Recess week at NTU was the week that every single exchange student as been anticipating since the start of the semester and it finally came. The weeks leading up to this week was full of planning and anxiety as people were trying to weigh the pros and cons of their enormous pool of options of where to go in Asia during this time. I chose to travel to Tokyo, Japan along with other places in Japan because I’ve never been there and I was itching to go somewhere cold enough for me to break out my sweaters. The original plan was for me to go on a solo trip which had be geeking out because I impulsively bought plane tickets one evening without thinking things through but luckily one of my good friends, Mara, decided to go with me last minute! Very, very thankful that she came up with me because otherwise I surely would have gotten lost with the entire mess of Tokyo’s subway system.
I’m going to break down my posts into three parts mainly for my sake so I could organize my thoughts and figure out how to describe the incredible experiences from this eight day trip. It all seems like a blur now honestly because we had done so much within the last week that I couldn’t even begin to see how I would compound it into one entire post. I’m going to attach the exact map that Mara and I swore by to get around Tokyo to reference where all these locations were.
I’m starting off with East Tokyo which is where we spent most of our time on the first day upon arrival. After hours and hours of waiting around in airports due to flight delays, we arrived late at night at Emblem Hostel in Nishiarai and let me just tell you that I can’t put into words how welcoming and sweet they were. Like I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been to many hostels so I didn’t go into it with any expectations but this place was incredible. It was clean, it was organized, they were helpful in every single way and they played some of the best hip hop music I’ve ever heard. The bathrooms were communal but they almost seemed like they were brand new. The beds were stainless and neat and the locker that came inside the room was spacious enough for me to store my luggage for the entire week.
The next day we started off at the Tsukiji Fish Market that is highly raved about by travelers everywhere and it surely did not disappoint. This is a place where I would recommend everyone to go to at least once if they are passing by the area because it is filled with fresh fish and the sushi is absolutely incredible. I wasn’t there to see the auction but I made sure to go early enough where I would get the freshest foods available. There were also samples on every inch which was great for trying out mysterious things. Ramen bars could be found as well and if you get there early enough, the lines won’t be entirely too crazy. Thankfully, Mara and I are huge seafood lovers and got lots of salmon sashimi. A great start to the day!
Next, we went to Ginza since it’s a very well known shopping area within Tokyo. It was a short walk from the fish market and it was nice to see the huge city part of Tokyo. This area resembled Times Square in New York for me and the shops were similiar as well. We didn’t buy much besides some snacks here and then such as macaroons because most of the shops in this area were luxury stores such as Gucci and Fendi.
Afterwards, we decided to go to a temple that we had listed on our list of things we wanted to do in Tokyo. We headed off to Senso-Ji Temple. Located in Asakusa, it’s an ancient Buddahist temple that is very popular among tourists. It was absolutely stunning and the area around it was nice as well since it consisted of various food stands and gift shops that carried anything you could think of. The shopping street itself is called Nakamise. We ended up spending hours here walking around because there as so much to explore. You could find traditional Japanese snacks here and souvenirs such as folding fans, magnets, sandals, and more. Later on, I realized that we should have gone at night because people say that seeing this temple at night is like no other sight in the world. When we left, we got a last minute snack from this woman who was selling chocolate covered bananas. It was too cute not to get right?
Lastly, we went to Akihabara because we were both on a mission to find a maid cafe. Tokyo is known for having a wide variety of themed cafes so we wanted to find some during out trip. There are also cat cafes and owl cafes that could be found quite often around Tokyo. We found one eventually called Pinafore Maid Cafe and settled down to have a quick coffee before heading home because we wanted the experience of it but wasn’t hungry at the time. They had an extensive menu of pastas and desserts. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I knew that some maid cafes would put on shows for me but we didn’t get to see one. But they did offer to draw on our coffees which was probably the highlight of my day because Mara asked the woman to draw Hello Kitty but she didn’t understand us well so instead she spelled out the word Hello Kitty. I swear I was going to choke on my coffee when that happened because it was just a simple miscommunication that led to a funny incident. I asked the woman to draw a cat on my coffee to make up for it but it was still nothing like Hello Kitty. A good experience to have though and they do offer you
Overall, we had a great first day and got to see a lot of what Tokyo has to offer. It was a hard adjustment from the humid and hot weather of Singapore to the cold in Tokyo but I got through it okay with numerous cups of coffee and lots of layering. The people that we encountered on the streets and on the subway stations were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Every individual we came across was eager to help us find our way and managed to communicate with us even with the language barrier. That summarizes all the things we did on the east side of Tokyo and in my next post I’ll talk about the west side of Tokyo which happens to be my favorite.