Time of Year: November/December 2019
Places I Visited: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Fujiyoshida (Mount Fuji)
Hostel Names & Locations: (Tokyo, Emblem Hotel Nishiarai), (Osaka, Osaka Guesthouse Hive), (Kyoto, Grand-Rem Kyoto), (Nara, Oak Hostel Nara), (Fujiyoshida, Airbnb-Peace&One)
Highlights: Senso-ji, Themed Cafes, Shibuya Crossing, Teamlab Borderless, Bamboo Forest, Fushimiinari Shrine, Mount Fuji
Random Things: JR Rail Pass, Kit Kats, Custom Chopsticks, Fluffy Pancakes, Japanese Candy, 7-Eleven, onsen
Tattoo Shop: Fineline Tokyo
Japan was a very big culture shock. Before visiting this country, I was previously in 10 other Asian countries. Japan was the most exhilarating, world-changing, culture bearing, experience in all of Asia. Every little subway stop is an entirely different experience. Tokyo in itself was a whole different world. I fell in love with this country however, there were a few roadblocks along the way. I first arrived in Tokyo late at night, planning on taking the subway to my hostel, I did not know it closed at midnight. So I decided to ask someone at the help desk at the airport for the cheapest way to my hostel. She proceeded to tell me that I would have to take a bus to the subway and then go from there. I wound up taking this bus and showing up to an empty and dark subway station at 1 am. Completely confused, I decided to just call an uber from there. The uber was over $100 USD, not for me. So then, I waited for a taxi to come to the spot outside the station, it took over an hour for one guy to get there. He spoke ZERO ENGLISH like he did not understand a single thing I said and he couldn’t read my English address for my hostel either. After about 20 minutes of trying to talk to one another, we gave up and I got out. I waited for another taxi to come and one did shortly after. (This is why it is important to know a few phrases in their language or to have a working translation app lol).
My hostel had a grocery store across the street which had almost nothing in English, I wound up eating pineapple for dinner because I knew what they looked like hahaha. Anyways, I quickly learned how much more difficult this was going to be than I had anticipated. The following day, I hung out with a friend I met in the Philippines and he showed me around. He told me the best spots for pictures is to look up the famous location on Instagram as a hashtag and see where people took their photos-that became a travel hack for me! He also taught me how to use the Japanese Subway station and how essential it is to get a subway card. He taught me which foods were amazing in Tokyo and how to read the map and a few phrases. One of the biggest takeaways would be to check out this Japanese Restaurant called “Gyukatshu Motomura”. I will show pictures below. I am so lucky to have hung out with him for a few hours because I learned so much that it would help me through the next few weeks. Later that day, my friend from the US who i traveled with to South America arrived in Tokyo. This was one of the few countries I’d be traveling with someone else. It is really important to travel with the right people. You do not want to be arguing the entire time, have completely different tastes in food, sleeping times, interests, it makes everything a lot harder. Luckily, I have the perfect travel best friend, her name is Christy and we met at University. We spent the next 10 days together traveling around Japan.
We spent the first few days in Tokyo. I am only going to do some brief highlights and not list every single detail…because this blog would be SO LONG. The first place we visited was the Senso-Ji Temple. We walked around, learned some cultural practices, and took some photos. You will see a few water fountains were people are washing their hands and saying prayers. There is also a written fortune there. which I highly recommend. It is called the Omikuji. You drop in 100 Yen and think of a wish while rolling the metal container on the table. Once a stick is drawn out look at the number on the stick, remember it, then place it back. Find the corresponding number in the box and take out the sheet-it is in Japanese and English. If your fortune is good-you can keep it and take it with you. If it is bad, you place it folded up on the line of metal wire next to its table. This is supposed to be so the bad fortune will attach itself to the temple instead of the person. It was a cool experience. We then went to the famous Totti Candy Factory in Harajuku, for the BIG Cotton Candy. Then it was off to the hedgehog cafe, we went to the one called Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe which I highly recommend because some are a bit gross and not well maintained. There are many cafe’s in japan, both themed and not. I will be mentioned a few other cafes we were able to experience. You can choose to go into any of these cafes, pigs, hedgehogs, dogs, cats, etc. and pay for a certain amount of time, some even come with a free drink while you play. Later that night, we decided to get some alcohol form the local grocery store, we tried a bunch of different drinks in a can and all pretty cheap. We hung out on the common room floor of the hostel and met a bunch of people from all over the world who taught us different games and songs. Then we took the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Osaka to visit a friend I met a few years back. If you would like to use the bullet train, you need either a train ticket or the JR Rail Pass. For more information on that, because there’s a lot, please check out my blog post on it here.
We didn’t do too much in Osaka, we met up with an old friend there and she showed us around. I regret we were not able to go to the Cup of Noodle Factory. We did do the Osaka Castle which we rented bikes through the hostel to bike to which was an amazing way of getting around. There are a lot of hippie and thrift shops in Osaka. I highly recommend going to Happy Pancake and getting the famous Fluffy Pancakes-which apparently you can get in the US-but I didn’t know that lol.
We then traveled to Kyoto, which was super cool. You can rent a kimono here for the day and walk around in it. We went to a brewery in Kyoto next to our hostel call Spring Valley Brewery which serves amazing pizza and beer flights. There is also a large shopping and food hall outside the Kyoto Train Station-highly recommend. The highlight of Kyoto is the bamboo forest, although we thought it was going to be a lot bigger you should try to get there early to avoid crowds-especially if you want to get some good photos. THE BEST VIEW-its hidden- walk towards the top of the mountain I believe the east side, there is a mountain view here which is breathtaking. (It is the photo at the top of this page actually). The time of year we visited was when the leaves were changing and it was so colorful and peaceful. One of those pictures you would have to edit hahaha. The other best part of Kyoto was the Fushimi Shrine, GET THERE EARLY. Seriously-the best pictures, but also what we were not told it is a HIKE. We wore a cute outfit with a jean jacket and hat and boy was I sweating. I highly recommend a comfy, cute outfit that you can get up a LOT of stairs in but also take some arty photos with. We planned on being there for about an hour but wound up there for almost 3 hours. You could easily take photos at the entrance and leave but I think walking up all the stairs and enjoying the views and temples along the way is awesome too. It is best to a lot a few hours to properly do this.
We took the bullet train to Nara and spent two days there and visited the deer park. You are able to purchase deer food outside of the park for a small fee, and if you bow at the deer they actually bow back. Some of them can be aggressive so watch out they will bite you and pull on your clothing.
We went to Fujiyoshida which is a town near Mount Fuji. It is a toss up on what you would like to do. You can either go for the day or stay overnight. We decided to rent an Airbnb and stay overnight. This was where I was actually allowed to be in an onsen in Japan. If you have tattoos, you are not allowed in most onsens (hot spring bath) as a cultural norm. They actually had one inside this Airbnb that we were allowed to go in, it is great for your body. We rented bikes and explored Mount Fuji prior to arriving at the house through our Airbnb. We were lucky enough to see it on a clear day, sometimes when you go it may not be visible. The owner then took us to a local grocery store so we could buy food for ourselves as there were no stores around the house.
Then it was back to Tokyo, we did a few more things that we saved for later. The 2D cafe was really cute and the coffee and strawberry ice was amazing. The famous Shibuya Crossing was really cool to see from a distance and also walk in it. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a famous four-way crossing in Shibuya where thousands of people can cross at a time. We then visited the super famous Team Lab Borderless-please please, DO THIS. Its a 3D- virtual and physical art exhibition that is a totally other experience while also getting amazing photos. We bought our tickets online prior to avoid long lines later on.
I got two tattoos in Tokyo once Christy left. I tried to email a few popular ones however they were all booked or were super expensive. I found this little one called Fineline Tokyo- a bit odd location as it’s in the middle of like an apartment complex but this extremely nice lady did an amazing tattoo for super cheap I was so shocked by the price I was scared of the quality but did my research prior and it seemed fine. She did an amazing job and I highly recommend. I linked thier website here.
If there’s anything you need to know about cultural norms in Japan, its the organization. It is mesmerizing. The escalator even if there’s a line is NOTHING like New York City. Everyone stays to the left if you’re standing and to the right, if you’re walking. If you’re on the subway, you are SILENT. There is no taking on the phone and every single person has headphones in. Also, you do not eat or drink while walking and on the train. Yes, Tokyo has legit thousands of vending machines on the roads- so random- but it is meant for you to get a drink, and drink it in that specific location. You rarely see anyone bringing water around with them or eating quickly on the train as seen in many cities. The train gets EXTREMELY PACKED. If you have tattoos, you are not welcomed in most onsens.
As for food, Japan has cafes at almost every corner. You could look at the street and see four in the same location. Fluffy pancakes are amazing to try at most cafes. Sushi is 99% of the time raw. Takoyaki is octopus balls lol. If you go to any 7-Eleven they have the BEST foods there, yeah, IDK why, but they do. They have pizza buns, a hot section where they have hot chocolate and cocoa already warm for you to grab and go, all the Japanese candy you could think of, and so much more. Amazing for a quick lunch or snacks before the train.