Usually, Korean holidays don’t coincide with American ones, but this past weekend (Memorial Day in the US) happened to be the holiday celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Asia. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar which means it’s on a different day each year, so it really was a happy coincidence that it fell on a Monday, creating a long weekend for us government employees.
This is our final holiday/day off before the end of our contract in August and was therefore our last opportunity to travel, so even though it was only a few days, we headed to Tokyo to take advantage of them. We’ve been to Osaka and Kyoto in the past, but we’d never been further than the airport in Tokyo. It seemed a shame to live so nearby (less than a 2-hr flight) for two years and never make it to the biggest city in the world.
We arrived in the city around noon on Saturday and immediately set out to see the Sensoji Temple which was within walking distance of our hostel.
The temple area was packed with people, many lighting incense sticks or tossing coins into a big trough in front of the Buddha statue. Outside of the temple there were long streets of stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs. We wandered around for a while an eventually stopped at a little ramen shop for lunch.
After lunch we had to go back to our hostel to check into our room and put our bags away. From there we took a long subway ride to the Shinjuku district looking for the famed Robot Restaurant. We’d heard about this place from friends who went in the past and we were intrigued. Restaurant is a bit of a misnomer since food isn’t central to the experience. In fact, we didn’t eat anything while we were there. It’s more of a show at which you can have food and drinks if you want. We weren’t exactly sure where it was, so we wandered around for a while before we found it, but the area was interesting so we didn’t mind the stroll. We were intending to buy tickets and come back later that evening for the show, but when we arrived around 3:45 the evening shows were sold out, but there was a show starting in 15 minutes, so we just went for it.
The tickets were pricey, but this was one of the weirdest and most unique experiences of my life. It was everything you imagine when you hear stories about how strange Japanese culture is. There were robots and dancing girls in weird and revealing costumes and huge radio-controlled animals and lots of drums. It was like a super geeky 13-year-old boy had been given unlimited resources to create the world of his dreams.
The show itself was incredibly corny. The best (and by best I mean most ridiculous) part was a story where there was a peaceful planet that gets invaded by robots and the forest and sea creatures must band together to fight the robots. The robots literally came out and said things like, “This planet is so peaceful. Let’s trash it!”
After the show we decided to look for Yoyogi Park which has a shrine in it. Unfortunately, we had some trouble finding the entrance, and as we wandered around looking for a way in, I started to get very tired and very hungry and very cranky. Eventually we abandoned our plan and resolved to come back the next day. Instead we found a tasty dinner of donkatsu and Japanese curry.
Fortified with dinner we went down to Shibuya Station, famous for being the busiest intersection in the world. We walked back and forth across the intersection a few times taking pictures of the crowds and then went up to the second floor of the department store to look out the windows. This was a great place for people-watching.
By the time we’d finished with all of that it was after 10 pm and we’d been going non-stop since 5:30 that morning. We headed back to our hostel to shower and sleep, but not before picking up a few local snacks to try. One of our favorite things when traveling is to try out all the special varietals of regular snack foods. Japan is especially famous for their green tea (matcha) flavored treats. I happen to like green tea, so I enjoyed a lot of these.
Check back next week for more Tokyo adventures! If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.
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I’ve been to Tokyo, but a long time ago – 1980. So many people! Weird food! I went in the summer after grade 12 with a band and we played in different parts of Japan for two weeks. My memory of Tokyo was exploring a part of the city nearby our hotel with lots of neon signs that we thought would look cool after dark so we went back there at night. Which was kinda cool until about 9 PM when suddenly all the doors opened and drunk business men came out and staggered home, and we realized all those places were bars and suddenly all the prostitutes came out to entice the businessmen….and we got trapped in the maze of streets…and it was basically totally freaky until we somehow found a way to get out of there. That plus the policeman on the bicycle who berated us for pressing an police alarm on a pole (which we thought was to make the lights change so we could cross the street – who knew it was to summon the police!). An interesting place but I don’t think I need to go back. 🙂
I can’t imagine Tokyo in the 80’s. I’m sure it was crazy. I think it’s a lot more westernized in some ways now, though of course they still have all their different foods and people who dress up like anime characters and all of that. I think Tokyo today is probably very different from how it was 30 years ago, but I understand how one experience can make you feel more or less interested in going back. I had an unfortunate experience when I visited Russia in college and feel the same way about it – glad I went, but I have no desire to go back. I was actually completely uninterested in traveling Asia until we decided to move to Korea, but since we’ve been here and been around Asia a lot I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed it.
I think it was such a culture shock for me – it was the first time I’d been in a place where no one spoke English and you definitely stood out as a foreigner – that it was hard to like it. But I’m glad I went, all the same. We were billeted with Japanese families at first – originally there were supposed to be two band members per house but so many families wanted to billet kids we were split up and I went to a place all by myself. Certainly that would never happen today! It was pretty intense especially as I trailed around after them in an endless stream of bus and train rides to get from the airport to their house. At one point I thought they were leaving me behind and I almost had a heart attack! But they were really nice, of course, and kept feeding me so much food all the time! 😃
I can imagine it was a really different experience. I feel like Korea is now where Japan was about 20 years ago – still very hesitant to accept outsiders. Polite, but generally suspicious and uncomfortably with the “other.” Tokyo is so international now that although the vast majority of people were Japanese, there were plenty of other foreigners around and nobody looked at us twice. Whereas here in Korea, people openly stare at us wherever we go. Even after two years it’s still unsettling. 🙂