I definitely recognize this is being posted much later than it rightfully should be. I went right on the verge of the whole Coronavirus outbreak, and life has been a bit of a blur since. Still, I feel that perhaps these little experiences on my trip can bring some sort of joy for others and give inspiration to those for next time they travel.
I’ve been to Japan three times now, and I realize this is going to be a bit controversial, but I find traveling there to be an absolute hassle. It has never been as simple and convenient as, say, Taiwan or Malaysia. Going there is such a breeze! Going to Japan actually stresses me out.
For one, it’s super expensive (at least getting from the airport late night is), navigation can be a labyrinth, and English isn’t widely spoken (and certainly not well). This time around, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. For one, even though the airport bus was super pricey, the airport staff went out of their way to help us. Buying passes for the Tokyo metro was easy from the information kiosk, the people behind the desk were super eager to help, and it helped us save money in the rare instance we took the wrong train. Also, I noticed that this time around English was much easier to come by. My guess is that more workers were studying English for (what was going to be) the 2020 Olympics.
I actually only went because airfare was so cheap due to the Korean boycott on Japan. I told myself that I was going just for the food, and I was going to grin and bear the rest of it. However, I was pleasantly surprised overall. It turned out to be a lovely trip, and I noticed that this time around in Tokyo, I was able to do a lot more on the cheap.
Where to Stay
Part of what contributed to such a successful trip was the hostel I had picked out. I’ve noticed that when I’m good at something, I’m actually really, really good at it. Finding good places on Booking.com seems to be one of them. Once again, I picked an awesome place with a great location, all for a super cheap price. I recommend this place to anyone. I stayed at Mustard Hostel Asakusa 2. As a huge jjimjilbang enthusiast, the complimentary onsen was a blessing that I took advantage of each day (and sometimes twice!). It was super safe, had complimentary breakfast, and it was very close to an adorable matcha cafe and Kaminarimon Gate Senso-ji.
You can either get udon or a hot dog for breakfast each morning. Not a fan? There’s a million convenience stores nearby you can hit up.
Take a pit stop at the local matcha cafe before a day of exploring.
I loved how it was such a close walk to lots of free tourist attractions. It was a great walk to walk off my daily food baby (while also eating 9653467836678 other things at the same time.)
What to Eat
Ah yes, arguably the best part of visiting Tokyo. While I might be Team Korea, Japan wins when it comes to cuisine. I made sure to treat myself to ramen food porn at least once a day. I don’t care what anyone says–ramen is so diverse that I support it being its own food group. I moved around so much each day sightseeing that I didn’t even gain any weight for it. I didn’t hunt down a particular ramen house; rather, I just walked around and popped into the first place when I was hangry.
When I wasn’t binging on ramen, I was frequently convenience stores in the search of the perfect Onigiri. I’ve never understood how so many people have a “sweet tooth”, as rice balls and seaweed (and super Americanized avocado maki rolls) are my daily dream come true).
It’s also worth noting that not only Denny’s is a thing in Japan, but it’s radically different from the ones back in the states. For starters, it’s much nicer, and breakfast options aren’t really a thing. We were in search of the classic souffle pancakes, and Denny’s was the only place we could find that didn’t require a reservation. The pancakes were about $4, and they were delicious. I definitely recommend.
Where to Go
Honestly, the best part of Tokyo (much like Seoul) is the fact that if you have the energy, you can walk around endlessly and get a lot of your sightseeing done from there.
There’s definitely a lot of sensory overload inside some of these buildings in Akihabara. Japan is definitely land of the…strange. Haha.
I also thought it would have been fun to do one the Mario Kart Tours, but there is honestly nothing I truly hate more than driving. Still, it was cool to see this, and I imagine a lot of people would find this to be a really fun activity to do in Tokyo, as there’s so much cool architecture everywhere.
Going to one of these seems to be a rite of passage. Beware as there’s just so much (of literally everything) everywhere that it can cause a major headache. It was nice to buy some skincare here, but more importantly, it was basically a one stop shop for the ever magical Japanese Kit Kat bars. They’re honestly my favorite things to buy whenever I go. There are so many different varieties, but I was only able to buy a few just so it would fit on my carryon. (Also, please don’t take Peach airlines there, or anywhere. They are the worst airlines ever.)
Accidentally stumbling upon the world’s second biggest Lush was honestly a dream come true. I honestly had no idea we were being so bamboozled in Korea! How has such a giant masterpiece been hidden from us? Wouldn’t Seoul have been a better place to have such a monstrosity (as Koreans are obsessed with fantastic beauty products much more than the Japanese)? Come on, Lush! Spoil Seoul as well!
I’m not gonna lie–I totally fangirled in here for a solid hour. It’s four floors of paradise. I felt great first world sadness at realizing that I do not have a bathtub for all the aesthetically pleasing bath bombs. Bonus points: Theres a two floor Lush in Harajuku dedicated solely to bath bombs. You’re welcome.
While we were contorting our bodies to slide through the hordes of people on Takeshita street, we stumbled upon a Micropig cafe. I get that it can be a rather controversial thing to post–lots of people clutch their pearls at this. Honestly, I didn’t see any harm. Micropigs are in the same category as having a puppy, there were tons of rules (and a limit of people and time you can spend there), and the pigs seemed to be having the time of their life playing with the staff and people. It was a positive experience.
What to Do
The last time I went to Tokyo, I made sure to be a typical tourist and get tickets to the Robot Restaurant. This time around, I was so exhausted from walking around all day, that the only truly touristy thing I opted for was Golden Gai. Yes, it has become 500% more touristy since the last time I visited there in early 2016. However, I still had a great time, and I even had a better time there than before. When I first went, the bars and staff were super exclusionary, many places with signs saying “no foreigners allowed” (Yes, really.), but this time it seemed to be the complete opposite, with many places proudly advertising “foreigners welcome!” and even going so far as to accept credit cards (again, probably in preparation of the would have been Olympics).
I am not much of a drinker these days, but I did want to have a drink with a couple friends as a nice way to experience Tokyo nightlife and have good conversation. I absolutely love Golden Gai as the bars are so cozy, and they all have different themes. I don’t remember the particular name of this one, but it was on the second floor, and it just had this warm and fuzzy feeling to it.
I guess looking back on my trip is just such a strange nostalgia. While the virus did exist back then, it felt almost like a buzzword. Nobody outside of China really had it, and it honestly felt like MERS all over again (as in, it’s *there* but it’s not really affecting the general population). So often, I have beaten myself up about all of my travels. For someone who is usually super frugal/bargainy, I will buy a plane ticket or book a hostel somewhere at the drop of a hat. I have enough money here where I’m able to do these things, but I’ve also had a nagging voice of “Shouldn’t you save X money instead of going to Y place?” I guess now I did things the right way. I love experiences, and leaving my apartment and living my life has always been of the utmost importance to me. I spent many years having to live in near isolation in the states, so I know what it’s like to not do anything and not have meaningful connections with others. I always promised myself that if I was able to leave and get a second chance on life, that I would experience everything life has to offer. I am glad I did.
I have no idea when I will be able to leave Korea again, or when I can actually do typical weekend trips in Korea. I guess in the meantime I can be really grateful of what I have experienced thus far and realize that it was all worth it in the end.
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