This has so far been an amazing trip, thanks to my long-time friend, host, tour guide, and translator Chelsea, who lives and works as an English teacher in the city of Tokyo. Staying with her has allowed me to have a look into the real everyday-life here in Tokyo, while also hitting up the iconic parts of the city. We have had so much fun exploring Japan so far together!
Chelsea and I hit the ground running upon arrival in Tokyo. After a 10-hour flight, Chelsea picked me up at the Narita airport, and we navigated our way through the local train and subway system to get back to her darling apartment. After dropping off our bags, we headed into the Ikebukuro ward for dinner. She took me to a Ramen restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal - I was pleasantly surprised to find that the traditional ramen dish is NOT the same as the "top ramen" packets from the states. This was much different and so good!
After dinner, we spent some time walking around the area. I had fun exploring the "100 yen" shops and convenience stores, where I swear you can find ANYTHING.
We began our second day in Tokyo at a Shinto (Japanese religion) shrine called Meigi Jinju. To arrive at the shrine, we walked along a beautiful path through a nearly 100-year old, man-made forest. The first photo is the entrance to the path. Traditionally, visitors are not supposed to walk through the middle of the torii (arch) , because that is where the Kami (gods of nature in Shinto religion) enter. So, we walked in through the side of the torii, and bowed to show respect to the Kami before going all the way through.
Sake is made from rice and is the sacred drink of the Kami. There was two walls of sake-filled barrels lining part of the pathway to the shrine.
Before entering the shrine, we had to follow a ritual cleansing of our hands and mouths. We used the wooden dippers to wash our hands, and then drank a bit of water (spitting it out afterwards.)
Some visitors purchase votive tablets, on which they write personal prayers and wishes. They are then hung along the "divine tree," and are later burned and offered up to deities by the priests during Mikesai, the daily morning ceremony.
We were lucky in catching the procession of a traditional Shinto wedding here at the shrine! The bride and groom wore traditional clothing and were accompanied by a long line of guests.
Harajuku is a fun and colorful part of the city. The main street here is called Takeshita.
It is common to find vending machines (like the yellow one pictured below) on the side of the street all over Tokyo. So far, I've tried an aroma milk tea and a grape juice drink (both yummy!) We also found these vending machines at train and subway stations, where you can use your transportation card (loaded with money) to purchase a drink.
"Kawaii" is the word for "cute" in Japanese. We found a LOT of kawaii in Harajuku - so much pink!
Crepes seem to be a popular meal in the Harajuku area. We found lots of crepe shops and candy shops here.
The ridiculously random English phrases on T-shirts here in Japan remind me a lot of those in Latin America....makes for a good laugh, haha :)
Chelsea introduced me to one of her friends, Kevin, in the Shibuya region. We met him at the store where he works and then went to lunch at a place called Jinnan Cafe.
One of the more famous parts of this area is the "Shibuya Scramble," the intersection just outside of the train station. There are a LOT of people here, all moving in different directions at once. We walked through the crossing ourselves, and then went up to a lookout from a tower at the intersection for a birds-eye-view.
Shibuya is a fun area to walk around and people watch, because it is so busy!
Hachiko, the famously loyal dog
Plastic food seems to be an art form here in Japan. Many restaurants have realistic looking plastic dishes featured in their windows. You can even buy magnets and keychains with plastic food on them.
Theme restaurants are very popular in Japan, and I was so excited when Chelsea took me to an Alcatraz restaurant, since prisons fascinate me. We were locked into a prison cell for dinner, where we sat on the ground and had to hit the metal bars holding us in to call for a waiter when we were ready to order. At one point during the evening, however, the lights went out for the "Alcatraz Showtime" and I cowered in the corner, nearly peeing my pants from being scared.... Chelsea was much more brave!
Senso-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Chelsea and I began our third day in the city here. There were many visitors at the temple, both locals and foreign tourists.
Before entering the temple, you can get your fortune told the traditional way using these metal boxes. First, you shake the cylinder until a wooden stick falls out of the small hole in the top.
Each wooden stick is labeled with a Kanji number, which coordinates to one of the small wooden boxes. After you find the box with your matching number, you pull open the drawer and receive your paper fortune.
If you receive a good fortune, you are supposed to keep it close to you (so that it comes true), but if you receive a bad fortune (like ours), you should fold it up and tie it to one of the iron rods near the fortune boxes.
Incense is burned for spiritual cleansing here at the temple. We saw many Japanese people waving the incense smoke onto themselves for purity.
Prior to entering the temple, there is a ritual cleansing of the hands and mouth (similar to the ritual performed in the Shinto shrine).
Inside, the temple is intricately decorated and covered in gold. Many people came here to make wishes.
Lining the path to the temple are many shops (mostly touristy souvenir shops) and some street food. Chelsea and I ate "melon pan ice," which was like an ice cream sandwich on a pastry - the Japanese word for "delicious" is "Oishii"!
Grace City Church
I was able to attend the Christian church where Chelsea goes here in Tokyo, called Grace City. The service was in Japanese with English translation. Afterwards, Chelsea introduced me to some of her friends there, and I was so excited to get connected to one girl in particular who works in Bible translation in the Asia Pacific region (dream job!!) After church, Chelsea, my new friend Justina, and I went to lunch in Shibuya. We had egg omelets on rice with sauce on top, a meal I've seen a lot around Tokyo. I thought omelets and rice was kind of a strange combination, but it tasted good!
One of Chelsea's favorite music artists was on tour, so we went to his concert here in Tokyo with one of Chelsea's Japanese friends, Shugo. I didn't know much about Miyavi prior to the concert, but it was so much fun! He is an incredible guitarist and singer! Opening for his show was another Japanese artist called Chanmina. We met a guy from New Zealand at the concert who was a big fan of hers and who hung out with us for awhile.
After the concert, Shugo showed Chelsea and I a really cool music bar called "Rockaholic." It was hidden away and had a really fun atmosphere. We met several cool people there, and had fun requesting throwback songs and dancing for the rest of the evening.
*Concert photos credit: Chelsea Van Dyke
Akihabara is the electronic district of Tokyo. We began Day 4 here, wandering through lots of anime and videogaming.
I'm not much of a video-gamer, but I do love Mariokart! Chelsea and I had fun racing on the arcade game - I was princess peach, as always ;)
"Purikura machines" are popular photo booths here in Japan. I was VERY thankful that Chelsea reads Japanese, because otherwise we wouldn't have had any idea how to navigate through all of the instructions. The machine was split up into two sides - one side with a greenscreen background for taking the photos, and another side with a computer touch screen on which we decorated the photos.
We are finding so much "Kawaii" (cuteness) here in Japan! Even the ice cream!
Shinjuku is another ward in Tokyo. It is very busy here - the train station alone was so huge and filled with people that it took us awhile even just to get outside! It was a really fun area to explore, though.
We were so lucky in stumbling across this hidden alleyway. We ate lunch at a tiny Yakitori shop (that could hold no more than ~7 people) where we ate pig liver, heart, intestine, tongue, and womb. My favorite was the intestine, and the heart and tongue were okay, but I wasn't a fan of the womb or liver.
We sat next to two darling little old Japanese men, and attempted conversation with them. One of them even gave me a Japanese fan as a gift when he left!
We topped off the meal with traditional Japanese sake before heading out for more exploring.
Another popular themed restaurant in Tokyo is the Robot Restaurant. Eating here wasn't in our budget (~$80 entrance), but outside of the restaurant was a lot of music and these giant robots.
On top of Hotel Gracery sits a giant godzilla head. Apparently the entire hotel is godzilla themed, and the body of godzilla goes all the way down through the hotel, even passing through guests rooms.
We found yummy fresh pineapple for a dollar on the street!
Chelsea and I had debated about doing some more sight-seeing on our final day in Tokyo, but we had such a fun time with one of her local friends here, Kevin, that we decided to see him one last time instead. He is a student at Asia University, so we went to see him at school.
We ate lunch together in the university cafeteria. To buy lunch, students put their money in a machine and press a button to "order" their food. Then they take a ticket that is printed out over to the kitchen where they are given their plate! I got Udon, a yummy noodle dish. Everyone laughed at my attempts to use chopsticks though haha.... I had to go back and get a fork!
We ended up spending almost the entire day at the university because we met so many new friends there! We met several Japanese students, as well as people from Brazil, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. My new friend from Thailand will be returning to Bangkok at the same time that I will be traveling in Thailand, so we will get to meet up again in a couple months!
Chelsea and I snuck into our friend Kevin's "Culture of South Korea" class. It was a cool experience to see what a Japanese university classroom is like, even though I had no idea what the teacher was saying. I was nervous that I would get called on, but surprisingly not a single student was called on or asked a question for the entire class period. It was just straight lecture for an hour and a half.
In the evening, Chelsea and I attended a party with her coworkers. We rode in a "yakatabune" boat along the Sumida River all evening and ate a delicious meal of Monja and Okonomiyaki.
We sat on traditional tatami mats on the ground to eat, and cooked our own food on the flat iron grill.
We sat with some of the most welcoming and kind people. I liked that halfway through the meal, everyone switched tables, so that we could have the chance to talk to different people.
The views of the city from the water were beautiful!
It was such a fun (and yummy) experience, and I enjoyed getting to talk to more Tokyo locals!
I have had an amazing time exploring Tokyo! Next, I will be exploring Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka with Chelsea. Click here for more from Japan.
-- The best stories are found between the pages of a passport --