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Districts of Tokyo, exploring the city in a few days

Every travel starts with the preparation, mine was close to none. I searched for places to visit in Japan, what to see, festivals, etc. And I wrote a draft of what I want to do, but I just did one booking and nothing else. Why? I never been in Japan, every single thing will be a new thing for me and it is impossible to see a country in just two weeks, so better chill out and enjoy the journey. At least for Tokyo I had some help, a friend would show me around some of the districts of Tokyo, after that I would be on my own.

I have three main “base cities“, and I plan to go around them with a total open schedule, I am a solo traveler, let’s see how hard it will be to get last-minute accommodation….

From Cork to Japan, the trip to get there

Waking up Not going to sleep at all, something I wanna try to see if it works for the jet lag. Forcing myself to sleep for most of the long trip. I stayed awake the whole night, and at Cork airport I ended up meeting randomly with Bea, a work mate of mine. I slept from Cork to Amsterdam… not good.., I should be stronger… Well, I bet I’ll be wrecked either way…

Arriving in Amsterdam, I “lost” Bea, she also had a connection flight, so I stayed by myself for a while, I went to the train station and I decided not to go to the city, no plan to meet anyone there (yet) and I could relax a bit closer to the gate. Eventually I’ll meet with another friend there as well, but just for a short talk. A bit bored, and tired, I went to Starbucks and guess what? I am a girl…

From Cork to Japan, the trip to get there
From Cork to Japan, the trip to get there

Finally queueing for the flight, and the first signs of stereotypical behavior start to be obvious, while waiting I saw a girl taking photos with random strangers, why? I have no clue, but obviously she doesn’t know them… I guess I’ll have more of this during the following days, and I am eager for that!

While chatting with Bea, we thought that I got one of the worse places to sit, 35K, I just sat next to an emergency door by the window! a loooooot of space for my legs, I can go to the toilet without disturbing anyone and without being disturbed! Second time this happens on a long flight trip! As my Greek friends call me, I am a big kolofardos!

Sleeping in economy class is definitely not the most comfortable thing ever, but I managed to take my nap and woke up at 6 am Japan time, let’s see if this helps in any way my jet lag…, and I guess this means that my 1st day is also over.

Exploring Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Harajuku, three districts of Tokyo

Arrived in Tokyo! YATTA!!!!

Elma gave me a very detailed plan how to survive the first hours until I got to meet with her, very straight forward and that definitely saved me a lot of trouble. Passing through the emigration, getting money, getting the pocket internet, JR pass, etc. And hot! It looked like Summer, for now!

Exploring Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Harajuku in Tokyo
Exploring Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Harajuku in Tokyo

It was funny to see the same faces I saw in Amsterdam all the time, same queues, same train and even the same touristic spots. I totally got the feeling that I am a “normal” tourist after all…

Ikebukuro District

Arriving in Ikebukuro area, hopping off the train and I see a kind of festival for the Olympic Games, and I managed to take a few photos already, feeling like a Japanese and his camera… I then met with Elma without any problem, and got prepared for my second and longest day ever! That was one of first districts I visited in Tokyo, the excitement was real!

Harajuku District

We went to Harajuku where we crossed a very busy street, Takeshita-dori, so manyyyy people in that street, on a western place that would be the perfect place for pickpocketing, but guess what? Totally safe! These guys know how to make things work, it is awesome to feel this safe.

A few Elvis dancing
A few Elvis dancing

After that we went to a park, Yoyogi park, the first thing I see is a group of Japanese Elvis, apparently people do whatever they want in that park if it is legal, people playing instruments, street performers in general, people just laying on the grass (a lot of people), a quite nice park in a concrete city. I really enjoyed that place.

We then headed to one, if not the one, main temple in Tokyo, the Meiji Jingu Shrine, and the first Japanese weeding I saw. It’s was a bit odd for what I am used to, to be honest and with no pun intended, it seemed like a funeral. People dressing in dark clothes, following the bride and groom in a queue with a very slow pace, going from one temple to the other one several times, and if not in silence, they were really quiet. Didn’t look as a happy event to be honest…

Lanterns
Lanterns

The temple itself is quite nice, but I liked more the route to get there, through a wood, I think I am more into nature than city landscape. At the temple people were following a few rituals, washing their hands and I think also drinking some water, throwing coins for good luck (I also did that) and one interesting thing I saw is the wall were people write their wishes for themselves and the world in general, I read very nice messages over there and I found one written in Portuguese!

Shibuya District

We then proceeded to Shibuya, where I saw the famous Hachiko dog, if you don’t know this dog’s story, I totally recommend you to check about it. And if you are a dog lover and you don’t know about this… You really should feel ashamed of your own existence!

It was also in Shibuya where I saw one of the busiest crossings I have ever seen so far. And according to Elma and Max, it wasn’t that busy that evening… Check the photos, I don’t think they express what that really is, but it is messy!

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing

I believe we went to a shop before dinner, or was it probably after? Not sure, I am still confused with this timezone… A toys shop, so damn big and with so many useless stuff that people, like me, wanna buy just because! I am definitely going back there to buy some junky souvenirs for some people!

We had a nice dinner at some place where we had a hot table and where they put our food to stay warm while we eat it, it was funny to see that the food can move, not because it is alive but of the warmth… I have no idea of the stuff I ate today I ate okonomiyaki, and it was good!

So tired, we went home, I think I fell asleep around 11pm, such a baby…

Discovering three other districts of Tokyo, Shinjuku, Asakusa and Odaiba

Arggggg, my jet lag is still with me! I woke up around 5am, I tried to get back to sleep but after one hour I was fully awake… Well, I read a bit about the next destinations, and I wrote a bit on my blog. And today is the day to visit a few other districts of Tokyo, Shinjuku, Asakusa and Odaiba.

Shinjuku District

We started the day going to Shinjuku, place where is also the busiest train station in the world!!! So damn big! And it was holiday, I wonder how that looks during rush hour…, there we went to see the view from Tocho, what a view… I could see part of Mount Fuji, but the sky was too greyish, not sure if that was smog or just bad weather. The coffee there wasn’t bad either, but obviously pricy.

Mount Fuji behind the clouds
Mount Fuji behind the clouds

Asakusa District

After that we went to Asakusa, we passed through a tourists-rip-off market on the way to another temple, according to Wikipedia this district isn’t “old” due to the Second World War, though, it is the oldest geisha district in Tokyo area. Also in Asakusa we saw a giant poo that it is a beer drop after all, check for the Asahi Beer Tower.

Odaiba

By the end of the day, we went to Odaiba where I saw an amazing view of Tokyo’s skyline at night fall. Odaiba is a “man-made land” and where the Olympic Games will take place, I guess for now it isn’t still the best place to live since it isn’t that easy to reach the city from there or it is pricy. It will be nice to extort more money from the tourists. And by the way, to get there we took a self-driven train, the Yurikamome that crosses the Rainbow Bridge.

Discovering Shinjuku, Asakusa and Odaiba districts in Tokyo
Discovering Shinjuku, Asakusa and Odaiba districts in Tokyo

Ikebukuro District

And finally, dinner time! We went to Ikebukuro for dinner, and we had an amazing dinner that basically we paid to cook ourselves… A “you eat what you can in 90 minutes” restaurant. Seems a really good idea. We have the grill in that same table and we have to get all the meat and veggies we want to grill. So basically, the restaurant saves a cook and gets the money anyway!

I don’t know if this would work in Europe or US, the way Europeans and Americans eat… And that was all, going home to pack and sleep before the long trip!

The trip from Osaka to Tokyo and last days to explore the city

After those two trips exploring part of the country, it was time to go back and explore a bit more of the districts of Tokyo and nightlife.

I have a very good bio-rythm, mostly when I am tense or even stressed. It is normal to me waking up a few seconds before the alarm rings, and this time was no exception. I had a train to catch, back to Tokyo!

The trip from Osaka to Tokyo and a bit more of Tokyo
The trip from Osaka to Tokyo and a bit more of Tokyo

All the usual stuff, packing, check-out and going to the train station. Since it was raining a lot, I decided to go to Tenma Station. Not the best option, since I had to change twice, but considering that I could avoid a lot of rain through the shopping street, which is under a roof, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.

Osaka Train Station is a nightmare! Huge, crowded and when in stress I took a while to find the correct platform. That was the first change, still in Osaka, I had to do, my goal was Shin-Osaka Station. But being ready and on time, I got to the right place with some time in advance. I used my trip to write some drafts on my blog, and a bit of relaxing time. The weather was looking really bad outside, perfect day to travel and not feeling bad to be missing great spots outside!

A bit more of the districts of Tokyo on my last days in Japan

After dropping my luggage at Elma’s, I went for some shopping and souvenirs, I spent the afternoon not sightseeing! One thing I realized while in Japan, as a tourist, is that it isn’t easy to find a “souvenir store“, I don’t know why, that was my perception while there! I went to three places that I consider as a nice start for souvenirs, Oriental Baazar, Kiddy Land shop and the Takeshita Street. A bit of wandering through some of the districts of Tokyo I’ve been before.

The Oriental Baazar was my favorite place, three floors of things to buy, from clay objects to kimonos and yukatas, a lot of traditional Japanese things and not expensive. I bought most of my souvenirs there, the quality there also seems to be quite good, I recommend the place!

About Kiddy Land shop, it is the perfect place to buy toys! Most of them you’ll get the feeling you can buy them everywhere, but that’s not entirely true, some things there I doubt you can find them anywhere outside Japan! I didn’t buy anything there because I didn’t get the japanese thing with the toys there, whoever would get that as a souvenir would not relate that to Japan.

Takeshita-dori Street
Takeshita-dori Street

About Takeshita Street, I’ve mentioned before, it is a narrow street packed with people and stores! A lot to explore over there. After that I just went back home, I bought my dinner on the way and then I met with my hosts. Chatting a lot, and going to sleep late, not feeling the jet lag anymore… Until… Earthquake!!! A small one, but for me was quite strong!

It’s impressive how big brother watches everyone over there, a few seconds later and all tv channels had information about the Earthquake with life-view of the port where they were expecting a tsunami! Nothing happened, but it was an interesting experience! I’ve been in Japan and I felt an earthquake while there!

Lazy day in Tokyo, nothing much to tell unfortunately. After the late night awake, I let myself sleep a bit longer. I left the house and I went to Shinjuku area to buy a new action camera for me, a new toy bought in Japan!

A bit more of Tokyo on my last days in Japan
A bit more of Tokyo on my last days in Japan

I’ve been in Shinjuku before, on my first days in Japan when I went to explore some of the districts of Tokyo, but I used my time alone to enjoy the area by myself as well. When I decided to buy the camera, I was already expecting a duty-free discount, though it was really good to know that I also got another discount because I paid with VISA card! A discount on the top of another discount! Jackpot of purchases!

Nothing much more to do, I just went back to Elma’s place, and I got ready for the Halloween party that would happen later that night! What’s scarier than me wearing a costume? Me wearing a Bavarian german costume! Ridiculous and funny! Loved it!

Booking.com

For dinner we went to a very cool restaurant, and one thing I noticed while I was in Tokyo is that there are several restaurants that have private rooms for dinners, not the typical western restaurant where you dine around 30 or 40 people, instead you have a room for you and your friends, you are totally comfortable, silly or even a bit louder and no one will be upset! I loved the place! Also many other people preparing for Halloween, the guys on the room next to ours worn a match-outfit, all alike, on a mix of creepy and funny! About 10 Ronald McDonalds! If one is already creepy enough, imagine a group of them!!!

After the dinner we went out to party, what a night! We went back home with the sun already quite high! Needless to say, that the next day was totally wasted resting…, but party is part of the adventure.

Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe

Nothing much to say about my last day in Tokyo, just that hangover can be a big mess! I had some plans for the day, and it isn’t pleasant to wake up with no will to do whatsoever when you are 9 hours timezone-away. But well, party is also part of the fun and vacations, nothing to regret!

By the end of the day I went back to Akahabara to the camera shop, though my goal wasn’t that huge shop but the one next to it… a 7 floor sex shop! What an experience!! Yep, sounds strange, but an experience worth to live! A few curious people like me, a few people actually there to buy toys, and… a few creeps too! Well…, nothing too surprising about that place, expect some of the toys that I really don’t even want to imagine how people use them! It is one of the amazing districts of Tokyo, with several shops for all tastes.

And with this, my day was pretty much over! I went back to pack and prepare for the long day I would have ahead, about 23 hours traveling!

From Tokyo to Osaka

The hellish next day started at 4am! I was so afraid I couldn’t wake up, that I set a few alarms, though I woke up with the first one! Got ready, and walked to the train station on an empty street! Strange to leave a place and knowing that your vacations are over…

Getting at the train station I get an email from KLM informing that there are disrupts at AMS airport due heavy wind! This can’t be good… But before I need to get to Osaka, let’s not over think this yet!

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I highly recommend World Nomads, travel insurance oriented to travelers. Well detailed before the unexpected happens!

Getting to Haneda Airport in Tokyo it is pretty easy, transportation in Tokyo look a bit scary, but if you know where you wanna go, you easily get there. At the airport, I got to find out that the flight to Osaka wasn’t a connection flight, so basically I had to check-out and check-in again. The luggage would still be a hassle, which I thought I wouldn’t have to care about it until Cork. Nipon Airlines doesn’t work directly with KLM, this is the reason.

Going back to Europe!

Kansai International Airport (Osaka), picking up my luggage was really fast, maybe because it was a national flight. But then, having to check it in again…, the guys at the check-in desk warned me that the tripod could be an issue, it was too big, but I managed to convince them to pass with it, after all I didn’t have any problem anywhere else with that same tripod. Though, just in case they would hold my luggage for a while.

As they predicted, I had issues with the tripod… The securities didn’t let me pass, and apparently it was just a matter of two or three centimeters! This was really odd for me, I really never had problems with my tripod  before! But this wasn’t as simple as it sounds here, during those two weeks I spent in Japan I experienced that very few people have good knowledge of English. Which is totally fine for me, I am the foreigner I should adapt to them not the other way around.

Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe
Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe

Though, as a tourist I expect some places to have someone who can understand me and communicate with me, one of those places is definitely an international airport. That was not the case in KIX airport. I knew exactly what the problem was and how to solve it, but instead they tried to check if I could pass with it, and the tripod passed from one person to the other, and another one and my time to catch the flight was getting shorter as probably my luggage was up to be finally sent to the cargo. I got really stressed, and unfortunately I ended up yelling at the security asking if they had anyone there that could actually speak english! Things got sorted out, I added my tripod to my luggage and I was ready to go to the departure gate!

KIX airport is quite cool, they even have a monorail between gates! Fast and efficient! I got to the gate, and I had to wait…, and wait…, and wait! At the check-in area I thought I was getting tight with time, at the departure gate I had to wait a long time! But I boarded at last! One of the first to get inside the plane, and I still got to sit at the wrong place! I wonder how I got confused between a 34 and 35… But at my new place I was luckier! 3 seats just for me!! Yeahhhh A lot of hours flying and I could lay down! Until…, a couple asked to sit there, because they were placed apart… Damn them! And double damn them because they were really nice during the whole trip, I couldn’t even feel angry at them!

Arriving in Amsterdam, last stop! I was up to meet with a friend of mine that lives there, but…, the bad weather blocked our meeting! All the trains were canceled, I couldn’t leave the airport, he couldn’t get there either! 5 hours there, alone, waiting for the next and last flight…, but soon all would be over! Got to Cork and went straight to bed! What a long day! From Tokyo to Cork!

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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