Weirdly enough, Japan has never been super high on my list of places to visit. I don’t like sushi, I find anime pretty annoying, and most of things I did find interesting about Japan were tied to a history that in my head had passed by a long time ago. So when I got the chance to go to Tokyo for work, I was excited, but not over the moon about it. I added three days onto the beginning of my trip to devote to being a tourist, and had modest expectations about how much I would enjoy my time there.
And I blew my modest expectations out of the water. Tokyo is awesome.
Let’s start with the food. Yes, there are some weird things and abundant seafood, which isn’t my fav. But there is also ramen (with sliced pork in broth simmered for a whole day), and tonkatsu (with fried pork and delicious sauce) and katsu curry (with fried pork with Japanese curry) and bao (obviously, with pork). It’s a really good thing I like pork. People also were not kidding about the crazy number of kit-kat flavors, ranging from melon and marscapone to saki.
I also loved how orderly everything is. I took the different train lines everywhere, and was shocked at how people stay in neat lines to get on and off packed trains – no pushing and shoving, no crowding the door. Even though there were masses of people everywhere (including little kids riding the train by themselves to go to school!), it never felt chaotic in any way. As someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, it is also a very English-friendly place; everything in the main part of the city is labeled in Japanese and English, and the trains also make announcements in English. I found it really easy (and pleasant!) to find my way around.
I had about 3 days to explore before heading to the outskirts of the city for work. I managed to sleep at just the right times on the plane to not really get jet-lagged, so I got to have dinner right after I arrived with two friends from Chiang Mai who live in Tokyo now. They took me all around Shinjuku, which is basically the nightlife center of the city.
The next day, I spent the morning exploring some other neighborhoods and visiting the Meiji Shrine. I was there at just the right time to see the irises bloom (they were planted for the princess because they’re her favorite flower), and it was incredible to be in this peaceful park so close to a bustling city. I then meandered through two of the big shopping districts and saw a really cool farmer’s market, before meeting Ariel and Julia again for some lunch at a small brewery called Far Yeast (ha!) We spent the rest of the day in the park with their other expat friends.
Monday it rained ALL. DAY. And of course, Monday is the day that a lot of the museums are closed. The night before I had the first dental emergency of my entire life (I fell, caught my fall with my face and knocked one of my front teeth in, and while I had managed to pop it back into place after putting some ice on it, it still hurt quite a bit. I was lucky to end up pretty much unscathed and with all my teeth still in my mouth.) Long story short, I made a dentist appointment for the afternoon, and then plunked around the most gorgeous mall I’ve ever seen and read China Rich Girlfriend. I braved the rain at lunch for some crazy good ramen and dumplings at a little counter with a bunch of people on their lunch breaks. I also ducked into a store called Don Quixote, which is a chain and is six stories packed full of every product you could ever want.
Tuesday was history day! First stop was the imperial palace, where I managed to make it onto a tour of the compound. Most of the palace fell down in an earthquake in the 1960’s, and was rebuilt. But there are still some buildings dating back hundreds of years, and the architecture is a beautiful mix of style and function. I really liked how seamlessly the buildings blend with the nature around the grounds, down to details like the rain gutters that are designed to enhance to sounds of the rain, rather than muffle it.
I ended the day at the Edo-Tokyo museum, where I spent two hours but could have easily spent two days. It covers the history of Japan from feudal times through the modern era, and it was fascinating to look at historical events I know from an American perspective from another lens. It’s a living history museum that encourages interaction with the exhibits, so not only was it educational, it was also really fun.
I can’t believe this was just the first three days of my trip! After this I spent five more days in Japan, then spent two days in Bangkok and three days in Chiang Mai (I’ll post about all of this later). I feel like I just got a taste of Japan, and can’t wait to go back and explore more of the country.