This past February, I went vacationing in Tokyo, Japan for two weeks. Of course, getting back into the swing of things after arriving home meant putting off this blog post for longer than I probably should have. So, hopefully I have managed to hold on to all of the details, because it was all worth writing about.
My trip began with a 14-hour flight, which just so happened to be the first time I ever traveled by plane. (Friends were baffled that I would begin my traveling experiences with such a long journey. But, you know… it wasn’t that bad. And going to Japan? Totally worth it.)
I had imagined spending my time in the window seat that I had reserved, reading and writing in the blank journal I had brought along for the trip. But as fate would have it, our first flight was cancelled due to bad weather and we had to be re-routed to Dallas Texas in which I would be seated in the center row, nodding off after an hour and sleeping for much of the journey. The food was terrible, as you might expect, and left me feeling bloated and gassy on top of the stiff joints, and aching back that came with sitting upright for 14 hours.
Of course, all of the flight's discomforts were promptly forgotten upon arrival at the Narita Airport. Because, oh yeah... now we're in Japan. We met up with the rest of our group shortly after landing, but not before I decided to make a quick detour to the bathroom… where I first experienced a traditional Japanese toilet. Just imagine for a moment an American girl bundled up with a coat and scarf, toting around a rolling suitcase trying to not only fit herself into the pint-sized stalls but actually using one of those bad boys. I know that traveling to a foreign country is all about experiencing the differences in culture and lifestyle… but I am not ashamed or sorry about turning around and walking out. So, obviously, when I say I first "experienced" a Japanese toilet, I mean I experienced looking at a Japanese toilet. Luckily, western-style commodes were commonly found throughout the city (and a lot of them even had the luxury of heated seats!)
Once out of the airport, we were immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle of every-day Tokyo. Masses of people flowed in every direction, all with quick strides and clear destinations. If you didn’t know where you were, you needed to find a corner or else you were holding up traffic.
We arrived at the hotel, exhausted from travel but so happy to have finally arrived. As you can probably guess, the room was TINY. These pictures barely do it justice!
One of the first things you might notice about Tokyo (aside from the crowds) is just how CUTE everything is. And I mean, EVERYTHING. People are well-dressed, shops are brightly colored, there are arcades and capsule machines on just about every corner. The green walk lights make adorable bird sounds, the train stations play fun tunes so you know to board, girls in maid uniforms hand out flyers on street corners. Anime characters are plastered all over billboards and across the sides of buildings. Even street performers trump ones you would find on American streets by a long shot!
The best word I have to describe my first impressions of Tokyo is simply "surreal."
Next stop: Namja Town - the most confusing place you'll ever spend $5 on.
Like any big city, the railway system is one of the best ways to get around. As semi-clueless tourists, this was the only way we were able to explore. But lemme tell 'ya... have you seen this video? Because that's no joke.
It was difficult to explore and NOT feel compelled to do gratuitous amounts of shopping. Stores were all so colorful, bright and inviting. Then would often feature some truly bizarre stuff, including clothing items with nonsensical English phrases... seriously, it was everywhere.
Of course, you can't go to Japan without visiting the Shrines... and taking cheesy tourist photos.
Can I just take a moment to share with you my undying love of Japanese vending machines? These things have everything, including hot coffee, tea... and hot lemonade. Yes, you read that right. Can we have these in America please?
Other silly things you can find in the city: Themed cafes. We made sure to put a Cat Cafe high on our list of priorities, as well as one of the numerous Maid Cafes being advertised on every street corner in Akihabara. No regrets were had except that I was not allowed to take photos in the Maid Cafes.
I guess I was just constantly blown away by how delicious the food was that I didn't think to take many pictures of my meals. But the food is probably top on my list of things that I miss. Especially the breads and the pastries. Ohh Lawd.
Oh, and we just happened to accidentally be there in time for the Tokyo Marathon. How crazy is that?
We took a break from the city for a couple of days and headed to Nagano, a beautiful mountainous town blanketed in snow. There, we bedded down and relaxed in one of their many Onsen Hotels where we could enjoy a nice hot spring bath whenever we wanted. Not to mention, the spectacular TWELVE COURSE dinner we were served shortly after we arrived. Nagano was, hands-down, my favorite part of the entire trip.
Part of Nagano's appeal was the Snow Monkey Park... where we got to hang out with (a lot of) monkeys. This park was no joke - I expected to maybe see a monkey or two if we looked closely enough, but these guys were everywhere and seemed to care very little about all of the people wandering around them.
These were all taken while visiting the Tokyo Sky Tree and the Sumida Aquarium. (Click the link for a cool video that I didn't make.)
All in all, it was an incredible trip and I would go again in a heart-beat! There are just not enough words to express how amazing this experience was and it's a trip that won't break the bank either!