This article was originally published on Twenty-Something Travel
I am here! In Japan! It’s busy and crazy and kind of surreal.
For weeks much of my anxiety has surrounded the first few days of this journey- that jetlagged time where I didn’t have my bearings yet before I found my travel groove. So I thought I would record a small diary of my first 24 hours in Japan off the plane to show exactly how a Round the World trip really gets started. Here is how it all went down:
Arrive in Tokyo in the middle of a typhoon. After a bumpy 14 hour flight, I am jetlagged, exhausted and disoriented. It’s 2:30 AM at home. Surprised they actually let my strung out looking self through customs (after a photograph and fingerprint check). Can’t believe I am in Japan finally.
I’m always certain that my luggage is going to get lost, but once again I am proven wrong as my purple backpack bounces down the carousel. Together we leave in search of the JR Rail station where I pick up my 14-day Japan Rail Pass. It’s one expensive piece of paper, but for the next two weeks it will be my golden ticket to get around Japan.
Sunny 90 degree Tokyo has apparently been transformed overnight into chilly London. Realize that after all the agonizing packing I still managed to forget my umbrella. Somehow in my tired haze I manage to get on the correct train and get off at the right station in order to meet my friend Anna. Anna is teaching English in Shizuoka and has come up for the weekend to hang out with me and show me around. As luck would have it she brought an extra umbrella so I won’t have to explore Tokyo soaking wet otherwise it would have been a wet and miserable first 24 hours in Japan.
After more walking in the rain then I appreciate with my heavy pack on, we arrive at the hotel Anna reserved for us. It’s a business hotel- clean and efficient, but somehow internetless. Like a true tourist, I take pictures of the toilet:
Head to dinner at a local izakaya (japanese pub). Thankfully all the menus in Tokyo seem to have big pictures on them. I get a big steaming bowl of ramen and struggle to stay awake as we pour over the beat up Lonely Planet Japan I’ve acquired. I absolutely love Japanese food. Read more about my favorite dishes here: Japan on A Budget: A Food Lover’s Guide to Eating Cheap in the Land of the Rising SunThe 10 Best Meals I Ate in Japan (That weren’t Sushi)Exploring Japan’s Iconic Foods: Okonomiyaki
Back to the hotel to pass out, not a moment too soon.
Think this may be the only time in my entire life I am ever a morning person. Anna suggests we take advantage of my jet lag and head to the Tsujiki Fish Market which is best viewed early as possible.
Tsujiki Fish Market. There are more fish here than I could imagine in the entire ocean, much less in Tokyo on a Friday morning. Stall after stall of every kind of fish imaginable. These fish give new meaning to the word “fresh.”
Some are still flapping their gills and we watch an eel make a frantic leaping bid for escape. It fails and under the knife it goes. We wander the piles of clams, shrimp, octopi and more. Anna is hungry, I am disgusted. Still, I have to admit, it’s a pretty awesome sight.
The Tsujiki Fish Market is one of the must-see places in Japan. Why not experience it fully with a foodie walking tour!
The row of hole in the wall restaurants lining the streets near the fish bloodbath seems like the perfect place to stop for some sushi. I am not a fish fan, particularly not for breakfast, and generally, avoid sushi at all costs, but I feel like I owe Japanese sushi a chance. We order a general sampling of tuna, salmon, crab and sea urchin- which is a highly suspicious shade of oozy mustard yellow. This trip is all about doing new things, so gamely I try it all, and it’s pretty good! Totally unlike the sushi I’ve had in America: very, very fresh and smooth- even the sea urchin is tolerable.
We hop back on the metro and head to Asakusa, a historical area of Tokyo. As soon as I see the red “thunder gates” of Senso-Ji with the enormous hanging lantern, I start to really believe I’m in Japan.
Guarded by some scary looking statue gods, this is the gate for an enormous Buddhist temple, the first of many I’m sure I will encounter. Still a newbie though, I am very impressed and take many pictures of the shiny gates, pagoda, and temple. There is a stand where you can get a fortune for 100 yen, mine tells me (no joke) that this is a good time to start a trip. I guess these first 24 hours in Japan have been auspicious!
Asakusa is a neighborhood full of history. Discover it with a guided Rickshaw Tour of the neighborhood to really discover this charming neighborhood!
This is also my first chance to sample some Japanese sweets from the nearby stalls. Both mochi (a gluey rice ball) and Manju (a donut-like cookie filled with red bean paste) are a hit with me. I am too full to even try the ice cream and other delicious items on offer. Soon though…
Switching back to modern Tokyo, we head over to Ginza, the ritzy shopping neighborhood. I want to experience a famed Japanese department store, so we wander around the very elegant and pricey Matsuya. I feel like an enormous slob in my REI pants and gray t-shirt. Guess I will have to get used to that.
The store is 10 stories high with dozens of restaurants and a rooftop garden. My favorite part of the Japanese department stores is the bottom level food court, where many tiny counters sell a huge variety of fancy foods. It may be the jet lag, but I am absolutely stunned by the amount of sweets on display.
We have been up for 9 hours already, and after a quick lunch, I am fading fast. Time to head back to the hotel to watch some inane Japanese cartoons and take a much-needed nap.
A busy first 24 hours in Japan, but a good one full of new things, discoveries, and delicious food. I really threw myself into everything head first- I was too excited not to. I’m sure not every day will be as frenetic as this one, but if I manage even a quarter as much discovery every day, then this is going to be a mighty fun experience!