Day 1: Ueno Park & Shinjuku
The next morning, I took the Shinkansen, aka the bullet train, from Kyoto to Tokyo. Those trains can go up to 200 mph 😮 During the ride, I sat next to the nicest Japanese lady – I had a cough and she gave me a bag of hard candy/sweets, plus she kept moving out of my way and offering to change seats when I was snapping pics of Mt Fuji! The view of Mt Fuji was so spectacular; I was totally blown away. It was such a clear day, and that mountain is awesome in the true sense of the word.
Next I headed to the airbnb. I didn’t have wifi but I had screenshot-ed directions. The Tokyo subway system is overwhelmingly complex…but super clean and efficient! Everything is fairly far apart because the city is enormous, but you can always get there somehow with it.
After reaching the airbnb, I headed to Ueno Park, which is a nice place to take a walk or check out one of many museums. I decided to go the National Museum to attempt to learn a bit of history. It was quite big and had tons of artifacts. After wearing myself out, I left for the airport to meet Frances, who was flying in from Dallas to meet me for the week 😀 We took the subway back to the airbnb, then headed out for a sushi meal just nearby the apartment. Then we just walked around the area. We stayed in Shinjuku, which is very classically ‘Tokyo’: lots of neon flashing signs everywhere and lots to see. Stimulation overload!
Day 2: Tsukiji Fish market, Ginza, & Roppongi
The next day we decided to go to the famous Tsukiji fish market – it’s enormous and has the freshest (and biggest) seafood I think I’ve ever seen. We snacked and bought a bunch of food, then walked to a park nearby to eat it (Hamarikya Gardens). There are a lot of parks throughout Tokyo and they all seem to be perfectly manicured:) After that we did more walking in the cold to the shopping district, Ginza, where we found a ginormous Uniqlo and ended up buying matching sweaters that make us look a little bit like Bill Cosby…lol. That night we went to a bar in Roppongi that I found has unlimited drinks for about 10 USD. We met some cool but also ridiculous foreigners, including a drunkass Finnish guy who took his shirt off in the bar multiple times, hahaha.
Day 3: Kamakura
Tuesday we did a day trip to Kamakura! It’s about an hour from Tokyo by train, and like Kyoto, it has a lot of temples and former imperial history – not nearly as many temples as Kyoto, but still plenty to fill a day. We checked out the famous Daibutsu (Big Buddha), and even got to go inside and see the engineering (but not understand it, haha).
Next we went on a short hike through some muddy forest. There were some good views and very pretty temples & shrines along the way: We walked around more in the town to see some small shrines and temples! Then we went to the beach and were surprised to find that it had black sand!!! After we ate a bit and sat near the water to watch the sunset. And personally I was scared shitless because there were a bunch of circling hawks, one of which tried to swoop down on us and others a few times….not amused, but Frances was….but anyway the view was so, so stunning, and the clouds cleared and we could see Mt Fuji! It’s so big, such a beast.
After the sunset we walked around the shopping street and I went crazy again for another Ghibli store..and we got sushi at a conveyer belt place! This was one of many times where there were some translation issues, aka, we asked a question in English and they respond in Japanese, and this continues with no progress hahaha. But we got fed and it was delicious anyway 😀
Day 4: Harajuku & Meiji
Random note – on a couple of the days there in Tokyo, we experienced some earthquakes! One of which actually hit the news because of tsunami warnings in another city. We were woken up 2 mornings by some, which was a bit scary actually, but I think normal for Japan. Another random note is that we basically ate breakfast at 7 eleven every day..the convenience stores there are sooo nice and the food is actually really good! Good way to save money 😀 There’s also a store called Don Quixote, which is a total stimulation overload and basically like a mini Japanese Walmart.
Anyway, this day we walked around the Harajuku area. Here there is a lot of shopping and things that you associate with Japan – for example, we went to a cat café, as well as a place where you can get up close and personal to owls (which was actually really depressing and I regret giving them money). After shopping/eating/exploring/losing each other a couple times on the busy street, we walked to the Meiji shrine, which is enclosed by a park with tons of trees. Later that night we went out to a bar called Arty Farty which was fun…and we stumbled upon a big local food festival thing along the way in Shinjuku – I think it was for harvest festival.
Day 5: Edo Tokyo Museum
Thursday was way colder than the previous days and was Japan’s first snow of the winter, and purportedly the first November snow in a while. So naturally we wanted to stay indoors. We had Japanese bbq and a delish okonomiyaki in the morning, then went to Edo Tokyo museum, which was cool and pretty interactive. Two main takeaways for me from that museum were the devastation caused by Americans, and how the previous isolation of Japan seems to be why they have so many unique facets of culture – sushi, sumo, samurai, etcetc. Later that night we decided to check out a famous night club, Womb, since it was free entry for ladies on Thursday nights…but turns out we were 2 of probably 10 people total there. But I could tell it was a very cool venue with awesome lights/sound.
Day 6: Asakusa, a view, & a crawl
Friday we went to the historical Asakusa area. We saw some cool architecture/shrines, the biggest being Senso-ji, and a very busy shopping street. After getting some really tasty udon, we did more walking along the river to see some views, then hopped on a train to check out Akihabara. That neighborhood is always on ‘must-see’ lists, but we didn’t have any anime / electronics shopping to do so it wasn’t all that interesting for us. But it was cool to see those types of stores and how much there is there.
In the evening we went to the top of the Metropolitan Government building to watch the sunset. I have been to my fair share of viewpoints in cities, but I think Tokyo was the first where it was just buildings as far as the eye could see. Aside from the planned parks nearby, it was all built up. Mt Fuji was visible also – it was taller than the clouds and horizon, so crazy.
That night we went to a pub crawl in Roppongi which was OK – but honestly so full of annoying dudes that we mainly did our own thing, hahaha. We made one friend and went back to Arty Farty and had the dance party we were actually seeking :p
Day 7/8: Shinjuku & Moshi Moshi Nippon
Saturday we hung out in Shinjuku a bit more – we had more delicious okonomiyaki, and found this amazing drumming arcade game sorta like the equivalent of DDR … but with drums. We walked around more, including to a garden with pretty autumn leaves – Shinjuku Gyoen park. Next, we went to this festival I found called Moshi Moshi Nippon – free for foreigners to learn about Japanese culture. We saw a crazy concert that blasted the highest energy JPop with an all-girl band – and an all dude audience who formed crazy mosh pits.
That night we went out to another gay bar and danced more, after funnily running into the same pub crawl friend yet again. The following day was just shopping at this awesome Japanese store called Muji (kinda like Uniqlo + Ikea combined, but better), and then we had to part ways.
Overall, Tokyo felt pretty cold culture wise (and also temperature), and so, so big. I am glad I did not travel solo to Tokyo because of how vast and isolating it can feel. But I really loved it overall and felt like I learned & experienced a lot 🙂 You could explore it for weeks and not uncover even a fraction of it.