Date: July 14, 2014 – July 16, 2014
Japan!! Never in my life did I ever think I would be able to say that I’ve been to Japan. Growing up, I always looked at Japan on maps and globes as the farthest, most distant and unreachable foreign land on Earth. In some ways it is another world but as you will see it’s not so uncommon from any major city here in America. When I got hired at Delta I was unaware that there were planes that had two levels (Boeing 747). One day I took the chance to take an unofficial tour of one while it was parked at the airport and promised myself that I would take a flight on one. After researching the most frequent destinations that the plane flew to I was limited to Hawaii or Tokyo if I wanted to fly on one so I chose the latter. Planning for Tokyo was a bit of a challenge due to possible language barrier and not being certain of how I would get around once I arrived.
For starters, I flew into the Narita airport which is about 50 miles outside the city of Tokyo. Tokyo has a very extensive transportation system that will get you virtually anywhere you want to go via train, bus, etc. My advice would be to take the train. I landed at Narita airport pretty late in the evening and once I made it through security I found the Narita Express Rail which takes you straight to Tokyo for roughly $20. Much to my surprise the employees at the train stations were very helpful and even spoke English, albeit not the most fluent English it was more than enough to suffice. Tokyo’s train system is very efficient and prompt, when they say a train will be there at this time, it will be there.
The first night I stayed at the Oak Hostel which cost around $24 for one night in a 4 bed dorm. (For those unfamiliar with how a hostel works, it’s not as bad as it seems. In a hotel you pay for the room and your own personal space/bed/bathroom. In a hostel you share the price of a room with others and share a bathroom but of course get your own bed in rooms varying from 4 beds to 20 in some places. As long as you’re comfortable around strangers you should be ok with staying in a hostel.) This hostel was a cool place to crash, pretty convenient location next to a busy street and a McDonald’s where I ate most of my meals. When I woke up the next day I checked out of the Oak and checked into Backpackers Hostel K’s House Tokyo. I paid roughly $30 for a bed in a 6 Bed Mixed Dorm there.
Pictured above: A map of the distance between the two hostels I stayed in over the time. The walk from Oak to Backpacker’s was about 15-20 minutes, good for sight seeing along the way.
I couldn’t check into my next room until 1 pm so I had some time to explore and see the city. I dropped off my luggage, grabbed a couple of maps in the front lobby and I was on my way. My first stop was at the Asakusa neighborhood where I saw the Sensoji temple and strolled along the Nakamise Shopping Street. The temples were as expected, beautiful and grand. Most of what you see on postcards and/or in pics is exactly how you think they look in person which isn’t always the case when traveling. As I was walking around I noticed the Tokyo Skytree from a distance and slowly made my way towards that direction. As I got closer and closer to the tower I noticed that this was one of those monuments that pictures did no justice for. After about 40 minutes of walking I finally reached the base of the tower and I was blown away by how huge this structure was. I noticed that the tower had tours available and for a very reasonable price. As a fan of exploring and trying new things I wanted to take the tour but as a wimp who’s afraid of unheard of heights I chickened out. I later found out that the Tokyo Skytree is actually the tallest tower in the world and didn’t feel so bad for not going up. After my chicken episode I made my way back to the hostel for check-in and a much needed nap thanks to the incoming jet lag.
When I woke up around 8pm I hopped on the train and headed to Shinjuku, Tokyo’s red light district. I wasn’t going there to party or drink but instead to see the tall buildings lit up with neon signs I’ve always seen in pictures. While doing research on Tokyo I noticed many travelers warned about the possible scams and traps locals used on tourist. Basically, scam artist will approach you and promise you access to free drink special at a local bar. Once you are in the bar they will either drug you and rob you or leave you at the bar with none of the drinks being free resulting in a gigantic bar tab to pay. Here’s a link to a story involving the scam, Tokyo Bar Scam. So after reading this I was well aware of what may happen and sure enough I encountered several locals attempting to run the scam. The moment I hit the streets I stuck out like a sore thumb. Whether it be my Atlanta Braves hat or my obvious difference in skin tone to my surroundings, I was approached about 7-8 times in a matter of 40 minutes of walking around. And the funny thing is that the only people who approached me looked like me. From what I read these people are from nearby French/African neighborhoods that prey on black tourists. My advice (besides never going alone) would be to give a stern “no” and keep it moving if approached and stay in the lighted paths. Outside of the scam artist, the Shinjuku area is a very cool sight to see at night. The lights from the buildings doubled as streetlights and illuminated the entire area. It’s worth the visit even if you don’t party or drink while you are down there.
As I look back on the trip I realize that I didn’t explore into the Japanese food culture as much as I should have. In fact, I didn’t explore at all. I spent majority of my meals at McDonalds. I normally despise going to McDonald’s here in the states and only visit if that is my only option and absolute last resort. However, I felt more comfortable ordering from Mickey D’s than ordering sushi or whatever was available at the local restaurants. I walked pass a couple of places and was overwhelmed by trying to decipher the language and menu options. My logic was that at least at McDonald’s I could see pictures of what I am eating even if I didn’t know what it said. The closest I got to eating something out of my comfort zone was at food stand outside of the Tokyo Skytree which was serving garlic Kobe Beef. It smelled magnificent and was well priced but I passed on the chance to indulge.
One of the things that I wasn’t able to do due to the amount of days I spent there was to visit Mt. Fiji. There is a train that goes out there and there’s also an outlet store to visit along the way. Overall, Tokyo is a very cool place to visit and I would definitely like to visit again. As different as it may seem I would think of it as their version of New York City; busy, sprawling, and full of wonderful landmarks. We have the Big Apple and they have the Fuji Apple, *drum drum tap*
Transportation – (Train(s) – $45)
Housing – $54
Food – $30-$45