Konnichiwa (こんにちは) and Ohaiyo gozaimasu (お早う ございます)! Japan (日本), the land of the rising sun.
To me, almost everything that is awesome comes from here. Just think about all the things.
- Anime/manga: Dragonball, Bleach, Death Note, Attack on Titan, One Piece, Sword Art Online, Code Geass, Tokyo Ghoul, Gundam, Berzerk, Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, Baki, Pokemon, etc…, I like anime.
- Video games from the 80s to the present: Nintendo, Sega, Sony Playstation, etc.
- Electronics: Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Sharp, Casio, Canon, JVC, etc.
- Cars: Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Mazda, Nissan, Yamaha, Kawasaki, etc.
- Martial arts: karate, judo, jujitsu, aikido, kendo, sumo, etc.
- Food: sushi, sashimi, hibachi, ramen/soba/udon, tempura, tofu, sake, etc.
- Weaponry: katana, nunchuku, bo, sai, naginata, tonfa, kama, etc.
- Musical Instruments: taiko drums, shamisen, koto, shakuhachi bamboo flute, etc.
- Other cool things: ninja, samurai, origami, karaoke, sudoku, Japanese game shows, godzilla, haiku, etc.
- Words that we use in English like: tsunami, emoji, sensei, hancho, etc.
- And Mt. Fuji (富士山)! Sign me up!
It was a last-minute decision to book a flight to Tokyo in early June 2016. I only had a week to cover as much as possible. This may be the first country which I was thinking about my second trip before even going once. When my friend Justin and I were teenagers watching Dragonball Z and 100s hours spent on RPG games, we already spoke about going to Japan one day. 20 years later, it finally happened.
Back in 2001, I took 2 semesters of elementary Japanese which covers basic grammar/conversation as well as the hiragana and katakana characters. Tochika sensei was the best Japanese professor anyone could have, ありがとう ございました. With the basic foundation, it was enough to get by in a non-English speaking country. Yep, Japanese people typically don’t speak English conversationally so it is very handy to meet them halfway when communicating. It’s easier now more than ever to learn basic Japanese as there dozens of phone apps to help strengthen your vocabulary, grammar, verb suffixes, and Kanji character memorization. Some people might disagree and think that konnichiwa, arigato, and hai is all you need to get by, but if you take the time to learn the language as well as the culture, it actually enriches the experience, trust me. Phrase books aren’t very effective when asking questions because you won’t understand the answer in Japanese. Also, many signs are not translated in English. Ok, enough intro, minnasan ikimashO!
Day 0 – Arriving in Tokyo (東京):
Who would’ve thought that Japan is only 13 hours away via a straight flight from NYC. From Narita airport, I think the most convenient way to the city center is to book a round trip bus (Airport Limousine) for around $40. Its takes a little over an hour to get to Tokyo. Tokyo is divided into 23 wards, and I would say central Tokyo covers 10 of them.
We chose to stay in a central location and one of the busiest areas in Tokyo called Shinjuku (新宿). In particular, the Gracery Hotel in Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) was our home base for the next 5 days (east of Shinjuku station) which has a huge Godzilla head peeking out of the 8th floor. This is the view from the hotel:
Already being awake for 18+ hours, I figured I’d make it a record and go for 24 hour so that I could change clothes, take some photos, eat a sushi meal, and get a bird’s eye view of the city. Kabukicho is a red light district within Shinjuku and full of bars, night clubs, pachinko, and even a robot themed restaurant for tourists ($80 for a crazy show and dinner, Youtube it if you are curious). After my first official Japanese sushi meal, I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which was a 15 minute walk. Why? Because its free to go to 45th FL observation deck and get a view of the city. You can already see that Japan is getting ready for the 2020 Olympics.
At night, the building signs light up and its all quite overwhelming at first since there are so many people (coming from a New Yorker) and so many things to look at. One thing to notice is how every floor has something that may interest you, not just the ground floor, which is why you should also pay attention to the vertical signs as well.
I think a few hours of sleep is long overdue. Day 1 officially begins tomorrow…