I woke up from a jet laggy coma to the sound of a loud siren booming throughout the city streets below. I was so convinced we were under attack, I actually reached for my phone to google if anything bad happened. Turns out, this is just a pretty regular occurrence in Tokyo.
I woke up around 4, which was not bad for my first time sleeping with a 10-hour time difference. I put on my walked out of my ryokan with my kimono and slippers and started to make some tea. I only had tea bags for right now but it wouldn’t be long before I picked up some loose leaf tea of my own. I got some food from the nearest Conbini and started to get ready for the day. It was about 7:30 and I would be heading into Shibuya soon to see the legendary shibuya crossing. This street is where up to 3,000 people cross in a single traffic light.
I would also be experiencing another part of Tokyo rush hour that was a little less welcome. In Tokyo, the trains get so packed that conductors actually need to physically cram people into the train. I was sandwiched in between total strangers and it was really a new experience for me. Even as someone who has worked in New York City, this was a whole new level of packed. Some people were so tightly packed they didn’t even hold onto anything, they were just held in place by other people.
I got off at shibuya just in time to see the crossing. In Tokyo, you don’t really need to plan your tour of the city a whole lot, you just follow things that you think are interesting and you are bound to stumble upon something unique. For me, I was tempted to wonder these colorfully lit city streets and eventually came upon two stores that were on my list of things to see. The first was don Quijote, a well priced store for all things Japanese. The second was LABI, a high end electronics store with 6 separate floors!
I know it sounds silly to visit an electronics store when you are in another country, but in Japan this is a destination in and of itself. They have so many high tech inventions you’ve never seen before. One of my favorites was a mini cabinet that dry cleans your suits for you! The also had an espresso machine the size of a water bottle. After almost an hour here, I decided it was time to call it a day and head to my next destination.
I ventured through Yoyogi park and marveled at the beautiful fall foliage. It seems that I came to Japan at the perfect time, just as all of the trees were starting to change. I walked through the Japanese gardens, trying to avoid the massive crows that called this park home. Eventually I came to the gate for the famous Meiji Shrine. I first passed the beautiful white paper lanterns at the gate and then entered through the massive wooden gates. It was hard to capture the beauty of this place in a picture. The old growth forest around us was so tall and thick that you would never guess we were in the middle of the largest city in the world. As big as Tokyo is, it still has beautiful areas like this that remind you of the raw natural beauty of Japan
At the shrine, there just happened to be a wedding photo shoot happening! It was a Shinto wedding so the bride wears a veil slightly different than the western style. It almost looks like something out of Star Wars or something!
After the shrine, I headed to Shinjuku. I tried to go as quickly as I could to Shinjuku Gyoen, another famous Tokyo park. On the way over, I was looking for a restroom. I stumbled upon what I thought was a food court and thought “that place must have a bathroom”. As soon as I walked in I started attracting stares from a large group of people that were all about the same age, just a year or two younger than me. I quickly realized “I’m in a university!” I got out as quickly as possible. I felt a bit embarrassed but things like this are bound to happen from time to time in a foreign country.
I finally made it to Shinjuku Gyoen and instantly realized that it was the perfect place to visit. They had Japanese gardens, beautiful trees and flowers all around and one of the nicest greenhouses I had ever seen! The greenhouse was built to feel like a safari so instead of seeing everything at once, you walk through a series of paths and caves to see different species of rare plants.
It started to rain pretty heavily and I didn’t have a rain coat or umbrella so I decided it was best to just head home for now. I would be meeting a business partner for dinner that night so I needed to go back and recharge anyways. From my hotel i poured myself a few cups of green tea and watched some Japanese TV. I know it sounds kind of lame to watch TV when you are visiting another country, but I find it is an essential experience in Japan. All the commercials are so incredibly stimulating they really look unusual to a foreign spectator.
I met up with my friend in Roppongi and we went to an awesome vegan place in the city. I got a avocado burger and a vegan yakutori that was quite amazing. Being a vegan in Japan, this was actually the first restaurant I felt comfortable enough to eat at. It was a nice break from Onigiri and salads.
Next, we went to a traditional Japanese bar to enjoy a round of sake. This place was like those Japanese restaurants you see in movies where you take your shoes off and sit on tatami mats. We got our own both, which would’ve been pretty quite if it wasn’t for the group of people next to us. They were so excited it was Friday night, they couldn’t help but get out of hand. I was really happy for them and couldn’t help but smile about this whole experience. I went to use the restroom and saw a pair of sandals sitting on the floor. I was about to call to the man before me and let him know that he forgot his slippers but I quickly realized these were the bathroom pair. They just stay in the bathroom so people can use them. This was a weird concept to me at the time but now I get it and I see it more and more.
I took the train home and reflected on a wonderful day in Tokyo. I couldn’t wait for another day full of adventures!