Monday, February 3, 2014

Japan 2013 Travel Log Part 4: Tokyo Day 1 - Part 1: Shinjuku

I've fallen behind on my blogging yet again -- my apologies! So yes, this title is kind of ridiculous but was the result of attempting to make this one whole post and realizing it was ridiculously long and deciding to make it a two-parter. I'll post the video here and again in part 2. And now, more stories from Japan!

The bus from Kyoto to Tokyo cost us about $60 and the trip was around 7 hours overnight, making our arrival time somewhere around 8 a.m. We were exhausted from our biking around Kyoto and after our eating and drinking at the izakaya before we left, so we figured we'd have a pretty good sleep. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Here's some soulful singers with an onlooking crowd in Shinjuku.
The bus was a standard tour bus and quite comfortable and the men and women were separated, which was kind of interesting. I've never really been able to sleep sitting up unless I'm insanely tired, so I think I managed to get about two hours of sleep in total. If we had wanted to pay a bit more we could have got the overnight bus with reclining seats, but being poor students we decided not to. The famous bullet train was out of the question as well, as it was quite expensive. At one point we stopped at a rest stop and I bought some sandwiches for Kyle and me, which served to keep us from getting too hungry.

There's Kyle in the Tokyo metro. 
We arrived in Tokyo at around 8 a.m., tired and groggy. Prior to our arrival, we had made plans with a local friend of mine I had met in Toronto, Mizuki, who had recently started renting an apartment that was just big enough for three people to stay in comfortably. The only problem was that we had to wait for her to get off work and designate a meeting place. I tried to find some free wi-fi at the Tokyo bus terminal so I could contact her through Facebook, which was how we had been keeping in touch. However, despite Tokyo's reputation of being a futuristic techno city, there is a surprising lack of public wi-fi. This is in sharp contrast to South Korea, the place I had just come from, where there is some form of public wi-fi practically everywhere -- even on subway trains. After no such luck I eventually bit the bullet and used my phone's roaming, which incurred steep charges.

A side street in Shinjuku.
We were going to meet Mizuki around 6 p.m. at a subway station near her apartment. We decided to go to the station and stash our bags in the subway storage lockers so we could travel around town more freely, as we had a whole day to kill. Meanwhile I had to find a new charger for my phone because Japanese outlets are different from Korean ones, which I had forgotten about. After finally securing a charger, Kyle and I decided to camp out at a McDonald's so we could recharge both my phone and ourselves. After eating and napping in McDonald's for an hour or so, we decided to head downtown and do some exploring.

Here's the sushi restaurant where we had lunch.
We didn't really have any specific destinations in mind but we eventually decided to go to Shinjuku. I had heard there were a lot of yakuza there and I thought it might be interesting to try to spot some from afar. So off to Shinjuku we went.

There's the chirashi we had for lunch -- yum yum!
When we got to Shinjuku, the sun had come up and the weather was like spring, which was apparently highly irregular for the end of January (there had been a snowstorm two weeks earlier). We weren't even wearing coats! We got out of the station and wandered around the area and eventually realized how hungry we were, so we decided to grab some lunch. There was a small sushi restaurant on one of the side streets that had prices listed in kanji. Fortunately I had studied Chinese numerical characters and was able to discern that the restaurant was pretty cheap. Kyle and I ordered chirashi sushi, which is basically a bunch of raw fish piled on a bed of sushi rice. It cost about $8 and was delicious!

Here's the band in the video warming up.
After the meal we walked around Shinjuku a bit more and bought some crêpes for dessert. Near the crêpe place there was a band playing, and that's who are in the opening footage of the video. The streets of Shinjuku are narrow and we were surrounded by tall buildings and crowds of people on all sides. We didn't actually see any yakuza types, but we did see a lot of buskers. Eventually we came to a group of handsomely dressed ballad singers on a street with a crowd around them, and not far from the singers was a huge lineup extending outside a mall and down the street. Figuring that it was probably something interesting to see, we went to check it out.

The strawberry girls handing out their free strawberries, and possibly other stuff too -- I can't read the characters.
We walked into the mall and saw that the front of the line stopped at a table where three cutely outfitted young women were handing out free strawberries for some sort of promotion. There might have been more to it than just the strawberries, but I found it kind of novel that there was such an insanely long lineup for strawberries, of all things! (Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking strawberries. And I do know that fruit is generally more expensive in Japan than in Canada because a lot of their fruit is imported from Southeast Asia. Still, I thought it was pretty interesting.) After that we wandered through the mall a bit, through department store after department store, and realized that department stores are pretty similar around the world. I stopped off at one of the washrooms to wash my face and brush my teeth, as we hadn't washed since the morning before. After a bit more wandering we decided that we'd like to go to a place that had a bit more unique flare -- Shinjuku reminded us of many places in Seoul that we had visited previously. So we decided to go to one of the most unique places I could think of. Akihabara!

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