It was eight long months in the making… eight months of hunting cheap airfare, reviewing shrines, booking hostels, researching restaurants, studying subway maps, and learning conversational Japanese.
It was almost an out-of-body experience. Eight months of planning all leading up to this moment. My brain needed time to register it all in. Am I really doing this? Am I really traveling solo… for the first time… across international borders? Am I really about to board a plane and fly across the Pacific Ocean and spend the last day of 2015 with complete strangers in a foreign land 5000+ miles away from home? Am I really going to ring in 2016 and my 25th birthday in my dream destination? Am I really doing this… by myself? Every molecule in my body answered a solid unanimous “HELL YEAH!”
It was a ten hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Narita International Airport with Singapore Airlines (4.7 stars out of 5). It was 7pm on New Year’s Eve, and I’m finally in Japan. It was time to find out what I’m made of.
No amount of planning or preparation could have prepared me for Tokyo. I had no solid itinerary, which was uncharacteristic of me. I only had a general idea of the sites I wanted to visit, yet no game plan about when or how I exactly I’ll make it happen. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself by creating a rigid schedule. I wanted to be a traveler, not a tourist. I wanted to immerse myself in the Japanese culture, in their food, in their history… and most importantly, I wanted this trip to be intentional. I wanted to savor and appreciate each moment not behind the screen. I wanted to soak it all in and fight the urge to reach for my phone so I can document via Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and every other form of social media. I wanted to rely on hardcopy maps, not Google maps, for directions. I wanted to live off-the-grid in the most technologically savvy and advanced city. I wanted to travel the old-fashioned way in the land where toilets talk and do all the work. Ironic, aint’t it?
A QUICK GUIDE WHEN EXPLORING TOKYO
HOW TO GET AROUND
Utilize the subway systems instead of taxis. Yes, it can be intimidating at first, but Tokyo’s subway system is by far the cleanest, most efficient, best designed subway system I’ve ever ridden (I have yet to try out Hong Kong and Singapore’s). Despite not being able to speak and read any Japanese, I navigated through the city with ease. Tokyo 1-Day passes are available for ¥1000, which allows passengers unlimited rides for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subways. I highly recommend taking advantage of them since those train fares add up quickly! Subway fares in Japan vary depending on how far the intended destination, starting at ¥120. Paying for fares for every individual ride will not only take time but will also feel like solving a math equation where the final answer is the fare price. Purchasing a 1-Day pass eliminates the guess work! You can hop in and out with no problem!
Note on subways: each station, particularly the busiest ones like Shibuya and Shinjuku, are multi-level. Expect a lot of stairs and multiple exits (North Exit, South Exit, and so forth) in every station. It can get confusing at first, but not impossible to figure out.
WHAT TO SEE
Tokyo is a big city, and it saves time and energy exploring attractions by area instead of going back and forth.
- Ueno Park Museum/Zoo
- Ueno Ameyoko Shopping Street
- Senso-ji Temple
- Oshiage/Tokyo Sky Tree
- Ginza Yonchome Intersection
- Tokyo Tower
- Tsukiji Market
- “Monja” Street
- Meiji Jingu Shrine
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
- Shibuya Crossing
- Harajuku District
- Takeshita Dori
- Memory Lane aka “Piss Alley”
MEIJI JINGU SHRINE
After praying and repenting my sins at Mei-ji Shrine, I spent the first day of 2016 hunting the best Harajuku crêpes. Who am I kidding, my primary reason for visiting Japan is to eat. Food, first and foremost, was the goal.
If we were to play Word Association, my answer would be “crepes!” when I hear the word Harajuku. My mind immediately fills up with images of paper thin sweet crêpes stuffed with fresh fruits, dollops of whip cream, and a generous serving of Nutella.
Angels Heart Creperie is located in the heart of Takeshita Street, and it checked off the first of my many “to eat” list in Japan. My first “Harajuku crêpe” was in Beverly Hills in the United States, and needless to say, it’s not nearly as delicious as the authentic Harajuku crêpes of Takeshita. The main game changer is the ice cream. The batter, the fruits, the Nutella all tasted similar between the two locations, except the ice cream. Tokyo’s ice creams were surreal. The Japanese had seem to crack the recipe to create the perfect ice cream: decadent and creamy yet soft and light.
January 1, 2016: that one day I decided to explore Tokyo’s most famous temples, Meiji and Sensoji, during the busiest day of the year. The crowds were massive but not enough to deter my excitement.