March 17, 2012
Ginza and Akihabara
I’ve got two room mates right now in the hostel. The hostel by the way is amazing: clean, comfortable, friendly, and efficient. The two guys are Chris from Chicago and Guillaume from Quebec. Chris is a partier, super social, but sleeps in late and misses most the day. I don’t understand how you can do that when you’re out in a new place, let alone a new country! Thankfully Guillaume is up in the mornings.
He and I chat, and decide to venture out to Ginza and Akihabara. First stop was breakfast….at Denny’s. My suggestion, partly because I needed a western breakfast after the plane food (which made me sick, hooray for first food poisioning of the trip! I do not recommend the Korean Air bibimbap) and partly because it came recommended from my Mom. I should clarify now that Denny’s Japan is nothing like Denny’s in America. You order by pushing a button to notify a waitress you’re ready. The waitresses promptly arrives, no delay. They take your order on a wifi tablet computer, and shortly after, the food is delivered. not only is it quick, but it is delicious!
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After breakfast, we took on the task of navigating the Tokyo Subway system. Heading to Ginza was easy from Asakusa, as the Ginza Line of the subway system runs through each district, and no train hopping.
Japan Travel Tip #2
Carried bags are never set on the floor of the train.
Always held in your lap.
Etiquette is something you really take note of here. Every aspect of Japanese life seems to have a rule.
So, Ginza was a bust for me. We both wanted to go to the Sony Building: 5 floors of nothing but Sony products and showrooms. We arrived early, and the buiding wasn’t open yet, so we walked a main road in the pouring rain for a couple of hours before Sony opened.
Ginza is just a giant mall. Six story Coach stores, 7 storied Abercrombie stores, and floors upon floors of expensive designer items. Of course I’m not interested in this at all. We passed a store’s grand opening early on our walk, and there was such a long line to get in that after walking a mile, we still didn’t see the end of the line.
We walked for quite a bit around Ginza, and when we circled back around and entered the Sony building, I had high expectations. However, there was nothing incredibly interesting that I hadn’t seen before. Where were the crazy robots and technology so far beyond what we had in America??? There’s a Sony store here in San Diego, and it had pretty much all the same stuff. Hey, at least we were dry.
We stayed dry as we boarded the subway again, since it is right under the Sony Building. This time we ventured to Akihabara
Akihabara: Las Vegas for pre-pubescent teenagers.
I’m really at a loss as to where to even begin. From the station towards Electric City, you’re senses are overwhlemed. Bright, flishing, giant screens on buildings play music of J-Pop bands, people yelling outside storefronts, women (or rather teen girls?) dressed as maids (or cats, or bunnies, or whatever) force flyers at you to go to their “maid cafe” as you walk down the street. Entire buildings are dedicated to arcade games, not just several rooms, but the entire 10 floors. Stores with electronics are usually on the first floor, but the higher you go, the stranger the stores get. Until you’re at the top, where you’ll be pressed to find anything not covered with a post it as a crude censor. You can literally find anything in Akihabara. Anything.
I will be returning to Electric City in Akihabara before I leave. So many shops with strange Japanese items that would be perfect for gifts.
After Electric City, we made our way up to Kanda Myojin Shrine and Yushima Seido, stopping to eat lunch on the way. Again, a very strange experience at meal time. In a lot of the resturants, you order and pay at a machine, which in turn gives you a ticket. You give the ticket to the host/waitress/cook and your food is then made and delivered. money is never handled by the employees. Strange, but actually incredibly smart. Orders are never confused, you pushed the button and it’s clearly printed on the ticket (even if you can’t read it…) and money is never stolen since it is all in the machine (not that theft is an issue in Japan…).
Japan Travel Tip #3
Most places have pictures of the food, or plastic replicates out front.
If you don’t know what it is you want to eat, take a picture and show it to the host.
Shrimp Tempura with Udon noodles, a delicious first “authentic” Japanese meal.
Kanda Myojin Shrine is a great hidden place. “Belived to bring luck in business, family, and finding future spouses” is what the hostels “Handy Guide to Tokyo” states, and it is correct. It’s an interesting adventure to find the place, hidden in small back alleys off the street. The alleys lead to a three story flight of stone steps, ordained with lamps leading to the shrine’s side entrance.
On the grounds are several statues, prayer papers, and many lanterns. Inside the shrine, a husband and wife were going through a ritual with the guide. Outside, people were praying nad making offerings.
As we left throught he main entrance, I spied a couple secretly kissing behind their umbrella just inside the torii. They caught my eye when they peeked out to see who was speaking English. PDA is not widely seen in Japan, so it is easily noticed when it occurs. I only mention them because of what the shrine is said to bring, and I know there were there to find fortune in love.
Across the street from the torii is Yushima Seido, said to be a private school, but it seemed like more. There was a calming garden path leading to the main building. Inside, and out of the rain, three instructors guided an elderly group through Tai Chi. It was incredible watching the smooth movements while standing under a massive gate and listening to the rain. I could have relaxed here for hours.
We trekked back to the subway station and hostel to rest before venturing out for the night. I was wholly unprepared for what the evening was going to bring: STELLA!
The night started as usual at K’s Tokyo Oasis: with a drinking game. Ben the aussie, Ross the Brit, Marta from Canda, Guillaume from Quebec, and myself representing America all played some card game before heading out. Before the game ended, Chris joined us, as well as three British girls staying in the hostel for their last night. A suggestion came up to go to a place trhat described itself as a “DJ, Thai Food, and Karaoke Bar”. Stella. Frequently passed by all the hostel livers, as it is just a few blocks south of K’s, and on the way to all the subway stations. None of us could resist checking the place out.
The layout and architecture of the buildings in Japan is strange to me, but essentially to get to the bar, you went down a couple flights of narrow stairs into an underground cellar of sorts. Inside Stella, were several decent sized pitch black rooms with only a handful of people, all connected by the tiniest corridors. Only a handful of people were there, even though it was late. Strange electronic/ambient music was playing in one room, and top 40/hip-hop in another. Again, like most places, you bought your drinks using the ticket vending machine. All of us took considerable time to understand this as we tried to order from the bartender directly.
The drinking continued and the night went on until we were all dancing to new and old hits with the Japanese, and some Italian travelers that showed up. Maybe 20 people in the room, and we were all having a great time. Out of no where, one of the Japanese girls dancing with us took the stage and began to dance to what seemed to be a set piece. Turns out, she’s a dancer who works there, but just dances in the crowd when she’s not on stage (or,as I later found out, serving cheap tequila shots). There seems to be a random job for everyone in Japan. So, we were all taken aback by the dance in the middle of the club.
Next, we went on to continue the night at 3am by doing what all Japanese do this late: Karaoke. We headed across the street, to the 10 story, 24 hour Karaoke building (yes, it is unbelievable) and booked a room for an hour of singing and drinking.
When we came back at around 5am, the Brits were passed out, but we had to wake them since their flight out was only a few hours away and they had to catch it. I’m not entirely sure they made it, but if they did, they were certainly not feeling too great after our night out.
All in all, day 1 in Japan was no disappointment. Crazy, cool, and lots of fun throughout the day and night. Akihabara was by far my favorite place so far. We’ll see what tomorrow brings!
I’m only a few months late in getting around to this. However, it feels so good going back and reminiscing on my trip. I previously posted pictures of my journal as I traveled, since access to a computer was limited and typing it would have taken too long. Here is the the beginning of the complete story, as recorded in my journal, in my pictures, and in my adventures.
March 15-16, 2012
San Diego to Tokyo via Los Angeles
I’m an alien, and this is a whole new world. Not just Tokyo, but travel in general. I thoughtt he prep work for this trip was foreign, but that was just the beginning.
Stepping onto a plane where English isn’t spoken is my first reality check. Hand gestures and mimicry is my new form of communication, and Korean Air accepts that, thankfully.
The 12 hour flight is brutal, but the 16 hour time difference is worse. I arrived at Narita exhausted. Two movies and a third of Braveheart will do that. Sleep came and went, but it wasn’t enough.
It also wasn’t great that I didn’t understand the customs and immigration forms. Once again, English not being the primary language is humbling. Luckily, customs was a breeze in Japan. The officer checking me through seemed both excited and surprised that I only had a backpack for my first, and somewhat lengthy, international trip.
I don’t remember much after that. It was a whirlwind of trying to find a location based only on Kanji I didn’t understand. Transportation here is a rush in every way, and I was also trying not to be obstructive.
Japan Travel Tip #1
Keep tot he left. Always.
Left, always left. It’s more difficult than you think if you’ve been trained right your whole life, but you learn quickly. The bumps, sour looks, and puzzled face you wear help with the process.
Since I was falling asleep on the hour long train ride to Asakusa (which almost caused me to miss connections), I rushed to K’s House Tokyo Oasis as fast as I could. Being awake for nearly 20 hours was taking its toll.
I arrived, checked in, and then promptly went into a 14 hour coma.