Our travels from French Polynesia to Japan (on March 12-14th) definitely were NOT very “pretty”: We had a midnight flight out of Tahiti, but had to leave our hotel–and Moorea Island–on the latest ferry available, which was unfortunately only 5pm. We also would JUST make the last Tahiti bus of the day around 6pm to get to the airport, which sucked because that meant we’d arrive to the airport over 5 hours prior to our flight! And then of course we couldn’t check in our bags for a few hours upon arrival, so we had to wait in the open-air-outside area of the airport in the sticky, hot, and humid.
Since our RTW flights were bought with airmiles, there was limited availability for flights from French Polynesia to Japan, and it also was spring vacation time (for the Japanese) as well. This meant we actually were routed BACK TO LOS ANGELES 8 hours, with a 2 hour layover, just to catch a 12 hour flight to Tokyo, Japan! And then when we arrived in Tokyo, our BAGS DID NOT! and after catching a 1 1/2 hour subway to our hostel, we had to sleep in the same 32-hours-of-travel clothing that night and wear them the next day as well! It was definitely a lonnnnng travel day!
However, our spirits were lifted as we soon found Tokyo to be a pretty wonderful place to be. We originally had booked 3 nights in the city, but extended our stay to 5 nights in the end, staying from March 14th to 19th. Overall, the city is very clean and safe, the subway system is pretty straightforward and organized (after you ride it once or twice and find the board that includes English), and the trains always run on time and you could get pretty much to any area in the spread-out city. In addition, there were map boards on the streets all throughout Tokyo, even in non-touristy areas, which always helped when we got a bit turned around.
We visited several temples and parks, and found the architecture, history, and culture to be delightful. The city was scattered with many beautiful lanterns in white, black, and red, and there were many cute restaurants scattered throughout the city. The Japanese have a lot of traditions and history that they celebrate and uphold (more on that in another post), and it was admirable to learn about how deep-rooted their beliefs and good family values are.
We also soon found out that we arrived in Japan at a very popular time: “Sakura season.” Sakura is the Japanese term for “Cherry Blossom Trees” and these beautiful trees are prevalent all over Japan and bloom in mid March to mid April. We were excited that they were blooming early this year, and the trees were already popping up with beautiful pink flowers all over the city.
Some specific things we did in the city: Visited Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Imperial Palace, Sensoji Temple in Asakusa [see video], walked through Shibuya area including Shibuya crossing, walked around different areas of the city at night (Shibuya, Shinjuku [see video], and Ginza) at night to see the lights, walked around the Tsukiji Fish Market area (one of the largest fish markets in the world; most fish in the world actually go through this area), and we also received a fortune at a temple—and it was a good one! [click here to see it]
We tried as much Japanese food as we could (while staying on budget): Sushi, tempura, Japanese Sweet bread, different marinated meats on sticks, soba and udon noodles, and pretty much everything and anything with rice or noodles. We also were excited to meet up with a girl named Yuki, who is friends with our friend, Ann, and she took us out to a fun type of sushi bar that we’ve never experienced before. You sit at a rectangular bar and the cooks stand in the middle, and there was a “conveyor belt” that rotated around the bar with many different plates of sushi on it. Each colored plate represented a certain price (which was CHEAP, by the way), and you could just grab off whatever plates of sushi you’d like! [See video of it here!] Yuki was SO sweet and nice, and also walked us around a part of the city and took us up to the top of a government building to see an amazing view of Tokyo at night.
Overall, Tokyo was a really wonderful city and blew all of our expectations out of the water. It set a really good tone for Japan, and we were excited to move on to other Japanese cities to see how they compared.
Meanwhile, James and I made a LOT of observations about people in Tokyo in the 5 days we were there (mainly from walking around the city and spending a LOT of time on the subway) and also general observations about the city. We thought to share them with you here!
Here is our list:
People don’t talk (much) on subway, which is strange. Sometimes the train car is completely full and there is hardly a single sound! Same goes for elevators. We had a very awkward SILENT ride in an elevator at one point with like 15 people up 50 floors and you could seriously hear a pin drop—I was almost scared to breathe!
- People don’t make eye contact, and quickly look away if they meet your eyes.
- Most people commute to work via the subway, but you don’t really see anyone on their computers. Almost EVERYBODY, however, are on their cellphones, typing away.When laughing, people usually cover their mouths.
- You hardly see any coughing or yawning in public, and mouths are ALWAYS covered if either happens.
- Definitely no nail biting, scratching, or picking in public.
- Cellphones NEVER ring on the subway, and you rarely see anybody talking on one. You would think now and then somebody would forget to turn their ringer off, but we never heard one go off!
- People don’t cross their legs on the subway…. maybe because the seats face each other and people stand in the middle, but I found this interesting, since many women had on skirts.
- Many people actually zonk out (sleeping) on the subway.
- There is very rarely ANY public affection seen; mostly only hand holding and maybe you’ll see a hug. Kissing in public is very rare and somewhat “risqué”
- People dress well, in general. Women especially dress well and look very put together and fashionable.
Many people in Japan wear face/surgical masks out in public . . . we estimated about 40-50% wear them on the subway and maybe 20-30% of people walking down the street. [Listen here to James talk about why so many Japanese people wear these masks.]
- There are SO MANY bikes on the streets, everywhere! And they ride on the sidewalk where other people WALK. It’s actually a bit dangerous because they ride pretty fast and you have to constantly keep your head up to avoid a collision with the many bikers who are constantly riding by.
- The streets of Tokyo are VERY clean, by any big city standards, yet it is SUPER hard to find a damn garbage can anywhere! I guess people are just courteous and don’t throw garbage on the streets?
- VERY few Japanese men have facial hair.
- Nobody really drinks or eats while walking down the street OR on the subway.
- People didn’t seem to notice or care that we’re tourists and look totally different.
- We hardly saw any overweight Japanese people, and definitely NO obese people.
- Grocery stores in Tokyo (and Japan, in general) are VERY colorful, loud, and busy . . . it’s quite overstimulating! [See a video here of this]
In general, we were very impressed with Tokyo: the sights, the people, the culture, and the efficiency of the public transportation. We were sad to leave the city, but excited to experience a smaller Japanese town ahead: Suzaka!
**TO SEE OUR PHOTOS OF TOKYO, JAPAN, CLICK HERE: http://www.flickr.com/photos/breannandjamesaroundtheworld/sets/72157633049577121/
**ALSO, In case you haven’t seen any of our trip VIDEOS, check out our youtube page at http://www.youtube.com/breannaroundtheworld – We have been uploading videos quite often as we go along (especially in the past week!), and some of them are pretty funny!!