Just before the play I was working on kicked into full gear, we had a long weekend because of Buddha’s Birthday and Children’s Day, both national holidays in Korea. In Japan, the same holidays make up what is known as “Golden Week:” April 29th – Shōwa Day, May 3rd – Constitution Memorial Day, May 4th – Greenery Day, and May 5th – Children’s Day. Taking advantage of this break, my friend and I decided to take a trip to Tokyo. It was one of the best trips I’ve taken in years, so let me start from the beginning:
Saturday, May 3rd
We touched down at Haneda on Saturday evening. We chose Haneda over Narita because Narita is like an hour cab ride away from central Tokyo, and we didn’t want too much extra travel time. We easily took the airport bus straight from Haneda to Shibuya, and a cab from Shibuya to our hotel, the Tokyu Stay Aoyama Premier.
We decided on a hotel rather than a hostel because, well, “treat yo self;” it’s vacation. During our trip to Hong Kong we stayed in a hostel, and while it got the job done as a place to sleep, it was cramped, dirty, and way expensive for what we got.
The Tokyu Stay Aoyama Premier was just the opposite. Primarily for business travelers, the hotel’s single-occupancy rooms were all that was left when we booked, but it was cool. The rooms were a great size, clean, and offered a stellar view of Tokyo. The bathroom had a full tub, and the bedroom area had a desk, TV, fridge, and memory foam mattress. If you have a Korean rock bed like I do, then the hotel is worth it just for the mattress.
After checking into the hotel, my friend and I decided to explore the area a bit. We soon learnt we were in the perfect location, somewhere like East 5th Avenue, walking distance from everything.
Despite our flight only being two hours long, Asiana still fed us (take note US airlines), so we weren’t too hungry when we arrived, but after a while walking, we decided to have dinner. We stopped for ramen at this place called Soba Combo Watanabe. It was probably a chain, but shoooot, dat ramen was bangin’. Here, we also learnt that knowing no Japanese was not a problem. We were preparing to order using our “Basic Japanese for Dummies” app, but the waitstaff was so incredibly accommodating, they just spoke to us in English with no condescension about it.
Once our food had digested a bit, we walked down to this underground bar my friend really wanted to check out called Muse. They carded us at the door — which has never happened in Korea — and then gestured for us to enter. We went down to the bar, which looked a bit like a beach resort’s poolside grotto, and quickly realized the guy to girl ration was very much skewed left… Behind the bar, there was a second room that felt like a secret layer, where a DJ mixed from a booth while a small group of people danced on the dance floor. Dancing is illegal in Tokyo unless in a certified nightclub, and even then, I think it has to stop at a certain time. #footloose
After Muse, we went across the street to meet a friend of mine at Gonpachi, a famous izakaya — kind of like a Japanese tapas house. Gonpachi is respected both by locals and tourists alike. While foreigners are drawn to the doors because the restaurant served as a shooting location for “Kill Bill,” Tokyo natives enjoy the excellent cuisine. Prices are a bit steep, but the food doesn’t disappoint.
When done catching up with my friend, we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. So after only about eight hours in Tokyo, we were fans.
Sunday May 4th
On Sunday, we started off the morning with our hotel’s continental breakfast. Nice spread. Then, we headed to the subway. The subway was super easy to navigate and not nearly as intimidating as we were expecting it to be given the rumors.
We took the train to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. Because it was Greenery Day, entry was free, so we walked around for a bit and enjoyed the sights.
For lunch, we headed back to the area our hotel was located in to check out 246 Common, an open-air food cart plot that’s open everyday for lunch, dinner, and drinks. It reminded me a lot of Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. I had a sausage from Schmatz. ‘Twas very good. A few blocks down from there, we stopped for dessert at Berry Cafe. Twas also very good. Tokyo just continued to wrack up points in my book…
That night, we chilled in Roppongi Hills, an upscale area for shopping and restaurants that also houses the Mori Art Museum and a movie theatre. From the plaza of the museum, there’s a great view of Tokyo Tower. Originally we were planning on taking in a view of the skyline from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which allows tourists free access to viewing areas on the upper floors, but we decided to pay for the Tokyo Tower experience instead. So, we took the train over there and in no time, were looking down at the beautiful city.
Monday May 5th
We woke up a few hours earlier than planned on Monday because there was an earthquake. Slightly terrifying, but it got our adreniline pumping for our last day in Tokyo. After another continental breakfast and ice cream at a Lindt shoppe, we met up with one of my friend’s friends who was going to take us to hang out in Shibuya.
He took us to the famous crossing, a ramen place where you place your order using a vending machine, this cool [touristy] department store called Loft, and an arcade with a ton of Japanese photo booths with various effects. The one we ended up in gave us all lipstick, huge eyes, and “egg-shaped” faces. Crazy, technology these days.
From there, he took us to east Tokyo, where he and his friends usually hang out, away from all the crowds. We enjoyed the sights on the water then went to see an old temple.
Our last meal in Tokyo was shared in unintentional silence; it was just so delicious, none of us stopped eating to talk. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel to enjoy our memory foam beds one last time before our early morning flight.
I loved Tokyo. The people were super friendly, stylish, and chill— at least from a tourist’s perspective. It reminded me a lot of New York. And we all know how much I love New York… Wouldn’t mind going back one day (especially since I didn’t get to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market or Ghibli Museum).