In less than a week I will be embarking on my greatest journey yet! Stay tuned for more details…
One of my favorite things about Tokyo, and pretty much anywhere else in the world besides the US, is their public transportation. It’s not like here in the states, in other countries public transportation is actually EFFICIENT! Both in Europe and Japan, I never once needed a car, and the metro can get you to literally anywhere you want to go. So in order to go to Yoyogi Park and Harujuku we of course took the train, and got off at one of the busiest hubs in Tokyo, Shibuya Station, home of the famous Shibuya crossing. Now what is so special about Shibuya Crossing you wonder? Glad you asked!
Basically, just picture someone dropping a bag of marbles and them spilling all over the floor. That’s pretty much what its like. For two minutes with the ease of a jigsaw puzzle they all neatly fall into an orderly mob, and then at the drop of a hat the flood gates open and they scatter in every which way across the intersection. And this happens every couple minutes, at all hours of the day or night. And despite the madness, I never saw anyone so much as stumble, despite most of them doing this while texting or on the phone.
Sigh… even their sidewalks are more efficient than the US…
When I think of the term “Rockabilly” the Japanese rarely come to mind, but then again when does anyone ever think about the term Rockabilly in the first place. Regardless, upon entering Yoyogi park, that was the first thing we saw. Gangs of 50′s greasers with slicked back hair and full Denim Dan outfits, battled against the Doo-Wop poodle skirtin Conrad Birdie’s for control of the park plaza. For a country that is a million years ahead of us in toilet technology (self warming seats and “butthole washers” as they call them), it was pretty strange to see them idolizing our culture from 50 years ago.
After navigating through our Back to the Future cameo, we continued onward into the depths of park in search of Cosplay. In Tokyo, Yoyogi parks is THE place to be on a Sunday afternoon, you’re either there, or you’re square, but more importantly, this is where we heard you can find all the young people dressed in costume. So of course we had to check it out.
We managed to find a few groups within the park dressed up, but they all appeared to be practicing their dance or fighting moves in preparation for the “Big Match,” which still isn’t very clear to me, but appeared to be some kind of combination of the movie “Role Models” and “Highschool Musical.” Not content with our Cosplay experience we headed on to the Harujuku district to find the real fashionistas, and we weren’t disappointed.
Harujuku itself is a wondrous place. Mobs of trendy teenie boppers line the streets rushing in and out of the rows of overcrowded shops to get in on the latest chic craze, the sidewalks littered with funky trinkets and young people showing off the latest fashions.
Bucket List #17: Complete.
Bucket List #32: Complete.
And now that I know how to dress like the Japanese, it’s time to learn how to act like one too…
The night we arrived is still to this moment a blur; it was so surreal being in this strange land that it didn’t even feel real. Stumbling into the Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki hostel in the middle of the night weary and hungry, we immediately made a friend with one of the locals, a real cool chick named Hanae. The first person we’d met since we arrived that spoke English, she welcomed us into the hostel and took us to a nearby joint to get some food. This would be our first of many experiences of what we called the “vending machine restaurants.”
The restaurant of the future, in these places you go up to a vending machine and browse through the different menu items (at least this is what I immagine you would do if I could actually read Japanese), pick what you want and then it prints out a little ticket that you bring to the staff, they disappear for a few moments then scurry back and promptly place your items in front of you. We also discovered that in Japan, every meal is either rice, noodles or seafood, including breakfast, so we had vending machine restaurant for breakfast the next morning as well. Turns out this Sunday there were horse races going on, which meant lots of old dudes getting shithoused in the restaurants, including this guy we met to whom when asked if he was also drunk replied, “probably.”
After our Japanese Sunday Funday experience we decided to stock up on supplies, and wandered the streets of Asakusa before finally coming across a Japanese Dollar Store. Every bit as awesome as our American version, this one was almost cooler as they ironically blasted extremely dirty American hip hop and rap on the loud speakers, which clearly no understood but us. I forgot to pack a towel so I searched for one and bought the closest thing I could find which happened to be a large furry toilet seat cover, a couple shot glasses for later, and a loaf of bread. If we didn’t scream Gaijin before, we definitely did now. Locked and loaded, we hopped on the train and made our way to Yoyogi park.
The epic lore of this would-be Samurai begins like the adventures of many brave heroes, with tales of bravery and courage. Liquid courage that is…
Unfortunately this wasn’t the courage that I began my journey with, but for some lucky airport baller, it will be. To think that someone would spend this much as an impulse buy on their way out of the gift shop at an airport seems ridiculous to me, but go figure San Francisco. I however chose to take advantage of the unlimited complimentary drinks on board, which always more than makes up for flying 10+ hours in economy seating. To make it even sweeter, the entire round-trip flight was also free! (due to months of planning and credit card churning I was able to buy the flight completely free with miles, but more on that in the “Travel Hacks” section of this blog).
My first sign that this was all really happening, that I indeed was going to be the lone minority in an Asian country halfway across the world, was the moment I stepped on the plane. A toxic wave of fishy scents bombarded my senses, and whispers in foreign tongues echoed through the aisle ways. I searched for another white English speaker to sit next to, but to no avail. Even all the on-board magazines were all in Japanese, and read from back to front.
Luckily for me though I wasn’t on this adventure alone; I had another budding Samurai with me, and the sweet old lady I was sitting next to let us swap seats so we could be together. And now that we were sitting together, it only seemed appropriate that we start our Japanese journey off with a set of Sake bombs. Yes, you heard that right, we Sake Bombed on the airplane tray tables.
We then thought it would be fun- and totally not possible as they would cut us off long before- to drink one of everything on the entire alcohol list. Saving the worst for last, a shot of gin, we successfully completed our mission with 30 mins left on flight. Bucket list #36: Complete.
When we finally arrived at 10 p.m. the next day, we drudged through customs and grabbed our bags, hopped on the train, and headed into the heart of Tokyo…
To help prepare myself for my Japanese adventure, I put together a guide of things I felt I needed to do while I visit to truly become a Tokyo local. If there is anything else you’d like to see me awkwardly stumble through, add it to the list!
1. Fight a Samurai.
2. Visit a Neko Cafe (Cat Cafe)
3. Be on a Japanese Game show.
4. Wrestle a Sumo Wrestler.
5. Eat Sushi.
6. Go Sake Bombing.
7. Take a free Tandem bike ride through around the Imperial Palace.
8. Use Chopsticks.
9. See a Geisha show.
10. Go to a Japanese Bath House or springs.
11. Meet an asian school girl.
12. Go to lunch with a bunch of asian business men.
13. Walk around wearing a SARS mask.
14. Play basketball (and finally being the tallest one on the court)
15. Go to a Karaoke bar and Karaoke.
16. Play ping pong with some asians.
17. Go to the Harujuku district.
18. Ride the Tokyo subway during rush hour.
19. Stay at a Capsule hostel.
20. Go to the free Sumo Wrestling Museum.
21. Ride in a crowded Elevator and be the tallest person there.
22. Walk across the famous Shibuya Crossing.
23. Go to a busy fish market and barter for the smelliest fish.
24. Read some Manga (Anime) at a comic book store.
25. Visit the Meguro Museum of Parasitology in Naka-Meguro. (Where else in the world can you see ticks the size of a pillow or a 50 foot-long tape worm?)
26. Visit a Tokyo beach.
27. Visit the old Red Light Disctrict.
28. Get a foot massage from a bunch of parasitic fish at the mall.
29. Eat at a themed restaurant.
30. Eat Ramen.
31. Play Panchiko (asian gambling).
32. Find a girl dressed as Sailor Moon.
33. Eat something while it is still alive.
34. Buy used panties from a vending machine.
35. Go drifting.
36. Drink one of everything on the Japanese Airline beverage list
For those of you that still haven’t heard all my European exploits from this summer, never fear, I will continue writing the series. But for now, I don the helmet of the Samurai and take off for the Land of the Rising Sun, and begin my next series, “A Guide to the Modern Samurai”
As exhilerating as it was hopping on a plane with no plan or agenda, letting destiny dictate my next adventure, I began realizing that once I landed I really had no idea where the hostel was that I was going to meet up with my buddies was at. I should have previously mentioned, that though I was traveling alone, the first leg of my journey I had planned with some friends, well sort-of. A couple of my “bros”- fellow K Sigs- were doing Europe for a few weeks and I was going to try to join them for part of the trip, though they had pre-booked everything and I was still just figuring it out as I went along. They had arrived in London a few days prior and I was just going to meet them at their hostel when I got in, but turns out their hostel is a lot less well known then I figured, and reading a map in a foreign town is no easy task. But luckily for me, destiny had a plan.
As my flight was getting close to landing, I started chatting with my neighbors. Turns out the guy sitting next to me actually lived in that neighborhood, just a few blocks away, and offered to take me there on his way home. Which was a lucky break for me, as I had no idea how to get through customs, navigate through Heathrow and find the Underground, or even how to use it once I got on, all little details that I had overlooked in my planning. Long story short, he guided me right to the hostel, and it was early enough that he even gave me a walking tour of the city. We got to walk the London Bridge (the authentic one and the tourist one), see the shakespeare place, the pub from the beginning of the first Mission Impossible movie, and meet a Beefeater (the dudes from the gin bottle). Afterwards we parted ways, I found a hostel nearby my buddies, settled in, and got ready for my first night partying abroad.
“C-4, C-4, C-4…” As I stumbled through the narrow aisles of the plane, tripping over people’s luggage looking for my seat, I realized how long it had been since I had actually flown. First off, the last time I had flown there was no “let’s see what you would look like naked” full body scanner at check-in, which personally didn’t really bother me much, but it definitely was an odd experience. It was what I would imagine getting a spray tan in one of those stand up booths would be like- you’re placed on specific foot marks in a cylindrical chamber, told to wait 30 seconds as it scans your perimeter, and then are booted along. But the real kick in the teeth for me was finally finding my seat.
I had just bought whatever the cheapest airfare was I could find, so I was expecting a very long, boring uncomfortable flight. Wrong. Maybe it was because this was an international flight, or maybe it’s just been too long since my last airline experience, but I was shocked. I had a nice cushy leather (or at least imitation) seat, spacious foot room, and my own personal in-seat television. How awesome is that! I had access to dozens of recent movies, television shows, video games, streaming music, and most importantly, I got to choose and control what I watched! No more getting stuck agonizing through Sister Act 2 or Sleepless in Seattle, for once my flight would have GOOD movies.
It was also a lot like a visit to the dentist’s office, as each seat came with a whole goodie-bag of Virgin Atlantic schwag. I got a free pencil, pen, notebook, earphones, blanket, and of course no goodie-bag would be complete without a pair of red co-branded Virgin Atlantic socks (a good thing too, as these became a crucial part of my luggage after realizing I only packed two pairs of socks). But alas I save the best detail of the flight for last… ready? FREE ALL YOU CAN DRINK BOOZE! I was speechless when the stewardess told me, it seemed to good to be true, but it was, and you better believe I took full advantage of it. So finally, after 10 hours, 4 movies, and many many mini liquor bottles later, I had arrived in the home of the Mini Coup.
My journey starts out reminiscent of a lot of Hollywood movies; a young man sitting alone in an airport terminal, his life tucked away in a backpack in hand, and a one-way ticket to freedom lying before him. Pensively staring off into the herds of travelers I watched as one after one they all got lost in the shuffle, rushing from one city to the next for some needless corporate meeting, bar mitzfa, or mind-numbing business conference.
But not for me. I had decided to escape the monotony of the 9-5, ditch the suit and tie and take to the seven seas in search of love, life and adventure abroad. It was a trip a long time in the making, but also quite spontaneous, as I quite my job and was on a plane 2 weeks later, a one-way flight to London with no return ticket, no guidebooks and no hotel reservations. All I had was myself, and the thirst for adventure. And with that, I threw caution to the wind, hopped on the plane, and never looked back…