Monday, May 1, 2017

Touring Tokyo Like a Tourist

Most of my time here in Japan, my goal is to be a local. Live like a local, act like a local I don't want to be a tourist. But sometimes on your study abroad experience, you just have to be a tourist. That means embracing all the tourist attractions and acting like the American you are! And that's exactly what my friends and I did! For five jam-packed days, we took our bags and made our way to Tokyo for the ultimate tourist experience.

(Warning: This is a long post!!!)

Day 1

The adventure starts with actually trying to get to Tokyo. There's a couple ways to get to Tokyo, airplane or shinkansen, or bullet train. The shinkansen is more expensive, but we figured this is an experience. When will we ever ride it again? So we make our way to Kyoto and hop on the shinkansen! It's a four hour ride to Tokyo, but on the way, we get to see the landscape of Japan. 

We make our way to through the insanely busy station in Tokyo and eventually reach the district where our Airbnb is located. Fun Fact! Apparently Airbnb is illegal in Tokyo. We didn't know that until after our stay. Anyways, we walk down the road towards the Airbnb, and we realize we are located near the Tokyo Skytree! In Tokyo, there's two main towers where you can view the Tokyo skyline- Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree. It was a nice surprise!

After some time, we finally find the right building for our Airbnb. It was a surprisingly nice room given the price. Another group of friends arrived to Tokyo before us. They arrived to their room and were in horror. They had a squatty potty. And the window looked right out to a concrete wall. We were relieved to find a very normal toilet and shower in our Airbnb.

Since we arrived in Tokyo around 4 p.m., the only thing we had planned was the Robot Restaurant. The Robot Restaurant is THE touristy thing to do in Japan. Located in Shinjuku, the place for Japanese nightlife, the Robot Restaurant is a dinner and a show, though dinner is optional.  This place is so touristy that there were no Japanese people in the audience. There's nothing more Japanese than giant robots right in your face fighting each other. It's insane. I highly recommend going to the Robot Restaurant if you're ever in Tokyo. 




After the Robot Restaurant, we had back to our room for a nice early morning. That's because we're going to... 

Day 2


Who doesn't like Disneyland? No one, that's who. With one of my friends never been to Disney before, and another friend and I loving Disney, it was only natural to make plans to visit Tokyo Disneyland. To ensure we had tickets, we woke up at 6 a.m. and made the two hour train ride to Disneyland. We entered the gates, and it's just as magical as Disney World, with a few differences here and there. Right off the bat, Main Street has a glass roof. This was Godsend since it decided to rain all day long. There were also branching sides as well, instead of the straight street in Disney World. 
Even the train was Disney themed!
They had a marching band playing classic songs. The glass roof made it dry!

You could buy Mike Wazowki melon bread!
A trip to Disney is never complete without a picture in front of the castle!


Throughout the day, the differences continued, but it was still just as fun! For example, all the rides are in Japanese. But that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy them! We rode Star Tours, located in Tomorrowland, twice despite the Japanese voice acting. However, the Philharmagic definitely felt off with the Japanese. In this attraction, you basically go through all the popular Disney songs. So instead of hearing "A Whole New World" or "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" in English, it was all in Japanese. Also, Goofy in Japanese just doesn't sound right.

Perhaps my favorite difference was Cinderella's Castle. In Tokyo Disneyland, they don't have the meet and greets with the characters, like they do in the American parks. As a result, they made in addition to Cinderella's Castle where you can go inside and go to the Throne Room. It was truly unique. 
Queen for about 30 seconds

Another fun fact about the park is that the food in both Disney Sea and Disneyland are not theme with the area. Instead, it's just basic Japanese food. We found this out the hard way when we went to Frontierland, knowing that one of the restaurants back home was a Southern style restaurant. In Japan however, this restaurant featured curry. Definitely not the biscuits and fried chicken we were expecting. 

Despite the rain, my friends and I had a great time! We had a great cultural moment observing something so similar, but seeing it in a different culture’s eyes. Even how people act and dress at Disneyland is culture. At the park, everyone was with someone. Going to the park alone is not a thing here. And the reason why we knew that was because every group or couple matched. I'm not talking about the "Reeve Family Reunion" matching T-shirts and khaki shorts. Nope, I'm talking about either matching uniforms with matching ears, fashionable outfits based on Disney characters, even the makeup and hair were matching. It certainly made our little group feel out of place at times.

Our day at Disneyland ends, however, that doesn't mean we're done with the park yet!

Day 3

Next day, Disney Sea!! 

We get up a little bit later this time, but we still make it 30 minutes after the gates opening. Disney Sea is a completely unique park that you can only find in Japan. All the rides are only found in Japan, with the exception of Indiana Jones, Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, and Magic Carpet ride. The theme of the park revolves around different ports around the world. The areas are Mediterranean, Mysterious Island (from the book by Jules Verne), American Waterfront, Agrabah, Lost River Delta (themed around a jungle), and an underground section dedicated to the Little Mermaid. With the park sitting right on the sea, this theme is perfect for the area. And thankfully, there was no rain today!! 

King Triton's Castle
Atlantica is all underground!

You can even see Ariel's Grotto!
And our lucky continued throughout the day. Jenny, one of my friends, knew what all the popular and must rides were, so we were able to get Fast Passes for the biggest rides. The most popular ride at Disney Sea is definitely Journey to the Center of the Earth. It operates much like Fast Track in EPCOT. Instead of a 180 minute wait, we only waited for 45 minutes thanks to the fast passes! It was intense, but I could totally see why it's one of the most popular rides. 

                               The mountain in the background is Mysterious Island. It's where you can go to the Center of the Earth!
Inside Mysterious Island. Here you can explore 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!

My favorite parts of the park is the fort that sits right below the mountain for Journey to the Center of the earth. Here's a picture of it, so you can see for yourself. 


It's really striking as one of the first things you see in the park. It's also completely explorable!! Another favorite part is Agrabah. The area is dressed to the nines in mosaics. It's really stunning. And the double decker merry-go-round allows you to see the full area.


After spending the full day there, we head back to the room for some much needed rest.

Day 4

After two days for intense walking, waking up early, and staying up late, we decided to sleep in this day. Today is another packed day. 

First stop, Akihabara. In other words, the Geek Holy Land. This area in Tokyo is famous for its hundreds of shops dedicated to anime, video games, figurines, and many more geeky items. And it certainly holds up to its name! Lining the streets were cramped stores filled with anime and video game merchandise. There were claw machine games that held figurines and stuffed animals. There's also cafes around this area. There's the infamous maid cafes, but there's also the Final Fantasy Cafe and Square Enix (created of Final Fantasy games) Cafe. Unfortunately, we couldn't get reservations for the cafes, but we were allowed in and could take pictures of the interior. Much money was spent in this area.

After a long day in Akihabara, we make our way to another famous district in Tokyo, Harajuku. Harajuku is the fashion district in Japan. This is where the crazy fashion styles of Japan can be found. There's also plenty of stores to be found in this area. Unfortunately, we get there late enough that most stores were closing. Despite Tokyo being bigger than NYC, it doesn't mean that the stores stay open until midnight like they do in NYC. The stores in the biggest shopping center close at 9 p.m., just like they do in little Hirakata. So with our trip to Harajuku cut short, we made our way to our next stop.

In my opinion, we saved the best for last- Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower can be done in either the day or night, but I highly recommend going at night. The night view of the city is specular. The inside was decorated with lights to resemble the cherry blossoms just coming into bloom. 

I could talk more about the view, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

The lights were added to mimic sakura blossoms!

Day 5

This day was one of my friend's last days here until she had to leave for another trip. So today was all about hitting up the areas she wanted to hit up! Today was a temple run day. The first temple we hit was a local temple near our Airbnb. Since it was a local one, it was nice and peaceful. Then we went to Meiji Shrine, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. This temple is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, perhaps one of the most famous and well beloved Emperors in Japanese history. Located next to the hustle and bustle of Harajuku, the giant park gives a real contrast to the rest of the city. The forest like park gives a real sense of peace. 

It looks like my driveway! Just a lot bigger.

After going to Meiji, we went to the most controversial temple in Japan, Yasukuni Temple. Here, the temple houses memorials for Japanese war heroes, especially for WWII. However, some of these war heroes are declared war criminals to the rest of the world. There's also the issue of Koreans being dedicated as war heroes. Many Koreans were forced to fight for the Japanese, resulting in their families wanting their family members removed from the shrine. However, all the people held in memoriam here are also declared kami, or gods. This makes the matter a little more complicated. Doesn't mean it's right, just means it's a little complicated. Regardless of the controversy, the temple was very beautiful. 


After a quick trip to the Pokemon Center in Tokyo, my friend makes her way on her own little adventure. Thus, it's just Jenny and me. We head off to be as we prepare for another great day in Tokyo. 

Day 6

For our last day in Tokyo, we meet up with a very special person, Funa! Funa was a foreign exchange student at Maryville last year. Since she lives in Tokyo, we thought this was the perfect time to meet up! It's really great to see your friends in their home. Funa took my friend and I through Ueno Park, a giant park used for the famous cherry blossom viewings and filled with temples, a zoo, and a couple museums. We also stopped by a store and got panda bread! As we toured the temples, it was great catching up with an old friend. Unfortunately, the weather started to become very cold, leading us to cut our visit a bit short. But it was great to see her again!

After Ueno Park, my friend and I went to the Capcom Bar located in Shinjuku. The Capcom Bar is a basically like a cafe based around famous Capcom games, such as Mega Man, Monster Hunter, Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright, and Street Fighter. Since my friend loves Monster Hunter, she mostly ordered from that menu. I ordered a bit from the Mega Man (or Rock Man in Japan), Monster Hunter, and Phoenix Wright menu. It was definitely a great way to end our trip!

Day 7

As we make the very long journey home, we are beyond tired. We spend five, jammed packed days in Tokyo. Here I was worried that we wouldn't have enough things to do, but we still didn't see everything we wanted to see. Tokyo is definitely a must see, but you have to remember that it doesn't represent all of Japan, just like NYC doesn't represent all of the USA. The giant city made me miss little Hirakata. I was so happy to be back. As fun as Tokyo is, it didn't feel like home like Hirakata does. Being a tourist is fun and all, but living here is what's really fun.