After years of dreaming and wishing, I finally did it. God blessed me with the opportunity to go to Japan. This was my first time outside the US and it was, in a word, amazing. At the request of friends and family, I took many pictures. I also captured some short videos. Here they are for your viewing pleasure. Click an image to view the full-sized version. Page 1: Week one. Page 2: Week two. Page 3: Gallery.
First was a flight from LAX to Vancouver.
Tim Hortons? Yep, I’m in Canada.
Oh, and another Tim Hortons….
ApaHotel in Iwamotocho
Now, these pictures portray a much rosier picture than reality. The hotel you see above was not the one I booked. When I arrived at Akihabara Eki (Station) I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and I was more than ready to go to bed. After I took the Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo Eki, I then had to ride from Tokyo Eki to Akihabara Eki. Because I was so tired, however, my conscious brain didn’t know how to get to Akihabara Eki even though my unconscious brain took me to the correct spot. While standing there, I sought the help of an employee and barely managed to utter an enfeebled, 「秋葉原駅。。。」(“Akihabara Eki….”) But he was very kind and told me in Japanese that this was indeed the correct line and that the next train would come along in two minutes.
After I exited Akihabara Eki I had to orient myself (which was difficult because it was after sunset) and then I walked to my hotel by memory. In the weeks and months leading up to my trip I spent so much time in that area in Google Earth etc. that once I was there in person it was a snap to find my way. But here’s where the story turns dark. When I got to my hotel and eventually figured out how to open the assigned lockbox, I was dismayed to discover that there was no key to my room inside. And this was after hours so there was no one at the desk. I had no idea what to do and I (obviously) had no phone service so I decided to go to the izakaya next door and have dinner and calm down so I could think.
I didn’t take any pictures, but here it is in Google Earth.
Inside, I settled in easily enough at my table, with my luggage by the door, and ordered tonkatsu. After I rehearsed the Japanese in my head for a short while, I asked the waitress if I could ask her a question. I then explained the situation as best I could. She was very helpful and not only walked next-door with me, but also made several phone calls on my behalf, before finally finding a nearby hotel in Iwamotocho, pictured earlier. She advised me where to find a taxi and sent me on my way, but not before I gave her some Kit-Kats. You see, American and Japanese Kit-Kats are quite different and I brought a box of 36 Kit-Kats with me to give to my friends. But this waitress got the first two. Once in my hotel and connected to the WiFi, I spoke with agoda.com’s customer service and they found a suitable hotel nearby for my remaining thirteen nights. Because Agoda has a price match guarantee, I didn’t have to pay the difference, which came to some $700. I had to pay for my first night in Iwamotocho, of course, but whatever.
The good news about this situation was that I got the worst part out of the way on the first night. Also, I learned from that experience that I knew enough Japanese to ask for help in an emergency so there was nothing to fear. To be honest, it was scary to be in another country, exhausted, with luggage in tow, and no hotel room. I was so grateful to that waitress that I returned the next day and thanked her once again.
Oh, by the way, what happened was that the hotel overbooked and canceled my reservation to give my room to another guest, but neglected to inform me. That was nice.
So the next morning I took a taxi to another ApaHotel in Asakusa, which Agoda booked for me. And that ApaHotel booking was good for the rest of the trip. I didn’t take many pictures the next day. I just walked around and took in the sights. But near sunset I had to get some shots of Iwamotocho.
I also walked around in Akihabara and I found a shop called ariai that sells pottery handmade by local artisans. One of them is shown below.
This was the view from my hotel room in Asakusa. Yeah, it’s not exactly the best. In the first picture you can see a bit of Tokyo Skytree Tower. I would have been able to see much more from the original hotel in Iwamoto (pictured below in Google Earth), but it’s not a big deal.
Sorry for the low-quality render, by the way. Google Earth does that sometimes.
One of the things that I like about Japan is that they have actual book stores, video game stores, and music stores. Despite Japan having very fast internet speeds and so on, they still read newspapers and use physical media.
This was Shinjuku.
Harajuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro
First up is Harajuku again. I wanted to go to church at Tokyo Union Church in Harajuku, but I wasn’t happy with what I saw so I walked around Harajuku instead.
This little side-street has many interesting shops and a newlywed couple having a photoshoot.
There’s a statue of John Wesley at Aoyama Gakuin University.
This place looked cool. I didn’t actually go inside, but I had to take a picture at least.
And then I accidentally walked all the way to Shibuya. One detail I have left out is the pain. My feet were killing me on the 22nd-25th. I walked so much (and so quickly) that I started limping a bit. On the 24th I decided to limit my walking… and then I walked all the way to Shibuya. It’s not terribly far, but still. I could have taken the train.
This is the world-famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, which is an intersection just outside Shibuya Eki. The traffic lights are coordinated such that pedestrians cross the street from all four corners at once. It’s quite a spectacle.
I love this little corner. It’s cool!
There was an interview with a J-Pop singer, and the sound was being piped out so that passersby could listen and watch.
The Colonel’s all dressed up for Christmas.
Another thing I love is the single-serving snacks you can buy. In America, good luck finding anything smaller than a pint.
On Christmas I did very little. For most of the day I stayed in my hotel room to relax and recover from the foot pain. When I got up in the morning I was sore and feeble. But I rested, took an hour-long bath, and read a fascinating book. Then I went Christmas shopping in the evening.
Merry Christmas! In Japan it’s a modern-day tradition to eat KFC (which they call 「ケンタッキー」[“Kentucky”]) on Christmas.
Merry Christmas to me, indeed. This right here was half of my budget for the entire two weeks.
Garden at the Imperial Palace, Shiodome Dentsu building, Hama-rikyu Gardens, riverboat on Kanda-gawa, dinner in Akihabara
and on to Shiodome
This is the Miyazaki Hayao clock. It doesn’t chime on the hour, unfortunately, but it looks cool.
Now for the Dentsu Building. I didn’t know which building allowed you to go to the top so I had to ask a security guard. But once I found the correct building and went to the correct floor, I found the elevator to the 47th floor.
There were several restaurants up here and they were very expensive. I considered splurging on dinner here, but considering I spent $700 the previous day, I decided to follow the urging of my brother-in-law Justin to have McDonald’s instead.
You can find Chie here:
On my way back to my hotel.
Meguro, Institute for Nature Study, Sushi and sashimi, Calico Cat Cafe, Arcade, Tokyo Metropolitan Gov’t Building, Takoyaki
Then I went to one of many game centers.
Being tall can have its downsides.
Yokohama Landmark Tower is the second-tallest building in Japan (it was the first until superseded by Oosaka’s Abeno Harukas in 2014).
This place, Araiya, was amazing. If you’re ever in Tokyo, I highly recommend taking the hour-long train ride to Yokohama so you can eat here.