I was very excited for my first trip to Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by what little I knew about Japanese culture and cuisine, and I knew that there was so much I needed to experience first-hand. Of course, I was also excited to reunite with one of my favourite people, Micaela.
Getting from Narita Airport to Shibuya (the district where we were staying) was fairly easy. I was able to book a round-trip ticket on the Narita Express (N’EX) at the JR EAST Travel Service Centre, located in the airport. The ticket was open-ended and I could pay with cash or credit.
The ride to Shibuya lasted just under an hour. The cars were air-conditioned and seating was assigned. There was also an area for you to lock your baggage, or store it overhead. Refreshments were available on board for a cost via an attendant who would come through with a cart of drinks and snacks. We ended up taking the N’EX four times on this trip and it was never packed or late. TV screens provided regular updates about the trains, weather, airport terminals, and our current location. Pre-recorded announcements (delivered in British English and Japanese) would let you know when you were coming to a stop. Overall I had no problems and it was very similar to my experiences with VIA Rail in Canada.
I had a little bit of trouble navigating the massive Shibuya Station (you have to climb multiple floors and it’s fairly busy), but I eventually managed to find my way right out into the iconic Shibuya Crossing. The amount of people didn’t surprise me, but the humidity did! Tokyo was very hot at this time of year, made worse by the fact that the air was also very still. Nonetheless, people seemed to dress fairly conservatively – sometimes even still wearing cardigans.
Brad and I had arranged to meet outside of the 109 Men’s entrance – he had arrived from Australia a day before and already checked into Hotel Unizo, the hotel where Micaela had arranged for us to stay. It was just a few minutes (uphill) away from Shibuya Crossing.
As you’ll see in the video, the hotel room was definitely smaller than what you’d find in North America but I actually didn’t mind. The rooms at Hotel Unizo were modern and clean, and included wi-fi. However, smoking is still permitted, so there was always a faint trace of tobacco in the air, but that tends to be the case no matter where you go in Asia.
After a quick shower and change, Brad and I headed over to the Seibu department store for sushi (the hotel staff had recommended a place). This wasn’t your typical mall sushi – Seibu’s upper floors are reserved for various restaurants at various price points.
The restaurant we went to served kaiten-zushi that is, most items were available via conveyor belt. This is apparently a popular option among tourists since the portions are small and no Japanese-speaking skills are required. Nonetheless, we ended up ordering most items made-to-order via an English menu provided to us.
Now – I am usually a fan of maki rolls (spicy crunchy salmon is my life) but I noticed that the menus in Tokyo were suspiciously devoid of any of the extravagant rolls that we have in North America. I got over this pretty quickly because I was actually in Japan actually eating actual sushi. I didn’t miss our stuffed rolls at all – as expected, the portions and taste of the sushi here were unlike anything I’ve really had at home.
To tally up your order, most sushi places stack up your empty plates and use an RFID device to quickly scan your total. Different coloured plates represented different prices. #EFFICIENCY!
After our meal, I wanted to take a nap (I was too excited to sleep on the plane this time) – but time was precious so we obviously couldn’t spend it at the hotel. We ended up taking photos at a purikura booth. We actually lost our first set of photos because we had no idea how/where they would be printed. We got some school-girls to help us out the second time.
After that, we found an underground bar and befriended the bartender there. I believe he was from the Netherlands. He told us about how he ended up in Tokyo, the work/party culture in Japan, and warned us that it wouldn’t be uncommon to see folks passed out in the streets of Shibuya on a weekend (this is true). They go hard!
Since there wasn’t too much happening at this bar that night, our bartender friend recommended GASPANIC, another club in Shibuya where we could get our drink on. We did some shots, and, in combination with the bottle of sake we had earlier, I was starting to get tipsy. We wanted to dance but as it turns out, fueiho was in effect so dancing was not permitted (and in fact, at the time, illegal) at certain clubs. Not knowing this, we did try to dance in the packed underground club but thankfully we didn’t get into any trouble.
At this point I was exhausted/drunk so we headed back to the hotel. As we were chilling in the lobby, we struck up a conversation with two girls who were heading back to the UK that morning. Lizzie, the younger sister, was actually a YouTube fan (not one of mine though, ha – but she did like MattG). We decided to go down to the basement of the hotel where there were vending machines that sold non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages! We took our beers outside to a bike storage area (public drinking allowed!) and sang a few tunes. Brad and Lizzie tried to teach me how to do a slutdrop (look at that, it’s got a Wikipedia entry) but unfortunately, it was not a move I could master. And yes, I think there might be video footage of it somewhere.
It was definitely a memorable night, but this was only just the beginning…
It started to rain but this was clearly A Night For All The Adventures so we decided to take our beers and the guitar over to Yoyogi Park, where Lizzie performed an impressive rendition of SNSD’s “Gee” in Japanese!
The girls then had the idea to go for karaoke and McDonald’s. By the time we were done, the sun had risen again and I had been awake for 24+ hours. It was definitely a memorable night, but this was only just the beginning…