Japan in 3 days
As promised, part 2 of my Thanksgiving break trip…This is Japan. I spent a total of 3 mere days in a country that hosts innumerable places to explore. Japan is a dream place to hit for so many people and I would definitely come back again for a longer period of time to really delve into the depths of the cool discoveries that Tokyo holds. To be honest I don’t really know how to start this post because I feel like I really only barely skimmed the surface of what Tokyo and Japan has to offer, but nevertheless, here we go.
I arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport from Jakarta, Indonesia. When I flew to Indonesia I also transferred at Narita, but it was only for a few hours. Flying on the way back also conveniently had us layover in Narita, so I requested to stay a few days in this layover city before directly flying back to Chicago. I use Google Flights to schedule my flights and the beauty of travelling via layovers is that you can choose the Multi-City option so my trip would look like Chicago to Indonesia; Indonesia to Tokyo; Tokyo to Chicago. Since Tokyo was already part of the layover plan, it is a cheaper way to hit up multiple countries for about the same price. I do this when I travel from Ottawa, Canada to China. The trip gives me a layover in Vancouver and I just schedule myself a few extra days in Vancouver to explore before I leave from there to China. Flying domestically within Canada is hella expensive so stopping in Vancouver on the way to China is a great way to get a free domestic plane ride. *just some travel hacks* 🙂
Speaking of transportation, Tokyo’s big city naturally is home to a complicated but convenient subway/train system. We bought a ticket from Narita airport all the way to a stop close by the hostel we would be staying at. I must say I did get lost quite a bit and ended up in the subways longer than expected. Luckily Tokyo’s subway system, made for the convenience of hard-working adults, had a ramen shop set up in the subway. These kinds of fast grab and go ramen places located in the subway have been gaining a lot of popularity and I just had to try it. I ordered udon and my dad ordered soba. It was neat to place the order through an ATM-like machine and have the order be sent through to the one man running the cubby sized restaurant. He had his one-man-show system all perfectly organized where he would drop a handful of noodles in the boiling water, whip around and chop up the meat, vegetables, or various ingredients, then scoop the noodles out and tap out the soup broth from a machine. It was all delivered to us with quick but proper fashion. Given the cheap price, the udon I had was actually pretty good. Nothing Michelin-star like, but I’d say very worth for its convenience, low price, and quick service.
When we finally got out of the subway station we had quite some trouble locating our hostel. I stayed at CITAN hostel. It was known for being quite an international hostel and I stayed in a four-person room. We met some people from China and other countries, but also some local Japanese people just travelling around as well. I think the location of this hostel was what drew me to book it for my entire stay. Like most hostels, they had a kitchen that was rather small and crowded if you were to fit more than 2-3 people but it was clean, organized and well stocked with kitchen utilities. The hostel also had bidets, like almost every other restroom in Japan. Can we just talk about how nice it is to wake up and go to the bathroom in the morning and have the seat be warm via heater? I loved how clean the bathroom and showers were, and this applies to Japan overall. I found it to be actually quite tidy in public places and streets. Although I was here as a tourist, just visiting to go out and actually see Japan, I wouldn’t mind going to a hostel or hotel for a Staycation; I think it’d be really nice and rather relaxing. 🙂
This hostel was really close to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s the largest fish market in the world and around early morning 5am they will have a tuna fish auction that you can bystand and observe. People get up really early and start lining up there around 2-3am during busy times to get in to watch the auction as spots are limited and based on first come first serve. It’s a popular tourist thing to do, but I decided to skip it and just rummage the fish market when it opened for actual sales to the public at 9am. Sushi breakfast in the market is a must, especially taking into consideration the freshness of the of fish. We browsed through what the streets had to offer, from raw fish to mochi to teapots; even though it’s called Fish Market, it’s definitely a worthy tourist spot to hit up just to get a taste of the cultural foods and style. We left after roaming around and buying some fish there then made ourselves a nice lunch back at the hostel.
Like with Indonesia, I didn’t really have a plan of what to do and where to go but Tokyo, I think, is very forgiving of that. Even if you’re without ideas, there’s always something to do because Tokyo is the hub of ideas. We headed out to Shinjuku Station and did some good ‘ol people watching from the second floor of Starbucks, as suggested to be the best spot for this kind of acceptable creeping. We didn’t go during rush hour, but even in the afternoon there were enough people to make the location picture-worthy. There were a lot of cool shops around Shinjuku and Takeshita Street as we went further in and soon found ourselves walking through Meiji-jingu (Shrine) and Yoyogi Park. It was a beautiful area since we went in late November and that seemed to be the perfect fall season in Tokyo. The leaves were orange, red, and all the hues in between. It was such a contrast to the colorless and bare Midwest Chicago my eyes were dulled into seeing.
Tokyo just continues to one-up the US in everything eh? You’ve heard of cat café’s in North America, but how about an owl café or a snake café? Yep, things you really wouldn’t be surprised to find in Tokyo. There were quite a few options, but I finally settled on this one owl café that let you be with the owls for an hour which was about $30USD per person. It included a drink and you could feed them and hold them and pet them. I scoped out another owl café before this and it was around $15USD per person for 35 mins. It included a drink but you had to pay extra to feed them (plus, I think they had way fewer owls than the one I ended up going to, which is called Owl Café Fukurou-no-Shiro Harajuku Shop). This Harajuku shop was much more low-key than the other one and a little more secluded but that was good I guess because I had all the owls to myself for the whole hour. I didn’t’ use up the whole hour, but if you were to go with a few friends you could definitely use up the whole hour with taking pictures, feeding, petting, and holding. I almost didn’t want to go in at first because of the price, but hey when would I ever find myself in another owl café? I must say though, the owls were chained down to the blocks they were standing on and although the lady treated them well, if you hate seeing animals under these circumstances then it’s probably best to pass on this place. The owls would try to fly away when held, but being chained down, I’m not sure how much freedom they really would’ve had to fly freely again.
On a more pleasant note though, we ended our day by going up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s got free observation decks and astounding panoramic views of the city. I’ve actually seen so many cities from an observation deck view day and night, but I have got to say that Tokyo’s city lights are so breathtaking. It looked like a King Kong scene but at the same time reminded me of a little Lego set. All the building blocks were so independently organized yet so cohesive. Props to the architects of Tokyo because the night view is WOW.
The next day was our last full day in Japan so we left early in the morning to go take a bus to Kawaguchiko which is the Mt. Fuji area. Mt. Fuji is not the tallest mountain in the world but it is the most visited mountain in the world, and for good reason! Similar to my reasoning with the owl café, I thought, when would I get another opportunity to come to Japan? Looking up the bus routes and touring options, it all seemed feasible to do in one day so we went down to Lake Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes that surrounds Mt. Fuji. There is a hop on hop off bus you can take that will bring you around all five lakes and is good for 2 days. It is more suitable for those who are spending a few days to a week in the area. There are some pretty good lodging options around the area as well since most people plan to tour the area over the course of a few days. You can go to the onsens, up the ropeway, hike the smaller mountains, go to museums or much more but prime climbing season of Mt. Fuji is from July to September. We missed the chance to go up, but I was happy staying at the base. We rented a bicycle from Koe House for 4 hours and biked to the end of one of the lakes and a bit. We stopped at many places to take pictures, one of the best being on the bridge over the lake. We barely skimmed the surface of any deep exploration, but our experience is unique to us. Although many people may have had the flexibility to spend longer days, we didn’t, but we made the best out of what we did have! Refreshing breezes, flushed cheeks, and views at your own pace … I’d say bicycling is underrated at Mt. Fuji. We would have made insignificant distance by just walking along the lake for a few hours, considering the lakes are quite a few miles wide and I didn’t feel buying the pricey bus tickets were worth it for just a few hours. So now you know! If you are ever in Japan and want to visit Mt. Fuji but only have one free day, it is doable! I had lots of fun and returned to the city by dinnertime.
Ever since I saw SimonandMartina (Youtube channel) rave about the curry at CoCo Curryhouse, I had been wanting to eat there. We each customized our own curry plates according to rice amount, spiciness level, and add-ons. I had high expectations and they weren’t let down. I don’t eat curry often like that so I can’t say I’m a curry expert but I just know it’s yum and one would recommend! At CocoCurry every single employee treated us like most Japanese people we encountered had treated us: with a bow, with a greeting, and with respect. When we left, everyone in unison piped together to bid us farewell. It was different but very polite and I appreciate that in the Japanese culture.
The next morning we left from Haneda airport via ANA Airlines. Can I just say that this airline is one of my favorite airlines to ride? Just like every other service in Japan, their on-flight service is so elegantly polite and their food is actually good (for airplane food)! Every time I travel I learn so much, not just about the specific landmarks I go see, but about people interaction, society, and myself. I encountered so many situations of getting lost and having to figure out myself the directions because understanding the transportation system takes a while to get used to. I get frustrated, I lose a lot of time wandering, I struggle with language barriers! There are so many joys of travel but also a lot of stress and troubles that have been gone through to achieve those successes and happy moments. Thanks Japan for challenging me to navigate your cities, streets, and culture. Thanks Japan for allowing me to admire your country, people, and way of life.
This is my story,
Michelle Yin | January 4, 2018 | 3:06 pm |