My first day in Tokyo!
It was pass afternoon when we touched down at Narita airport. I was beyond thrilled. To experience Japanese culture has been on my travel list since, well since forever! Since Doraemon, since manga reading, since anime watching. I dreamt about visiting Japan long before I fantasised about the any other famous travel destinations, including Paris and its' Eiffel tower.
Japan was my the one.
Japanese Culture Experience #1 Train and #2 Ekiben
We took the bullet train, the best train I have ever taken.
It was pleasant and there was a lovely lady who sold pushcart food and drinks. Eating food on the train? In Singapore we had to pay fines, while in Melbourne it is just not the norm.
My friend bought us lunch from the train lady that day. Our first meal in Japan was a Katsu sandwich. It looked limp and unappealing, but turned out to be delicious. I am glad I kept an open mind to try and eat things at least once. You guys, it is a must try on Japanese trains.
An hour, sleepy deprived rambles, and a subway line later, we reached Asakusa, which turned out to be the best place for souvenir hunting.
Japanese Culture Experience #3 Ryokan
We would be staying at Ryokan Mikawaya, and with a little help from friendly shop assistants, we found it.
I love everything about the Ryokan!
It has things I’ve dreamt of, like a common area, sliding windows, Chinese paintings on the walls and, especially, the tatami floor. We stored our luggage, showered, and took and shared an unnecessary amount of photos. After a short rest and a little introduction to Japanese TV game shows, we were ready to explore the Asakusa area, but maybe dinner first?
Japanese Culture Experience #4 Sushi
We asked the Ryokan manager for directions around the Asakusa, and she recommended a famous sushi joint nearby, so off we went with a map in our hands.
There was a queue at the restuarant, and we waited forty minutes before getting a table, again, that’s okay because it's my first day in Japan.
This sushi joint has the biggest sushi belt, I have ever been to. The chefs yelled some Japanese words every now and then. The bills in most sushi restaurants, inside and outside of Japan, are calculated by counting the number and type of plates of sushi that are consumed. Plates with different colors, patterns, or shapes have different prices. The cost of each plate is shown on signboards or posters in the restaurant.
We checked the colors and were instructed by Yin that we could each only have one blue plate. Three blue plates, a few purple plates and many red plates later we were done. The cashier came with a handheld device, and our bill was automatically calculated and printed. I wish there was a similar device I could move around my house to know my net worth. I am secretly hoping all those ill-fitting clothes and impulse purchases could amount to something so I wouldn’t feel so bad for still keeping them out of guilt.
Ps. If you reach Japan in the early morning, you need to have once in a life time breakfast experience at Sushi Dai or, if you want to go big, book a table in advance to eat at Jiro Sushi the best sushi restaurant in Japan.
Japanese Culture Experience #5 vending machines
Walking from the sushi place I just followed my friends while soaking up everything and anything I could see.
I took a peek in between the lanes, tried to spot a geisha and checked out the many interesting vending machines. If you know me well, you know I have a thing for a vending machine. It is one of the reasons why I feel Japan is my spirit country. Surprisingly the streets were quite empty for a Saturday night.
Japanese Culture Experience #6 Shrine
After the dinner, we went back to Asakusa and headed to Sensoji, the oldest shrine in Tokyo with two huge gates called Thunder Gate and Treasure House Gate. Each gate has a huge lantern painted in red with black writing. It was already closed for the day and nothing much could be seen at night.
Ps. If you reach Japan via Kyoto, you must visit Fushimi Inari, the most famous shrine in Japan.
Japanese Culture Experience #7 Piss Alley
None of us were tired; we walked for some time and found a watering hole in the infamous piss alley. It’s cozy and we could smell the barbecue. Cozy and BBQ; two words best combined. We went into the small place, got the stares, but were too busy soaking up the environment and, unfortunately, the smoke.
It was decorated with Japanese words and vintage movie stars posters. Reminded me of Phi Phi’s Song, Pad Thai stall.
The pretty waiter came; took our order: hot and cold sake, chicken and whale takoyaki. Yes, whale takoyaki for 580 Yen.
Japanese Culture Experience #8 Sake
Soon after we moved to sit outside as the smoke was unbearable inside. Much nicer seating, accompanied with a cool breeze, we chit-chatted, ate our freshly BBQ-ed takoyaki and sipped the sake. Whoa... It was strong. So strong that we were tipsy only after one glass each. It was good and we could still find our way to the Ryokan, although we giggled all the way until we reached our room.