Just One Day in Tokyo
One light-loaded and early November afternoon, I took a look at my calendar for December and noticed a big, hairy, NOTHING! So I decided to do something about it. Using Skyscanner, I quickly searched where I could travel that wouldn't be too too expensive... Tokyo came up and seemed like a good option. I'd never been and it isn't far from South Korea. Plus, I know someone living there so, I thought, why not have a meetup? I decided to book a flight leaving on a Saturday morning and returning Sunday night (the Friday-after-work flight options were terrible). I'm often met with the reaction of "Wow, that's so short!" or "Is it even worth it?" To me, exploration, challenges, and learning something new will always be worth it.
Alas, November went by, and I actually forgot about the trip several times until I got all those email notifications about my itinerary and hostel and the like.
Saturday, December 9th, I creaked out of bed at 4:30 am and prepared to make my way to Gimhae Int'l Airport (which I had never taken myself to). I'm thankful for 1) taking a hot shower to wake me up that morning, and 2) having gone to survey the bus stop, where I would catch the shuttle to the airport from Changwon, the previous evening. Preparation is key in these situations. A smooth check-in, security, immigration and a 2hr flight later, I was finally in Tokyo.
As I write this, I'm having trouble assessing if my geography is good or bad, but I do know that having a sense of geography is important when you have a short period of time and a lot you want to see/do. If possible, my main suggestion is to start from furthest away and work your way back to home base. That way, if it's late, or you're tired, or if anything comes up at the end of said time period, you won't be far from where you need to be. I've experienced both sides, and can certainly vouch for this. So anyway, Narita Int'l Airport was about an ocean away from Tokyo-proper, and it took me a while to get out to Taito, Tokyo, where Hostel Bedgasm, my accommodation, was. No need to despair though, solo travelers of the internet; being on the subway for that long with that many local Japanese gave me a chance to people-watch. Because I live in Korea, I'm used to seeing Koreans all around me, now I could try and discern the physical differences between Koreans and Japanese if any were to pop out. Some did, but I'll have to travel around Japan a bit more to speak on that. I don't think Tokyo is an accurate representative sample of all.
After meeting with an acquaintance, Dami, (another English teacher, but in Japan), it was time for lunch, and Sushi was on the menu! I asked the hostel manager what good sushi spots were nearby and he pointed us in the right direction - this is one of the many reasons I love staying in hostels. Local people meeting with travelers, telling us the inside scoop on what to see and do! Ever been to a revolving sushi bar-type-setting? Well, this dig was like that, except the sushi chef took each and every order from us patrons and made the dishes right then and there. I'm amazed at how well he was able to keep all those orders in his head like he was using more than the 10% of his brain that the normal person is allotted. Wonders shall never end.
Tummy full of raw fish, wasabi, and rice, Dami and I hopped on the subway (comprehensive transportation? Check!) and made our way to the Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and the Tsukiji Fish Market. I love markets because they are full of life - every kind of thing being sold, and people from all over, of all ages, coming to see and purchase.
Since the weather wasn't too cold or windy, we stayed on foot for most of the day's explorations. Ginza was next on the list... until quick Google search taught me that the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens would close in the next hour! Bump Ginza, nothing but high priced stores, anyway. To Koishikawa Botanical we went!
And it was vast and gorgeous, like any nature-lover's dream. Dami and I had to haggle to get in as we arrived at 4:00 pm but the gates would close at 4:30 pm. Those ladies operating the gate were so kind - they really know how to make a wanderer smile! With only about 30 minutes to view the gardens, I think we did pretty well, and Dami taught me a few things about Japan and the Japanese language while we were at it.
When I was a teeny-bopper and obsessed with America's Next Top Model, I remember watching a cycle during which the girls went to Tokyo - and I was introduced to Harajuku and Tokyo Street Fashion. So I had some expectations, and they were not met - but how could they be? Harajuku last Saturday was populated modern day people, not your 20-year-old 5'11" size 00 amateur fashion models, having high-end photoshoots with local Japanese in eclectic garb in your round-the-corner alleyway. It simply wasn't that. It was pretty, though, with all the shiny lights.
Okay if I'm real, by this time in the day, my brain was half-working, and my eyes were about to claw themselves out. I needed rest! So Dami and I went our separate ways for a while and concluded to meet again later in the night. After a much needed nappy nap, I freshened up, enjoyed a free drink on behalf of Hostel Begdasm (shoutout to you! Love that perk), and got back on that young train to meet again in Shibuya. We landed at The Aldgate British Pub and spent our time cackling like the loud-ass Africans we are with two very funny Nigerian guys who (obviously) stood out among the bar's crowd. I love how drinks and simple conversation can bring people together.
Shoutout to you if you made it this far. You know your girl can write.
All in all, in this kind of travel scenario, you're not going to see everything in a day. My advice is to pick 1-3 places you really want to see and make a point to see them (for me it was Tsukiji Fish Market and Koishikawa Botanical Gardens). You can go with the flow for the rest. Chances are, if you could afford (with time, money, and location) to go to a certain destination for a day, you may be able to make it happen again, and for longer, in the future. Then you can set your sights on other aspects of the country/culture and explore them!
It's amazing to step into a new country and take in all that makes it what is, even if it's for a short time, and even if you believe the population doesn't necessarily represent the whole, like it might have played out in your head. A given population will never represent a whole when the intricacies of respective parts of the whole are too unique to qualify, in my opinion.
I'd say the hardest thing about my weekend trip to Tokyo was not being able to read Japanese writing. At least in Korea, I can read Korean and can more easily navigate. Also, I found myself wanting to speak Korean the whole time. I'm still in my "formative years" of learning Korean language and customs and I was majorly confused in Tokyo. I think it's a good problem to have, though, so no complaints.
What are your go-to's for overnight excursions? Also, here are a few other photos of the hostel and a quiet Nkem reading and people-watching at Tokyo Station. :)