The first thing that we did upon finishing our last day of school before our Christmas vacation was to throw our Christmas tree out onto the curb. It was a strange thing to do, especially since it was December 18th. We were about to leave on a three week trip to Japan, and so we bought our tree three weeks earlier than most so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. After that, and a good night’s rest, we took off for our three week trip to Japan.
We flew into Narita, which I found out is an actual city. I always thought it was just the name of the airport in Tokyo, but Narita was about an hour away from our hotel in Tokyo. I had purchased a Japanese Rail Pass, which is a great deal if you are planning on using the train system in Japan. One mistake we did make is that you have to pick up your rail pass in person with the receipt that is sent to you ahead of time. We wanted to get to our hotel before we worried about that, so we just decided to hop on the Narita Express Train to get into Tokyo. This hour and a half train ride cost us $25 USD each, and it would have been covered by our pass had we gotten it immediately upon arriving at the airport. Whoops! The ticket man was very concerned about us arriving safely at our hotel, and so was careful to make sure we were sitting in the right train car (apparently the train splits in half at some point).
Once we arrived in Tokyo, we had a short subway ride to our hotel. A short but incredibly complicated subway ride. I am used to the easy and convenient subway system of Shanghai, which I utilize daily. Thanks to China being a communist country, there is only one subway system, and it is run by the government. Each different subway line is connected, and one little card allows you to ride any one that you desire. Japan has several different subway companies, each totally separate from the other, and only one of them is government run (I am assuming that the Japan Rails subway is the only government-owned subway, but in all honesty I really have no idea). So, finding the best route on the subway requires some hardcore orienteering skills.
We eventually did make it to our hotel, the ‘Super Hotel Shanigawa Shinbanba‘, which was a great place to stay.
During our first day, we picked up our Japan Rail Passes at the nearest Japan Rail station. This was an easy and efficient process, and we discovered that our JR passes even worked on one of the subway lines in Tokyo. How convenient! After securing our JR passes we went to the Minato district in Tokyo. This is where the Tokyo Tower is located.
We decided to walk from the Minato district to the Ginza district, which I guess is the really fancy fashion area. There was a very cool restaurant and bar area built into the side of the elevated train tracks, and so we stopped for a refreshing Asahi beer under the tracks.
We continued on our walk until we reached the Imperial Palace. Christmastime is a little bit of a tricky time to visit Japan, as the New Years holiday is very important, and a lot of things shut down. We did not have too much of a problem, but every single Japanese castle was closed for almost the entire time that we were there. More on that later.
We ended our first night by exploring the Shibuya district, and more specifically, the Shibuya Scramble. This is a wild and crazy place that is all lit up and full of people. The major intersection in this area is one of the busiest in the world. We found some delicious curry udon noodles for dinner.
I have a college friend who is currently teaching music in Tokyo, and so we planned to meet up and hang out for one of the days that we were in Tokyo. We were not planning to meet until later in the day, so Angela and I headed to the Akihabara district. Akihabara is a haven for anime enthusiasts, video gamers, and any other interest that might put you in danger of having someone shout ‘nerd!’ at you. Those interests are celebrated here. We wandered around and admired the Star Wars and anime paraphernalia, but I only had one goal for this place. I had read somewhere that the Sega arcade store had a urinal video game, and I wanted to play it. We found it, and I played it. I didn’t win.
After our fun in Akihabara, we met up with my friend and her boyfriend. We were interested in experiencing some weird Japanese stuff, so she took us to the Monster Cafe.
After the Monster Cafe, and a stop at a less strange drinking establishment, we went to another weird Japanese experience called the Robot Restaurant. I am not really sure how to explain the Robot Restaurant. We didn’t actually eat, and it was expensive. What we did get was a whole bunch of singing, dancing, and even fighting robots of various sizes and styles. I am not sure if I am glad that i went or not, but I do know that I never need to witness it ever again.
The next day, we visited the Tsukiji Fish Market. We were not allowed to walk around the inner area where the real work is done, but we could wander around the outskirts where they sold very fresh fish. We decided to wait and had some fresh sushi for breakfast.
After our visit to the fish market, we went back to the Super Hotel Shinigawa Shinbanba. They had a public bath, which we were later to learn is a very popular thing in Japan. They are very specific about public bath etiquette, and there is no clothing at all allowed. We decided to brave it, and found that we were both the only people in our respective baths, so it was a good first experience as there was nobody there to judge.
Later that night, we had scheduled dinner at Sushi Bar Yasuda. This was a treat, as he is a master chef and entertainer. Yasuda had been a sushi chef in New York, and decided that he wanted to be the best in Tokyo, which is apparently a much more difficult feat. He made us whatever he thought we would like best, and so there was no need for us to order. He had a great sense of humor, and continued to feed and entertain us for almost three hours.
Tokyo was extremely entertaining, and well worth the visit.