I have loved Japan from afar for a long time. Thanks in part to my sister who started randomly studying Japanese for fun when she was about 10 years old, and partly due to the fact that one of the best summer’s of my life was my first semester teaching English at the ELI where, by some fluke, all of my friends happened to be from Japan.
Another reason I love Japan is that I once decided on a whim to buy a book by a Japanese author who had the same last name as one of my friends. Which is kind of amazing actually considering this book over 900 pages long and weighs more than a small animal.
That book of course was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami who has since become of my absolute favorite authors and I’ve been going through all of his book ever since. (So far I’ve read 1Q84, After Dark, Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, and I’m currently working on Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.)
So thanks to fond memories with my friends from Japan, and Murakami’s gorgeously detailed explanations of the simple mundane reality of Japanese life, I have felt a certain familiarity with this country that I have never visited.
But finally, finally, I got to go.
And it was the most perfect combination of everything that I hoped it would be, and also so much more than I expected it would be.
So here is just the beginning of that story.
We arrived in Tokyo very late on Tuesday night. I had to work until 4:30 so after I finished up I quickly went home to grab my bags, shower very quickly, and head to the train station where I met up with my other two friends who’d I’d be traveling with.
From the train station in our city we headed to Incheon Airport where our flight left at 10:55pm. The flight was about two hours long and by the time we had taken the airport bus to the area we’d be staying in it was about 3:00 in the morning.
Which is not ideal.
However, I’m kind of glad that we did it that way because we didn’t waste any time traveling that could have been spent experiencing Tokyo.
So on the morning of day one we slept in a little bit to make sure we’d actually be able to enjoy ourselves and not be dead tired, and the set off.
Priority number one was to find some coffee, and we choose this cafe close to the corner of Shibuya Crossing that ended up being kind of our coffee shop for the next few days.
I’m fairly certain this place is just a popular chain, but the coffee was actually really good.
Once we were properly caffeinated we went over to get our first experience of Shibuya crossing, which is referred to as the busiest intersection in the world. It was very cool to see at first but since Shibuya station was the closest station to where we were staying, we ended up having to walk through it many many times. And by the end I was ready to never have to see it ever again.
It’s definitely something you have to see in Tokyo though. It was crazy, and overwhelming, and cool, and a bit like an obstacle course.
And for the record that’s just the half of the intersection I could see from the window where we were sitting. After that we walked around shibuya for a bit just looking in the shops and marveling at the amazing street fashion.
At one point we walked past a random Kpop band promoting something and right near them was a giant poster advertising BTS in Japanese.
So it turns out that you can never really escape Kpop. If anyone knows who this group is, please let me know!
After a bit we decided to stop for lunch and went to a place that my friend had read about online that was supposed to have really good ramen. When we got there, there was a bit of a line but we decided to wait it out and hope it would be worth it.
And holy cow, it was worth it.
Japanese ramen in Japan was everything I could have ever hoped it would be.
The other friend that I was with then wanted to see an Alice in Wonderland Cafe and so we went over there after we finished lunch.
Then it was time to see Harajuku. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I guess I was thinking something along the lines of Japanese Myeongdong in Seoul. The overly tourist-y feeling was the same, but I think the crowds might have actually been worse here. Harajuku, from what I understand, used to be a place for young people and crazy fashion. And while it definitely still retains some of that, it feels a little bit more like something a bit past it’s hay day.
This little guy didn’t seem to be too overwhelmed thought, so that was reassuring.
We, of course, started freaking out at the sight of this older gentleman walking a cat on a leash through Harajuku. He noticed us and then picked the cat up and brought him over so we could pet it. He made the cat wave its little paw and say “Konnichiwa” to us and so basically it was the most magical thing that’s ever happened to me.
But like most places it turns out that if you get just a little bit off the beaten path, there are more authentic sights to be had. Which is what we did after deciding that we really couldn’t take too much more of fighting the massive crowd. And what we found behind the main street was even cooler.
As a big fan of streets personally, I would almost always recommend this strategy.
After wandering through these narrow streets for a while we decided that it was time, yet again, for a coffee/wifi break.
We had meandered into Omotesando by this point and stopped at a cool looking coffee shop. We enjoyed our coffee, the free wifi, and being off of our feet for a while.
Then we decided to walk back to where we were staying to re-group and rest for a bit before heading out to find dinner and some drinks.
Once we felt that our feet could handle a little bit more walking, we ventured back out in search of a place that my friend (the same friend who introduced us to the yummy and hilariously named Craft PeePee, our favorite bar in Korea) had seen online. She never fails to hook us up with good beer.
We hung out there for a bit until we were hungry enough for dinner. And dinner, we decided, would be conveyor belt sushi. And it was as amazing as I always dreamed it would be. Quick, cheap, delicious, and fun.
We walked for a little while after that and found one more place my friend wanted to try for drinks.
And that was our first day in Tokyo. We probably walked about 10 miles, had mostly coffee in our bloodstream for a large part of the day, and our feet were hurting like crazy but were in unanimous agreement with the fact that we already loved Tokyo.
I was so happy to be in a country that I’ve loved from afar for so long. So happy to hear Japanese around me, see fashion different from what I see in Korea, and to eat food that is so often imitated in the west but never quite captured exactly.
I can’t wait to keep writing about this trip so stay tuned for more posts coming!
Thanks for reading!