So, some backstory: I’m on this trip with my mom and oldest brother, and we’ve all really wanted to visit for years. We were originally booked with a tour group, but too many people dropped out, so the group was disbanded at the last minute. (The same thing happened a few years ago after the earthquake, logically, but that time, we cancelled the trip altogether.) Basically, we’ve been spending these past 3 days exploring on our own and getting lost…a lot.The first day, we arrived in Tokyo from Fukuoka Airport (too bad one of our names isn’t Oka ;)). We must’ve looked like a big mess. One big, pathetic, confused, American mess.
We saw some delicious curry at this airport restaurant, but when we entered, the waitress kind of just shooed us away, pointing to a machine by the door. Apparently, in a lot of Japanese restaurants, you order at a kiosk. The machine had some pictures of different types of curry with some broken English.
Anyways, we were supposed to take the “MonoRail” to a certain station, where we’d wait for our hotel bus to pick us up. The “MonoRail” actually sounded a lot cooler than it actually was cuz it just ended up being a plain ol’ subway.
We waited around, looking for our damn hotel bus for about an hour. Which was suckish because Japan in summer is HUMID–but also neat because we basically just sat around and people-watched.
People-watching in Japan is awesome. From an American’s perspective, the culture is completely different. I thought I wouldn’t experience as much culture shock because I’m Korean, too, but the cultural differences between Korean and Japan are just as vast.
Mini rant: There’s this weird dichotomy here between the ultra conservative, silent person in a suit–and the teenagers walking around with neon green hair or wacky cosplay outfits. I guess you could say there’s a generation gap in any country but it seems a lot more pronounced in Japan.
I found the culture really fascinating, but it also puzzled me. A lot of times in subways, everyone was completely silent. No one spoke. This made my talkative, English-speaking family members a lot more conspicuous–and we were often at the other end of some cold glares. On the other hand, we’d see some really funky, loud, slapstick reality shows all over the Japanese networks on TV. It confused me a lot at first.
Anyways! That rant aside, the first day was pretty lax after we got to our hotel. We stayed at Righa Royal Hotel because my mom found a really good price for it, and it was AMAZING. Very posh and stuff. Even the bathtubs had more dignity than me, I think.
I hibernated slept for a bit, and the next day we were all fresh and ready to tackle Tokyo. We ate at this burger chain called Mos Burger first, which was an interesting experience. Apparently, Mos Burger is the extremely popular equivalent of McDonald’s. The burger had your typical patty and cheese, but it also had this tomato-esque sauce inside. Very difficult to eat without getting everything on your fingers, but really delicious!!
Afterwards, we went to Ginza, which is supposed to be the Rodeo of Tokyo. There’s lots of shopping there, but we didn’t shop at all. Woooo. We visited the Sony building, which was a little less impressive than we had expected on the outside, but very impressive within.
They were doing some sort of endorsement of Mariah Carey, so she was literally all over the building. There was even this sound room with an enormous screen, displaying her old music videos.Afterwards, we wanted to eat and saw a soba place with some people lined up outside. We thought it looked pretty popular, so we decided to wait as well. Soon the line was a lot longer–and we ended up waiting around 55 minutes to finally enter the restaurant. WHICH ONLY SEATED TEN PEOPLE. When we entered, we were completely shocked. It was literally just a bar counter with stools on three sides and a kitchen on the other end. Pretty exclusive stuff. I guess rent in Ginza is really expensive, so people make do with smaller spaces.
Aside from the wait, everything else about the place was awesome. The soba was amazing. My mom and I ordered the creamy soba, and my brother ordered some other kind. There was a bit of pressure involved in that kind of setting because the chefs were right there. In a different restaurant, if I didn’t finish my meal, I wouldn’t feel as bad because the only witness would be a waiter or waitress. There, I’d feel terrible because you had to return your bowl personally to the chef.
My absolute favorite part about the day, however, was going to Shibuya and playing in one of the arcades there. Tokyo has tons of arcades (because I guess Japanese people really like their crane machines). My brother and I really wanted to try out one of the machines, but I was having such a hard time picking one with a prize I’d actually enjoy! Seriously. I DO NOT KID YOU.
“I will devour your flesh.”
“Hang me in your room so I can observe your sleep.”
“I ‘mustache’ you a question…ABOUT ETERNAL DAMNATION.”
Anyways. Upstairs, the situation was a little better. There were more games besides crane machines, like racing games, etc. I won a race and felt like the DMV should’ve been there to document it. And finally grant me my license. I really deserve that license.
There was this really cool photo booth which made your eyes look HUGE and completely smoothed out your skin. My mom and I took a few photos together, and the results were at once both hilarious and eerily adorable.
After we played our hearts out, we returned to our hotel and checked out (not literally, but you know…passed out on our beds).
The next day, we went to Akihabara, which is a district famous for anime. You could tell you were entering a very anime-centric area as soon as you left the subway because there were signs and manga advertisements everywhere. It was rainy, too–pouring one second and sprinkling the next.
We walked the streets for a while and encountered:
1) One of the world’s busiest cross sections. Over five crosswalks at once.
2) This gift from heaven that is the Japanese ice cream sundae. We ordered two from this restaurant called Milky Way, and I genuinely think that I could live there forever. I considered stashing a sleeping bag under the counter but remembered that I didn’t have a sleeping bag.
3) THE CUTEST PET STORE EVER. Seriously, every single puppy and kitten in this pet store was no older than around 2 months. I have no idea how that system works if they don’t all get adopted at the same time–but all that matters is that THEY WERE SO FREAKING ADORABLE. I’m pretty sure my cooing sounds made everyone around me really uncomfortable.4) An “interesting” section in the book store. My brother was telling me that there was a specific kind of girl called a fujoshi, who reads “Yaoi” or…um…”boy-on-boy” fiction. Yup. I thought this was something limited to FanFiction.net or something, but when we walked into a bookstore, there was an ENTIRE, PINK SECTION devoted to uh…intense, illustrated Yaoi. Manga style. There were tons of girls around my age who were reading there, too. Like no shame whatsoever. I don’t know if I should admire that or not. My brother and I kept on pointing to random pages in books and cracking up, so I think they might’ve hated us.
5) A sketchy Maid Cafe… In Japan, there are these cafes where all the waitresses are dressed like French maids. (They have a butler version, too, for women.) Anyways, we wanted to try one out because these are pretty famous, and we were looking for a good one to go to. Normally, these cafes have some of their French maids advertise out on the sidewalk, dressed in full costume, handing out flyers. We passed about four or five of these girls while we were walking and finally approached one, asking where the restaurant was. She said she would “guide us” to our destination. Not sketchy at all, my friends. She then guided us to a small, narrow stairway and up to a very small, grungy room. (Still not sketchy.)There were a couple middle-aged businessmen there, but my mom and I were the only females. (Still not sketchy?) There are some maid cafes with about twenty workers, but this one had only two. They handed us the menu, and we all had a heart attack, basically. There was an hourly “seating charge” of $8 per person, per hour. Water was $9, and the only actual food item was an omelette which was–wait for it–THIRTY EIGHT DOLLARS. We apologized and left. Apparently, these maid cafes often overcharge because their clientele is mainly just lonely men or people with…fetishes. Yeah, it was a little sketchy.
6) Sushi! How can you go to Japan and not try some sushi? At the end of the day, we stopped for some sushi at this restaurant. I’m kind of a traitor to my race, as I hate sushi, but I tried a bite just because I was in Japan after all. I ordered some beef, miso soup, and steamed eggs–and everything was really yummy. They made the sushi right in front of us, and it was pretty good, according to my mom and brother. It wasn’t the absolute best, of course, but really good sushi in Tokyo fetches some astronomical prices. Our three-person meal ended up only being around $35, which was insane. Considering the price, it was crazy that our sushi was even that quality.
On the last day, we only had until 1 PM to check out of our hotel, so we made the most of our morning. We woke up early and visited the Imperial Palace first, which was a little bit of a disappointment because we didn’t realize that there wasn’t an imperial palace at all, at least where we visited! Edo Castle burned down centuries ago. They were even trying to repair it in the 1600s. I guess a lot of Japanese structures were destroyed during feudal wars or World War II bombings. In any case, there weren’t any castles, but there were some wall structures, moats, and tons of gardens and greenery. Very beautiful.
Afterwards, I was absolutely starving, so we went to get some ramen.The restaurant had a similar format as the soba place. Three chefs behind a bar-type counter and twelve-ish seats all around. We ordered at a kiosk, gave them our tickets, and waited for our food. You could specify if you wanted the saltiness and thickness of your soup to be low, medium, or high–so we all ordered medium for both. We were expecting the kind of ramen we eat at home, however, so we realized our mistake when the food arrived. Don’t get me wrong, the ramen was very good–but it was wayy too thick and salty. My mom and I poured an entire cup of water in to try and dilute the flavor, and it was still too strong. If we ever return, we’ll remember to order the low levels.
Our last stop before heading off to the airport was Waseda University. The campus was super close to our hotel. Apparently, it’s the second best university in Tokyo (after Tokyo University), and it was weird seeing so many people my age in a single spot!
Japan has been dealing with an aging population and a dearth of young people for decades now, but in Tokyo, this problem is difficult to notice because there are youths everywhere. If you’re young in Japan, you’ll want to be in Tokyo.
The Waseda campus didn’t look nearly as old as some of the US universities, but it definitely had its charm. People were shoving flyers in our faces, trying to get us to join their clubs, and there were talking, laughing people everywhere–not unlike any college campus. It was kind of a relief seeing so much energy and laughter because for the past few days in Japan, we’d mainly observed more sternness and silence in public spaces.
And that’s it! That went way too long. I do wish we had a few more days to spend in Japan, but I think the trip actually worked out pretty well for us, considering our tour was cancelled and we were left on our own, without much knowledge of the language. Japan was not as English-friendly as we were expecting–and definitely not as English-friendly as Korea, but we still managed to communicate through hand gestures and the like. Which was a completely new experience because I’ve never visited a country without some kind of guide who was proficient in the language. I found the culture completely different and at times a bit confusing, but also rich and lively and fascinating.
I mean, where else will you find twinkies this cute?!Or street advertisers this creepy?! I definitely don’t think this will be my last time in Japan, so I’m thinking up things to do the next time I visit. And for now: that’s another country off my bucket list!
And I’m off for Seoul, Korea!