It’s 6:54 pm on a Wednesday evening. My internal clock is steadily trying to convince me that it’s 6:54 am on Tuesday morning. I’m in Japan.
I have been on planes, trains and buses. From Narita to Tokyo. Tokyo to Kyoto. Kyoto to Osaka and back. My husband and I have shared this, our first international traveling experience with each other and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Despite the language barrier, navigation hiccups (shout out to Google maps), changing plans, and down right exhaustion we made it!
The travelers consisted of my husband and I, my friend Elle, and her boyfriend. Elle was the catalyst for this trip. One of her coworkers is currently living/working in Tokyo for one year, which meant we had a contact on the ground! Our trip was simple: nine days in Japan = seven in Tokyo + one in Kyoto + one in Osaka. Did I say simple? As hectic as it might sound, we wanted to see as much as possible. And we did.
For those of you who consistently compare Tokyo to Manhattan, I understand…but no. Tokyo is a non-stop, multi-layered, fine tuned machine. With every blink of the eye, there was something new to see and sooo much food to try. One of our first stops was Shibuya, which is a prefecture (or district) of Tokyo about 15 minutes from our Chuo Airbnb. Shibuya seemed to be very much a main prefecture with a mix bag of things to see and do, professionals heading to work, and shoppers dipping in and out of stores. Guided by one of Elle’s friend (hey Kiki!), we started at lunch with a perfect view of the Shibuya (Scramble) Crossing (1). My fellow city dwellers know that crossing the street is a talent, an art some might say. Well, Shibuya Crossing is magnificently chaotic. Traffic stops in all directions allowing pedestrians to literally walk every which way to get to their destination. I walked in a complete triangle before the light changed to allow cars through. Once at lunch, I was able to record some of the crossing action.
Shibuya is home to Meiji Shrine (2), our first of many shrines on the trip. This particular Shinto shrine was dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife in 1920.
In true me fashion, the only thing I wanted to do after soaking up so much history and culture was shop! Luckily, we were right across from Harajuku (3), one of the shopping districts I was most excited to see! I’ve been in my fair share of bustling shopping malls/ areas/districts (picture 34th street in December), but Harajuku was on another level.
There were people e v e r y w h e r e, streaming through the narrow walkways (made narrower by the sheer volume of people). It was in Harajuku where I found the perfect Sukajan or souvenir jacket (one of the main items on my “cool things to bring back” list). Sukajans originated towards the end of WWII. American solider stationed in parts of Japan would get Japanese (and Chinese) dragons, cherry blossoms, etc. embroidered on their jackets to commemorate their time there. The trend evolved in the 60’s and reemerged more recently. The perfect souvenir, right?!
My husband and I wanted a little more than just a passport stamp to commemorate our time in Japan, which meant we were getting tattoos! No huge issue there, or so we thought. Japan had and still has a turbulent relationship with tattoos and their owners. This meant tattoos were stigmatized which made searching for a tattoo shop/artist to ink me and my husband difficult (I’ll go into more detail when we get to Osaka).
We decided on and made an appointment with Tattoo Seek in Roppongi (4), another prefecture of Tokyo. Roppongi reminded me of the Bronx. The subway was overhead, it was busy, but not in a Tokyo type of way, and the side streets revealed cool shops and food spots. After Daisuke blessed us with the perfect tattoos, we explored a bit more. We found a hedgehog cafe, they were the cutest (as a self-proclaimed cat lady, I didn’t need to experience a cat cafe). For 30 minutes, we sipped tea and played with these guys:
After the cafe, we stumbled upon some dope art, including a Marvel exhibit at the Mori Art Museum. Hubby was hype about that.
Of course, I had to see if McDonald’s was any different in Japan. It wasn’t.
The most exhilarating thing we did in Tokyo was by far MariCar (5). Fashioned after the Mario Cart video game, MariCar allowed us to drive. In the street. In go-carts. All over Tokyo! I’ve only had my license for a little over a year, so driving internationally was a huge deal. Driving on the left side wasn’t as difficult as I thought, except when it was time to make a right hand turn (inset oops face). We were able to see Tokyo in motion at night. It was beautiful.
Next stop, Kyoto.