This past week, I spent five days and four nights in Tokyo, Japan. Even though I’m an East Asian Studies major, my knowledge of Japan is unfortunately limited to its history and anime. Nonetheless, I took a leap of faith in planning a trip to Japan, since I knew not going when I’m in such proximity (a two-hour plane ride away) would be regretful. Thus, a group of ten of my friends and I left Seoul on a Thursday night with a vague idea of what we wanted to do in Tokyo. While we quite blindly followed our hardly-existent travel itinerary, the trip was nevertheless a success!
On the first day, we were all eager to shop at manga and anime merchandise stores. We were able to see the more commercial side of manga and anime first hand, which is a huge contrast to back home, where I typically either stream anime for free online or read manga from the library. Based on some of the prices, this is a major industry in Japan. Anime characters are quite literally all throughout the streets and hard to miss.
In the afternoon, we visited a maid cafe. This an experience entirely unique to Japan, and is not something that I would have sought out alone. The “maids” call all of the customers master or princess, perform a song and dance in front of the cafe, and make you sing a song with them before you receive your order. I was surprised that the “maid” didn’t stumble in assigning me the male role of master, which is just another thread off of my list of gendered experiences so far while abroad (see: my recent post on being transgender abroad.)
To travel around Tokyo, we used the subway. Unlike Korea, you’re charged for the distance traveled, not the number of times you swipe in. There are no free transfers, so we learned the hard way that transportation in Tokyo is expensive. Still, it is easy to navigate without any knowledge of Japanese, and Japan uses Google Maps, a familiar platform that doesn't work in Korea.
That day, we also spent time at the Kanda-myojin shrine. This gave us a glimpse into a more traditional side of Japanese culture, especially in terms of religion and architecture.
On Saturday, we went to a few thrift stores, which is a larger industry in Japan than in Korea. It’s also relatively cheap, especially in comparison to the price of buying new clothes in Japan. A highlight of this shopping excursion was my investment in a $9 bucket hat. After shopping, we briefly visited a puppy cafe and another cafe with aesthetically pleasing donuts. We got sushi for dinner, witnessed the Shibuya crossing, and then made a final stop at the BT21 store (which obviously also exists in Korea, but has some different merchandise in Japan).
For our final day in Japan, we wanted to strive to experience more of Japanese culture. We walked through a food festival at Hibiya Park, and then down the street to The Imperial Palace. We found ourselves in a huge crowd of mostly Chinese tourists. At the end of the walk through the palace, there’s a beautiful park with a pond of fish. While I don’t often take the time to appreciate nature, it was truly serene.
For our final night in Japan, we went to teamLab Bordless, which is essentially an interactive digital art museum, famous for its lantern room and use of light to create visual art. While there, my friends and I were able to take memorable photos together. Right outside of teamLab, there was also a Ferris wheel that we rode. At the top, it was completely peaceful and had a perfect view of Tokyo at night.
When we arrived home, we were all quite tired from a day of walking and sightseeing. We watched another anime film together, Moving Castle, which is now in my top favorite and I definitely recommend it!
Overall, I found that, while more expensive than Korea, Japan is warmer in November. I had some of the best ramen and sushi that I’ve ever eaten while there. While I love traveling and experiencing different aspects of other countries, I also really appreciated some of the time that was simply spent in our Airbnb. It was a domestic and wholesome environment filled with more mundane, and therefore more humanistic experiences from the trip. I’m grateful to have gone to Japan with the people I did, even if it was a pretty large group to travel with, as we were able to process a major cultural experience together.