Look, I know I’m late with this one (a month exactly), but I’ve been busy! I’ve noticed in the past year that Japan and Thailand are countries millennials have been splurging on. I wouldn’t blame them, with every other person studying abroad in Europe, going to Asia seems like a new adventure (and where your money could go far). Since we would be in Hong Kong for a week already Japan was the perfect second leg of our Asia adventure. The Hong Kongers are known to take a quick getaway to Japan, for the five hour flight is nothing. It was an open opportunity for us since we were on that side of the hemisphere already. We would be spending three days in Tokyo, one in Osaka, and one in Kyoto. This is a pretty jam packed schedule.
If you couldn’t tell we are a fan of free walking tours. They’re extremely informative and usually the guide is enthusiastic about the history of their city. Our first tour in Tokyo of the Imperial Shogun Palace was the complete opposite. The information itself was incredibly interesting, but our tour guides were a miss. Nonetheless it’s a beautiful part of the sub-prefix and a great walk in the park.
Our two tours the next day with a different company was an overview of Tokyo and the night life in Shinjuku tour. Our tour guide Hiroshi was entertaining, lively, and humorous. Some of the highlights include Akihabara, Ameyoko Shopping Arcade, Kanda Myojin, and Ueno Park. Surprisingly, we learned Hiroshi was our guide for the second tour. It was about the social night life within Tokyo. We were able to see Kabuki-Cho, Omoide-Yoko-Cho (also known as piss alley or memory lane), Godzilla Road, and learn about love hotels and hostess clubs.
On our third day we had a walking tour that included Meiji Jingu and Harajuku. Both were located next to each making it convenient to walk from one to the other. Meiji Jingu’s grounds was a delight and incredibly peaceful. We learned that on New Years Eve its tradition to gather at the shrine and throw coins towards the main building for good luck. You’d be able to see the coin dents on the pillars because of this! Harujuku is known for its specific culture of all things cute or in Japanese, kawaii. The main attraction in this area is Takeshita Dori. The street itself is lined with shops selling cosplay accessories, crepes, rainbow cotton candy, knick knacks, make-up, and more. Talent agencies are known to be located here, scouting potential young influencers.
After our tour and having fluffy pancakes for lunch, the group decided to split up and explore Shibuya. Jen and I had started a conversation with a local in the Starbucks that over looks the Shibuya Crossing. He is originally from Israel and decided to move to Japan to continue studying martial arts, decided to stay and is now a producer. He had given us insight on where to get secret best view of the crossing. With that at hand we knew what we were doing for the next hour. With careful navigation and timing, we were able to find the secret spot. See below!
The morning we were due to leave for Osaka a few of us had decided to make our way to the Tsukiji Market, aka the famous fish market in Tokyo. Although we did not have time to see the actual market, nor did we wake up in time for the auction. We decided to have sushi for breakfast.
Our train ride into Osaka arrived an hour or two before dinner. After checking in we made our way out to venture for food downtown and ended up at Tsurutontan Soemoncho, known for their incredibly large bowls of udon and delicious broth. There is a location in Union Square and Midtown if you want to be full at a reasonable price. There are two quantity choices of udon you can ask for: regular or large. Both choices cost the same so no worries on having to pay more out of your pocket!
We went on to get dessert at a local taiyaki stand and hit the arcade. It was the first time we realized how big claw machine culture is in Japan. Uncle Tony decided to give it a try and win a Doraemon doll. As expected we were there for about an hour before winning the doll. With many cheers and now a gathered crowd we were quite proud of ourselves.
The next day was rainy, but that didn’t stop us from going to a free walking tour! On our tour we visited Kuromon market, a semi indoor food market that seems to go on forever. Here you can get freshly cut sashimi, cherry blossom mochis (when in season!), grilled skewers, and takoyaki on a stick. Definitiely stop here for lunch! We were also able to see Dotonbori for its towering billboards, Nipponbashi DenDen town known for its anime shops and maid girls, and Shinsekai, the New World.
After our tour a few of us decided to venture to the Instant Ramen Museum. We were able to see the history of instant noodles and how they came about to its popularity around the world. There are audio tours in English, but all signage is in Japanese. Visitors are able to customize there own cup noodles by choosing the broth and toppings they would like. There is a cafe within the museum, but we decided to walk down the road and eat at Hakata Ippudo at their Ikeda location. As expected the meal was delicious and much needed since we have not eaten since breakfast 7AM.
Following our meal, we traveled to one of the largest aquariums in the world, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. The institution holds about 1.98 gallons of water, houses two whale sharks and holds the world record for the longest captivity of a bull shark (40 years). My excitement was directed towards the two whale sharks because one of the many things on my bucket list is to swim with them. You know that feeling when theres a happy ending to a really good Christmas movie and you get all fuzzy inside? Take that feeling and times it by 10 then you will know how humbling experience this experience was for me. Although behind glass it definitely was one of a kind.
Our time in Kyoto was fixed into one day, for we took the 1.5 hour train ride from Osaka. The walking tour for the day was spent in the sun, enjoyable, and lead by a pleasant Swedish man who decided to move to Japan. On the tour we learned the use of shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japanese culture, walked through geisha quarters of Gion, and strolled in the Higashiyama district. If you are looking to find the root of Japanese culture visit Kyoto. It is one of the very few prefixes that has not been affected by World War 2 and preserves original architecture and traditions.
Once having lunch at Musoshin (prepare to squeeze next to others in your eat), we made our way to Fushimi Inari-Taisha. This is another experience that was incredibly humbling. Walking through the toriis was beautiful and in a way enlightening. The hike holds over 10,000 toriis that date back to 711A.D. . Despite the heat, the hike itself is an enjoyable one. If you’d want a picture with the never ending toriis walk further up for less people and a better view of Kyoto!
My time in Japan was different from any other place I have visited in my life time. the food is incredible, the culture is diverse, and most of all the people are one of a kind. Although it was such a short amount of time, I know I’ll be back to visit this country and say all is swell.