When you last heard from me, your favorite weary traveler had finally arrived at the Narita Airport Hostel, after being rescued from a deserted airport by the hostel owner, Yama-san. Upon our arrival at the hostel, we went straight upstairs, where we found two Japanese futons waiting for us. Maybe it was because of my extreme fatigue, but I have never slept on a more comfortable bed in my life, and any concerns I had over spending the next four years sleeping on one instantly dissipated. The next morning, we caught an early train into Tokyo, and that is where we will pick up our tale.
Our first few days went by in a flurry of shrines, subway rides, and frequent food stops. The jet lag wasn’t nearly as bad as I had worried it might be, but I still woke up at about 4:30 every morning for the first five days, regardless of how early we went to bed, which most of the time was quite early. Even at home, we both go to bed at around 9:30-10:00, and combining that with our jet lag meant that we could usually be found in our bunk beds by 7:30. I know, we were really living life to the fullest.
Because I was waking up so early, we also ended up leaving the hostel ridiculously early our first few days. Now normally, I am all for lying in bed for an inappropriate amount of time, to the point where one might wonder if I am ill (although unless acute laziness is an illness then I am still ok). However, I was waking up so excited to explore Tokyo each morning that I was practically sprinting for the door the second my eyes opened.
The very first morning, we were both equally excited and set out on a 4 AM stroll through the area around the Narita Airport Hostel, which was still exciting despite the only notable occurrence being an old lady giving us weird looks, although that was quite understandable given that we were two foreigners walking down the street at sunrise in our pajamas. However, that one stroll did not satiate my exploratory fever because the next morning I found myself again staring at the bottom of Emma’s bunk long before the sun rose, with a burning desire to run to the subway station and start sightseeing. Emma was having no such problem and probably would have been more than happy to sleep in longer (or at least until the sun was up) but she humored me and we found ourselves sitting on the nearly empty subway at 6:30 that first morning in Tokyo proper.
Now I am sure this all sounds fine and dandy, but the problem, which we quickly realized upon our arrival in Akihabara, was that although we were wide awake and ready to start our day that early, the rest of the city was not. This meant that after aimlessly wandering the streets for about an hour and learning that nothing would be open for at least a few more hours, we found ourselves camped out under a bridge waiting for an internet cafe to open.
Suffice to say, we learned our lesson, and I put Emma in charge of deciding when we should leave each morning, since I did think I could restrain myself from again leaving far to early. On her more rational schedule, we would generally leave the hostel by about 9 each morning (after I had spent a good 4 hours staring at the ceiling counting the seconds as they went by), and then head out for most of the day to see sights and eat a truly impressive amount of food, before retiring to the hostel at around 4 PM once the heat and humidity had finally forced us to surrender.
The weather was something I had not accounted for in my master schedule. Even though everyone and their cousin had told me that Japanese summers were truly unbearable, I thought “Hey, summer in both Connecticut and Missouri are pretty horrendous as well, so I’m sure we will be fine.” How wrong I was. At first, it wasn’t too bad, but the problem is that it never goes away. In the morning, you think that that day might not be so bad, but as the day goes on and as you are walking around, the air starts to feel more and more like soup, and you feel constantly sticky. Even inside, the air still feels dense, and as soon as you start to feel like you have recovered, it’s time to go back outside again. It’s a vicious cycle.
Despite the heat, however, we did manage to see just enough of Tokyo to realize that we would need to be here for years in order to see it all. In those three days, we hit most of the major places; Senso-Ji, Meiji Jingu, Harajuku and Takeshita-Dori, Akihabara, the Imperial Palace, and Yoyogi Park. And granted, we still had another two days in Tokyo at the end of our trip, but it seemed like for every tourist-y thing we accomplished, we learned of 5 more things we wanted to do. Even the things we had planned to do ended up getting left out, like the Skytree and Tokyo Tower. The heat was no help, because by 3 PM each day we could no longer bear to walk around, and would stumble sweaty and tired back to our hostel where we could recover before dinner.
Eating was by far our favorite part of the trip, and Emma decided early on that this was probably the only thing she wished she could take home with her. We ate ramen, sushi, yakiniku, as well as trying Japan’s take on western food at cafes all over Tokyo. (Spoiler Alert: they even do American food better than us.) We woke up each morning to a traditional Japanese breakfast curtesy of the Matsuya by our hostel, which was what appeared to be a fast food place, but tasted really good and not at all like fast food from home. It also got extra brownie points because you got to order at a machine, which A) was super cool, and B) meant that I did not need to try and speak Japanese half asleep. Emma also discovered the wonderful world of onigiri, and probably ate her weight in tuna mayo onigiri by the time she went home.
The hostel we stayed at, the Space Hostel Tokyo, was absolutely amazing. The common space was really unique, with both normal couches and pillows on the tatami mat floor, which were perfect for collapsing onto in a heatstroke-induced stupor after a day out on the town. There was also a rooftop garden with more seating and some vending machines, so once the sun went down and the temperature went from stifling to merely uncomfortable, you could sit and watch the city lights. (Ok, I am probably making the heat sound way worse than it actually was, but in the moment it really was intense.)
All in all, I would say that we had a very successful first few days in Tokyo. Despite how our first day in the airport made us look, we were able to get around fairly easily, and I have already seen an improvement in my Japanese. The only problem I have had is that literally everything is also written in English, so before I have the chance to muddle my way through the kanji, I have already read the English. It’s frustrating, but at the same time we would definitely have gotten lost more frequently without it, so I can’t really complain.
PSA: I will probably make another post about some specific highlights from each city, but this is just a general overview of our time in Tokyo. Feel free to comment or message me any questions, and don’t forget to click Follow to get email updates whenever I post something new!