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Hello Tokyo, Japan!

I was fortunate to find an award ticket to Thailand which allowed me an 11-day stopover in Japan for no additional money or points (using Alaska Airlines points acquired through credit card signups).  The total cost for the premium economy ticket from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok came to 45,000 Alaska Airline points and $42 US dollars.  Score!  That is how I travel so much.

 

Los Angeles to Tokyo

Flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo

 

During the 12-hour Japan Airlines flight, I watch videos about Japanese manners and customs and learn that the Japanese drive on the left, you can’t walk down the street and smoke, it’s unacceptable to speak on cell phones on the bus and one must make an effort not to annoy other people.  The gist of what I learn is that in Japanese culture, one must think of the happiness of the group and not only themselves.  What a concept!

 

Also, during the flight, I watch a documentary about the Rolling Stones and have the major revelation that the mouth and tongue logo of the Rolling Stones is a reference to Mick Jagger’s mouth.  How unbelievably dense that I never understood this before.  Learning every day!  And, wow, Mick Jagger in the 1970’s…whatta hottie.  But I digress…

 

Upon landing, immigration is swift and efficient and what stuns me most is the calm and quiet inside the airport despite the many people.  And not one taxi barker at the arrivals gate!  Usually, landing anywhere it’s a fight to get outside without being accosted by aggressive taxi drivers or con-men of some kind.  Not so in Tokyo.

 

After some help from a train station attendant, I have a ticket and find my way to the platform.  Despite a full train, you could have heard a pin drop were it not for a chatty English couple.  Library-type silence.  What a contrast to the NYC subway!

 

Soon, I arrive in my new district of Asakusa and hit cool evening air climbing out of the station.  A few more steps and I am at my destination: a “cube hotel“, which is one step up from a capsule hotel.  The capsule hotels have beds contained in pods, which look like a row of washing machines on a wall or bees in a honeycomb.  The cubes are also the size of a twin-sized bed but can be climbed into from the side like a bunk bed.  I am pleasantly surprised.  I’d always feared traveling to Japan because of the expense, but my cube accommodation costs $27US/night, including breakfast, which I find totally reasonable for a private space in a metropolis.

 

Corridor in cube hotel

Corridor in cube hotel

 

The hotel is modern with Star Trek-esque doors that slide open silently as you approach.  Anyone who has spent time in hostels knows how the door slamming and creaking can make a kind traveler have thoughts of murder. Here, problem solved through technology.

 

The communal bathroom features a row of glistening sinks with all beauty and cleansing amenities provided.  All very nice.  But it is my first Japanese toilet experience that I shall never forget.  The seat is warm, a wall-mounted console beckons with buttons and strange icons.  One by one, I push them all.  Water jets spray from multiple angles, hot air blows with the force of Boreas, and the toilet flushes and cleans itself while delivering fresh hand-washing water from its tank.  Why has the United States not embraced this crappy technology?!  Seriously, I can not wait to use the toilet again.

 

Toilet buttons

Toilet buttons

 

Hungry, but too tired to try and decipher a menu, I venture out to the nearest convenience store, a “7-11”, which I soon discover are as ubiquitous here as Starbucks are in California. Unable to determine the contents of nearly anything, I purchase intriguing “Candy cheese”, “Sugar Butter Sand Tree” cookies, a rice ball snack, and (vegetarian) inari sushi.

 

Turns out, “Candy Cheese” is not candy, nor cheese, but instead, some processed fat glob wrapped like a hard candy.  The “Sugar Butter Sand Tree” cookies are delightful but not sandy or tree-like.  The inari sushi is better than any I’ve had in restaurants in the United States.  And the rice snacks are inedible due to their strong fishy flavor.  Undoubtedly, my vegetarianism and extreme aversion to the taste of fish will prove challenging here.

 

The next day, jet-lagged, I set out with the achievable goal of roaming.  Once again, the streets, despite being occupied with cars and people, are unbelievably quiet, sounds inexplicably muffled like after a big snowfall.  As I walk, I notice no homeless people, no graffiti, and streets so clean it makes the Swiss look slovenly.  And no public trashcans to be found either.  I see one sign which says “Please take your trash home.” and I think that is good general metaphorical advice.

 

Convenience store food

Convenience store food

 

With the Tokyo Sky Tree monument in my view, I find my way to a vegan restaurant where I hope for Japanese fare but instead choose the falafel sandwich from five non-Japanese options.  Served with a tiny salad and cup of vegetable soup, it is delicious, but adding a coffee tips the total to $14 US which is a bit spendy for my means.  I see a banana and Sand Tree cookies in my budget dinner future.

 

Leaving the restaurant, the sky is dark and frigid rain falls.  I buy an umbrella at  7-11 and continue on to the Sky Tree Mall where I feel I’ve been delivered into a psychedelic bad trip. Packed with shoppers and manic in intensity, in one gigantic store, a thin-mustached man in a snakeskin/leopard suit sings the words “Pineapple Pen” repeatedly over an amplifier in every variation one could imagine. I stare at him for five minutes and still, I don’t know what a pineapple pen is.  I discover later that this guy is “famous” with 40,000,000 video views. See for yourself.

 

 

Lights, sounds, signs and crazed shoppers fill every space.

 

I stroll through the indoor grocery market with many stalls, all so impeccably clean that everything appears plasticized.  Bright fluorescent lights are a contrast to the dreariness outside.  Fresh fish or every variety and color glistens in glass cases like jewels.  Produce, arranged neatly, has its freshness held captive in trays wrapped with cellophane.  What a neat-freak paradise.  It doesn’t take long for the overwhelm of visual stimulation and the crowds to drive me out the doors and right back into the gloomy, wet streets.

 

Fresh fish in Tokyo market

Fresh fish in Tokyo market

 

Incidentally, on the long walk back to my hotel, I notice how I don’t feel fear — a first when walking alone at night in a big city.  Of course, compared to most Japanese women I am perhaps intimidating, a big lumbering giant, but it’s a unique experience to feel so safe in a city as a woman.  And a delight.

 

As I walk, old people on bicycles pass stealthily.  Lights reflect in clean puddles.  The air is fresh.

 

Book a cube or hotel room in Tokyo.

 

Photos of Tokyo, Japan:

10 Comments

  1. Ezra watched the “Pineapple Pen” video with me. He raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, you live you learn Mom.”

    • That’s the truth Ezra! I couldn’t love this more. Thanks for reading my blog! It means a lot to me! Xo

  2. Delighted you are back on the road again, boldly going on behalf of us armchair travellers.

    • Thanks Jayne. Not always so boldly, but going nonetheless!

  3. Hey, Laura … so great to read about your Tokyo adventures. Have a good friend who loves it there, so I’ve sent him a link to your musings! Thought you might enjoy this crazy video with Pen-Pineapple-Apple Pen references … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_JX2msmRhI. Safe travels and keep on blogging! Cousin Scott

    • Many thanks Scott. I don’t know how I missed the pineapple pen guy before – clearly, he’s a phenomenon!

  4. Laura, you are the perfect observer for the intricate and poetic world of Japan. I see you have discovered 7-11s! A place I never visit in the US but in Japan they have decent food for cheap! I hope you get your fortune at a temple and try okonomiyaki.
    xoxox
    Kim

    • Thank you. I am preferring Lawtons convenience store now for their egg sandwiches which even Anthony Bordain seeks out in Tokyo. I did get my fortune. Read on…

  5. Dearest Lady, I cannot wait to see what else you discover in Old Edo! This sense of safety you describe is incredibly intriguing.

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