Despite the hiccups along the way in trying to arrange for my trip to Japan, I finally made it! It was a much-needed breather after spending weeks in Vietnam. It is kind of interesting to experience such sharp contrast in culture going from a chaotic rule breaking environment to a highly rule binding and orderly society.
Hello, Tokyo after five years! I totally went American on my first night, aka having burgers, fries, and beers with another fellow American instead of something more cultural. I am actually beyond excited for sushi and ramen! I watched my money burn away quickly in the expensive city of Tokyo. The money that would have gotten me through one month in Hanoi only lasted three days in Tokyo. I miss the affordable prices in Vietnam!
Coincidentally, I had visited Tokyo previously around the cherry blossom season and here I am again. Last time, we came right by the end of the season so we did not see the sakura at its prime. I met up with a local whom I befriended when I was in Vietnam for hanami, or cherry blossom viewing which usually takes form as a picnic in a park, in Ueno Park. It brought back memories of wandering around Ueno Park in light rain five years ago. It was still drizzling five years later. I was fascinated by how the picnic areas were litter free because even when the Japanese are drunk, they are still responsible enough to remember to throw their garbage in the trash bins. It is common to have alcohol along with the food during hanami. Neither of us brought a mat to sit on, so we scouted for a left-behind mat.
Since I had already visited some of the key tourist attractions in my last visit, I decided to check out more quiet parts of Tokyo this time around. I love how it is not hard to find quiet streets in this monstrous metropolis. I paid a visit to Kongonei Park which was roughly 40 minutes from the central area. I really enjoyed walking through the narrow streets filled with cherry blossoms. The park was less crowded than the ones in central Tokyo. It was peaceful to observe families and friends gather during Sakura season for hanami.
I wish I have more room in my stomach to hold more delicious Japanese food! I tried my first serving of tsukemen, a dipping ramen where thick noodles are to be dipped in a boldly flavored broth. I liked how firm and thick the noodles were and how flavorful the broth was. The dipping broth was very intense; I already felt full after consuming half the bowl of noodles. As recommended by many, I tried the iconic Ichiran Ramen in Ueno on a rainy day in hopes that the line would be shorter. And it was. Yay! I got the classic tonkotsu ramen with an egg. On the selection sheet, it was recommended to select “medium” for the customization of broth flavor, noodle firmness, spices, etc. for first-timers. I took the suggestion and later regretted not selecting for firm noodles instead. It was interesting to be seated in a very individualized booth to focus on eating the ramen – particularly nice for solo travelers. I will definitely give the ramen another go since I was not wowed by it the first time around.
I booked a female capsule hotel in Akihabara to experience living in these efficient confined coffin-like beds. People who know me well are aware that I always long to sleep in a small coffin-like bed – yes, I am far from being claustrophobic. I later realized that capsule hotels are really designed for short one night stays. Thus said, I had restless nights during my stay in Tokyo. The walls were not sound proof. In fact, there are no doors or lock for your “room”. There is only a thin shade that you pull down to separate you from the world outside. You also have to pack all your belongings and place them in your locker every day if you had booked for longer than a one night stay. Since it was a female capsule hotel, the hotel was designed to cater towards female needs. The decor was pink and we were provided with sleeping robes, toiletry, and all the bathroom amenities typically used by females. The only room option I had was the one with a TV, but I did not use it since they only had Japanese speaking channels. It was an interesting experience, but I do not think that I would opt for it again.
Instead of taking the bullet train, I booked a night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto since it was more economical. I will be helping out a guesthouse in Kyoto through Workaway for a few weeks.