinis in one sitting, we packed up and left without anything.

Back towards Shinjuku station we had a quick look around the Golden Gai (a small city block which hasn’t been smashed down and rebuilt into a skyscraper, but instead remains as a traditional group of alleyways with seedy buildings, most of which house an izakaya or small pub) before heading to Piss Alley for something to eat. What followed was Russian Roulette, picking an izakaya that would accept foreigners, hoping what we ordered was beer, and choosing something off the menu which wasn’t chicken offal. We were officially in culture shock and laughed and laughed.

Ending the day was another walk through the belly of Shinjuku Station which was still really hard to navigate. But unlike the ‘Separate Planes’ episode 14 hours ago, we just sailed through, holding hands like middle-aged dipsticks who didn’t know where they were going. It was fabulous.