With our year of studying in Korea coming to an end, some friends and I decided that we wanted to go on a post-exam trip to celebrate. Japan seemed the obvious choice, being so close to Korea (and thus both easy and cheap to travel to); though I had visited before (Tokyo & Kyoto, in 2013), none of my friends had, and so it was decided. Many people fly to cities like Osaka from Seoul, because tickets can be bought for peanuts, but having never been to the country before, the others decided that they would rather see its capital first. And in the end, our tickets were considerably cheaper than I had been expecting. During my first trip to Tokyo, I had stayed in a good hostel,but sadly this has since closed down; instead, we decided to plump for an Airbnb, and this turned out to be a great choice.
The others may or may not have forgotten the tickets upon first leaving the house, which meant that we ended up the airport a little later than we had intended. We checked in and, after realising that our flight was departing from one of the gates furthest away, we rushed through security, onto the shuttle train, and finally to our gate, arriving at exactly the time we were told we should board. But flights never quite work like that, and as it turned out, we had an extra ten minutes to spare – just enough time to inhale some rather disappointing pretzels in lieu of dinner.
Having only travelled between Korea and the UK in recent years, this was the shortest flight (two hours) and smallest plane I had taken in a while.We flew with Peach, Japan’s budget airline renowned for its affordable flights between Korea and Japan. The journey was cheap and cheerful, and before we knew it, we had reached Haneda Airport. We landed at 1am, meaning that our only possible transport into Tokyo itself was a late night bus. We had a little time to kill so went in search of food, but found that sadly, not much was open. We went to purchase our tickets (¥2,060), and after around 30 minutes, we arrived at Roppongi Hills. From here we jumped into taxis, and with much gesturing and very broken Japanese (having lived in Korea, a country different from but far more similar to Japan than perhaps anywhere else, it was something of a shock being unable to communicate), we managed to convey the address of our Airbnb. The apartment was located in a quiet, winding neighbourhood, and despite it being after 3am, it was very easy to locate. Once we had dumped our bags and admired what could be seen of Tokyo Tower from the balcony, a few of us made a desperate dash to the nearest convenience store for supplies, before collapsing into bed.
We didn’t want to waste a second of our considerably limited time in the city, so after a less-than-desirable amount of sleep, we managed to drag ourselves out into the world. We caught the subway to Akihabara, the famous electronics district full of crazy arcades, purikura (sticker photo booths), and cafes. Our first priority was, of course, food, and while searching for a Japanese place with vegetarian options, we stumbled upon a Denny’s I had visited a couple of times on my previous trip to Tokyo. Remembering the deliciousness of their pancakes and french toast, it didn’t take much for me to convince the others that this would be a good spot to grab a bite to eat.
After food and a quick coffee/green tea break, we explored the arcades, where Asha spent far too much money on claw machines, and Sari and Hana printed their own nail stickers from a machine. I then introduced the girls to authentic purikura, one of my favourite things to do in Japan.
From Akihabara, we went to meet my friend Anri, whom I had first met in Tokyo three years ago and subsequently seen in Seoul when she also came to study Korean for a semester. We were meeting her for dinner, but still somewhat full from our pancake meal, we decided to walk to the grounds of the Imperial Palace first. We took pictures and also had our pictures taken first by, and then with, some very insistent and eccentric Japanese men.
My friends were eager to try some authentic Japanese sushi, so Anri did some research and found a highly-recommended restaurant for us to visit (a branch of Sushizanmai). Set under the arches of a busy train track, the crockery rattled and the lampshades began to swing gently from side to side every time a train passed overhead. We spent a good twenty minutes poring over the menu; naturally, there wasn’t much for me as a vegetarian to choose from, but I enjoy the few types of sushi that I can eat very much, so I didn’t mind. We shared some delicious plum wine along with our food, and the ambience of the restaurant was wonderful. The passion of the chefs for the food they were preparing was a joy to watch, and as were their excited greetings to every new customer that entered.
When we had eaten our fill, we made our way to Shibuya, famously home to the world’s busiest crossing. My friends couldn’t wait to see this world-renowned sight with their own eyes, and seeing as Shibuya had been one of my favourite areas when I’d first visited Tokyo, I too was eager to return. After experiencing the crossing’s hustle and bustle, we did a little shopping – something which started mainly because Asha needed a jacket, but soon enough we had all found something or other to purchase (except Asha, who never did get a jacket).
By this point, we could feel the last of our energy beginning to drain, so we stopped for some dessert in a nearby cafe before bidding Anri farewell and having to call it a night. We slowly made our way back, stopping to grab some Mcdonald’s – because a) we’re always hungry, and b) they were able to make me a veggie burger, something that would never happen in Korea! Back at our apartment, we ate, made plans for the following day, and then went to bed far earlier than our previous 4/5am night, wanting to make sure we were fully rested for another day of sightseeing.