Turning Japanese – 4 Days in Tokyo

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I just returned from a whirlwind 4 day trip to Tokyo and WOW, what a place! The journey began with a 7 ½ hour flight which I don’t remember the first 3 hours of. A couple of wines and a little Valium later and we arrived in Japan. Its only when we landed I realised I had spelled my own last name wrong on my arrival card.. Now, if I had a surname like Smith and missed out the letter M it would spell Sith which aint so bad. But when your last name is Gray and you leave out the letter R its a different story. Thankfully this card only stayed in my passport for the duration of my trip, not forever!

The first night was spent in Narita which is the closest city to the airport. We went out for Sushi and discovered that you can still smoke in restaurants in Japan! Lets just say its a bit of a novelty for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The strangest part though, its unusual and forbidden to smoke in the street in most places! Even at the airport instead of exiting and smoking outside in a designated area they actually have a small room OUTSIDE which you have to go into to have a ciggie. Instead of smoking at the front of a bar you are told to smoke inside. Weird! It wasn’t until day 3 we discovered that finding Sushi in Japan is actually a lot harder than one would imagine! Sometimes we would walk past 50 restaurants before we saw one Sushi restaurant. Not sure how to explain that one??

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Narita is an awesome quiet little city and perfect for a layover or a first night to ease you into the Japanese craziness. The streets reminded me of Europe, except everything is a lot smaller. Most doorways into restaurants and shops I would have to duck to get inside. Trying to maximise the use of space I guess! We went to some cool international bars that are full of air hosties and tourists stopping a night in Japan. Awesome vibe and atmosphere! Our hotel was so small you could barely walk around the bed.. Again, maximising the use of space I guess! We saw our first electronic toilet with the little bum sprayer and all these weird options of how to clean your arse, flush and even warm the seat. This was the first of many as most toilets in Japan are like this!

Day 2 we visited the most famous temple in Japan in Narita. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful and had some awesome gardens to walk around in. Then some really weird stuff like a water fountain with giant spoons and some burning thing in the middle of the temple grounds. I would tell you more if only I could have read the explanations. BUT pretty much everything in Japan is in Japanese writing only and if there is an English translation its usually hilarious and completely wrong. It reminded me of when I meet Japanese people in Australia and they pronounce things like English, “Engrish”.. In saying that, I spent the first day saying “Aligato” (which means thank you) when its actually “Arigato.” Now I totally understand where they are coming from!!

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Enough of the quiet, it was time to hit Tokyo! We took a million trains and subways to reach our hostel. Once you’ve figured out the Subway its actually super easy and you can actually get maps in English which helps a lot! The easiest part though.. the fact that people will ask if you need help when you haven’t even asked! OK, mostly the English is really bad & broken but the fact that they are so helpful is amazing. It made me think of Paris and how entirely opposite it is! Once my subway ticket didn’t work and I had 3 Japanese commuters running around trying to get it to work for me. Another day we had an older man walk 4 blocks with us to try and find a Sumo Training centre. Ah-mazing!

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We checked in at our capsule hostel. For those who don’t know what that is, its basically a rectangle hole in the wall that you climb into to sleep. Again, maximising space! There are tonnes of these around Japan and generally the most affordable hotel or hostel. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the size though. In my capsule I could have easily fit 2 people plus my backpack. At first its a little daunting, but when you stumble home at 2am you don’t really care and at least wake up in a bit of privacy.

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We explored so many parts of the city within the next few days, its hard to remember what exactly we did, but my legs ached from walking & I feel I saw so much. The first night in Tokyo we went to a famous hotspot Shinjuku. I didn’t know what to expect but when I arrived I was reminded of Times Square in New York or the streets of Vegas. Bright shining lights, people everywhere and such a cool hype about the place. We walked for about 2 hours to find somewhere to eat. (This became a common occurrence as most places didn’t have English menus or anything on their signs in English. It made it very hard to decide what to eat or even know what you are eating!)

We found a really cool side street that had men approaching mostly single men and offering them something although we didn’t know what. After dinner we were approached by a man from Ghana who offered for us to go to a strip club. I’m all for experiencing strip clubs so after a little bit of haggling we agreed to follow him to this “strip club.” He offered us for 30,000 Yen (around $30) to drink as much as we wanted for 1 ½ hours. Hell yeah!! We followed him through the streets, into an elevator and up to a tiny, tiny little club hidden away on the 4th floor. I actually wouldn’t even call it a club as it was so small it only fit one big lounge, had a strange bar that one of the girls sat at in an office chair and the girls were all fully clothed for the duration of our time there. I am sure with enough money they might get their kit off, but that wasn’t exactly what we wanted.. Rather just the experience!

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So we drank.. and drank.. and drank some more! All you can drink for 90 minutes?? Not such a good idea for me! The vodkas got stronger, I got thirstier and then drunker & drunker. So drunk in fact, I sang Karaoke and don’t remember the last 3 hours of the night! The next morning was like the movie The Hangover. Being told about my night and discovering the pictures on my camera. Apparently we went out to a few different bars, with the stripper and Ghanian pimp Kennedy in tow and “partied” for the rest of the night. When I saw “partied” I mean I had a ball, knocked over a few tables with everyones drinks on them and took about 2 hours to get back to our hostel. I was told I was stood in the middle of the street High-Fiving every Japanese that walked by and was shouting “This is so awesome!! I fucking love this country!!”

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We went to Japan Tower and looked over the city from the 120th floor, did a rollercoaster over the top of Tokyo Dome, visited a castle, went to the Tokyo Aquarium, drank shitloads of Sake, ate shitloads of food & walked through what felt like most of Tokyo. I loved every minute of it and would definitely go back and visit more of Japan!

Obviously its a completely different world and so unlike any other country I have visited. It was bizarre in a lot of ways and my biggest observation of the Japanese people (apart from being the friendliest) was that they are so relaxed, peaceful and damn obedient! Never have I seen in a train or subway station that people ONLY walk on the side of the stairs they are supposed to, line up along the painted lines on the ground of the train station, don’t rush (there are even signs saying don’t rush) and don’t talk on their phones on the subway because that’s what the announcements tell them. Its insane!
Even though its one of the biggest cities in the world, it doesn’t feel chaotic and isn’t a nightmare to get around.

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The most bizarre though was probably the fact that about 1 in 10 people still wear those Sars masks! I have heard that they don’t necessarily wear them to avoid sickness, but because they are sick themselves. I even saw a guy sneeze into his and he had to get a tissue to clean it out. Gross! I cannot even imagine what its like to walk around with a mask covering your face for the entire day, where you can’t breathe normally. I can imagine they must stay sick for a long time breathing in & out their own sick germs!

There are shops that just sell socks. Any kind of pair of socks you could ever imagine! There is a radio in the subway that just plays sounds of birds every few minutes, there are gaming rooms off the street that have machines so loud I was almost deafened just walking by, the fad for school kids is to have teddy bears & hello kitty dolls hanging off your bags, the kids go to school on Saturday and it was probably the cleanest city I have ever seen, but to try & find a bin is almost impossible!

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The day we were leaving we made it to the airport with a few hours to spare for our flight. I had been hanging onto some tickets for the Qantas Club lounge for a while after making a complaint to Qantas about one of my flights. So we decided to use them in Tokyo and “use them” we did! We were like 2 kids in a Candy store. We dropped our bags at a nice lounge area and headed straight for the bar. The self-serve bar might I add! Which had any type of liqueur or spirit you could imagine, beer, wine, champagne, Sake. I had 3 drinks at any one time and a table full of food! There were brand new Apple computers, free Wifi, showers, newspapers and magazines (in English! Phew), Sushi, tapas, cheese, desserts.. Everything! I filled up on so much food & booze that I could hardly waddle onto the plane! Such a perfect way to end a perfect 4 days… After just a taste of Tokyo, I know that I will return to Japan and experience even more of the culture and the country of Sumo, Sushi & Sake!!

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