Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

I'm just a girl who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

This is my attempt to keep my friends and family updated, to keep track of my experiences, and to serve as an inspirational resource for all those travel addicts like me out there.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

TokYO


I LOVE JAPAN. end blog.

It's as easy as that. Really. Let me explain. 

The Japanese tend to be helpful and easy to feel comfortable around. I've never felt like a burden when showing up anywhere in Japan and being that silly foreign girl that likely has no idea what she is doing. The people I've encountered have always been happy to help me out. 

People watching here is unlike any place I've ever been, especially on the subway.  Watching the men, clad in their suits, flip through a comic book next to an elderly man reading the news on his smartphone (also in a suit). 

 The style here is unfathomable. They make it look easy, like getting dressed in the morning is an effortless task.  They automatically know how to look cool. For example, Potato Man.
Should I talk about the food? Do I even need to explain it to you? Ramen. Sushi. Takoyaki. Okonomiyaki. Udon. What more could you ask for than a country where "Kawaii" Monster restaurants and (insert animal of choice) cafes exist. Not only can you spend your time in the typical dog and cat cafes...snake, rabbit, owl, penguin cafes exist here. 

The food at the convenient stores isn't only intriguing, it's delicious and cheap. Almost every night ended in us loading up on all the snacks and treats we have never seen before.  Bread and gummies and noodles galore. Where Korea has soju, Japan has Strongs. Just as cheap and equally deadly.

Oh, and personal conveyor belts whizz your fresh (and cheap) sushi practically right into your mouth. Not everywhere. Just one place that I know off. BUT IT EXISTS. You order your food on a screen and minutes later, it's sent right to you. It's dangerous.  But, I like to live on the edge. 
I spent a bit of time in Japan last year, in the Osaka area. I visited Kyoto, Nara, and did an incredible temple stay up in Mount Koyasan where I visited one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen. I couchsurfed with two lovely hosts, one of which was a 50 year old Japanese man. As if the SEVEN blogs I have from my first trip to Japan weren't enough, I have a blog just for food and one for the video I put together. So there you go. 


I was expecting my experience in Tokyo to be incredibly different than my first go round with Japan, considering it's not only a capital city but the biggest city in the world.  I was both right and wrong. I felt oddly comfortable wandering around the streets of our hostel, which was located in a less stimulating area of the city. There were quaint little shops, a shrine or two, markets and cafes. When we ventured off into other parts of the city was when it started feeling like a whole new Japanese world. 

The metro was confusing at first, but easy once I got the hang of it. I say "I" because, although I was with Leena, subway systems aren't really her forte. Which was fine, cause I can usually get some work done underground. I love metro systems. They are like a puzzle that connects you to all these different cool places that you wanna go. 


All the vibes were the same, just heightened. The extent of crazy, somewhat "stereo-typical" Japanese stuff we could do was on a different level. Where else would you be able to see robots fighting while enjoying dinner (we missed this tourist novelty, unfortunately ;)? 

We got a lot of stuff done in the short three days that we were there. Plinko casinos and claw arcades. Anime stores and photo booths. We went to Harijuku and Shibuya and wandered our little hearts out. There was so much to take in. So, many, people. But, we never felt like our space was being invaded. 

 

 While exploring our neighborhood, we ran into a sweet girl who casually asked us if we wanted our names written in Kanji. Rena was wearing traditional yukata and a huge smile. After mentioning that it was free we decided, "WHY NOT".  It ended up being one of my favorite experiences. We took our shoes off and sat down around a table with two of the most pleasant, little Japanese girls. 

 They taught us a bit about the way Kanji worked, and then asked us to describe each other so that they could get to know us better. Each syllable of Kanji has a sound and meaning attached to it. The first syllable in mine means excellent or outstanding. The second means cool and beautiful (the same as one of Leena's, because we are best friends!), and the final means that people rely on me. While Rena came up with our new names, her coworker showed us how to fold an origami crane. Although we didn't have to give them any money, we were happy to spend money in their gift shop since the experience was so satisfying.

Our first night was spent thinking we were in Shibuya. I was trying to find the "busiest crosswalk in the world", but considering we were in Shinjuku, that proved to be difficult. After having admitted failure, I tried to find the Golden Gai. Or Piss Alley. or Memory Lane. Whatever name you decide to go with. Anthony BOURDAIN says Golden Gai, so naturally that's what I'm gonna stick to. It's a compact little area filled with alley ways and bars sitting atop one another. So many choices. So much flavor. Each bar was different, but none of them could fit more than 10 people comfortably. 

After peeking into nearly every doorway, we finally decided to walk up a narrow flight of stairs. Choices are hard for us. We hit the jackpot, because the one we choose conveniently had two chairs open at the bar. Which is all it was. The Japanese man, who owned the place, had long hair and an intimidating but surprisingly friendly demeanor. There were old school games positioned along the bar, like that little alligator who's teeth function as a form of Russian roulette and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Velvet Revolver was playing on a TV screen behind him as we chatted up the people around us. Unfortunately for us, it was getting late... determined by the metro schedule and  certainly not us. Taxis are too expensive, and we were too far from our hostel. One of the bummers about Tokyo. You either catch the last train at night, or the first train in the morning. And catch the last train is exactly what we did. I had to stop and ask which direction to go. The man pointed and said, "run". We FLEW through the station. Right as we slid into a packed train, the doors closed immediately behind us. 


We ended up revisiting the Golden Gai on our last night, where our main goal was finding the same bar that BOURDAIN had featured on his show. We ran into some people we had met the first night, and when we mentioned the bar they informed us that there was "always" a line to get in. Well, rats. We searched it out, anyways. And, guess what? NO LINE. And, we were able to grab two seats on the second floor. Mission accomplished. We spent the evening drink sangria, googling over the gaudy antique decor, and chatting up the sweet bartenders. One of them had a fascination with Korean Pop Culture, so we had a lot to talk about :) 

            


We spent time in Harajuku admiring the streets filled with the fashion forward Japanese youth, crepes, and candy shops. The main street was lined with clothes, cosplay, treats, tourists, and adorable young Japanese wearing things that Americans would only dream of wearing on Halloween. We feasted at, hands down, the most elaborate theme restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of dining in. Kawaii Monster Cafe has four different "theme" rooms you can choose from. We chose to sit in  the giant mushroom area, which overlooked the massive sweet treat carousel they had at the main entrance. It was like I was inside the world of Alice in Wonderland, being fed rainbow spaghetti. Although, we didn't visit the actual Alice themed restaurant. So many themed eateries, so little time.  Oh, and the Snake Cafe. We drank beer while we admired the cutest baby snakes, waiting for the right moment to head on over to the couches where we could hold the big babies! 




We attempted to visit the largest fish market in the world, but unfortunately I dragged us there on a Sunday morning - when it happened to be closed. We still wandered around food stalls and snacked a bit before wandering into a food festival of sorts that was located across the street. So, it wasn't a complete bust.
The fact that I have been to Japan twice and STILL want to go back for more says a lot about this place. There are still so many things in this country that I haven't done, places that I haven't explored. I am so tempted to plan a trip to Fukuoka for Lunar New Year, and possibly making a day trip to Hiroshima. Yes, that's exactly what I'll do.