Trip to Japan

Two posts in the span of like a week? Wow, amazing, and probably an indication that my next post is not gonna come for like 3 more years. So until then, it’s been real.

Anyway, last April I went to Japan with three friends. About a week afterward, over the course of about two afternoons, I sat in a cafe with a pen and notebook and wrote about the experience. It was a really pleasant 2 afternoons! Every once in a while I’ll go down memory lane and read what I wrote, and as more time goes on, it seems like these memories become more and more special to me – the highs and lows alike. I think the entire experience will always have a special place in my heart, so what the heck, I kind of want to post it here as well.

So here’s what happened when I went to Japan for 8 days.

Leading up to it, I was extremely nervous, particularly about making my 6 AM flight. But I got there without incident. On the flight I slept and reviewed Japanese.

We (we being me, P, Q, and C) arrived in Tokyo in the evening, exhausted. Picking up stuff (JR pass, etc), finding our hotel, and checking in took most of the evening. Me, P, and Q met up after checking in to eat. We didn’t know where to go, and we were all cranky, so we just picked up Bento boxes at 7/11. Mine was Katsudon and it was AWFUL. Luckily, that was by far the worst food I ate during the entire trip.

In the morning (Sunday) we went to some cafe and got sandwiches and coffee. It was ok, but not great – we were still “novices” and didn’t know where to go or what we were doing.

We then went to Tokyo station, where a lot of shops are. I didn’t know there could be so much stuff in one train station. Train stations in Japan are fucking huge, it’s awesome. We also saw a person in a Pikachu suit, which was pretty funny.

Then we went to Akihabara. I had my first good food experience: Udon! With egg and pork I think. It was from a restaurant where you order by getting a ticket from a vending machine, which is a thing in Japan apparently, and it’s awesome.

In Akihabara there were, as expected, lots of weeb shit. Comics, anime, souvenirs relating to those things, etc. There was also a huge 5-story arcade there, where I played a pretty cool rhythm game. 5 buttons, pressable and rotatable, and a pedal for your foot. We spent a little too long in Akihabara for my taste, but P looked like he was enjoying himself so it’s ok.

We left Akihabara and walked around aimlessly, at which point I started having concerns about being underplanned. I was a bit worried about that coming into the trip, because I’m more on the “plan more” side of the “plan everything vs totally wing it” spectrum. Fortunately, looking back, it largely worked out – I think that was the only afternoon where we seemed to literally have no idea what we were doing.

In the evening we headed to Shinjuku, where we were supposed to meet up with a friend of Q’s for dinner. Her friend no-showed.

The lights in Shinjuku were a real treat to look at, and were one of the things I was excited about before going. C put it well – he said something like “now THIS is what people think of when you mention Tokyo!” We were walking in a city that was aesthetically superior to any city I had ever seen, and I don’t even think it’s close.

Anyway, with Q’s friend wasting our time and us unable to agree on somewhere to eat, P was in a pretty sour mood, and I was getting to that point too. We finally decided on one of those DIY BBQ places. During the wait for our table (standing outside), the vibe was really tense. P and I even got into a bit of a verbal confrontation. A conversation between C and me about my foot eventually lightened the mood, and when we finally got inside the dinner place, I was over it and cheerful again.

The food there was great, and so was the experience. Apparently most restaurants in Tokyo have a button to call the waiter, which we didn’t realize, which was pretty funny because we were wondering why the waiter wasn’t coming but it turned out to be our fault. The yummiest food was some sort of beef, and the worst was this chicken that was 100% fat and hard to get down. The beef was possibly the best piece of beef I had ever had. The atmosphere was really cozy, too.

I think after that, we were very tired, so that was it for Sunday. By the way, the hotel was okay to meh. Bed and pillows weren’t great. One funny thing was that I didn’t know the shower room was showerable in the whole room, and you’re supposed to be outside the tub sitting on a stool. First night I went in the tub while holding the shower head over myself, struggling to clean myself and to not slip and die. I only later learned from P that what I did was dumb and you can indeed just shower anywhere in the room.

Monday was the day we would split up, with P and C going to Disneyland, and me and Q staying in Tokyo (me and Q weren’t really interested in Disneyland). Before splitting up, we had breakfast at a place called Eggs ‘n Things, which was pretty good.

After splitting up, the first thing Q and I did was just walk around the Mall at Kawasaki station, because Q had some specific things she wanted to look for. We got doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, where I was very happy to have my first semi-successful Japanese order-something-interaction!

After some shopping, we decided to go to the Harajuku area. Q and I were pretty proud of ourselves because we were able to navigate there (via train) without much issue. After arriving to our stop, we walked to the Meiji Shrine area. We immediately both noticed how quickly it got all quiet and serene. Q commented about how cool the juxtaposition between the hectic train station area and the shrine area was, and I completely agreed. Upon entering this more quiet area, I just felt really refreshed! The walk was this dirt path and there were these real big arches we had to walk through. We took some selfies, at which point I became very self-conscious because I look ugly in most selfies.

Anyway, we eventually got to the shrine itself, which was ok but it felt a bit too crowded for my taste. There was this place before it where you cleansed yourself and preyed at this… water place? I don’t know what it’s called, but this along with some other stuff was at most shrines after this one too. Overall I enjoyed this shrine but since all of the shrines seemed to be pretty much the same, I wasn’t too crazy about the ones after this one, as the novelty wore off.

We left the shrine and on the way back there was a garden (the “inner garden”?) you could go into for 500 yen, so we decided to do that, and wow it was 100% worth it! It was a really really pretty walk, especially the part with the big lake/pond. A bunch of coyfish were there up close. An oddly still swan was at the opposite side of the lake. A bunch of flowers on the latter half of the walk. And there was this one stretch of incredibly pretty trees! This garden was so nice!

Then we headed back to the “city” area. We decided to go to Takeshita Street. On the way there was some really quiet and narrow streets. At first I was honestly kind of sketched out because they were so quiet and narrow. But, quickly I just began to notice all the houses along the streets and they all had this appearance of being so… homey! My thoughts quickly shifted from “This is sketchy” to “this street and these houses are so cute!”

We passed this little tiny shop, and we didn’t even know what kind of shop it was at first. We were curious, but very hesitant. We were gonna just skip it but Q said something like “now is a good chance to be adventurous, maybe we should check it out.” Without her saying that we wouldn’t have checked it out, so I am very grateful to her for saying it. Because this shop (turned out to be a tea/coffee shop) was so LEGIT! It was SO small and quiet, just room for like 4 people to sit along this counter. I got some sort of tea latte and Q got some desert thing. This cafe, man. For whatever reason, going there, along with the rest of the path on the way to Takeshita Street, was real special to me.

Takeshita Street was super hectic and basically 100% exclusively women’s fashion, so I didn’t have much to look at in terms of things I would buy. But it was still pretty neat, as many of the stores had clothes that were really “out there.”

After that, we wandered around some other parts of Harajuku, and I thought the streets we walked were really neat. We went in a flower shop, a jewelry shop, and some other pretty legit shops which currently escape me.

Eventually we went back to Takeshita Street to go to a cat cafe. This was certainly another highlight. There were so many cats! And it wasn’t crowded at all either. I got this really yummy strawberry au lait drink. Q played a game with the cats where she threw her keys across the room and they’d all chase it which was really amusing. Unfortunately, I got a massive nosebleed (Nosebleed of 2018) and I was really embarrassed because of the nosebleed itself, and the fact that due to my panic I was completely unable to speak any Japanese to the hostess about the situation. But oh well, at least it was after we had been in the cafe a while.

By this time it was evening and we met back up with P and C. We went to this conveyor belt sushi place. For whatever reason, when we met back up, to me the vibe between all of us felt horrible, so I didn’t feel great at that point.

The sushi place was a TERRIBLE experience! There was no sushi on the belt, just cake and oranges and shit. Apparently, we had to explicitly order it, which I didn’t know until like half way through. C seemed (disclaimer: seemed to me, dunno if it was the case, just like any time I make assumptions about someone’s mood, I could have been 100% projecting my own emotions onto him and I fully acknowledge that!) more upset than I have ever seen him look. At some point I was so upset that I almost started crying. It was a great day, but, many things combined – the fact that I was exhausted and felt like I needed to be alone due to being an introvert (my “batteries” felt beyond drained), our vibe being shit, the coldness I interpreted from everyone including the staff… this was probably the lowest point of the trip for me. We went home and I basically collapsed.

The next day, we went to Tokyo Tower. This is where this big One Piece exhibition is, which C was really excited for because he’s really big into One Piece! There was a movie thing where it went through a lot of the arcs of One Piece. Then a bunch of “game things” you could to go, like a Usopp slingshot game (there was this one girl who was a fucking pro at it, jesus, it was quite the spectacle watching her), a horror house type thing, a button pressing game, and a VR thing, which I didn’t do unfortunately because I felt slightly sick. Q lost her wallet but then found it. Overall I didn’t care too much for the One Piece thing but I’m not big into One Piece so I expected that. I think C really enjoyed though it so yay!

Then we went to the main deck, where my nosebleed came back at full force. I didn’t think view of the city from there was particularly spectacular. Meh.

We went down, and then headed to Asakusa, where that one temple is, which was meh because as I said, novelty wore off after Meiji Shrine. We ate dinner at one of those places where you enter via a wooden sliding door. I never knew that was on my bucket list until after I actually went to one of those. Anyway, I got Katsudon which was fantastic, 100x better than the 7/11 Bento box I had at the beginning of the trip.

After that we went to Shibuya briefly, where that busy-ass crosswalk is. There, I for whatever reason started getting really overwhelmed and upset and wanted to cry (I think it was just more of “my introvert batteries are beyond dead”). So I made up some dumb excuse to separate myself from the group in an attempt to not embarrass myself. I reconvened with them soon after. We headed back to Kawasaki and finally went to the much-anticipated Mos Burger, which was ok.

The next day we headed to Kyoto via the bullet train. The ride there was kinda uncomfortable, basically similar comfort to an economy class flight. I think next time it would be worth it to invest in the Fancy Bullet Train. You know, the one you see in the animes.

When we arrived in Kyoto we decided to go to Fushimi Inari, the place with all the gates. At the bottom, there was a bunch of street food. I had mochi but I can’t remember what kind. Anyway, I thought it was ok. For actual food I had these fried noodles. It had vegetables, egg, etc. I forget what it was called but it was great.

Now unfortunately, we didn’t plan for it to be as much of a hike as it turned out to be, so we still had all our stuff we packed in our backpacks. So overall, that made it pretty difficult (i.e. C was totally fine, P was dying, and I think Q and I were somewhere in between). But I still had a great time and I think everyone else did too. It seemed that despite being tired, we were all in a good mood that afternoon, and that made me very glad.

In terms of how the scenery was, this was definitely one of my favorite things to see. This place was a huge network of trails. Along the path (both main and side trails), there were obviously a ton of orange gates, but also a bunch of really pretty stone sculptures of dogs, shrines, and more, but I mostly remember the dogs and mini-shrines, because there were so many of them! Also, there were these “checkpoints” with buildings where you could buy a drink from a vending machine, get some tea, buy souvenirs, or just sit on a bench and take a break. One checkpoint in particular was particularly pleasant. There was smoke in the distance which you could see and sort of smell which was nice. The smoke came from this grassy area beyond the building that I could only sort of see, but I thought to myself that that area looked really nice too. As I was standing there, thinking about how nice this one particular spot was, I remember C taking the words right from my mind and commenting about how nice it was! And I was like hell yeah it is, we are totally on the same page about how nice this spot is.

Before we started climbing up the mountain, Q mentioned that she had a particular mission in mind – to see a cat, as her friend said they saw some out there. Well sure enough, we saw at least 3! One was in the distance, one was pretty close, and there was one that P discovered sleeping in a little ball right to the side of the trail! It looked really precious.

We eventually reached the “top.” The way down, naturally, was a lot easier. Half way down was a “central checkpoint” with like 3-4 shops. I got an ice cream, and I forget exactly what flavor it was but I swear the ice cream tasted exactly like a wafer ice cream cone.

After we got done with Fushimi Inari, we headed for the Ryokan where we were to stay that night. Ryokan = traditional Japanese inn. It was really far from the train stop, so we had to walk a bunch to get there. We quickly realized that this place was in a very rural area. It was cloudy and just really quiet, almost like we had the town to ourselves. We noticed a cool pipe/bulge (?) in a river that we passed. I’m not entirely sure why we thought it was cool, but we did.

Once we checked in, we immediately just went to our room and chilled, as we were all pretty tired. We watched some TV. Notably, the beginning of “The Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, which I, for whatever reason, got rather invested in before the TV signal failed.

We went down for dinner. Now, I’ll say that even at this point, my expectations of this place were exceeded. I forgot to mention in the last paragraph, the view we had from our room. There was a sliding glass door from the room to the balcony. At the time it was dusk and the balcony had the view of some lake, along with the garden right outside the inn. Now it was possibly partially due to the fact that it was dusk and the water looked all shimmery and gorgeous, but I thought to myself that this is probably the best view I’ve ever seen from a hotel room. Not to mention we had a private bath on our balcony too?! Like damn.

So yeah, I wasn’t even expecting that – our room and view were a nice upgrade from my lackluster hotel room back in Kawasaki. But the dinner?! Holy crap. It was a six-course meal, complete with all the weird shit you would expect to see in a fancy Japanese six-course meal. Octopus (not bad, surprisingly), squid (also surprisingly fine), sea urchin (fucking DISGUSTING!), entire mystery fish which I didn’t realize had bones everywhere (ow), sushi, “omi beef” which the waiter said was one of the highest quality beefs ever (and judging by how it tasted I totally believe him), and this weird jelly dessert thing which was just ok. It was a funny scene because we were all wearing t-shirts and we felt like we should be distinguished old people wearing expensive suits or something, being in this fancy atmosphere. Also notably, Q got moderately drunk which was pretty funny (although I don’t think she was in the greatest mood so maybe I shouldn’t say that). Also the staff, particularly the male waiter (some name starting with a D, don’t remember) were clearly extremely professional. The waiter was funny, personable, and talked with us for a bit. We were all really impressed with how great he was as a waiter. We later joked that he’s probably a huge jerk in real life. But I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

After dinner it was time for the public bath, which is apparently a common thing to do at Ryokans. P, C and I got into kimonos. I did feel a little funny in one. We went down to the public bath and showered in preparation. Now, when you’re at these baths you have to get totally naked which I was a bit hesitant about, but it turned out to be no big deal. There was an inside part and an outside part. The inside part was HOT! It was pleasant at first but after about 5 minutes I started feeling dizzy so I had to get out. The outside part though, was amazing all around. The air temperature outside was cool, and after being in the hot spring thing for like 10 minutes it felt SO NICE to get out and feel the cool air, with the slight breeze that was there, and sit on one of those beach chairs. I did wish that we could see more stars, but I really can’t complain, it was pretty 10/10, seeing more stars just would’ve made it 11/10. Afterwards the three of us wandered around slowly, just reflecting on how nice the experience was. We also found some popsicles in a cooler!

At that point we finally headed upstairs, as we were ready for bed.

In the morning, at the last minute I decided to use the private bath too, as everyone else did so why not. Apparently Q woke up before sunrise and went in while the sun came up, I can only imagine how beautiful that was!

We checked out and went to some more temples. First, Kinkaku-ji (?) temple, the one that was gold plated. Honestly, it wasn’t a great experience because it was an absolute mob of tourists. So that kinda ruined it, there was barely space to walk. That, and we couldn’t go inside.

The next place we went was this walk with some orange temples. This was fairly pleasant, although considering how many shrines/temples we had already been to, it wasn’t really that exciting. Notably, my nosebleed returned AGAIN.

We went to this market after, but everyone was closing up already, so there wasn’t much there.

So after a pretty lackluster day of temples (I know, the irony is not lost on me lol) and an empty market, it was time to find some ramen, as we somehow hadn’t had it yet! After walking around for a while we finally found a place. It was a ticket machine place, so easy ordering! I generally don’t like ramen very much so I wasn’t expecting much. You could choose how spicy you wanted it, on a scale of 0 to 4. P got 0, I got 2, C got 3, and if I remember correctly Q got 4! While we were eating, there was this drum-driven song that seemed to go perfectly with what we were doing. With the song, it almost felt like we were on a mission or doing a challenge, to eat all the ramen. As for the ramen, it was by far the best ramen I’ve ever had and I totally changed my opinion of ramen after that. I usually dread eating the pork, because it’s often too chewy. But not this pork. Holy shit. It literally just melted in my mouth. And I absolutely loved the flavor that the spice and pepper gave the liquid part. That was one fucking superior bowl of ramen. Although, even a 2 was a little too spicy for me. I should’ve gone with a 1. Speaking of ramen that was too spicy, C was basically dying from his, which was hilarious. He turned really red and at one point started coughing uncontrollably due to accidentally inhaling the spicy broth. All of us found it really funny, him included I think.

After ramen, we, I believe, went to an arcade. I’ll note that we did this on several occasions but it was mostly just for a very brief amount of time, so I didn’t bother to mention all of the times. I do remember this one in particular though, because I think this is the arcade where I learned that I’m apparently a god at Taiko: Drum Master. On one of the songs (I think it was Linda Linda) I got 100% of the hits! Also notable at this arcade was P playing this one fighting game and the rest of us watching. He was pretty much destroying everybody, until the final boss where he got beaten. But he had one more shot. It was an incredibly close back and forth battle and we all got super into it. In the end, he got beaten BARELY, which was pretty heartbreaking. We left, joking that he can never show his face at that arcade again.

The next day was Osaka. The train ride was really short and uneventful. P, Q, and C all went on one of the famed giant ferris wheels there, to which I was like “hell fucking no.” So during that time I just walked around, had some canned coffee, etc.

Then we went to an aquarium, which is apparently one of the largest aquariums ever. It was certainly impressive. There was a huge shark, some smaller sharks, sting rays, a fuck ton of normal looking fish, even a dude inside one of the tanks cleaning it. Jellyfish, sea horses, pretty much you name it they had it. My favorite was a tie between these sea lions and… this one really fat, funny-looking… also sea lion maybe? I forget what it was, but it looked hilarious. Overall though, I was kind of bored and thought the experience of going to the aquarium was just alright.

Then we went to Dotonbori. P and Q were hungry, but C and I weren’t, so we split up and C and I walked around. During this time, I was mostly just kinda sad, because we would only be able to be there at daytime, and it’s supposed to be amazing at night.

That night we bullet trained back to Kawasaki and called it a night.

The next day was the last full day there! We woke up relatively early and headed to the Tsukiji fish market. We ate pretty much as soon as we found a decent looking sushi place. I wasn’t sure what to get since a lot of the combos didn’t show pictures of what they were on the menu, so I just said fuck it and got the same things as P, who got a huge set supposedly meant for 4 people. I loved the crab stick, tuna, fatty tuna, egg, and honestly most of the stuff on there. But I did solidify my distaste for sea urchin and basically all types of rou, especially salmon rou (so salty, so disgusting).

We walked around a bunch after that because there were a ton of shops that seemed good for all types of souvenirs. While we waited for a dude to sharpen a knife that Q was gonna get, we went to Ginza and walked around, which was really uneventful, except that we found Jiro’s sushi restaurant, located in a really obscure part of the train station there.

After a bunch more walking around, we just headed back to Kawasaki. I had earlier suggested that maybe we could go to Shibuya or Shinjuku during the night, but when the time came to decide I happened to be in one of my moods so I said I didn’t feel like it unfortunately.

Then, apparently all four of us were to split up and do our own thing until dinner, which I was kind of caught off guard by, since I didn’t know that’s what we were doing until we were about to split up. But I didn’t mind. I decided to hunt for some liquor. After some research I decided that I wanted Imo Shochu, which is a liquor made from sweet potatoes. I walked about 1-1.5 miles to a store that was popular online. I had a successful Japanese interaction with the guy at the store, who was incredibly nice. I got my shochu and left the store feeling triumphant. Then I went back to the station, and locked myself in the gates because apparently you can’t leave the same station you came in. I was incredibly upset. P came to rescue me. I felt horrible about that.

Anyway, Q and C met up with us and we decided to begin our assimilation back into The West by getting some pizza for dinner. During dinner we reflected on our trip. After dinner we checked out Bic Camera, a store that has basically everything, and then went home. I do feel that this home stretch of the trip fell flat for me, but I take full responsibility for that, as I ultimately said that I didn’t feel like going to Shibuya/Shinjuku to go drinking or whatever, which would’ve made it more fun. Bummer that I was in a mood at the time and didn’t feel like having fun… oh well.

The next day, which was the day we returned, was uneventful in terms of doing stuff in Japan because we basically just went straight to the airport, as we had to check out of our hotel and carrying around our luggage would’ve sucked. The airport was actually pretty neat though.

In terms of the journey back, the only stuff that happened was absolute shitty shit garbage, and I don’t really feel like detailing it here.

For souvenirs, in total I got: one of those little cups for drinking sake, a bottle of sake, some chopsticks, some mango flavored honey, a bottle of imo shochu, some incense from a temple, a fancy pen, a notebook, and a really soft pillow.

It was a pretty awesome trip. I think my favorite day was a tie between the Meiji/Harajuku day and the Fushimi Inari/Ryokan day. I would like to visit again sometime for sure, as there is so much more in this country to explore! But considering we only had 8 days, we covered quite a bit of ground I think.

Overall I’m really satisfied with how it turned out and it definitely sparked a desire in me to do more traveling. So yeah, we did it! Thanks so much to 3 of my homies P, Q, and C for sharing this experience with me :).

Also holy shit I grossly underestimated the typed page to notebook page ratio, I thought the 25 tiny notebook pages would end up translating to maybe 4 typed pages but it’s 9 pages wtf. It’s hilarious that at the beginning of typing this I was thinking “yeah I’m glad I initially wrote this with a pen because it forced me to be more concise”… so much for that lol.

Anyway that’s all.

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