For someone who claims to love travel as much as I do, I'm a failure at actually finding time and the energy to actually go and do it. So a few months ago, I surprised myself by throwing planning to the wind and booking a ticket to go to Tokyo. This was the first time I've ever gone somewhere I hadn't planned to death, from researching neighborhoods, scouring guidebooks, figuring out weather conditions and memorizing exchange rates. I was right in the middle of managing my first emergency response and had no time to even think about a vacation. I'm glad I did though (and extra thankful for my amazing boyfriend, Francois!) because it turned out to be one of the best trips, if not the best trip I've ever gone on. (Tip, get a Francois of your own! He planned everything perfectly!)
If you hadn't noticed, I'm a failure at actually updating my travel blog so it's actually up to date!
Tokyo is AMAZING and even if I only spent a few days in one pretty tiny part of Japan, the whole country amazes me in its efficiency and politeness. I love the Philippines but admittedly, it is one of those crazier countries in Asia where chaos seems to rule the order (especially in traffic, traffic, and oh yes, did I mention traffic?). In contrast, Japan seems amazingly well-run, down to the second.
Our adventures in Japan started literally the second I arrived in Narita on the evening Philippine Airlines flight. It had been drummed into my head by my sister and dad about how expensive Tokyo could be so I was hyper-aware that I was a half-hour away from missing the last train to Shinjuku and thisclose to spending a bajillion bucks on a taxi. I flew through the immigration (because have I mentioned how efficient everyone is in Japan?) and sprinted to the train station and literally made it to the train with 1 minute to spare. I know because they have little monitors that show the time the train will arrive and I watched the seconds tick down, trying to catch my breath because my IQ had dropped enough so I couldn't figure out the ticket entry thingamajiggies.
My first lesson in understanding Japanese culture shock was arriving at Shinjuku station,
the largest of all Tokyo's stations and the busiest one in the world (!), at 10pm. Tokyo is probably the first city I've ever been to where I couldn't understand anything (you can somehow muddle through in Europe and Africa because of the letters but in Tokyo? Characters mean you know zero) and no one could speak English. Add a French boyfriend texting you "southwest gate! southwest gate!" and you have no idea where the heck to go (really, is it just me, or in the Philippines, we do not do directions that way. It's either kaliwa or kanan, which is bad enough when you're directionally dyslexic like me). You're talking about a whole bunch of trains moving in and out of Shinjuku, a massive network of underground malls underneath a bustling nightlife going strong even almost at midnight, all while Japanese people are heading to a night out or a night home with the men dressed in uniform black suits and the women in uniform khaki trench coats with everyone swinging cute little plastic umbrellas. It was a lot like being lost in translation.
After being rescued by Francois, stepping out of the station into the frigid damp night was my first lesson at how cold Japanese spring is! I haven't quite gotten used to the fact that other countries in Asia actually have cold weather because in the Philippines, it's gotten increasingly hot and hotter. Francois had been telling me "oh it's not too bad. 27 degrees" but again, who in the Philippines knows temperature! Apparently, I needed a crash course as my face numbed super quickly into ice and my fingers turned into little icicles. (This was also the reason why I didn't take as many photos during my trip. Warm hands in pocket >>> frozen hands taking pictures).
As a kid, have you every had that feeling of wandering around with a dropped jaw and wide eyes staring at everything? That was basically me as we explored Shinjuku, searching for a place that would feed the hunger in my belly. As I would quickly learn, Shinjuku is one of the biggest commercial districts in Tokyo and one of the best places for salarymen and women to relax after a long week at work. It's packed with bars and restaurants in tiny little alleys tucked between buildings, near a red light district and just a cool fun place to hang out in.
Another quick crash course in Tokyo, restaurants are really hard to understand. Names are in characters and outside, large placards contain 500 photos of food and big exclamation-pointy bold characters and numbers. Since nothing really looked very familiar, we settled for a small little ramen house with a cozy and warm basement. I tucked into this really large amazing ramen (alone!!! This guy was no help!!!) and had some tea while my favorite tour guide scanned the Lonely Planet for the next day's itinerary.
To cap off the shortest night in the world (arriving at 10pm straight into a full sensory overload is no joke), we walked to Golden Gai. I highly recommend this place as one of the best pub places on the planet. Golden Gai is where everyone must go for a drink in Tokyo just for the novelty of coming upon stacks of pubs and bars that are so tiny, a 6 seater is like the a luxurious little watering hole (see left... it was much easier getting a photo from outside than inside!). If you are cheap or on a budget, Golden Gai is the best place to decide to be gallant ("drinks on me!"... x 3 people sitting in the bar). Of course, just make sure that people have settled the mandatory 700 yen cover charge just for sitting in. Gotta pay that tiny rent!
Succeeding adventures to follow in the next blogs as Tokyo is an incredible place with so many things to do!
Abbi is a 28 year old petite human bean, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.