So there I was, standing on floor 450 in the tallest free standing structure in the world. I smiled as I looked out over Tokyo; the biggest city on the planet with a population of over 38,000,000 people. This was a moment I had been waiting for, for a long time.
Just In Time for Sakura
I left Cleveland Hopkins International and had a short layover in Chicago O’Hare before heading out over most of Canada (the picture above was taken at some point in the far north west region of Canada) over Alaska, and then over part of the Pacific Ocean. I was able to grab only 2 quick pictures before being ushered back to my seat. The 13 hour flight wasn’t too bad, boredom and restlessness began to kick in hard after the 8th hour though.
Japan is a country I’ve been wanting to visit for as long as I can remember, Tokyo always seemed like an amazing place to me; so very different and unique. My original destination was to be Saigon, Vietnam, but since Japan was on the way I thought to myself “well, why don’t I just visit Japan on the way?”, so that’s exactly what I did! And while my expectations about it being different and unique and amazing were correct, it was just on a more extreme scale than I had thought.
I touched down at Narita Airport and I couldn’t believe it, I was FINALLY in Japan! After buying a SIM card for my phone and spending about 40 minutes to calm down, get some food, and collect myself, I started studying the trains. I went up and asked one man for a ticket to Tokyo and he pointed me towards the JR station. I was confused and worried a bit, but now I’ve come to rely on the JR rail system a lot and have learned it inside and out! It’s strange arriving in a foreign country that you’ve never been to before and the language is so far beyond different than yours it’s unreal, and then suddenly realising that after a few weeks that you’re completely comfortable here and don’t want to leave! I’m currently at the point now where I kinda feel at home here in Japan, it’s very bizarre and surreal, but also very reassuring to me at the same time. That I can travel to a completely different and foreign part of the world and know that I could call it home if I wanted to.
I spent 2 weeks in Tokyo and I wasn’t short of things to be entertained by. When I arrived the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, so the first couple days I spent visiting parks and temples that had high amounts of them. And if you decide to visit Japan during the time when they’re in full bloom you won’t need to worry about missing them, they are everywhere! There are also countless sakura festivals celebrating this as well, some prohibit alcohol and are very family friendly, others a bit more party-like.
In fact, it’s such a big deal here that they also make ice cream in sakura flavor! Which is actually really good, easily my favorite flavor of ice cream that I discovered in all of Japan! After I got my fill of sakura festivals the first few days I decided to spend a day exploring the inner city of Tokyo, which led me to tracking down the famous Tokyo Tower!
Even with a fear of heights the Tokyo Tower isn’t that hard to handle, it’s big, but not overwhelming once you’re up inside. Though the glass floor section was still slightly fear inducing for me. Looking outward though it gives some nice views of the city, and it also helps you pick out your next location! I could see many temples, but there was a really close one that caught my attention and so I made that my next target, but not before snapping a few pictures!
After my photographing and going through the gift shop which had countless mini Tower replicas, I headed outside and found an electronics charger and charged my phone. These things are placed pretty randomly throughout Tokyo, I only saw a couple more during my visit, and they’re nice because you can put your device in the small steel box while it charges just in case it rains! And you’ll find it rains pretty often here.
I continued in the direction of the temple I had spotted from above and decided to check it out. This was my first visit to a full size temple; the others I had seen so far were pretty small. This one was on a pretty sizeable plot of land and had several other buildings which I’m still not sure they’re purposes, but one of them had drumming going on which was pretty cool! I didn’t take a picture of this though as I didn’t want to disturb whatever ritual it was.
After my viewing of the temple I headed outside and the sky was getting pretty dark and the temperature had dropped, so I headed back to the JR station and made my way back to my capsule. The capsule hotels that are in Japan aren’t anything new, they’ve actually been around for at least a couple decades now. I didn’t mind too much staying in one, they’re much bigger than they look in pictures and many people seem to have the wrong impression of them. I didn’t get any claustrophobia at all inside and while they’re not as quiet as having your own hotel room, they’re quieter than your typical hostels that have bunk beds.
I don’t know about some of the other capsule hotels in Japan, but the one I stayed in had TV’s inside each capsule along with a radio, an alarm, a light, and even an AC vent! The door to each individual capsule is either a dark curtain or a bamboo-like pull down door; mine had the pull down door which I liked. The sheets are changed every single day and the place is kept pretty clean, though you can tell it’s pretty worn down. It was only about a 5 minute walk to the closest JR station and a 5 minute walk in the other direction to a 7-11, hitting the 7-11 for a snack and then back tracking past the capsule hotel to the JR station became a daily ritual for me.
Odaiba Island and Floor 450
A couple days after my visit to Tokyo Tower I made my way out to Odaiba which is large artificial island in Tokyo Bay. Since I have a love for beaches this was a must-see for me; however the island contains a lot more than just a few beaches. One of the most eye catching buildings on the island is the Fuji TV Building which has a giant steel plated ball sitting at the top. You can see it in my Towering Views of Tokyo post. There are also some amazing views of the city across the water, especially during sundown and at night when the city lights up.
A few other surprises were in store for me as well, including a full size Gundam, a Statue Of Liberty replica, the biggest ferris wheel I’ve ever seen, a mall that has some very unique stores, a rainbow tunnel/bridge, colored mist which looks like fire, a light show that plays to music (I have uploaded a bit of video from this further down), and one of the biggest surprises I got was Joypolis. What is Joypolis? Well…. It’s a SEGA amusement part! A bit of my personal history; I grew up playing nothing but SEGA games, Sonic is of course a favorite, and the Phantasy Star game series ranks as my personal favorites of all time (Phantasy Star 2 and 4 are kinda tied at #1 all-time game for me). So this was an ultimate shocker for me!
In that last wide picture you may notice what appears to be a Christmas tree. This is simply not true for 2 reasons, the first being that it was April; the second reason is that after you hang around the area for a bit of time you’ll learn that it’s actually decorations for an awesome light show! Check the video I recorded of the awesome light show here that features a beautiful view of Tokyo as the background:
After my fun night exploring Odaiba Island I decided to stay close by the Capsule Hotel the following day, mainly because my feet and legs were begging me to. Also, because there was something rather amazing within walking distance from the hotel that I got to see every single morning and night I was in Tokyo, the newly built Tokyo Skytree. I mentioned this amazing tower in my Towering Views of Tokyo post, it’s the 2nd tallest structure on Earth, and the #1 tallest tower world-wide (at the time of this post). It stands at a staggering 2,080 ft. tall (634m) and has 2 observation decks. The first observation deck is on floor 350 (the floor number is named after the height in meters, this would be 1,148 ft.) which is a more subtle viewing spot, the elevator ride up is enclosed so it’s much easier for those with acrophobia, the 2nd observation deck is a bit tougher, the elevator ride to floor 450 (1,476ft) has a viewing window for the ride up along with the ceiling being partially windowed as well, so you can look up to see where you’re going or on the ride down.
The views from this place are pretty surreal, you see so much it’s hard to take it all in. It’s about a 60 second ride up to the first observation deck and maybe 20-30 seconds up to the 2nd one. There is an additional charge for the 2nd deck, but it’s completely worth it! When the elevator ride stops on floor 450 you’ll immediately be presented with a pretty amazing view, you’ll then enter a glass tunnel that wraps around the tower at a slight incline up to floor 451 like you see below.
Standing up against the railing will give you a clear view looking both straight up and straight down. I didn’t take a picture looking up unfortunately, but I did take one looking down. The angle of the picture above doesn’t really make the tunnel look like it’s mainly glass, I didn’t realise this until afterwards unfortunately, but as I said, I did get a shot looking straight down.
I spent a good amount of time up here, the building didn’t sway at all from the wind and I was lucky no earthquakes hit nearby either. I must advise though that you come up here on a clear day, unless you want a view of the clouds. On cloudy days the upper part of the Skytree is completely hidden. You also need to stick around for the view at night, both inside to see the city light up, and outside to see the tower light up! And I also almost forgot to mention, the 1st observation deck has a glass floor!
Konnichiwa Mt. Fuji
After yet another few days of excitement I decided to calm down a bit for a day, which as you may have guessed is pretty difficult to do here. One of my favorite shots of Japan has always been the picture of a tall pagoda to the right, some cherry blossom trees scattered at the bottom of the picture, and a view of Mt. Fuji as the main focus. Not sure what picture I mean? Well, you could do a simple image search for “Japan” and I can almost guarantee it’ll probably be the very first result you see! And it will unfortunately look much better than mine, why? Well, it was pretty cloudy by the time I got to the city of Fujiyoshida (sunny and pretty clear when I boarded the train at Kinshicho Station in Tokyo); the city was named after Mt. Fuji of course. However, I’ve been wanting to find this specific spot in Japan, for as long as I’ve wanted to go to Japan. It’s usually one of the first pictures many people even see of Japan! So the fact that it was cloudy actually didn’t bother me, it was an accomplishment that I’ve been wanting to achieve for a VERY long time!
The pagoda you see is actually the Chureito Pagoda which was built as a monument to enshrine the 960 citizens of Fujiyoshida who died in the wars which occurred after 1868 which consist of the following: First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Pacific Wars of World War II. It has been here since April of 1962, construction began in August of 1958. I ended up spending about 3 hours around this area; I had completed a life goal by finding this very spot, so I wanted to let it soak in for a while. But I’m not saying I stood in this exact spot for that long, don’t worry. There are a few trails going further up the mountain where this view can be seen from, so I hiked up those and possibly hoped to catch a better view. While the clouds never cleared I was able to see the very top of Mt. Fuji a few times very briefly, but no good photographs came out.
The city of Fujiyoshida has a very real and authentic feel to it, walking through the streets honestly made me feel like I was in one of the many animes I’ve watched in the past. People are out gardening and hanging laundry, kids are running through the street in their school uniforms, drivers are transporting goods across the city on the small trucks they use here which I think are pretty cool looking! As much as I love Tokyo, it was nice to see the more calm side of Japan where life isn’t a race and time is taken to enjoy the common day. Here are photos from when I walked around Fujiyoshida enjoying the change of pace.
After my love affair with Fujiyoshida and Fujisan (Mt. Fuji) herself, I took the train back to Tokyo and enjoyed dinner. You can find my food adventures of Japan in a future post! The train to Fujiyoshida from Tokyo and back is very relaxing, it’s just over an hour and you get to see a lot of the countryside of Japan and smaller towns.
Temples and More!
No tour of Japan is complete without seeing some amazing temples and seeing the occasional geisha cross your path! So the next day I would find myself surrounded by both as I took a stroll to one of the biggest attractions in Tokyo. I usually love taking my own path and finding my own discoveries, but just like with Fujisan, there is the “must-see sight” that I have to… well… see! The Senso-ji Temple draws a big crowd and the day I visited it was no different, especially with the sakura in full bloom!
As a visitor myself I can’t complain about all the other visitors here, but just to warn you, there are A LOT of people that flock here to see the astounding religious relics these grounds offer. If you want to avoid other travelers, I would advise against coming here, but if you’re feeling a bit “out-of-place” this is one of the best spots to come as you’ll see people from all over the world walking around this area. There’s also plenty of food here too, but it’s marked up significantly as the locals are well aware of the international draw this place has, so there’s a good chance you may be paying close to TRIPLE the normal price! Luckily I had been in Japan long enough by now to know better, so I ate once here (and made sure it was a cheap meal) and that was it.
As you can see there is a small stream that runs through the grounds of the Senso-ji Temple area. If there’s one thing that I think Japan does better than anywhere else I’ve been to so far, it’s their cleanliness and care for their environment. Below is a shot of an enormous religious pot. At first glance it may shock some people that aren’t aware of what the swastika logo ACTUALLY means! For a quick history lesson, the swastika is actually a Buddhist (also in Hinduism and Jainism) symbol of auspiciousness, but thanks to a certain madman who borrowed the symbol for his own, there’s usually a bit of a reaction for some. The “other” swastika if you notice is actually tilted and sits on a point, unlike the original one pictured below which has been around since before the 2nd century B.C. and sits on a side.
After I wandered around a bit more I decided to go off the beaten path and see what else this part of the city has to offer. I was originally going to title this section of the post as the “best day yet” which it was, but decided against it. The reason being is not just because of my journey through the city to get to Senso-ji Temple, or the temple itself, but also because of the things I found after I left the temple.
This is the part of my adventure through Japan when I started finding live musical performances. I’m planning on putting together a video featuring a variety of performances I was able to witness throughout my month here, but I have to give credit to the first guy I heard here in Japan as he was an excellent solo performer. I also saw a man making art in front of an audience, costumed people running around and posing for pictures, a golden mime, a ninja showing kids how to throw stars (trust me, she was an actual ninja, her clothing and mannerisms weren’t fake and while she was friendly she also looked like someone who take you down in under a second), and some more great food. But before we jump the gun, here’s the solo performer.
If you enjoyed this guy’s performance I unfortunately never got his name, but if you want to listen to similar style music I highly recommend that you check out the Yoshida Brothers. I’ve been listening to them for a few years now and only increased my urge to travel to Japan. So being able to capture a performance of the same kind of music was a dream come true!
City Streets at Night
I’ve seen a lot of questions posted online asking about the safety of Tokyo, especially at night. Depending on where you’re from I can totally understand this question. I’ve walked around my hometown of Cleveland, OH at night and I know that some parts can be very shady, and there’s some parts where I stay in my car. This is very common throughout all of the USA though, no matter how big or small the city or town there’s going to be some crime, but once you go international the same concepts don’t apply the same way everywhere. This is especially true when it comes to the cities of Japan. Just like any city, Tokyo has its shady areas which in this case seems to be Roppongi and Kabukicho. Now, I’ve only heard of a few incidents happening in Roppongi and apparently the worst thing that happens is you might lose some cash because you got way to drunk and passed out in the street (honestly you might even have a friend that would jack some cash from you at this point), and from what I understand these few incidents took place over the course of a decade. So crime is on an extremely low level here, so walking around downtown Tokyo at 2:00am is probably still safer than walking around the safest US city during the day.
The issue in Kabukicho from what I hear is being ripped off by some of the pimps if you’re a customer. Now, if you’re going into that part of Shinjuku looking for some “adult fun” then I can’t help you much. But, I do know you’ll come across 2 kinds of pimps offering you a “good time”. There’s the Japanese ran places where the men standing outside wear suits and ear pieces and never really approach you in the first place, I’ve heard these places are legit, and then there’s the pimps that constantly flank you out of nowhere offering a “good time” and follow you for a couple blocks before giving up. They speak a sloppy version of English, they’re very unprofessional, they stand out like blood on snow, and they’re very loud, which all these things should set off some alarm bells. As long as you keep walking and ignore them though, you’re usually fine.
That doesn’t mean you can walk around the rest of the city with a gold necklace with a diamond on the end, a $3000 camera around your neck, your purse wide open with money sticking out, a giant 99.9% pure silver ring on your pinky, designer clothes, a fur coat, drive a Ferrari, and brag about your riches and believe you’re invincible. It just means you can walk around in average attire and probably never have to worry, but as always, you should never let your guard down. Anything can happen to anybody, anywhere! That being said, here’s some shots of one of the many underground tunnels beneath the city streets.
So the underground walkways in the city aren’t only considered a safe way to get around, but aside from excellent lighting, they also have security cameras, art on the walls, food stalls, and are extremely clean! Honestly, is there any other city that has underground pathways THIS nice? If so, let me know, I want to check them out! I can safely say that I never felt threatened or in a “bad area” while I was anywhere in Japan. While I wandered around Kabukicho I did get annoyed, but that was about it. Though these pictures are all from Tokyo, the same feeling of safety came from both Kyoto and Osaka as well. Even more so since I don’t think either of them have a red light district, or if they do I never came across it.
I will admit that leaving this city behind after only 2 weeks was a hard choice to make once I was here, but what I found in Kyoto and Osaka was absolutely worth it. Check back soon for articles on both those cities along with an article on the food I ate in Japan and my trip down the rabbit hole of the Kabukicho area; it alone deserves its own article!