We spent the first 3 days of our trip in Tokyo. My great friend Kyong lives in Tokyo and showed us around, which was an incredible experience. Thanks so much Kyong!
I speak no Japanese and only learned some conversational phrases to attempt to be polite. Pronunciation is hard, but knowing common phrases like “excuse me”, “thank you very much”, “please”, “Where is the…” have proven useful. I cannot read kanji or kana, which surprisingly didn’t affect us much–all signs/menus/etc have English phrases and pictures. There is a lot of Google translate, pointing, gesturing, and saying “お願いします” & “ありがとうございました”. We had a bit of a rough start with getting used to everything being so different, but we now feel more confident after a few days. Overall, it is very easy to navigate society for how little we know.
Smaller culture shocks include–toilets are electronic, there are microcontrollers and motors in everything, vending machines are everywhere, people on public transportation are totally silent (how is there such cultural buy in for that?), Americans act very loud and rude compared to the general Japanese public, I feel so safe at all times, etc.
The City of Tokyo
Tokyo reminds me of a cleaner New York City. It is very cramped for space, high rises are illuminated with LED signs, public spaces are filled to the brim with people, etc. 新宿区 (Shinjuku) contains an overwhelmingly large train station, plenty of tourist shops, and an apparent red light district. 秋葉原 (Akihabara) is full of pervy anime weirdness. The 渋谷 (Shibuya) crossing was very cool to experience in person. We took a bike tour and explored some other various areas of Tokyo.
Gardens, Temples, and Tea
We didn’t get to experience the full 茶の湯 (chanoyu, traditional tea ceremony), but the garden we went to did serve us 抹茶 (matcha, powdered green tea) and 和菓子 (wagashi) in a traditional tea house where ceremonies would normally take place. It was an amazing, peaceful experience. Definitely a highlight.
We have attended many Buddhist and Shinto temples, which have been a very interesting experience. I like how they are similar to a public park, acting as a gathering space for the local communities. Each temple has a very unique atmosphere, and I wish I knew more specifics about the temples we visited.
We also did the teamLab Borderless digital art museum, which was a very cool high tech experience. Such high quality projectors and motion tracking devices, very cutting-edge. My favorite part was the interactive tea that would grow virtual flowers in your cup as you drank it.
I have been trying many different foods on this trip and have loved all of them . Yakizakana (grilled fish), miso soup, raw eggs with rice, and convenience store sushi have been some of our breakfasts. Ramen, street kebabs, and conveyer belt sushi have been some of our lunches and dinners. Crepes and どら焼き (Dorayaki) have been some of our desserts. But my favorite meal by far was the 刺身 (sashimi) and oysters I got from the 豊洲市場 (Toyosu) market.
We went at 7AM right when the market opened (2 hours after the fish auction). We ate some amazing fresh oysters just caught that morning, and I ordered sashimi also just caught that morning. The flavors were incredible, and it tasted unbelievably fresh–basically melted in my mouth. I had standard salmon/tuna/yellow tail sashima, as well as some more interesting ones. Most notable was the squid, sea urchin, and fish egg sushi. Squid was so fatty and savory, the texture of sea urchin was slightly unsettling but amazing when it coated your whole mouth, and the fish eggs popped in your mouth in a refreshing way. Overall it was an amazing experience to eat such incredible food.
More to Come!
Overall, I am enjoying being in a place that speaks no English and has such a fundamentally different culture and way of life. It is a bit unsettling and makes you crave for the familiarity of home, but experiencing these feelings is a large part of why I am excited for this trip. I hope it continues to be great!