My Disney-mandated wedding fantasy mostly involved wearing a poofy skirt and having a cool honeymoon. (Check, check!) Our original honeymoon idea was a China/Japan adventure, but we had to get real with ourselves and admit that we should pare it down to just one of the two countries. We picked Japan, mostly cuz of the hot tubs and giant pancakes.
Two days after our wedding, we set off on a 12-hour direct flight to the Narita airport. This sounds long but it was a lot easier than the 18+ hours it took us to get to Brazil. Watch a couple Great British Baking Shows, eat a weird tray dinner, fall asleep, and boom, you’re on the other side of the world. Your new problem is dealing with your 14-hour jet lag. The idea: stay up as late as possible even though you’re delirious!
We walked out of our old-timey Shinjuku hotel in search of a ramen spot called Fuunji. We did not realize that a lot of restaurant names are written in kanji (Chinese symbol) calligraphy, so we wandered about like confused white people in an ally for awhile before I got up the confidence to ask for help. A very nice woman figured out where the restaurant was and walked us there. Our first experience of the wonderful hospitality of Japanese culture!
When you get to a ramen restaurant, you have to order your food and beer on a big machine that spits out tickets. This seems both futuristic and old at the same time, like the movie Brazil. It’s also when it pays to know what the word for “beer” looks like in Japanese (ビール).
Our ramen was delicious, and would foreshadow many more bowls to come.
The next day we went to the older Asakusa neighborhood, where you can see the Senso-ji temple. I liked this area because there was green tea ice cream literally every 10 feet. I never did get into all the other flavors, including sesame, sweet potato, sake and even more that don’t start with S. I’ll have to try them next time.
The Senso-ji temple was huge and beautiful, filled with busloads of kids showing up in their school uniforms. We made our way through the area and surrounding tourist shops, many of them flush with shiba inu-themed gifts.
After that, we visited Tokyo’s Skytree tower, which is huge and gives you a view of the whole sprawling city. Then we took a small tourist boat to Odaiba, which I believe is a sort of twentysomething island … ?
It was full of ferris wheels and Pikachu and music festivals put on by Smirnoff. It seems like one of those places they put you on a bus to on your first night of college so you can make friends.
I also enjoyed discovering this candy (?) snack called CalorieMate. I don’t think that name would work in the states … Or maybe I’m just not hip to the Soylent.
The next day we visited Shibuya, which for us became the epicenter of Tokyo because of its gravitational force of sneaker stores and fluffy pancakes. (This one below is from the Tokyu Hands cafe at their Be Hands Be location. It was amazing.)
Shibuya and its neighboring districts of Harajuku and Omotesando are full of side streets that contain quirky surprises, like this mural.
This is also when Neil started his quest to pose by at least two dozen super cute statues.
The next day, we decided to visit the Tokyo station to check out its super happening character shops and ramen street. We had heard the stations were cool but we did not anticipate how overwhelming the whole experience would be. Even cute Pikachus did not cancel out the feeling of claustrophobia.
Then we had to find ramen street. Tip for English speakers: The sign looks like this!
We gave up on our original ramen destination after waiting in line for almost half an hour and just picked one with a short line. Sacrilege, I know! We still massively enjoyed our ramen, especially the al dente noodles and mushrooms.
Then we went out to explore Ginza, which is a ritzy area full of shops and other delights. We went on a Sunday, so the whole main drag was shut down and seeing all the people milling about was quite a sight. We even saw a bride.
We stopped into a cool slow-drip coffee place called Cafe de L’Ambre and became entranced watching a coffee master slowly drip water into beans. It was super charming and unlike every hip coffee place in the U.S. Instead of $9 waters and Pinterest-y looking plants, it was old, smoky and very Hemingway-esque. Now Neil is probably going to start being just like that coffee guy.
Then we went to see a Swallows game at the Jingu stadium. For all literary nerds out there, this is where Haruki Murakami first realized he could write a book. We got beers and tiny bats to bang and joined in on the excessively charming fun that is a Japanese baseball game. Some people were enjoying tiny hats full of hot dogs!
At this point, we realized we were walking almost 20,000 steps a day (about 10-12 miles) so I felt like we deserved TWO beers.
The next day, we moved to a new hotel in Shibuya, called the APA hotel. Our room was even smaller than our room at the Shinjuku hotel, but we were in a cooler area so it didn’t matter. (Plus both rooms had amazing soaking tubs, so I was a happy camper.)
This day we decided to avoid public transit all together and just walk. I was a little burnt out from trying to figure out how which train got to where, etc. for the last few days.
We started out by exploring the beautiful Meiji shrine at Yoyogi park. This shrine was very different from the Senso-ji temple. It was located down a very peaceful forest walk that made you feel like you were out of the city. It was a great break from the hectic vibrancy of the rest of our trip.
On our way out, we couldn’t help but visit this cat cafe in Harajuku. I LOVE cats, but I expected a cat cafe to smell like a litter box and give me horrible allergies. I didn’t expect for the pristine, amazingly decorated reality of it. We started off by taking off our shoes and putting on slippers that came out of a slipper machine. (Japan is WAY ahead when it comes to slipper machine technology.) If these cats had litter boxes, they were strictly elsewhere. The kitties were extremely comfortable with people around, but were still cats, so did not give a shit about us. It was awesome.
Then we broke our “no train for the day” rule and got on a train to Ebisu and ordered ramen at a place called Afuri. I picked the yuzu-flavored broth, which just wasn’t as salty and fatty as the other bowls of ramen I’d had, but my American mouth still liked it pretty well.
Then we went to check out the Tokyo Tower. We managed to see it from a skyscraper hotel located next to it. This extremely fancy hotel charged us $50 for two drinks, but we showed up sopping wet from rain and they were still nice to us, so we weren’t mad at it.
The next day was Neil’s birthday, and because he is #blessed, there was a tropical storm that day. We ventured out through the rain and got soaked like never before.
Our first stop was at a cool little coffee shop in Nakameguro called Switch Coffee. The guy there recommended a Soba noodle restaurant called Kawasemi, so we went there for lunch. (As carb-y as this looks, I remember it as our healthiest lunch.)
Then we visited the uber-hip Daikanyama area, which was like if there was an Edina-type area made just for English-major skateboarders. Our favorite spot was a bookstore/gift store/ bar called Tsutaya T-site that was basically the Barnes and Noble of the future (and I LOVE Barnes & Noble). We tried to wait out the rain there but failed.
The next day we got on the Shinkansen train to Kyoto. I’ll write about that leg of the journey in part two!