this is a Class Y journal
Cherry blossom is Japan’s national flower, and the annual flowering is a national fesitivity that is widely celebrated, and 花見/Hainami is considered one of the most important things for a Japanese to do. Some people even follow the opening trend from south of 沖繩/Okinawa to the north of 北海道/Hokkaido.
100 Japanese Yen is about 1 US dollar.
In my life so far, I have been to many countries, encountered many bizarre occurrences, and have done many crazy things. (Yes I do include walking on an unsupported bridge with NO BASE that is designed for trains, aka bare train track in midair, or eating fermented dead shark buried underground for a few years, or even thinking a girl will ever like me) However, this one has to top the list of them, as I decided, amidst a crazy sale to Tokyo by all major carriers, that I should go to Tokyo for a weekend! And after self-loathing for months just like every time I finish a 18-pack chicken wing platter, I was eventually on the journey to the country where the sun rises. However, I gave myself a great excuse to do so: cherry blossoms! (just like whenever I encounter a pizza, I am always extremely creative when it comes to excuses)
Thanks for my previous trip to Panama and Colombia in Business Class, I was able to obtain my Platinum status with American Airlines, the bully amongst the assholes, which makes it quite a charmer since it is at least a leader of some sort, unlike me. I finished all my classes at 3, and after some rushed dinner and cleaning up, I was on my way. I went to LAX on a Uber, and the driver Allan was very nice, we talked a lot and Allan also offered me a ride back when I finish! Thank you Allan you are definitely a different kind of Uber driver~! Upon arrival, I was quite shy to walk up to the First Class check-in line: there was nobody, and I have never actually checked in with First Class, well, not by accident. I knew I was upgraded on my first flight to San Francisco 3 days ago due to my status, and now I got my boarding passes, I passed the security with the common folks, while pondering if I should get TSA precheck, but the 100 dollar cost means another ride somewhere in the world…. Maybe I do not deserve my status… (proving I am even poorer than most of the folks)
Thanks to the new airside bridge to Tom Bradley International Terminal, I was able to walk there and enjoy the OneWorld lounge. It has a great buffet bar, food, and more food, some nice seats, and of course, food.
Nice seats, for eating food.
chips, fresh fruit salad, some baked goods, a fruit herb drink, I should’ve arrived 2 hours earlier and skip my dinner.
Quickly the time passed, I had to gulp down all my food and rush back to the gate. And guess what? The flight is delayed, and nobody told anybody to tell me! WHAT BLASPHEMY! I am a Platinum member! (jk, jk, there are more Executive plat than rabbit holes) I had to move back to the Admiral’s lounge, which is lower in tier but closer. I had some good view of the tarmac, and was able to get some homework done. Yes, I do have to do homework. No, I did not tell my professors I did them while under-age drinking.
Nice window, wish there could be more food than the standard Admiral’s Club
The flight got delayed all the way till 9pm, but I am fine since I was simply sitting down and reading my dank memes, uh no, I mean my homework. I quickly boarded the plane and we were under way. At SFO, I need to change onto Japan Airlines 1 to get to Tokyo, and that is the only way for me to get a cheap sale ticket, direct flight is for rich guys. I had no luck in all lounges in San Francisco because when I arrived there, I changed my terminal and the Sakura Lounge by JAL was still closed! I had to go to Cathay Pacific’s awesome sky lounge, and guess what? I GOT DENIED ENTRY BECAUSE I WAS UNDERAGE. Yes, they denied me entry to the goddamn best lounge because I was a few dozen days away from 21. Then I had to sit near the gate for 3 hours, watching dank meme videos, um, I mean, watching homework showcases. I priority-boarded onto this refurbished 777, and I was not disappointed with the new SkyWide economy design. My leg has plenty of room to tweak around and is even better than a lot of Main Cabin Extra seats in American Airlines. It is lucky for me as I am defying Asian standards and standing like a 6 ft stick, and the legroom definitely helped.
I always know JAL never fools around when it comes to food.
The cabin service was great, 2 meals and a snack, plus multiple drink sessions as if they are trying to keep me from sleeping, well, they can try.
The flight landed 4:20 am, April 10th, Sunday, 1 hour ahead of schedule, and I passed the customs with ease. The Keikyu Japanese Railway line from Haneda does not open until 5:00, so I spent my time examining the metro map. After making sure I had the basics, I bought a ticket and boarded the 5:26 first train. It runs into Tokyo downtown and turns into a normal underground train. Yes, the trains of the two systems are integrated. Once it reaches 泉岳寺, it will change its name and destination, and continue on. I took the train all the way to 築地/Tsujiki, and hoped that I could see some salmon auction in action. The Tsujiki market is one of the most famous seafood markets in the world, and I was unable to take a glimpse: it is closed on Sundays.
After blaming myself as what I usually do in mornings, I proceeded to look for food. I found a great Uni-don place and the chef offered me a free miso soup to warm up. Uni is sea urchin, and trust me, it is ridiculously delicious if you are not against the sea scent. Let me put it the easy way: it is creamy as fuck. It is very expensive as well, so this Uni-Salmon-Roe Don cost me 2900 Yen, but I am more than willing to bleed this out.
Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Oh yeah so worth it.
After the best breakfast I have had in a while, I pressed on and bought a one-day pass on all Toei and Tokyo metro train. In Tokyo, besides these two, Japanese Railway also runs some lines in the city, but the pass containing all three is slightly more expensive and I don’t think it is super worth it. The 10+ lines of the first two can take care of my needs. I resurfaced around 新宿三丁目/Shinjuku Sanchome, and wanted to go to the prime place for cherry blossom viewing: 新宿御苑/Shinjuku Gyoen. You guessed it, IT IS CLOSED until 9 am. I stood in front of the gate for 10 minutes and realized it was just 7:30. I took a long stroll around Shinjuku, and returned around 8:50, and there was a long line, but I quickly whisked my way into the garden once it opened, and I say it definitely was worth the wait. Though 40% of the cherry blossoms have fallen due to an early storm (thus diminishing the prediction that I would be able to view full bloom), the entire garden is still covered with cherry petals. I will let pictures do the talking, I am a bit poor on words.
A true cherry blossom fest.
You know, this is one of the things that invokes a very specific feeling inside me. I always enjoyed travelling alone, but when in moments truly awe-inspiring, soul-touching like this, I always felt something is lost. You would want to share this special sentiment with someone. It is a mixture of excitement, humility, appreciation of the world, and gratitude of everything, from small things like your decision to be there, to large things like mother nature shaping this world, and many, many other feelings all mashed together. Without being able to share it with someone, without being able to turn around your head and see your partner having the exact same mixture of feeling, the travel is somewhat of a lower kind. That special feeling is distinct, impossible to be duplicated, and is only shared by the people who are there at the right time: you and your travel partners. I am no stranger to this feeling, I had it when I was seeing the Everest after 10 days of painstaking trekking; I had it when I sat on a snow-covered bench in Stockholm; I had it when I waved goodbye to 30 orphaned, teary-eyed children in Cusco. I just never thought, it would hit me in such a time, in such a place…. As I always say:I enjoy being alone, but I never fancy being lonely…
After that, I started my journey towards 浅草寺/Senso-ji due to someone’s request to get a prayer sheet from the temple. I quickly reached the famous 雷門(かみなりもん)/Raimen. It is indeed a quite daunting establishment to be called the door of thunder.
Please ignore that hand, I was trying very hard to avoid 200+ heads.
The walkway towards Senso-ji was filled with all kinds of shops, and all kinds of little stuffs from trinkets to touristy 必勝 bandanas are sold here. I quickly grabbed some festival food as my compensation of not buying anything home, and made my way towards the temple. The temple is a classic Buddhist style, and has a rare statue made of gold inside. I grabbed a prayer sheet by donating 100 yen, shaking a bottle until a wood stick with a number comes out, and picking the drawer corresponding to that number.
I got 36! What does it say?? of course it is a secret!
I encountered a ceremony during my visit, and it apparently is named 白鶴の舞/Dance of The White Cranes. A lot of music was played, and a long line of teenage girls dressed up as cranes dance in a very slow, almost machine-like, style.
The little children and the guard leading the parade.
After a little more food in front of the famous pagoda, I disappeared among the increasing crowd in a poof of incense smoke.
The five story pagoda with cherry blossoms.
I made my way towards Tokyo Sky Tree as I walked east, and crossed the river, having an awesome view of the northeastern corner of the city.
A Sunday morning with all the great waterfront, cherry blossom, and a train passing by.
I was quite tired when I reached the Tokyo Sky Tower, as I was awake for 8 hours already! I did not go up because it costs so much, and I personally think the day is too overcast to see Mountain Fuji, defeating the purpose.
Tokyo Sky Tree with sakura.
I had a great tsukumen in the building for lunch, from 六厘舍, believed to be the best tsukumen shop in the world.
The broth is so thick that it feels like anything can float in it, and the egg, oh my god, don’t get me started on the egg.
Then after a great meal costing 1000 yen, I took a metro to the other awesome place to view cherry blossoms: 上野公園/Ueno Park. It reportedly has a huge avenue full of cherry flowers, but unfortunately they have all fallen by the time I arrived there. Despite that, I had a great time in this relaxed park.
月の松/The pine of moon.
Near National Nature and Science Museum
A walkway in the middle of a lake with cherry blossoms.
I slowly made my way pass the crowd near 上野/Ueno, and head to 池袋(いけぶくろ)/ Ikebukuro. I was there for 1 reason: Pokemon Center. Not many people know that I am actually a veteran on this simple yet complicated game, having never missed one single main series game in my life. I played competitively, leisurely, and for shiny hunting-ly, mostly all by myself, because I am a lonely bastard. I always wanted to visit the Pokemon Center, and I was definitely not disappointed. It is well-tailored to both the kept-up geeks and nostalgic retro-rewind noobs, um, I mean, players.
A WHOLE FUCKING SHELF OF DITTO-TURNED POKEMON
JUST LOOK AT THIS!!! LOOK AT THIS!!!! SO YUUUUUGE!!!
Anyways, nerdgasm over. I quickly bought a lot of things in 3 hours of my stay there, and returned most of them after hearing my wallet screaming like I was about to be forced into a 5-year hunger strike. I walked a bit around Shinjuku, and decided to give up dinner to rest first. I was exhausted, my head has not touched a pillow for over 40 hours, and I know, it will not touch any for another night: I will be trying out the famous Tokyo-only….. Capsule Hotel.
The first thing that I had to do was take off my shoes, and then I deposited it and realized nobody is allowed to wear any footwear inside. I found my capsule, and I was definitely surprised with the room my capsule has: none.
A hotel, or a morgue?
I was mentally prepared, but I never thought I would actually be sleeping in there. I crawled in, and let me show you how small it is.
seeing my reflection in the tv? yes, I had my back against the wall.
But it is big enough! I can fall asleep in a box, so why complain when 300 others join me in a pile of boxes? I did not bother to check out the awesome communal SPA and dozed right off to sleep. Oh also, a lot of porn in the TV, why, you ask? It is Japan you egghead!
I woke up at 7 and quickly grabbed some food from my bag, checked out of the hotel after a communal shower, and took right off to Tsukiji. I was able to line up in one of the best sushi shops of the world, and the wait still took me over 1 hour, because the little restaurant only fits 8 people. The seafood cannot be fresher, and the wait cannot be more worth it. I was more than prepared with a lot of homework on my phone waiting to be finished. I am a good student, and don’t you say otherwise! what? I missed my Economics 106G homework the week right after? huh? what are you talking about? Security get this guy outta here!
Of course the sushi masters have to work right in front of you!
The guy beside me decided uni was not his dish, and I got a free uni-sushi~! What? it is unhygienic? You must have never had uni, have you?
From this day on, I know heaven is edible, and actually has a price tag: 3500 yen
After a hearty meal, I was able to explore the inner market closed off yesterday. I saw so many random sea creatures, what I considered edible or not, alive and dead. The market is a working clock, with little carts transporting all kinds of things everywhere, and people buying, selling, hollering, showing off his big tuna chunk, etc. Everyone seems to be busy, yet the time freezes still here.
A market like a maze.
A tuna sale going on, each large chunk can easily cost 1000 dollars.
After being amazed by all kinds of things that live in the sea, and had my hair filled with sea salt, I was ready to continue. I decided to visit 明治神宮/Meiju Jingu. It is a shrine dedicated to the great emperor Meiju, and his wife. The large shrine is in the middle of a forest in downtown Tokyo, and is absolutely a quiet sanctuary from the hectic city sprawl.
This 大鳥居/とりい is a gateway to gods, and made of giant wood only grown in Taiwan.
The walk is pleasant and the rustling of the treetops by the wind marks the transcending from normal being into deity as the shrine is supposed to do especially awe-inspiring. The shrine itself is very simple, but many people are here for the greatness of the emperor, a deity or not, it doesn’t matter.
The entrance to the realm of gods.
There are a lot of prayer tags, and of course, I was willing to spend 500 yen to contribute to this amazing shrine. I wrote down my prayers in Japanese, Chinese, English, Spanish and French, trying to blend into the diverse language base of the tags, and bowed in front of the Meiji shrine, finishing my visit.
Great to know that my prayers are with so many others, and we will work towards our goals together.
As I walked out of the shrine, my food sense started tingling: time for lunch. I decided to go for the best gyoza in the world. The little shop is hidden away from all the crowded commercial streets near 明治神宮前(めいじじんぐうまええき)/Meiju Jingu-mae. The dumplings remain at the historical price of 290 yen a plate. The gyoza is amazing, and is definitely worth it, in the form of 10 plates, or 20.
Gyoza with cucumber in sesame sause. I can have this every day.
After my lunch, I walked around the commercial area, and headed to something I read about couple months ago: a hedgehog cafe opened near 六本木（ろっぽんぎ）/Roppongi. It is the tourist area with a lot of high end hotels and others, and I quickly found the cafe: with a line of course. The cat cafes, even bunny cafes, are all so outdated here! The true king of the cafe scene is now reigned by hedgehogs and owls! I waited about 30 minutes and entered the cafe. It is just a room, with 20 hedgehogs, you play with them for half an hour, and you pay 1000 yen. Straight forward, and ultra worth it.
Since they are nocturnal, they sometimes curl up into a little ball and take a nap~!
Note: they are not prickly at all unless you go directly against the spines. They are super soft once you get to touch their tummies!
After some minutes of feeling lost as I was not holding a hedgehog in my hand anymore, I continued my journey. I then passed by 秋葉原(あきはばら)/Akihabara, the epicenter of the otaku phenomenon. Nothing is not in anime style, from advertisements, to train broadcasts. I could spend my life here, so I carefully avoided going into those doors-of-no-turning-back.
Yes, yes, yes, this is the place where maid cafes started, A-k-i-h-a-b-a-r-a, smh.
After this, I decided to go to Ueno park again to watch the sunset. This turned out to be a wise choice for my final afternoon there. I sat by the lake, with many children playing near the water edge with the ducks, as cherry blossoms get blown onto the surface, creating ripples that cross each other’s path, just like travelers of different worlds….
The spring of 2016 has come to Tokyo, when will my spring come to me?
After the sun descended into the array of buildings, I chose to have my final meal be some guilt pleasure: おでん/oden. It is many things boiled in special broth and served up to you, a specialty of Kanto region. I found my way into a small shop, claimed to be the best oden in the world. I was welcomed to sit in front of the chef, and I quickly ordered a bunch of things by pointing and reading off the all-Hiragana-no-picture menu with my limited Japanese. The chef quickly picked everything I wanted, and presented it to me with a bow, oh man did they deliver.
The meal is ready in 35 seconds, and costs less than 1000 yen.
I also ordered the tofu-don since I saw it being their specialty in the store. OH MY GLORIOUS GOD THAT TOFU WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD. The bottom half had already melted into the brown rice when it was presented to me: 30 seconds after it was pulled off the broth right in front of me. The tofu must have been bathing the heaven juice for hours.
I knew I was in the right place since I was the only person not from the block, as they all know the chef and each other. I had a menu full of 平仮名/Hiragana and only some 片仮名/Katagana, no picture, no English, nothing. Meanwhile, everyone else orders off the blocks hung on the wall.
Proud to watch the best oden master working.
I noticed the broth is brown but the master only puts in clear soup. The color must comes from many, many hours of all kinds of great materials sitting in the tub, releasing their essence.
After a great last supper, I was ready to head off to the train station, just like any tired working class city-dweller of this mega metropolis on a Monday. We wobbled our ways through the crowd, heading to our homes, except mine is 5000 miles away. It is 9, the city is dozing off, and so is everyone in this train carriage.
Return & Epilogue
I quickly arrived into the Haneda station as I chose to take a 急行/Limited Express train. I checked in and quickly passed everyone with my priority pass (yes, I have to mention that again). I settled down in the JAL Sakura Sky Lounge, facing the tarmac again. It is Monday night, 10pm, 40 hours after I landed here, and most importantly, I am hungry again. No worries, the lounge has me covered, with some booze as well. There is miso soup, udon noodle bowl, fresh tempura, sushi, dim sum, and so so many others. I should have lived here.
Meanwhile, I was getting denied entrance in USA for this.
What? I am eating all this alone? look into the window! I have my reflection as my companion! As an ancient Chinese poem goes: 舉杯邀明月，對影成三人。(raise the cup to toast with the moon, along with the shadow you have three people together)
Since I am not a heavy drinker, I opted for all kinds of food, plus some rose sparkling wine, and of course, JAL’s special drink SkyTime! I had my meal and watched more
dank memes educational videos, and it was about time to board! I prioritied my way through the process and sat down in my AA Main Cabin Extra seat in the 787, not impressive, similar to the SkyWide I would say.
I was picked up by Allan and safely returned home. Thank you Allan for being a compassionate individual, standing all my excited gibberish of my experience. People like you is the reason why I love to travel.
The entire travel costs: 430(airfare)+45(Pokemon Center purchase)+60(Sushi and Uni)+20(Capsule hotel)+30(all transportation)+20(Uber to LAX)+90(all others including small souvenirs)=
and I got 22000 miles back, worth at least 250 dollars, along with 10000EQM, which can potentially bump me up to Executive Platinum. Also remember this includes a lot of physical items bought so I in actuality spent about 400 dollars on food and irrecoverable expenses, including flights.
In this trip, I have accomplished the impossible: 40 hours on the ground, and I saw almost all of the major sights, along by trying many new things. When I first visited Japan 10 years ago, I would never imagine that the next time I stepped onto the soil of this country, I would be 20, travelling just for 2 days, and much, much more appreciative of the world around me.
Japan, a nation so different, that the world has been trying to become it by driving its cars, using its technologies, and eating its sushi. Japan, thank you for your hospitality. Young will be back very soon, this year, I promise.
(I will pass by Tokyo 2 more times, and Osaka 1 time this year)