Tokyo was my last stop for my Japan trip and I had some reservations about going. I was growing tired of big cities, debating an over-packed itinerary, and was worried about being overwhelmed by a city even bigger than my old home of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. So, I just stuck with my instincts: check out a neighborhood a day at a time, relax at night, and just ride the wave. It was also the first time I decided to stop taking so many pictures after I ended up with over a thousand pictures in just two weeks. I had become repulsed by the number of people flailing selfie sticks and cameras around and not simply drinking in the sights and sipping on the moment. I couldn’t count how many time I saw crowds fighting over a picturesque moment but not actually sitting down and enjoying it. As a result, I vowed to travel for me, not for likes or views – best decision I ever made.
Conveyor Belt Sushi: There’s a few different ways of indulging in this delightful activity. One is by electronically ordering on a digital menu that’s something like an iPad, the second is directly ordering from the chef where you’ll likely need to brush up on your Japanese, and the third is the simple grabbing the plates as they come. The issue with this method is that generally speaking, all the good dishes get grabbed right away while the less desired ones get leftover, endlessly revolving around. Therefore, if you’ve seen a dish more than a few times it’s probably not the cream of the crop. Tsukiji Fish Market: I came to Tokyo’s famous fish market solely to see the sales of giant tuna and other fish to vendors. Little did I know the only way to see this live auction is to arrive at 4:30am to purchase tickets in person, which are limited to only 120 total daily, and the auction is a silent auction which only runs from 5am to 6:15am. Therefore, if you’re not determined to visit, like I wasn’t, it’s best to simply enjoy the food market. It’s smaller, more crowded, and definitely more exposed to the elements like rain or sunshine than the Osaka or Kyoto markets but I stumbled upon a fancier, underground, affliated restaurant which met my requirements to dine in. They spoke zero English nor had an English menu and I was the only foreigner. That’s when I knew I needed to eat here but I had no idea what to order, so I just started pointing at pictures and saying in Japanese, “one please”.National Museum of Emerging Science and Engineering: I was disappointed with the museums in Tokyo and spent a day visiting around five or six. Mitsuo Aida Museum, National Museum of Modern Art, and Idemitsu Museum of Arts were among some of the ones I visited. The prices were a bit expensive averaging at around 1000 yen a ticket ($9), the museums often lacked English translations for many pieces so often times I was looking at literature or art pieces where I couldn’t even understand what the title was or any of the prose, and most of the exhibits were relatively small and a bid redundant. There’s nothing really exciting to me about a room full of small, clay pots or untranslated scrolls that I can’t understand.Crown Shisha: I grew a craving for Japanese shisha in Osaka and had a regular urge to satisfy it in Tokyo. Why? Because it wasn’t illegal, wasn’t very expensive, and didn’t leave me with a bad hangover in the morning. I could relax, enjoy, and meet new people over a bowl of the good stuff. By dumb luck, I happened to book a place to stay that was a few minutes walk from Crown Shisha. It was owned by a Japanese lady and run by a few Indian gentleman who spoke Japanese and English on top of their native tongue fluently. I ended up making friends with the staff and some of the regulars and ended up going nearly every night. The one downside was when the bar closed they all went to the clubs until the the crack of dawn. I have a bad reputation of losing control in clubs. Meaning I’ll spend all my money on bottles, I’ll get drunk as a skunk, and plainly I’ll party as hard as I can with whoever I can till the sun comes up. Needless to say, I was very tempted to join in on their festivities, but managed to summon the resolve to say no whenever invited. Odaiba and the Little Statue of Liberty: I was told this man-made neighborhood island was a place that couldn’t be passed up. People came for the shopping and the restaurants but I came for the architecture and the views.
Sleeping Pods: I figured I’d try something new and try out staying in sleeping pods which are exactly what they sound like. Many joked that it felt like sleeping in a coffin but to me it was more like what I imagine a space pod would be. I’m mildly claustrophobic, so I initially thought I had made a huge mistake upon first seeing my “room” but after entering it ended up feeling surprisingly cozy, like a warm cave or tent almost. They come equipped with a light, AC fan, and WiFi so it was really not a terrible experience although I wouldn’t revisit the idea again as it’s not exactly easy to bring a lady back from a bar – wink wink*.
Ginza: Ginza was the neighborhood I decided to stay in. Everyone told me it was the Times Square of Tokyo. God help me I should have known it was filled with overpriced international brands and restaurants that were selling the same quality dish for twice the price you could get down the street. That being said, I loved how the streets glowed at night and I never ran out of options on where to eat.
Taco Bell, Hooters, & Red Lobster: Mock me if you will but I hadn’t come across these restaurants since leaving America well over a year ago. It was a funny flip seeing locals treat fast food quesadillas and boneless lemon pepper wings like foreign delicacies. I will however never forgive Red Lobster for discontinuing those damn delicious cheese biscuits!
World Cup: I came to Tokyo during the world cup and left right before Japan was eliminated. People in Japan are avid soccer lovers and were wearing fake Afros, foam fingers, and jerseys to sports bars all over the city rooting for their team. That being said, they aren’t hostile or excessively belligerent like other countries can be. They simple want to drink, cheer on their team, and go home which is the way it should be.
Imperial Palace: Little did I know that the only entry is through escorted tours which must be applied for well in advance and little of the actual palace is accessible to the public. Instead, most opt to admire from afar as well as go to the East Gardens which is flourished with nature and free to visit.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden: As I’ve said before, during the summer you won’t encounter a big variety of colors but everything is SO green!
Earthquake in Osaka: I encountered my first earthquake early in the morning in my hostel in Osaka. It woke me up but I was too naive in my half-asleep stupor that I started yelling at my bunk mate above me to shut up and quit shaking the beds. After going back asleep I awoke to news that an earthquake had struck and I had pretty much slept through it. Needless to say, I owed my bunk-mate a highball.
Luckily for me, the first week I made it to Taiwan, my new home, I encountered another earthquake at the bar. The bar was relatively full and out of nowhere the entire building shook for a few seconds. I’m the only one who jumped up and got into a fighting stance out of sheer instinct because I didn’t know what was happening. Everyone just paused until it stopped then resumed what they were doing like nothing happened. Culture shock at its finest.
To Taiwan: I nearly didn’t make it out of Japan as I was entering Taiwan on a 3-month tourist pass where travelers are sometimes required to have an exit ticket to show proof of exiting the country within the allotted 90 days. I didn’t because I was moving and upgrading my visa to an ARC working visa which is much easier to do in person than through emails, mail, and phone calls abroad. After a solid ten minutes of being polite, calmly and honestly explaining my intentions, the immigration, which consisted of four younger Japanese ladies, allowed me to enter with merely a gentle warning. Turns out a smile, a wink, and compliments can get you through a lot of pickles.