Japan, Part 2.1 (In Which We Went Back)

So recently I wrote about the trip we took to Japan last year. I don’t mean to brag, but now I’m going to tell you about our second trip to Japan. Like, in the same year we went. Guys, I think I’m getting the hang of this blogging business! Pretty soon I’ll be posting about things the same month they happen! But not yet. Baby steps.

As I mentioned in my last post, my sister came for a visit which coincided with my summer vacation. We decided to go to Japan a) because after the first trip I knew I wanted to spend more time there, b) because the whole time I was there I kept thinking, “Gee, I super wish my sister was here,” and c) because baby gets what baby wants. We decided to act like grown ups and used Air BnB instead of looking for hostels. It was our first time and it was a (mostly) pleasant experience. Except when goods are not as advertised, and you still end up in a hostel. That has no central air conditioning. So the minute you leave your room to, say, go to the bathroom or shower, you sweat your ass off. Because Japan is hotter than Satan’s sauna in the summer. Consider yourself warned.

We spent the first few days of our trip in Tokyo. Our Air BnB/hostel was in a new and (from what I’ve read) up and coming area of Tokyo called Shimokitazawa. It was a cute area, with lots of funky little shops we enjoyed exploring. Some places we explored twice because it’s a bit of a labyrinth and none of us are super great with direction or reading Japanese. We spent most of our time in Tokyo revisiting places from our first trip that I really wanted my sister to see, or sometimes just doing it properly (I’m looking at you, Meiji Jingu). We went back to Sensoji, which is still one of the coolest experiences for me. I bought ALL THE KOKESHI DOLLS. And even got my sister started on them. (I’ve always been a bad influence). Then we wandered around the Asakusa area, which seemed to have lost some of it’s luster since the first trip. Probably because we didn’t have that fresh-off-the-plane wonder in our eyes anymore. One evening we made our way to Tokyo Sky Tree, which didn’t seem that cool to me before we got there. But then we got there and it was SO COOL. I highly recommend going at night. It wasn’t super crowded, and the glowing purple of the tower looks stunning against the night sky. It’s all about the photo ops, guys (pics or it didn’t happen!). The elevators to the first observation deck are seasonally themed, and I super appreciate their lack of windows. I’m not one for being high up. The ones that go to the second observation deck, however, were trying to give me a heart attack. So I kept my eyes on the ceiling. Which also had a window. But it had a bright blue light lighting up the interior of the elevator shaft and that was pretty rad.

We also went back to Meiji Jingu and actually made it to the temple this time. It was kind of embarrassing how close we were last time, without actually making it. But totally worth it to see the kid with the backpack that looked like a decapitated lion. Then we made our way to the nearby Harajuku, which I had been dying to show my sister. She seemed…underwhelmed. She can be a hard sell. But we did discover that if you go to the end and cross the street, there’s a whole other street of shops to see. It seemed a bit higher end than Takashita dori. We discovered a quirky sticker shop call B-Side Label that has hundreds of originally designed stickers and other merchandise. I highly recommend popping in if you’re in the area. I got an awesome tote with a bunch of cute robots on it and it says, ” Biginning of the End.” I liked it until I saw the typo. Then I loved it.

We ate lots and lots of ramen and sushi which, despite the monotony, delighted my taste buds. We even went back to our favorite sushi joint at La La Terrace and made an even bigger mountain of plates! We popped by the Daiso in the same shopping center because Japanese Daiso > Korean Daiso. We intended to cram a bit more into our time in Tokyo than we actually did, but our plans were thwarted by the heat (and a little bit by laziness). And then we were off to Kyoto!

Check out more photos from our trip here.

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Japan, Part One (Also Known as It’s a Good Thing We Went Back)

During summer, my sister came to for a visit that happened to overlap with my summer vacation. So we decided to hop on over to Japan for a week. We visited Tokyo and Kyoto and got fat on sushi. It was a wonderful trip. A trip which I will tell you about another day. Today I am going to tell you the tale of another trip to Japan, one that The Brit and I took last year. We’ll pretend that it’s because the Chuseok holiday is happening in Korea right now, which makes this the one year anniversary of our trip, and not because I was too lazy to write about it last year. I told you guys I was going to go full Tarantino…

Our first trip to Japan was a bit of a whirlwind, as we took it over a long weekend. We barely made our flight. We were running so late that we had to skip to the front of the line at security, and we were still the last two people to get on the plane. Which, as it turns out, is kind of embarrassing. I was beyond hangry, and didn’t think they would feed us on the relatively short flight, so I legit started crying once I sat down. Which was made all the more awkward by the fact that I had strangers on either side of me. When you’re the last two people to check in, you get the last two seats. And they might not be next to each other… Fortunately, despite the flight only being an hour and 20 minutes, they still fed us. Because no one wants to see me go DEFCON 5 hangry.

Here’s a protip for travelling to or from Japan: Make sure you are due to arrive/depart while the subway is still running. Because taxis are stupid expensive. We arrived in the middle of the night, and nothing was running. So we had the choice of waiting it out until morning or paying $100 for a 30 minute taxi ride. Though it pained us, we opted for the taxi. We were tired, y’all! We arrived at the Kangaroo Hotel in the Asakusa area quite late and it was very quiet, aside from Jiminy Cricket going crazy in the common area ALL. NIGHT. Apparently they are for good luck, but it’s bad luck when they’re right outside your door. The Brit gets cranky if he doesn’t get his beauty sleep, guys! Overall the hostel had a nice atmosphere; very modern. Although the bathrooms were on the second floor and you had to walk up the staircase of doom to access them. Though tiny, the rooms were in nice condition and the staff was very friendly and helpful (and English speaking!). Japan is low on space, so tiny is how it’s done. We were just happy we weren’t in one of those claustrophobia inducing capsule hotels, despite being the first time I’d slept in a bunk bed since elementary school. My favorite thing about the hostel was the hand drawn map of the Asakusa area on the wall. The biggest downfall was that it was a bit of a walk to the subway station, and the taxi fare for the five minute ride was $7. Overall, I’d still recommend staying there.

One the first day, we kept to the greater Asakusa area. We started out at Sensoji Temple, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The promenade leading up to the temple is lined with souvenir stalls selling ALL THE THINGS. And you guys, I needed ALL THE THINGS. But I only had enough room/space in my suitcase for SOME OF THE THINGS. Good thing I made another trip. I fell in love with kokeshi dolls – small wooden dolls painted in kimonos. On the first trip I bought two. I now own eight. Or nine. I’ve lost count. Once you make your way to the temple itself, you will see a small building on the right which has fortunes. I think you pay 100 yen, then you pick up a silver canister with chopsticks inside. You pull a chopstick and find the drawer with the matching character on it. The fortunes are inside the drawers. I drew a fortune titles “The Worst Fortune.” Naturally, The Brit got the best one. I’m not sure what this says about our future. They have racks where you tie on fortunes you don’t want to keep, so you can leave the bad ones behind you. Which is obviously what I did. And The Brit got a cool souvenir. Jerk. For dinner that evening, we went to one of the best sushi joints I’ve ever been to. I don’t know the name, but it’s on the second story of the La La Terrace near the Minami Senju train station. It’s kaiten sushi, which means it goes around on a conveyor belt. It is super cheap and beyond delicious, but there’s always a bit of a wait. For two people we spent less than $30, and that includes beer and our very full bellies.

The rest of the trip was a bit of a blur. We went to Akihabara, which is famous for comics and porn. There was a girl on the street in a sexy maid costume trying to lure people up to a cafe where all of the girls working there were in similar outfits. We wandered into a sex shop because Japan. Between how overwhelming the sex shop was, and how overwhelming the comic stores were, we didn’t end up staying long. We headed over to Shinjuku, where there is a wonderful craft store called Yuzawaya that I bought lots of fun fabric at. We also ventured to the fabric town at Nishi Niporri, but unfortunately many of the shops were closed. I still managed to find some good pieces at the few shops we popped into. We briefly visited Shibuya so we could see the world’s busiest intersection first hand. One evening we found ourselves in the Golden Gai – a couple of tiny alleys with very tiny bars. We were in one that only sat 6 people. But they were reppin Cali – Go Giants! Some bars have memberships (I think to keep foreigners out). But all are quirky and some are very foreigner friendly. Our favorite bar looked like a muppet on the inside. It had red, velvety walls and even eyes at one point.

We spent one day in the Harajuku area. We started off at Meiji Jingu – a temple perpendicular to Takashita Street. We wandered through the giant arches down the path which leads to a garden (which we mistook for the actual temple) and giant displays of sake and wine barrels. SO much alcohol. Just sitting there. With nobody drinking it. At least they were pretty to look at. Unfortunately we didn’t realize we’d missed the actual temple until we got back to Korea. Again, good thing we made another trip! After we finished up at Meiju Jingu, we headed over to Harajuku. We didn’t see too many Harajuku girls, but a few is still enough. It is an interesting place, y’all! I got a wonderful glittery case for my ipod, and The Brit and I got both of our sisters socks that say bitch all over them. We’re thoughtful that way. There were lots of clothing stores with all manner of interesting get ups. One wonderful store was filled with memorabilia from my childhood. And I discovered a clothing store called MONKI whose clothing interested me very little, but had adorable doll/pillows that kind of remind me of Ugly Dolls. I bought two. My mom mistakenly gave mine to my aunt who grew rather attached to it. Motto of this post – it’s a good thing we made another trip!

The one thing we did that we didn’t particularly enjoy was going to a building that was billed as being a great, cheap alternative to Tokyo Sky Tree in terms of seeing the skyline. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was really crowded and we didn’t get very good photos. We ended up going to Tokyo Sky Tree on our second trip and really enjoyed it. So…it’s a good thing we went back!

If you want to see pictures from our trip, go here. I’ll try to get round two up in a timely fashion. Try being the operative word…

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