Our last couple of days flew by! Tokyo is such a large city, but I feel like we managed to see and do most of the major attractions. If we had another day in the city, I would have wanted to take the bullet train to Hiroshima or Kyoto. We spent our last full day traveling into the “suburbs” (a stretch considering Tokyo is so dense!) to see the hipster neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. As we were in the metro station, we spotted cherry blossom lattes! We had wanted one from Starbucks and saw them in Korea, but by the time we made it to Tokyo, they were discontinued!
We wandered up and down the main street full of thrift shops and salons. If the city center of Tokyo was NYC and our hostel’s neighborhood of Shinjuku was Chicago… Shimokitazawa was definitely Portland. The residents were younger and better dressed than everyone we had seen so far! The skyscrapers had vanished and we were suddenly in a quaint, quiet neighborhood.
I had read about a small bakery that exclusively made Totoro pastries. “My Neighbor Totoro” is a movie by Miyazaki that I loved when I was growing up. Joe was also familiar with the movie and wanted to check it out. We went to the bakery and had another confusing incident. Apparently the house it is located in is separated into a restaurant and a bakery. We walked into the bakery and she asked if we wanted to eat it there. We said sure and she said “Then you must order upstairs at restaurant.” We walked upstairs and were told it would be an hour long wait! We had to return to the bakery and explain that we actually would just take it to-go.
Once we got our pastries (I got banana cream filling and Joe got custard), we went to Yoyogi Park to eat them. I expected it to be quiet and relaxing, but apparently there was a giant festival! The park was PACKED with people. It looked like ants swarming an anthill. We found a spot and started eating our delicious Totoros!
Joe wanted to go check out the Meiji Shrine attached to the park, but I had already toured it the day before, so I chose to grab lunch in the park. I ordered two of the most popular street foods – yakitori (meat on a stick) and takoyaki (a vegetable batter ball with octopus inside, topped with eel sauce and mayonnaise and seaweed!).
It was great people watching in the park! I saw so many interesting things! One group of people were filming a shoe commercial and another group were playing drum music. A boyfriend was trying to take care of his sickly drunk girlfriend who was sleeping on a bench and another boyfriend was trying to hold his stumbling girlfriend upright. The Japanese can definitely drink! And this was at 4pm on a Saturday!
Joe and I met up and decided to go get dinner. It was our last dinner in Tokyo and we wanted ramen! We found the best ramen spot in Shibuya. We expected to wait, but there were only a few people waiting outside the door, so we got in line. We were quickly informed that the line “actually” began on the opposite side of the sidewalk behind 20 more people. The restaurant actually employed a hostess to stand outside and organize people in line to keep the sidewalk clear due to the high volume of pedestrians. After 1.5 hours of waiting in line, we made it inside! It was a tiny restaurant with 21 seats. Each seat had its own window into the kitchen. You purchased your meal ticket at a vending machine upon entering and then filled out a questionnaire about your ramen preferences. Then, you rolled up the window and handed it to the chef who soon delivered your food. It was pretty weird, especially considering the window was tiny and you couldn’t see the face of whoever you were talking to!
My ramen was okay. It wasn’t as great as the ramen we had the very first night! These noodles were thin and I like mine pretty thick. The pork was also sliced into thin pieces, whereas the pork before was in giant chunks!
We had planned to go out to celebrate our last night, but we were just too exhausted – this seemed to be a common theme of the trip! We crashed early and set our alarms early the next morning to check out of the hostel.
10am rolled around and I was in the lobby waiting for Joe. We had planned to leave at 10 to get an early start on the day. Soon, 10:15 rolled around and he still wasn’t anywhere to be found. Turns out, he slept through his alarm! We didn’t leave until around 11:30 after we checked out of the hostel.
We made our way to the Hello Kitty cafe called Cafe de Miki in the Diver City mall in Odaiba. It is a giant man-made island off the coast of Tokyo. It was nice to be near the water! The island is known for its modern architecture and skywalks!
I had heard about a candy store nearby, so we went to check it out and found the infamous flavors of Kit Kats! I bought wasabi, green tea, sake, and cherry blossom flavors. They were absolutely delicious – sake was my favorite. I brought a bunch back for my coworkers and friends to try!
We wandered along the waterfront and saw the beach. Interestingly enough, it restricted swimming. I read online that this is because of the pollution in the water! Gross.
Joe wanted to go to a design museum, so we split up and I walked around Odaiba. A couple days earlier, we tried to find a purikura, or traditional Japanese Photo Booth. We found one, but it was already closed so we couldn’t use it! Taking photos in a purikura was one of the main things I wanted to do, so I was determined to find one. While wandering around the mall, I stumbled upon an arcade and took a chance to see if they had a purikura area. They did! I spent 30 minutes and $10 to take the most amazing photos of all time!
First, you walk down the narrow hallways between the machines and try to decide on which one you want to use. I didn’t quite understand the difference, so I did a bunch!
There are 3 different sections to the machine – first, you pay on the outside and select your soundtrack and background, then you enter into the “photo area” where you take the pictures, then you go into another room where you can edit the photos. The process is pretty confusing! And you only get 30 seconds to edit each photo which is difficult when all of the menus are in Japanese!
And that’s just one of the photo sheets! I have 3 or 4 more! I wish I could have a higher quality copy. There was an option for the machine to text the photos to you, but it only used Japanese numbers and carriers 😦
I met up with Joe at the Tokyo Tower. It is a similar attraction to the Tokyo Skytree, but the Tower is shaped like the Eiffel Tower. As I was looking over the guidebooks, I realized this was the only spot we didn’t visit, so we planned to meet there before we left for the airport.
Getting from Odaiba to the Tower was… interesting. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have data on my phone. Before we split, I had Joe route me on his phone and then I took a photo of it. I went back to the Odaiba metro station and didn’t see any lines that matched the instructions on his phone. I went with my best guess and went 3 metro stops before I realized it was NOT the right way! I had to retrace my steps. Once I was back in Odaiba, I realized I was supposed to leave from a different metro station! I tried to swipe my card to leave, but the machine started an alarm and wouldn’t let me out. I assume it is because I didn’t actually GO anywhere and it was confused why I was trying to exit from the station I entered. I flagged down the worker and he let me leave with a chuckle.
I followed the instructions and made it into the city. I just had to take a bus to the Tower. I found the bus station and compared the Japanese on my phone to that on the stop – it matched exactly! I was so proud of myself. I got on the bus and followed my GPS location on my phone. The bus was following the intended route… until suddenly it veered off track and started going the wrong way! I immediately pressed the “stop request” button and got off. I still have no idea why the bus route was different than that on Google Maps!
Joe and I had planned to meet at the Tower at 7:00pm. We agreed to wait until 7:10, and if the other one didn’t show up, we would meet at the hostel at 8:00pm. When I got off the bus, it was 6:55 and I was 25 blocks from the Tower. There was NO way I could walk it and I didn’t have any way to figure out an alternative route. If I missed meeting Joe, I would have to figure out how to get back to the hostel and that seemed impossible without wifi. This was the first time I felt truly lost and helpless! I did what any stranded tourist would do – flag down an expensive taxi.
I made it to the Tower on time and met Joe after a $10 cab ride. We took the elevator to the top and got a gorgeous view of the city!
We took the metro back to the hostel to pick up our bags and then headed to the airport. We wanted to get a good dinner in Tokyo, but there were no places along our route, and we didn’t want to have to haul our luggage into a small restaurant. We made it to Haneda airport and found a table with an outlet and ate and drank to our hearts’ content. He ordered a burger and fries and I got my favorite… ramen!
The flight back to America was painless. I didn’t intend to sleep, but I nodded off during the second movie I tried to watch. I think I slept for about 4 hours! I woke up as they were serving the meal. I got the pasta and it was a simple mac and cheese… disappointing!
We had a 3 hour layover in San Francisco, so we went to a bar and drank a few beers. I looked at my passport and realized I’ve filled 12 pages and only have 8 to go before it expires in 2022. It is my goal to fill it, but thats only 6 years. Even if I do one major trip per year, that isn’t enough! I need to step up my game!
This trip was so much fun. I know I say this each time I travel, but I didn’t realize how similar we all are. I imagined life in Asia to be much less… western. I didn’t expect to feel the hustle and bustle of America, but Japan is a thriving city with just as much excitement. Both Korea and Japan are much more inclusive and I found it more difficult to meet locals. Going out is also much more difficult due to the lack of “just bars” and the requirement of a cover charge or mandatory food. We still had fun nights… but it sure was expensive!
I also realized that I’m growing up. Traveling in my early 20s was all about partying and eating at the BEST restaurants and maximizing every moment. My goal of NOT planning this trip resulting in a much more relaxing time. I caught myself appreciating the moment a lot more frequently. Joe became the “Planner” during the trip and I could tell he was a lot more stressed out than me. Our generation has a tendency to want only the best – the best restaurant, the best menu item, the best seat at the show – but, in reality, anything can be the best if you take the time to enjoy it. Our favorite bar in Tokyo wasn’t one that we found online… we stumbled into it and ended up loving it! I’m going to try to adopt this way of thinking in my life in America. Instead of planning out every weekend, I’m just going to go with the flow and see how it works out.
But for now… off to plan my next trip!