A Trip to Tokyo: Part 4

Tuesday was my last day in Tokyo and I really didn’t want to leave! For breakfast, we had rice with dried seaweed, rice crackers, and water. We also had spinach with bonito flakes and soy sauce, and soup. I legitimately love Japanese food. I strongly prefer it to Korean food. It’s very mild in comparison (I don’t like spicy food) and there are a lot more vegetables!

After, we went to the train station to get an express ticket to the airport. Then, Eri’s dad drove us to an art studio to make traditional kiriko glass. We each picked a piece of glass to work with and the artist provided us with an adhesive template of a cherry blossom pattern. We both chose solid blue sake glasses. Then, we placed the template over the glass and cut around it with an X-acto knife. After, the glass was placed in a sand blaster, which removed the color from the glass where there was no adhesive. It was a long process, but we were very happy with our finished products. (Mine is the one on the left.)

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Following our arts and crafts session, we headed to the train station and set out for Tokyo Station. From there, we would catch the express train to Narita Airport. We had some time to kill, though, so we wandered around and got lots of yummy things to eat. Like a tonkastu sandwich and shrimp dumplings. After we took the train to the airport, it was time to check in and make my way to the gate. Eri and I said goodbye and I thanked her profusely for such a marvelous time.

I am quite madly in love with Japan and found it far superior to Korea in many ways. The people are so friendly and helpful. I didn’t feel out of place as a foreigner at all, like I often do in Korea. Eri’s family was so welcoming and hospitable, which really added to my positive experience. I also found there is much more variety in Japan, specifically regarding personal style and fashion. You can see that there are different subcultures and it was comforting to me.

Additionally, while the public transportation system is massive, it is extremely efficient and gets you everywhere you need to go. When you visit temples and other historical sites, it is easy to forget that you are in a city of over 13 million people. In Korea, you always know when you are in a city. It is overcrowded and dirty, there is garbage in the streets, and you see the same chains whether you are in Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. Tokyo is very clean for a city, almost too clean!

The food is absolutely phenomenal. Japanese food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, but having real Japanese food in Japan was pretty next level. It’s hard for me to find food I enjoy in Korea, mostly because everything is so spicy. Also because everything is so expensive.

I’d really love to go back to Japan and see more of this incredible country! My trip was definitely too short, but I loved every second of it.

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A Trip to Tokyo: Part 3

Monday was a long day. Eri and I woke up at 6 AM to get tickets to the Tokyo Skytree because it was supposed to get very crowded. The Skytree is in Sumida and we took the train. Eri had never been before, so we were both so excited!

When we got to the entrance, we were thrilled to find out that there was no line at all! We purchased our tickets and went up to the Tembo Deck, which is 350 meters up. After soaking in the amazing views of the city, we spent a little extra money to go up to the Tembo Galleria (450 meters up). At the Tembo Galleria, they had a Star Wars exhibit on display. I’ve actually never seen any of the movies, but it was really interesting. Then, we got coffee at the cafe, where we also had an incredible view of the city.

Later, we met Eri’s mom at Tsukiji Market, the famous fish market. We walked around and looked at all the stalls and even sampled some seaweed and almonds. For lunch, we got some very fresh raw fish on top of rice with miso soup. I can’t remember what the dish was called, but it was delicious. There was salmon, tuna, yellowtail, crab, shrimp, and roe.

When we were done with lunch, we all headed over to Asakusa to visit Senso-ji Temple. The streets were absolutely filled with people and there were many vendors selling souvenirs. Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and the entrance has a massive paper lantern. You can also see the pagoda, which is very close to the temple. Just as we did at the Meiji Shrine, we walked up the steps to toss in our coins and pray. I also got another fortune scroll.

Later, we headed back to Harajuku to do some souvenir shopping and check out the Kawaii Monster Cafe. The cafe was wonderfully weird and featured waitresses and performers dressed in the decora fashion style. We got milkshakes and multi-colored pasta, which was served on a plate shaped like an artist’s palette. It was pretty good!

We went back to Eri’s house to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to go for okonomiyaki and monjayaki. Okonomiyaki is essentially a pancake filled with your choice of ingredients that you cook on a hot plate at your table (we got one with mixed seafood and one with tuna and cheese). Monjayaki is similar, except you use more liquid while cooking it and it gets very crispy on the hot plate (ours had pork and vegetables).

After dinner, we went back to Eri’s house and had tea, sweets, and watched some TV. Then, it was time for bed.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 2

On Sunday, we got up early. Eri made ozoni for breakfast, which is a soup made with a clear broth, sticky grilled mochi, chicken, carrots, and greens. We also had pork gyoza and shrimp shumai.

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After breakfast, we headed out for Shibuya. We saw the statue of Hachiko, the loyal Akita, and the famous Shibuya crossing. We were able to get a seat upstairs by the window at  Starbucks to watch while people crossed. There were also many record stores (I miss record stores), and I bought myself a Kyary Pomyu Pomyu CD.

We walked through Shibuya on our way to the Meiji Shrine. Before getting there, though, we stopped in a little candy shop to look around. To our surprise, the workers were actually making the candy while we were there! The design they were making was for White Day, which is celebrated on March 14 and men give gifts to women who gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day. It was very interesting and we stayed for a long time to watch.

Then, we made our way to the Meiji Shrine. Walking through the gates was like walking back in time. I almost forgot I was in a city because everything was so green and peaceful. Before entering the shrine, we washed our hands outside. We also through coins into a series of slots and prayed. After, we each got an omikuji, which is a small piece of paper with our fortune on it.

Next stop was Harajuku! Harajuku is a popular area in Tokyo where a lot of young people hang out. Takeshita Street is the main shopping area. Eri and I went to a purikura photo booth (we were definitely the oldest people there) and walked around looking at the shops. There is lots of interesting fashion from decora to goth and everything in between.

Then, we went to the Nezu Museum which houses the private collection of Nezu Kaichiru. Eri had never been before, so it was exciting for both of us. They had a special exhibit called Pine, Bamboo, and Plum: Auspicious Designs in Celebration of the New Year. There was also a beautiful collection of kimonos and other garments as well as a collection of ancient Chinese bronzes. I loved it so much! We also got to explore the sprawling gardens outside.

We were totally starving after walking around all day, so we decided to go for tonkatsu. The restaurant we found was traditional style, so we got to sit in the floor. We each got a giant piece of breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet (it was like butter), shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. It might have been my favorite meal in Tokyo. I’m not sure, though, since everything was so good!

After walking around a little more, we headed back to Eri’s house. For dinner, her parents took us out to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaiten-sushi). The place was massive and everything was self-service (you could make matcha at the table). In addition to the sushi moving around the belt, you could also order anything else you wanted from a touch screen at the table. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. And I love sushi!

Day two in Tokyo was an enormous success.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part One

I arrived in Tokyo at 9:30 AM on Saturday. It was a two hour flight with Japan Airlines, which was fabulous. After clearing customs, I made my way to arrivals to meet my friend Eri. She got there about 15 minutes after I did and it was so good to see her! We got me a Suica card (metro card) and hopped on the train.

Eri lives in Kokubunji, which is about two hours away from Narita Airport. The train ride was very nice. Everything is quite clean and the Japanese do not push and shove like the Koreans do. Also, it is perfectly okay to hold a conversation on the train (in Korea, you will get hushed at and stared down until you stop talking).

After getting to Kokubunji Station, we walked to Eri’s house, which was about 5 minutes away. I was surprised to find out that Japan drives on the left side! Eri’s neighborhood is very residential. There are more houses than apartments and lots of convenience stores and restaurants.

We got to Eri’s house and put my things in the traditional Japanese-style guest room (complete with tatami mats, futon, and beautifully decorated paper walls). I also met her parents, who I would just call Mom and Dad for the rest of my trip. Her father does not speak English, but he was very kind and we communicated through smiling and hand gestures. Her mother takes English classes every week and speaks well. She has an enormous personality and is very funny.

Eri and I had a reservation for the Ghibli Museum at 4 PM, so we had lots of time to kill. We went back to Kokubunki Station to do some shopping. The station has everything you could ever want: clothing, cosmetics, traditional crafts, prepared food, and a market. First, we went to have a small snack: takoyaki. Takoyaki is a baked ball filled with octopus and topped with brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed flakes, and bonito flakes. It was so delicious! We also looked at some traditional Japanese sweets, including dried plum and mochi with red bean filling.

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After, we made our way to Mitaka to visit the Ghibli Museum, which is dedicated to the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The building is so whimsical and fantastically designed with spiral staicases, tiny doors, and brilliant stained glass windows featuring characters from the films. It is not very big, but there is a lot to see. We felt like little kids, walking around and pointing at all the characters we recognized. We even got to watch a film in the auditorium, Bread Man and Egg Princess.

When we got back to Eri’s house, her mother cooked sukiyaki for dinner. It was cooked in a hot pot which was filled with slices of beef, tofu, thin noodles, mushrooms, leeks, rice cakes, and greens. We ate rice and seaweed soup with it. Additionally, everyone got a small bowl which we cracked a raw egg into, and dipped the ingredients from the hot pot. It was delicious!

After dinner, I got to take a bath. In a real bath tub. Japanese bathrooms are very nice. The toilet and shower are in different rooms. The toilet seats are all warm all the time. The bath tub was so deep and I could actually stretch my legs out and relax. It was an excellent end to an amazing first day.

Frustrated

I’m extremely frustrated right now. On the verge of angry, really.

It’s nearly November and I still have not been told when I am getting off for winter break. So, today I decided to ask my boss. As soon as the words came out of my mouth she stopped and stared at me.

“We don’t know yet.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?”

Why do I want to know? Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m trying to make travel arrangements,” I replied calmly.

She brushed me off.

I spent the rest of my time in between classes looking up airfare and accommodations for a variety of different destinations. Prices have already gone up since I started looking several weeks ago.

I refuse to spend one of my two longer breaks in Korea (I only get 6 actual vacation days for the year, split between winter and summer). I have an entire year to explore this country and there are so many other beautiful places to experience nearby. Thailand. Japan. Taiwan. The Philippines. Vietnam.

If I wait any longer, I’m not going to want to pay the price for a plane ticket. No. I refuse to pay the price for a plane ticket.

I’m a planner. Not planning things in advance gives me anxiety. Also, I grew up having a travel agent for a mom.

Rage rage rage. Rant rant rant.

I’m having a chocolate bar and going to sleep.