Tokyo. My final stop. Well, for a second time, but coming back was the signal that this trip was coming to a close. My railpass would no longer be valid, I’d have one more night to spend and a full day (Wed) before my flight out at midnight. After not being able to see Mt. Fuji, I was a little bummed coming back, more because I wanted to wait another day and see if the clouds did clear up, until I finally read that a typhoon was coming to the south-east shore. But I love Tokyo, so I was happy to be heading back, and oddly I was happy to almost be at the end of the trip. The constant moving and changing lodging and activities was probably getting to me at that point, despite how chill Nagano and Fuji were (maybe I was slowly tapering down).
I got into Tokyo in the late afternoon and the rain from when I left Fujisan was still going. I met up with Winston to get a bunch of my laundry and shoes that I had left on Saturday to lighten my pack, and then went to Tokyo station to stash all my stuff in a coin locker. 500 yen per day for a giant size locker wasn’t bad, if I hadn’t forgotten my passport in my pack before I closed it, and realized it IMMEDIATELY when I swiped my Suica card to lock it. I tried to talk to a station manager but since the lockers were run by a third party company, I had to pay another 500 yen to open and re-lock the locker. Oh well.
After that Winston and I met up in Asakusa to take our traditional photo in front of Kaminarimon Gate. Except this time… it wasn’t there! The gate was, but the iconic lantern that everyone sees was not, instead a hanging poster with a picture of it was in its place. We were a little bummed, but took our photo anyway. Kaminarimon is a large gate in front of a large temple in Asakusa, and its history dates back to the 10th century. It’s been burned down and rebuilt several times over history, and this one dates back to 1960. At this point the rain was coming down hard – my umbrella inverted once and my shoes were starting to get wet. There’s a huge shopping mall behind it full of the most touristy souvenirs you can get in Japan, which looked pretty cool lit up through the rain (this one from my SLR).
compilation of all previous kaminarimon pics:
My main reason for wanting to go to Asakusa was to go eat at Maguro Bito – a place Tim took me to during our first trip 9 years ago and where I’ve always made it a point to go back to. Their kaiten sushi (conveyor belt) is VERY good quality, and was featured on / won some TV polls a few years ago. Well, we wandered through the typhoon looking for it, and got to where it should be, but.. there was nothing there. No building. I was confused and we spent another 20 minutes checking Google and Maps to no avail; finally I went in to ask a shop owner and he told me they had moved, but were closed today. AGH. Luckily they have a standing sushi bar that I know of close to the station, so we stopped by to get two piece of chu-toro and then bounced to go shop around Shibuya.
Once we got to Shibuya, it was a trip. I absolutely love this place and its intersection is iconic, but I’d never seen it in such a beat-down-weather condition. The pictures don’t capture it well but the rain was pounding down, high winds and there was still the same mass of people crossing the street every 2 minutes. We met up with Sayaka, one of our friends from KSU in 2003, and Tyler from INC / USC Nikkei. I felt as if I was a severe beef deficiency this trip, so we hit up all-you-can-eat shabu shabu and got stuffed. By the time we left, the rain was even WORSE – it was starting to get horizontal, and my pants, backpack and shoes were completely soaked. I had to buy new socks at Uniqlo, and I ended up crashing at Tyler’s because his apartment was next to his station and would minimize our outside time in this typhoon. All through the night the news was reporting on how bad the typhoon was, that it was the worst in a decade in Tokyo, and that places were flooding, people getting hurt, trains shutting down, hundreds of flights cancelled, etc.
The next morning we woke up to find that all the trains had been cancelled from opening (5am), and flights were still cancelled. People were surveying the damage across the southeast end of the country. I looked out the window expecting more crazy weather, but to my surprise it was almost dry and the sun was out. That was quick. Winston left to try to catch his morning flight, and Tyler and I left when the trains for sure opened back up around 10:30am. The station was insane! Oookayama Station is pretty small, but EVERYONE was trying to get onto the first trains to get to work, so the entire platform was full, and each train that came by was packed and could only fit 5-6 more people if you crammed – and if you’ve ever been in Tokyo in rush hour, you know how they cram these cars. It was even worse than that. Tyler and I got smashed into the center of a car, and I saw some dude with his face pushed into the glass of the door, and his faceprint was still there after he got off.
I got out in Tokyo proper, and spent the rest of the day shopping for omiyage (souvenirs), planned to meet Kristen for dinner at night, and went back to Tokyo Station to reclaim my pack. Tokyo was absolutely beautiful for the day. The skies were exceptionally blue with some clouds, the temperature was low 70s and almost no humidity. I loved it. Life went back to business as usual post-typhoon, it was still just as crowded and the city did not seem to skip a beat.
I re-packed my pack and luggage into another locker, went to meet Kristen for dinner and caught up on life, then headed to the Tokyo Monorail to head to Haneda for my return flight home, which had been pushed back from 12am to 2am. The flight boarded late (no surprise!), and 90% of business class was empty but I didn’t get upgraded, sadly. I got back to LA around 7:30pm Wednesday, went through customs, Ross picked me up, and that was that. Trip was over.
Post-trip retrospective: I freakin loved this experience. I’m an incredibly restless person and like to maximize the things I do or use, and I was able to accomplish a whole lot with that approach. I got to see 4 places in Japan I’d never been, visit some old spots, visit friends, meet new people, re-establish my Japanese, see many exceptionally beautiful sights, eat some bomb-ass food, learn a great deal about the rest of Japan outside Tokyo & Kyoto, ride a new Shinkansen every day, and just fully enjoy a solo trip. I like going on trips and vacations with friends, hanging out all the time, partying abroad, etc, but this time was really something I wanted to do alone and couldn’t have asked for a better result. There is still so much more to see in Japan and even in the cities I already visited, but that will be for later times in life. The spontaneity and flexibility of a last-minute solo venture fed a lot of my restless desires and was a great way to bridge the gap between my currently ending path in LA and newly forming journey in the Bay Area. Hopefully I can do more things like this in the future and venture outside of my comfort zone (Japan). Until next time, thanks for reading all these long-winded entries and hope you enjoyed my trip at least a little bit as much as I did, and I really encourage you all to do something similar or just try something by yourself, and see where it takes you. Even if it’s unclear, unplanned or potentially underwhelming, you’ll never know how it will turn out until you jump into it.