When I rolled up to my hostel, on my second day in Japan, I dropped all my bags off and headed up the communal kitchen/ dining area on the top floor. My main goal was just to scope the place out and have a peek at the views from the top floor windows.
What I actually found was an incongruous Jigglypuff, which always makes life better, and a flyer for Treck Treck cycle tours. The flyer promised a ground-level tour of genuine, local and traditional Tokyo. Part of me worried it would be run by a butch, fitness-mad type, insistent on power-pedalling up steep hills. Nonetheless, I hit up the website and went about booking a tour.
The day came around, the Thursday that marked one whole week in Japan. I took the stroll, a 30 minute walk along the beautiful riverside, from my hostel to the bike shop. I was pleased not to be met by a strict drill-instructor type, but a cute and bubbly tour guide excited to share her neighbourhood with me.
Our group, consisting of myself and two Australian ladies, were kitted out with bicycles before being shown the great views of the river and monuments to historic Tokyo right there by the shop. A statue depicting Basho, the enigmatic inventor of haiku said to have founded so many temples, and depicted with so many faces, that he could only have been a ninja. This set the tone for a tour that was educational, entertaining and funny in equal measure. A real passion shone through.
The tour took me from local businesses, like a shop where tofu has been made for 120 years and a classic stand-up sake tasting, to sights of historical import and even an enormous and wonderful Buddhist temple, where we sat in on a ritual.
This tour lasted a good few hours, and showed me a side to life in Tokyo I never would have seen just sticking to the typical tourist hotspots, or following the bright lights of the big city. I saw day-to-day life in the place that was once the hub of Japan, the capital of centuries past.
After the tour, I was able to hold onto the bike for the rest of the day. I made good use of it, visiting some parks, museums and gardens nearby. The great thing about Japanese gardens is that they’re works of art in themselves, and even a mug like me can take beautiful photographs.
Luckily, Toyo is nice and flat and far from being a gruelling exercise regime, seeing the city on a bike is the nicest, most relaxing way to do it.