Visiting Japan always seemed like a novelty to me. From all the Asian countries, I think Japan has always stood out merely because of their food, culture and technology. Just look at how manga (anime) has permeated global generations or how their ingenious advances in technology has helped shaped the world we know today. All of these factors struck my brother at an early age…and as I mentioned in my earlier post about Planning for Japan, this whole Japan vacation was really intended for him in the first place. He had graduated from the University of the Philippines and my mother and I thought that it would make for a great graduation-slash-21st birthday present. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to come along with us in the end due to the denial of his visa application in the Philippines.
Still my mom and I decided to proceed with the trip that we had already paid for (with a heavy heart of course) and we thought of my brother every step of the way whilst in Tokyo. In fact, all of the places we visited are the places that he had itemized as his must-sees. So in exchange, he gave me a post-it of his wishlist and it became our guiding light to what to see and experience in Tokyo. We were going to buy every thing in this list because we love him and because we feel so guilty of still going without him along.
Our flight from Manila to Haneda Airport was booked through Philippine Airlines. For each of us, the all-inclusive ticket cost us 1,600SR each (travel tax, insurance and 23kg luggage limit included). However, you can always find other bookings through Cebu Pacific, Japan Airlines and even Malaysia Airlines. If you’re on a budget and looking for the best deals on airfares, you can also check out http://www.cleartrip.sa for trips coming from Saudi Arabia. It just so happens that our trip to Japan coincided with our Philippine vacation so it was only logical to fly out from Manila instead of Riyadh.
So my mom and I flew in at the Haneda International Airport at 11 in the evening, Tokyo time. This wasn’t exactly the best time to arrive because the Tokyo Metro station that can easily take us into the city closes at 10 PM and we had to take a taxi that would cost us 10x more than a train trip would. So instead of paying something like 450 Yen for the train, my mom and I spent 6,000 Yen to get to our hotel in Yokohama. Lesson learned: book a flight that would arrive no later than 8 PM so that by the time you get out of customs and baggage check, you’d still be able to catch the train and get to your destination on a much lower price. Also, stalls selling traveller’s WiFi were also closed after 10PM so I wasn’t able to purchase local internet during the course of my visit there as the sim card for it wasn’t accessible in the city center, only at the airport. So bah-humbug!
Our hotel was the Best Western Hotel Yokohama, and like I mentioned in my earlier post, it gave us great value for money for a 6D/7N trip. We got there by 2am and finally, I was able to connect to civilization aka the internet thanks to the free WiFi included in our booking. But just to give you a glimpse of our room, here are some photos of it:
There were two single beds, a TV, a fridge, a quaint yet ultra functional bathroom and a closet. Not too shabby if I may say so. Then on the bed lay a folded kimono-like sleepwear that I assumed was worn when in the room. Surprisingly, when I went out for breakfast the next day, I saw other hotel guests dressed in that same robe. It was like a common, traditional garb for all. Nice!
My mom and I retired for the night knowing that we had a big day ahead tomorrow. My mom’s childhood friend who was working and living in Japan had promised to show us the ropes the next day and we had to ensure that our energy levels were up to par. Special shout out to my Tito Roger! He was a big help to us in learning how to get around Tokyo. Believe me, this Day One of Japan entry will be the most filled one because of the number of places that we visited in just one-freaggin’-day!
But first, breakfast.
The free breakfast inclusive of our hotel stay at the Best Western Yokohama was pretty decent. The buffet started from 6am til 9am and they had a good selection of food from local to international dishes. There was also a nice view of the streets from where I was sitting as I carbo-loaded my way into the sojourn of the day.
And… second of all, the Tokyo Metro.
The most efficient way to get the most out of your travel within Tokyo is by the Tokyo Metro. Since we had my Tito Roger with us and that we also had a set itinerary in mind, we didn’t find it necessary for us to get the all-day pass kind of tickets. We only bought our tickets from each station towards our next destination. Pretty much like how we ride the MRT in Manila.
Most stations have an English counterpart to the destinations. So when you are looking to go to a certain location, you can determine which stop of the metro you need to get off and which “line” you have to be in. The color coding and number labels help a lot in determining how you’d get there and how much it’d cost you.
Based on my current location, if I wanted to go to Shibuya Station, it would cost me around 140 Yen. And I also have to make sure that I am riding the green line trains. This is helpful so as to not get lost. Note: trains and waiting areas in the train station are labeled by color too. If you have any doubt, all stations have a help desk and kind personnel that you can ask. Train station personnel all know basic English.
Not everyone may have a Tito Roger like us who can show us around, but fret not. Tokyo is a very tourist-friendly city and you should feel comfortable knowing that most of the Japanese that I have met and spoken with were kind and helpful.
Now unto the day!
Our goal was to basically get everything that my brother had listed on his wish list. Our first stop was the Akihabara Electric Town where my Tito told us that we would find the anime costume that my brother was looking for. It was a district known for all the electronic gadgets and anime stores that lined up its streets.
As I stepped out of the train station, I was agape with the tall, colorful buildings that were filled with Kanji and anime artworks. It was lively and bustling all around as we arrived at around 10 in the morning. My tito told us that if we were looking out for techy stuff and anime collections, this was the place to be!
The shop for my brother’s anime costume was still closed so we went in at some of the electronic shops that were already open. And my oh my, will they assault your senses with the huge displays of thousands of items!
Your willpower will be tested, especially for the likes of my mom who is a gadget addict. We haven’t been in Akihabara for more than ten minutes and already, I could see her eyes glazing over.
But I was keen to keep us on track and once the anime shop opened, we headed there and found one of my brother’s items on his wishlist: a hoodie/cloak costume for the anime Umaru. Check! Done!
Along the way, I did find one of the famous cheese tart stores in the world, considered to be the best! Most of my friends who go to Japan rave about these cheese tarts so I just had to include them in this post, here is Pablo’s Cheese Tarts-Mini:
Also, one of the things that you will notice in Japan is that you will never go thirsty in the streets. I believe there is a vendo machine every 200 meters that carries any drink you like from juices, green tea, sodas and the very popular yet oddly-named drink called “Pocari Sweat.” Why in the world would someone name a drink with the word “sweat” on it? Who knows? Then again, I remind myself that I am in Japan where absurdity is considered novel.
Since we had a sense of accomplishment by then, my tito decided to take us to Asakusa District. It was were the Sensoji Temple was located and is also a popular tourist destination for the numerous souvenir stalls that could be found there. We thought that buying the souvenirs as early as Day One is a good idea because we still had some money on us. Who knows, we might be crawling our way out of Japan by Day Six? With all these eye-catchy shopping options, it wasn’t a far-flung idea.
Asakusa was even more crowded than Akihabara as it was brimming with tourists set out to shop. It looked like a place where we could get another item off my brother’s list, which was an authentic pair or Japanese chopsticks. We walked through the crowd and went in and out of the stalls as we wished.
There were also a lot of food stalls. You could buy them per piece but everyone is required to eat their purchase at a certain part of the stall where you bought it from. They have an “eating corner” if you will as people are not allowed to walk around while eating. It lessens the probability of causing littering and keeps people disciplined. How behaved are they? A-OK. There are signs in the stores reminding people not to walk around after their purchase and finish their food by the stall.
I’m not sure if these was an actual “Mochi,” which a glutinous rice ball dessert that’s famous in Japan. As I know it, the mochi should have something inside the balls as a filling. These were ball-shaped like the mochi and were also made of glutinous rice but didn’t have any fillings, just toppings, so I’m not sure. What I can say though is that they are heavy on the tummy and one stick (120Y) can fill you up easy.
We got to the end of the shopping street and finally caught a glimpse of the Sensoji Temple right ahead. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo and there are literally hundreds of people inside during our visit. Some were mere tourists like us, while some were real Japanese dressed in traditional attire.
Before entering the temple itself, there is a short walk from the gates towards it. There is a huge incense station wherein believers are supposed to cover themselves with the smoke coming from the burning incense. On its side is also a watering hole and statue, wherein you are supposed to take a cup of its water to cleanse your hands, face and even mouth with.
Once they’ve done the rituals, they are now ready to enter the temple.
After our “temple run,” we proceeded to the main road of Asakusa and was convinced to ride one of the shafu or “rickshaw pullers” of Japan. It is a unique tour of the city using a rickshaw (of course!) but its being pulled by a guy. Most shafus are well-built young men who are actually trained by the government in tourism and are even given paid membership fees to the gym to stay fit. For 3,000 Yen, they will give you a quick yet succinct city tour at the heart of Tokyo. Our shafu’s name was Haiki. He is 24 years old, well-versed in English and candidly told us that the only gasoline he needs is beer.
The rickshaw itself can be intimidating. I was worried at first at how he could carry me and my mom together and run around the city at the same time. It’s hard to make a living, eh? But Haiki was quite the comedian and told us about his young, carefree ways of drinking every weekend with his friends. He helped us up the rickshaw with a small step ladder, told us to wear our seat belts and offered a red cloth to cover our legs throughout the ride. Off we went!
Our first route was through a park/garden that had a great view of one of Tokyo’s iconic buildings, the Tokyo Skytree. It was the tallest structure in the world back in 2011 at 2,080 feet high until the Burj Khalifa of Dubai took first place.
Next, Haiki excitedly brought us to another famous landmark in Tokyo: the Asahi Breweries Headquarters. Asahi Beer is so popular in Tokyo that its head office is a picture-worthy spot. It is located along the Sumida River and the gold building depicts a beer with foam on top. The Asahi Beer Hall is the structure with a golden “object” on top that is supposed to signify a flame.
We then headed back to our starting point but some some interesting looking buildings along the way:
By this time, we were already crazy hungry and it was definitely high time for me to experience authentic Japanese food. We entered one of the restaurants that had a nice window display and waited to be seated.
I already noticed how many of the restaurants we passed by have their doors closed and as it turns out, the Japanese like to minimize noise contain the festivities inside so as to not disturb its neighbors. This is true even in the bars I visited later on during my stay.
As we enter, we wait to be seated until a table becomes available. Before entering the dining area, we are instructed to remove our shoes and keep them in a locker with a key. Once inside, it was finally time to relax a bit after all the sight seeing we’ve done so far. We were sooo ready to order!
Every bite was memorable to me as this was my first authentic Japanese food experience. The sushi was waaaay different compared to what we usually have here. It was a sweet kind of fresh as I bit unto the tuna and the rice they use was top-notch! There was nothing like it. The ramen? Don’t even get me started on the ramen. The broth was rich and light at the same time. The meat toppings melt in your mouth like butter…Oooh la la, remembering it all now just makes me salivate.
To wrap up our mega lunch, we shared this lovely Japanese dessert called Anmitsu. It is a mixture of agar jelly, sticky rice balls, red bean paste, fruits and ice cream. It’s a fun and textural dish that I can only experience in Japan. I loved it! Four thumbs up!
We still had a lot of area to cover for the rest of the day, but I’ll leave the half of my Day One to go with our Day Two. Like I said, Day One was the lengthiest of them all. So as to not drag you through another 50+ more photos, I’ll wrap up this entry on this sweet note and carry on later on to the next part…wherein I visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shibuya Crossing and Harajuku District (still on Day One) and later on Day Two, I visit the shopping district of Takeshi Street, an owl cafe and Kawasaki District.