Someday, I want to live in that city.
Long story short: I had planned a trip to Japan with my family, but as they couldn't make it for those dates I finally decided to travel solo, inspired by some of my colleagues who had already done so. It's been my first solo trip and I couldn't be happier about the experience. Well, if only I could have extended it.
Day 1Konnichiwa, motherfuckers
Just as I landed, I went to the ATM to withdraw some money as usual, 1 and jumped on the Keisei Bus Airport Express to Tokyo Station. There, I got myself a Suica card, which acts as a prepaid card for transportation and some vending machines. Fares range from ~¥200-800 depending on the distance between stations. ~¥1000 per day worked for me.
I stayed in Imano Tokyo Hostel in Shinjuku, one of the best districts to get around Tokyo. Both the location and quality have been exceptional. I checked-in, and went out to take a look at the surroundings.
I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which is free, and you can have some of the best sights of the city. However, it's very difficult to take good pictures due to the flares in the windows. I also visited the Park Hyatt Tokyo, the hotel appearing in Lost in Translation. No doubt that it was the first movie I watched when I came back.
I had for dinner a delicious ramen at Menya Musashi. There's no banner in the facade, only a red curtain indicating the place. I got in, and observed how a local obtained a ticket from the vending machine. I carefully reproduced his steps, and sat in the bar to enjoy my noodles. In the background you can hear some jazz music, and the loud cookers preparing the ramen with some Samurai-like movements.
Something that I noticed on my first days was how well the urban planning seems to work, being one of the most bike friendly cities I've visited.
Day 2Shibuya, Ginza, Akihabara, Imperial Palace, and Shinjuku
I took the Metro and went to Designit Tokyo office. 3 I met Agustín Jiménez and we had lunch at a sushi joint where dishes arrived on rails, literally. He recommended me visiting the business district of Ginza, where most banks and luxury brands have their buildings (there's also a Patagonia store). I had a coffee, and improvised a visit to Akihabara.
As much as I loved Tokyo, that district was too much bizarre for me. I gave a quick tour and headed back to the hostel to put on my running wear for a casual run around the Imperial palace, where many runners gather every night.
One of the perks of travelling alone is that you meet people and make new friends. I had dinner with a room mate somewhere in Omoide Yokocho 4 packed with salarymen. The meat was delicious but we went out the place smelling like smoke. BTW! Smoking is allowed at bars. Before calling it a night we had a craft beer in Golden Gai. It was nice, but many pubs charge per entry, or serve an appetizer and charge it even if you don't have a bite.
Day 3Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Yoyogi, and Ueno
I was so exhausted from the previous day that I decided to take it easy and stay in bed for some extra time. I woke up at noon and replaced my usual 7-Eleven coffee + doughnut + orange juice breakfast for some Onigiri. 5
It was going to be a relaxed day (or that's what I thought so) visiting parks and admiring the Bloom of Cherry Blossoms. I didn't choose the dates intentionally but I'd strongly recommend to visit Tokyo in these days, not only the parks but the whole city is so beautiful.
My first stop was Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, where I spent most of the day. There you can find a greenhouse, and three distinct styles, French Formal Garden, English Landscape Garden, and Japanese Traditional Garden, which in my opinion was the most impressive featuring cherry trees in all their shades.
Then I went to Yoyogi and had a quick walk. When I was planning my trip I put a pair of running shoes in my backpack, to run in the Oda Field running track, but I'm happy I finally changed my mind, as you are not allowed to run in the Meiji Jingu. I paid respect at the main shrine buildings and catched the Metro to Ueno where I was invited to a wonderful Hanami evening 6 with the Designit Tokyo crew. Just when I thought it couldn't get better we booked a room at a karaoke place.
Welcome to Japanese karaoke.
Drinks, dresses, and songs. I won't forget that night in my life.
Just a few hours of sleep and thirsty as hell, I got a coffee and ran to Shinjuku Sta. to catch the Romancecar I had previously booked (it hadn't been like that, I would have stayed in bed) to Hakone. The route to the town isn't anything special, but I flipped out when the driver climbed a ladded and disappeared to drive the train, as well as when we arrived and the workers bowed as the train entered the station.
I catched the shuttle bus to Hakone Yuryo, a hot spring resort. Bring your own towel (or buy one at the desk), but leave your swim suit at home. Tatoos aren't allowed either. I spent the morning bathing in hot water butt naked, and had a bowl of hand made noodles at Nisshin Tei Honten.
I really like these kind of days to take a rest from all the frenzy (or recover from the hangover) and plan the next days. Back in Tokyo, I took away a Teriyaki McBurger for dinner on my way to the hostel.
Day 5Tsukiji Market, and JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center
I missed the tuna auction, but I didn't want to leave without eating some fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market. Wandering through the sushi stalls was making my mouth water and I queued for several minutes to have lunch at Tsukiji Sushiko. Best sushi I ever had. They have some affordable menus a chef will thoughtfully prepare in front of you.
When I first decided to travel to Japan I didn't know there was a Space Center located in Tsukuba. As you know, I have kind of an obsession with aerospace, so I just couldn't not go. I took the Highway Express Bus from Tokyo Station Yaesu South Exit to Tsukuba, which stops right at the Space Center.
The JAXA's Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC) offers tours of its facility and exhibitions. 7 In the Space Dome you can look at many full-scale satellite models, real rocket engines, and a life-size model of a Japanese module of the ISS. You can take a picture in a space suit, too.
Sayonara Mata ne, Tokyo
I had a hard time trying to sleep on the last night, and my snoring room mates wouldn't help.
I had planned to catch the Tokyo Metro to Tokyo Station with the few remaining yens on my Suica, then catch the Keisei Bus Airport Express back to Narita. I slept in, and in the end I catched the more expensive (¥3000) Airport Limousine Bus from Shinjuku Sta., arriving on time for the check-in and board.
To be fair, I didn't expect all the transitions to be so smooth (I have an history). I had a really short timespan for one (1 hour, and 15 minutes) and was afraid to be left behind. And then, it happened:
I handled the passport and boarding pass to the airline hostess on the Seoul transition, and at the time of reading the QR code a red light buzzed.
Excuse me sir, is this your last name?
No, no, no, no.
Actually, I had previously joked about the fact that my last name appeared slightly different in the boarding pass. After a short pause, the magic words:
Free business upgrade, welcome aboard Korean Air.
A purse, slippers, the New York Times, and I actually did what Casey Neistat would have done: I changed clothes in the restroom.
Summing up, my impression of Tokyo is that it's how major cities will look in the future. Despite the fact that I didn't know most of the Japanese culture in advance, I found it amusing (unsettling, sometimes). Travelling solo has been outstanding, but it's true the experience has been very different from my previous travels as a backpacker, where it used to be very ghetto.
So, when do we open a CARTO office in Tokyo?
Here's a list of resources I used for the article besides my own notes:
- My album on Flickr
- Solo in Tokyo, by NYT.
- Siete días en Tokio, by Alberto Romero.
- Tokyo: Monocle Travel Guide I found in the hostel library.
- In general, I didn't find Tokyo to be an expensive city. ↩
- Take into account US plugs can be used with Japanese power sockets, but voltage is different! ↩
- Shoutout: they are looking for talented visual designers. ↩
- Or in English, Memory Lane (aka Piss Alley). ↩
- Rice balls filled with tuna and mayonnaise. ↩
- Hanami ("flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers. ↩
- If you'd like to take the tour in English you have to call in advance. ↩
- I've been extremely lazy prepping the details for this trip, to the extent I realized the day before I had booked a bed in a shared female room (I called to the hostel and the amazing staff fixed it). Thus, I didn't bought a travel guide. ↩