While my family was visiting me in September of 2013, we took a mini vacation to Japan. They wanted to get additional stamps on their passports and I wanted to get the heck out of Korea. The flight from Seoul’s Incheon airport to Tokyo’s Narita airport was both quick (around 2 hours) and inexpensive (under $300 USD). I rented an apartment on AirBnB in the Koto neighborhood across from Kiba Park for our short stay of 4 nights and 3 days.
Coming from my teeny, tiny Korean apartment, the place we rented in Tokyo felt humongous. It had everything we needed and more. There were enough beds for everyone to sleep comfortably. I opted to stay in the tatami mat room and slept soundly on a futon. The kitchen was well appointed for us to prepare breakfast and dinner with the food we purchased from a nearby grocery store. The dining room was where we planned most of our adventures for the following day. It was also where we spent many hours at night recharging, drinking and cackling at the shenanigans we encountered while out on the town. All of this was ours for a price that was over 50% less than what the cheapest hotels would have charged per night.
On our first full day in town we visited the Tokyo Skytree. While the views were good (not great, not amazing), the wait was horrendous. We waited almost 2 hours to purchase pricey tickets. If you fancy visiting this place, please do as I wish I had done and reserve your tickets online ahead of time. Trust me, it’s worth the additional cost.
In addition to the tower, SkyTree has a mall attached to the venue. It was here that I saw my first Hello Kitty paraphernalia. Perhaps one of the coolest things about Skytree was the water fountain in front of the area. That’s where I found the most adorable children frolicking in the water on a fairly warm Autumn day. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about seeing kids live a carefree life that brings me joy.
Our next adventure was a bit of a mishap. We originally intended to go to a traditional market area, but we ended up getting lost in a garden. Fortunately, that garden opened up to a neighborhood temple.
My favorite part of this lucky encounter was a temple guide who spoke fluent English. She was very patient and informative. We learned how to properly wash our hands and mouths in preparation for our temple visit. We also learned how to bow and pray like so many faithfuls we saw passing by during our visit.
Once we had our fill of walking around the city during the day, we made our way back home. Outside of Kiba station are several restaurants. We noticed a group of laughing locals who were leaving a small restaurant and paused to have a look inside. One of the women in the group told us the food was delicious and encouraged us to stay and dine. I’m so glad we listened. I had the best grilled fish I’ve tasted to date in Asia, warm edamame, yummy sake, and a lovely dark beer. Bonus points for feeling like a local as we were the only foreigners/tourists in the establishment.
The next day found us having lunch at the Kill Bill restaurant, Gonpachi. If you remember the fight scene in Kill Bill 1 where Black Mamba finds O-ren Ishii and massacres the Crazy 88, then this place should look familiar. I’m almost certain that Tarentino based the set for that scene on this restaurant – and for good reason. It’s actually a cool place and the food wasn’t bad, either. My server was a Bahamian guy who was fluent in Japanese, French, and of course English. I was sad I couldn’t stay longer to interview him, but glad he did take the time to answer some of my questions. I love meeting other foreigners living abroad.
After lunch we went shopping and I was interviewed by a company advertising their souvenir vending machine. Somewhere out there my photo and video clips of the interview are probably floating around cyberspace. I had a great time and got a free gift out of it.
Later on we ventured to what’s probably the world’s busiest intersection, Shibuya Crossing. Tip: If you wan to get a good view of the madness, post up at a stool in the Starbucks on the corner. I couldn’t resist a Where’s Waldo type of picture. Can you spot me in the crowd?
The final day in Tokyo was spent having a yummy lunch near Tokyo station before sight seeing on a double decker bus and doing more shopping across town.
We ended our vacation by having dinner and drinks with my friend Mayuko. She was so gracious and met us after her long workday to take us to a small pub and an all-you-can-eat Shabu Shabu restaurant in the Shinjuku area. While my family didn’t seem impressed by the meal, Mayuko and I ate until we were uncomfortable. Man! That was some good food. Back story: I’ve a cousin who was stationed in Japan years ago who is friends with Mayuko. Said cousin emailed her and arranged for us to meet up while we were in town. Upon meeting, she hesitantly confessed that she hadn’t actually met my cousin in real life, but they’ve been friends via social media for years. I guess she was nervous as to how we’d respond, but we all got a kick out of the story. Just goes to show you that real connections can be made with cool folks online. Now I brag to my cousin that I met his friend in real life before he did :P.
Overall, it was a fun trip. I’d like to go back again this year to hang out with Mayuko and really enjoy a night on the town. Next time, though, I’ll be sure not to book a very early return flight that forces me to take a taxi to the airport. That fare was ri-damn-diculous at approximately $200 USD!
Have you been to Tokyo? What did you do or see that was memorable?