A Long Recap: Tokyo Drifting

The end of 2012 was the beginning of a new chapter in exploration for me. Took me 22 years to use my passport, holy hell.
2013 is the beginning of a life in a new country: New Zealand.
Here’s a peek into some of my daily recaps of my 10 days in Tokyo – the trip that fueled my love for seeing the world.
Day 1: Tokaido, Shibuya & Harajuku (Dec. 23, 2012)
Our 11.5 hour flight (Delta Airlines) went faster than usual, probably since I napped and read through most of it. They also had a billion films and TV shows to watch for free on our flight, though I chose to listen to music and nap for the most part. We also received many meals and snacks… I swear they fed us every three hours. Made up for the extremely cramped seating, I guess.
When we landed at Haneda International Airport, I think I was taken aback by how beautiful it was. The entire building was encased in glass and we could see the bright LED Christmas lights as soon as we got into the main pickup area. It felt so surreal… I’m in Japan.

We’re staying at this teeny house in Tokaido for 7 days. The landlady is weird and off her rocker but at least we have a place to stay for cheaper than a hotel. She kept complaining about how we were inconveniencing her since she had to pick us up from the airport with a rental van (well, she could have just made us cab it, or something. Come on, lady). We’re staying at a hotel our last two nights. Five of us are cramped in a small room and there’s only one bathroom, though. Oh yeah and it’s FREEZING in this house. Like 40s. The heaters don’t work that well.

Overall, I’ve been enjoying things here so far. Great cultural experience. I’m just super tired and a bit jet-lagged (but SO excited to soak in everything, so I’m trying to stay awake). It’s Christmas Eve for us tomorrow. WHAT?! We went to Shibuya and Harajuku today (it’s 7pm right now on Dec. 23- I’m ready to knock out but I wanted to recap today). Tokyo overall is insane – like mass crowds of humans wherever you go (at least the tourist attractions. Maybe the countryside is better). My favorite part of the day was being in the nature setting in this beautiful forest where the Meiji Temple was. So gorgeous. The majority of the day was spent shopping- like running from shop to shop in sardines of people. Wasn’t that great. And did I mention that I HATE to shop?! It’s like NYC on steroids- there was one point I looked up the hill in Harajuku on this street we were on and all I could see were seas of people. Packed. Like, I have never ever in my life seen so many people at once in one area. Everywhere we went in Shibuya and Harajuku was just chaotic. I could never live here. Or maybe I could, like in the countryside in the forest, away from all these crowds of people. I doubt I’d ever adapt though.

Shibuya: The main Shibuya 109 District was beautiful and full of awesome shops, but the intersection- oh goodness gracious. People running and walking every which way- diagonally, straight, everywhere. I wonder how many people get hit by vehicles here? They have all the same stuff as the U.S. with all the same items (prices are higher though)- Dennys, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Outback Steakhouse, Abercrombie, GAP, etc. We visited the Hachiko statue by Shibuya Station, which is like one of the only landmarks I knew about in Tokyo. Haha. We also went into this pet store with the most adorable kittens and puppies I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s true that the pet stores have way cuter animals than the ones we have. We also went into this place called the Shibuya Loft with six floors (note: almost every store has a good 5-6 floors. Every building is so tall)- it was my favorite. They had a floor for stationery, a floor for electronics, iPhone cases, and jewelry, a floor for toys (no stuffed animals though. WHAT.), a floor for art, a floor for cosmetics… Leave it to Japanese people to have all kinds of knicknacks. My cousins bought iPhone mittens where you can use them on your iPhone. It’s crazy. $20 for those things. Other than food, I bought a $3 sushi card for my mom today. I’m being SUPER frugal since I’m moving in 10 months, so I need to save every penny.

Harajuku was even more crazy than Shibuya, if that’s even possible. Shibuya is bigger, but Harajuku was crazy mainly because everyone was shopping. We almost got stampeded at this one plaza with all these high fashion stores and a Disney Store. It was suffocating and the heaters were blasting and — yeah, didn’t last long there.

The people. Everyone here is so insanely polite. I’m not used to it. I already knew I’d stand out like a sore thumb because I’m loud, talk too much, can be really pushy, and I don’t put up with a lot of stuff, like cutting in line or arguing (though haven’t had any issues here). The girls here are super pretty but the guys are definitely not my type (I’ve never been into Asians, though). I think these 10 days will be the perfect amount of time for me in this country. It’s true that they treat foreigners with a lot of patience and respect though. It’s sometimes hilarious since everyone bows to us when we come into stores and restaurants… And everyone is so gracious to us when we ask for directions. Shouldn’t we be the gracious ones, not them? And I also realized that we stand out because we’re all dark (my “uncle” is from Hawaii like my dad, so his daughters are all tan as well) – everyone here is paler than pale. It’s frowned upon to be tan here, HA.

Oh yeah, and nothing is complete without a Dumb Debbi anecdote. So right before our flight left LAX yesterday, my uncle realized I didn’t have the same returning flight as them.  I return at 5:40pm at LAX on Dec 30 whereas they return at 5:40pm at LAX on Dec. 31. In other words, they’re celebrating NYE in Japan, whereas I’m not. I refuse to pay $400 to change my flight so I’m flying back alone. Good practice for New Zealand. The old me would have been flipping out like my mom… But I’ve been so chill and laid back about things that I didn’t even care. Besides, I’m already exhausted after day 1. I think I’ll be more than happy to have an extra day of sleep in my own bed.

(EDIT: Ended up being able to have the same flight as my family on 12/31 after all. Miracles happen, as you’ll read in Day 8 of my Japan recap).

Day 2: Tokyo DisneySea and Getting Lost on Trains (Dec. 24, 2012)

Eventful Christmas Eve over here. It was only supposed to take us 45 min to get to the Tokyo Disney Resort properties, but it took us at least an hour more since we ended up going the wrong way on one of the trains. Our Suica card (for train access) already ran out of money, meaning we used over $20 (equivalent U.S. money) to hop on and off trains around the districts. And almost everyone uses this train system- it’s mad chaos, as I mentioned in my email yesterday. Anyhow, we’ve been getting around thanks to my uncle using broken Japanese and being like “Doko? Disneyland?” and all these nice Japanese citizens trying to use their broken Engrish skills to help us out.

When we finally DID reach Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea, it was around 1pm. HA. It was super sunny with blue skies today although it was a lot windier and chillier than yesterday. And you’ll all be pleased to know that yes, Tokyo DisneySea is BY FAR the most beautiful Disney park I’ve ever visited (even though I’ve only been to three, and the Tokyo ones aren’t “owned” by Disney). The “Disney Resort Line” is our version of the monorail, though theirs is super speedy with Mickey-shaped windows and cute Mickey-shaped handlebars that people hang onto when standing (if the seats are all taken). They even had cute little dioramas and mini displays in the faux monorail- everything is so incredibly detailed. Wasn’t really keen on going to a Disney park on CHRISTMAS EVE but it was actually much better than Christmas Eve back home at Disneyland- or it could be just that I was really excited to take everything in. It was pretty crowded in all the shops (I basically had to brave a war to get some stuff on the way out… And then a few seconds after we exited, there was a store COMPLETELY empty that had all the things I just bought. I bought some more last minute things just because no one was in that store). I really don’t understand how people can shop pleasantly in that kind of setting. I’ve never experienced shopping like this- but the thing is, no one is pushy or rude. It’s just packed with bodies, but no one pushes or shoves like in CA, which made it impossible for me to push and shove anyone, since I’d feel really bad if I went as far as stepping on someone.

I could go on forever about the gorgeous detail in DisneySea (yet masses of crowds in the park). I’ll recap the main parts: Mermaid Lagoon was the best part of the park because of its interior design with King Triton’s Tunnel (or whatever it was called- too lazy to go and get my park map across the room haha). If you Google image search “Mermaid Lagoon Tokyo DisneySea,” I’m sure you’ll see why I was in complete awe. EVERYTHING is made to immerse you in that specific land, ten times moreso than Walt Disney World. I’m so envious of how detailed and beautiful everything was in DisneySea. Even the stores inside Triton’s Tunnel had crazy awesome decor- one was shaped so that you walked into a whale’s mouth, and the tonsils were detailed around the interior. The architectural design of everything was just phenomenal. We saw the Under the Sea show in the theater, and it wasn’t just a random seating area like our theater that now shows Captain EO. We’re talking like full-on themed- circular seating similar to the Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom, except this theater was decorated to be the interior of the sea, walls and everything. The performers were amazing- like Cirque du Soleil with Japanese entertainment people. It was rather odd that Ariel was white and sang in English but spoke everything else in Japanese, though. All songs were in English but dialogue was in Japanese. The Ursula in the show was the most phenomenal sight- it was a huge head that blinked, moved her eyebrows, mouth, and also shot bolts of light through her mouth in one song. So intense. Everything was suspended above us– I couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if this gigantic mechanical Ursula head fell on any of us. The props and puppets seemed similar to those in “The Lion King” musical. Left me speechless.

THEMED POPCORN. Dude. This was one of the coolest parts of DisneySea. Popcorn was themed to each land: Curry popcorn in Arabian Coast, sea salt popcorn in Mermaid Lagoon, apple cinnamon popcorn, milk tea popcorn, caramel popcorn, strawberry popcorn in Mysterious Island- we only tried the strawberry one but it tasted like Pocky. SO DELICIOUS. It was 300 yen ($3), so not bad pricing, either. 🙂 Some of the pricing on stuff was ridic– I saw a keychain that was 2940 yen, meaning it was about $30. And I wanted this giant Duffy (they have girl Duffys! Duffette? Haha) but it was 10,000 yen ($100). Girls AND guys were buying them in handfuls! One out of every three people in the park was carrying a stuffed animal, and usually it was ALWAYS Duffy. Mickey and Minnie plushies were practically nowhere to be seen. It’s ALL about Duffy in Tokyo, as expected. And I couldn’t help but snicker because all these people with their stuffed animals– I fit right in; my love for plushies is acceptable here. :,)

Ended up only getting a pair of Mickey ears since I wanted something branded with Tokyo DisneySea but it had a mini Mickey attached to the left ear so I kinda got a stuffed animal. 😉 Two for one. You guys who think I dress weird or have this weird stuffed animal fetish– you ain’t seen NOTHIN’ until you come here. Seriously. We saw girls AND guys wearing these huge Cheshire Cat and Tigger hats (those fluffy ones that extend down to gloves so you can put your hands in them) with their matching fluffy leg warmer shoes. It was pretty ridiculous- from far away, they looked like the actual fuzzy characters. Up close, they looked like ravers. Another note: fuzzy characters here are adorable. We saw Thumper doing all these cute gestures that our CA fuzzies never do. I guess that’s the difference in Japanese vs. American girls, ha. I wanted to take photos with some, but the LINES for these characters- they were as long as attraction lines! The line for Christmas Duffy was an hour. Seriously. They had a wait time marker and everything. And the food/refreshment lines were just about the same. Insanity. But so interesting to compare…

The custodial folk had the most hilarious brooms. They literally were about the width of two fingers together. No joke. It looked so funny- these guys are super efficient and running around sweeping up with minuscule brooms and dustpans. My uncle noted that Japanese people are so interesting since they are extremely hardworking, efficient, always wanting to bring honor to their families (MULAN! No bringing great dishonor to her famiree like me, hahah), and extremely respectful and polite.

We only went on two attractions and both were in Mysterious Island. Aquatopia was this strange little attraction that spun around in the water and had all these different tracks– it was so much fun. Except that it was super windy and we froze while we went on. StormRider was basically like Star Tours (without 3D) and Soarin’, since we were supposed to be in a plane that flies into storms to help eclipse them or something. It was an intense ride — the effects were so real, especially when we went through rain in the virtual simulation and water sprayed down on us for awhile. Pretty awesome, actually. And when there was an explosion, the panels and pipings above us broke and looked like they were actually going to fall on us, like in an actual crashed-up plane. I loved it. The ending of the ride could have been a lot better, though- we basically landed in the ocean but then were on land again in two seconds and then the screen closed. The end. Um, what?

Their Tower of Terror looked like WDW’s Haunted Mansion but way skinnier and prettier. Didn’t go on that, but it was awesome to see the exterior. I was REALLY stoked to see Toy Story Midway Mania. They have the same music as we do in DCA but their costumes (all the costumes in general) are way more professional/nice. They were selling “little green dumplings” which looked disgustingly cute- imagine eating these green blobs with alien eyes on them. So funny. They were selling like hotcakes, too.

I wish we could have gone on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction since it looked like it traveled through this huge mountain (which reminded me of Expedition Everest). The lands were so beautiful, I didn’t want to leave. They REALLY do a fantastic job with building different worlds and having a balance between food, shops, and attractions. There was also a Main Street-esque area decorated for Christmas, although the main shop was a mistake to go into, since all they were selling was Duffy, meaning that we got mobbed and stuck since there were so many people in a frenzy. Now I know why Americans try to sell Duffy to Japanese people for so much money…

We also went nine hours without eating a meal today. We didn’t want to eat inside DisneySea since it was so damn expensive. Our noodles at like 8pm were delicious because of this.

LOL of the Day: “Limitative Edition” embroidery on some guy’s backpack in the subway. Hilarious.

ALSO: I’ve been hiccuping sporadically all day today. Why?! Maybe I’m allergic to something in the air here.

Day 3: Tokyo Government Building and Ikebukuro (Dec. 25, 2012)

Had breakfast at a wannabe McDonalds– Mos Burger. It was okay, but I’m definitely not a fast food fan. The burgers were pretty tiny, which means the portion size was a lot more controlled than in America (duh). We also went to the Tokyo Government Building this morning – the 45th floor had a beautiful panoramic view of Tokyo. It was spectacular. I never realized how many buildings and sights to see were in Tokyo… endless amounts of buildings. We also explored Ikebukaro, which happened to be a really hip town for young peeps- like NYC with even taller buildings. We walked into this Sega arcade and I was amazed by how many arcade games and plush prizes there were. Japanese people are obsessed with stuffed animals and competing to win stuff. We watched one girl blow over $20 just for this stupid anime blanket. It’s crazy. Then again, I blew $20 in one game of ring toss when I tried to win the gigantic stuffed animal at the OC Fair. Don’t make fun of me for always being a kid at heart…

I had my most expensive dinner for $6 (not worth it for just a tiny bento box of like ten noodles, a meat patty, curry-type rice, and cooked veggies) and dessert at Baskin Robbins ($4.50 “Holiday Doll” looked like a bear with cookies as ears and a face and everything. So cute, I couldn’t resist). All my money is going to food, basically. We also went to the Toyota Auto Dealer. I hate sitting in cars on display since I always end up getting shocked. Sure enough, I got shocked big time after I sat in one– after that, I decided to just wait around and give up on looking at cars. Haha. We did this virtual simulation car ride thing for safety which was also pretty awesome. We also watched these girls polishing the cars in sync on opposite ends of each car. My cousins proceeded to make their own version of this while their dad taped it. I need that video… it’ll always bring tears of laughter to my eyes. I think everyone can tell we’re tourists.

Still can’t get used to all the people here. It’s a crazy rat race. If you stop in the middle of the train station, you’ll either see a mad rush of people dashing around you or you’ll cause a domino effect of people tripping over you. I kinda want to YouTube “people falling down stairs in Tokyo train station,” since that would be hilariously sad. We witnessed one guy trip on the sidewalk- I almost fell to pieces laughing but held it in. Also saw a blind man trying to maneuver around the train station – bless his soul. Imagine trying to get around the chaos that is Tokyo- without vision. Wow. I’d like to think that if I can handle this, I can handle any crowds anywhere else.

Christmas isn’t widely celebrated here– NYE is, however. We did take a photo with an Asian Santa today. My uncle urged him to take a photo- “Three American ladies!  Come on, make their Christmas!” HAHAHAHHAA (since the guy was like “No peekcha, no peekcha” at first). I’ve realized that they understand and speak more Engrish than I ever could of Japanese (I just shake my head and say sorry when someone tries to speak Japanese to me haha), so I give them props. And I have a newfound appreciation for them since they’re so polite, respectful, and mind their own business. I wish I could slap some sense into some Americans. ESPECIALLY Cast Members at Disneyland- man, the CMs at DisneySea were ridiculously helpful and kind. If only we could inject some of that happiness in some of our people.
Side note: It is pretty funny sometimes when their accent comes out, like when this guy said “walk about 3 feet and make a reft“…

We also saw about ten million people cram into one of the trains. We thought all of the doors would shut on them, but they managed to cram them all in in time. Magical. My cousin caught it on tape.

Day 4: Imperial Palace, Chinese DimSum in Takaido, Tokyo Tower, Nissan Store in Ginza, Shibuya (Dec. 26, 2012)

We had dimsum at this place near the place we’re staying- and I think it was MSG overload. Delicious, but man– a headache ensued. We totally ate unhealthily today since we had Outback Steakhouse for dinner. Either the MSG or all the walking and little water is fueling my headaches. Whatever, since I still love traveling and don’t want to go back to work at all ;). We also went to this Nissan store in Ginza which had this fancy car signed by Usain Bolt. Any guy would be in technological heaven.

Went to the Imperial Palace this morning but we could only see it from afar. They had “keep out” gates around the entirety of it. My uncle said they got to go up to it last time, but I guess times are changing. That was a tease.

Tokyo Tower is beautiful, but it looks like Japan’s version of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t get to see the view at night since the lights go on at 9 and we went to the top of the tower at 4. It was a spectacular view of the city (although we got to see the view yesterday at the Tokyo Government Building for free, whereas this was $8.20 to see). They had two “lookout windows” which basically were glass on the floor so that you could see everything beneath you. I wanted to do a jump on it, but my cousins were so freaked out by the fact that I even put my foot on it. Apparently Tokyo Tower is the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure in the world. The mascot for Tokyo Tower was some phallic-looking pink banana. Not cute at all. They even had a stupid fuzzy character walking around- it was hugging children. A bit creepy. My cousin wanted to run and tackle it and say “Merry Ku-ress-masu!” There were two floors on the bottom of the tower for shopping. Everywhere you go in Japan, there are food and shopping places. It’s crazy. There were rows and rows of souvenir shops and expensive Hello Kitty stuff… Geeeez. Apparently you’re not supposed to take pictures in any stores but OH WELL, I am American and don’t understand their ways, since I’ve been taking photos of everything. 😉 *innocent grin*

Shibuya 109 is INSANE. Like, every girl’s shopping dream– think Forever 21 on extreme steroids but like 10 floors high (there were two basement floors and eight regular floors). Everything was so beautiful and amazing but also hella expensive– we all wondered HOW these girls could afford to dress like this. Nothing compares to the fashion in Tokyo, seriously. Apparently Shibuya 109 is this gigantic building with all kinds of high-end and regular clothing… I bought a stuffed teddy bear on the top floor, which I found by accident. I haven’t been able to find ANY souvenir plushies that say Japan OR Shibuya on them sadly– but this teddy bear was a steal since it was equivalent to $5.25. 😉

We had dinner at Outback Steakhouse (insert laughter here). It was absolutely delicious but we realized why Americans are so fat– the portions were insane compared to everything else in Japan. Our waitresses both spoke great English, which is cool since they were both born and raised in Japan. You don’t tip in Japan, but we asked since this was a sit-down restaurant, and we still were able to since they welcome tips as an American-owned restaurant. Interesting. We wanted to leave American money as well as yen for tip (kinda like, “Use this when you come to America!”) but weren’t sure if that would be insulting. The girl was from Bolivia but born and raised in Japan– but she said she always wanted to visit the states.

I also experienced the true kindness and help of locals here firsthand. Heard about how far people go here to help even if they don’t speak English, but today we really experienced it. This elderly lady was crossing the street and saw how this group of schoolboys couldn’t understand what we were asking (how to get to the train station), so we re-crossed the street (she had just crossed as we were walking past her) to help us and made us follow her. She walked us all the way into the train station, showed us the map and tried her best to speak broken English to tell us which transfers to take and which lines to take from there, and then tried to make sure we understood it when we repeated it. She then left and had to go out of the station- basically, she wasn’t even headed in our direction- she rerouted just to help us. So sweet! Major respect for Japanese people.

LOL for the day: My aunt attempted to put her gum into an empty cup my cousin was holding when we stopped on the train. She missed and it fell on the floor and the people’s eyes across from us literally popped out– I think they thought we were littering on purpose. Man, I’d bring total dishonor on our race if I ever lived here for a bit. Mainly because I can’t control my loud volume.

Cuteness of the day: Encountered Duke the French bulldog when we were walking back to our place. Omg, cutest dog ever. He was kinda fat so when he was jumping on us and being all happy, my heart just melted. We all wanted to take him home!

Just Googled the Tokyo Google offices (because I’ll always be obssesed with Google). Google is the #1 best place to work in Japan (2011 and 2012) and the Tokyo office in Roppongi Hills was the first international office. Too bad I suck with Japanese so I could never work here. Also Googled the minimum wage in Tokyo- it’s equivalent to around $9.93/hr. That’s nothing. How do people afford to live here?! Crazy. Also, came across an article about why Japanese women are high in popularity while Japanese men are bottom in popularity – basically it details that Japanese men are workaholics. INTERESTING.

Every day I’m blown away by how polite people are here. Most girls move out of the way when we’re going down the stairs or something to let us go first– it’s crazy. I still suck and rarely use Japanese, much to the dismay of my uncle. I still say “sorry” for everything but then try to overcompensate and say “sorrysorry gomenesai” which fails. Ha. I can never just say something in Japanese- my English also comes out, so it’s always like “arigato, thank you, hai.”

Day 5: Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree (Dec. 27, 2012)
I think we get a later and later start to our day with each day of our trip– on day 5, we left the house around noon. Keep in mind that it takes a good 30-60 min by train to get to somewhere you need to be, so by the time we get going, the day is half gone. I wear my hair in a ponytail and just fly out the door in 5 minutes. This is why I want to travel on my own–  I’m not a fan of waiting around for everyone else to get ready with all their makeup and stuff. Whatever, it’s a leisurely vacation so I don’t mind that we stop to rest and get a late start, since everyone here is so crazy-paced anyhow– it’s nice to know that we can still be chill.
Discovered why Japanese and most FOB Asians don’t pronounce Ls in words. I took three years of Japanese in high school and never realized this until now— there is no “l” sound in the Japanese language (i.e. Balloon is “ba-ru-nu” in Katakana since this is an English-based word). This explains the funny Engrish we hear. I could have realized this sooner, but being immersed in Hiragana and Katakana again has forced me to pronounce out Japanese syllables (the ones I remember… I remember more each day with things jogging my memory) and understand the dialect more. So the next time you hear “Can I buy Di-ni-randu tiketo hiru?” just remember that they’re sounding everything out based on Katakana and trying their best (can I buy Disneyland tickets here). 😉 Better than me, butchering Japanese words all the time- I barely remember to say arigatou.
Asakusa shopping district
Rows and rows of outdoor shopping areas. I realized how expensive everything was, so everyone just gets postcards as souvenirs. We had this yummy fish waffle with chocolate filling.
Visited Tokyo Skytree, which opened May 22 this year. It’s beautiful but looks exactly like the landmark tower in Auckland and Space Needle in Seattle. Just like Tokyo Tower, it was filled with several floors of dining and shopping. It never ceases to amaze me how clever and beautiful things are in Japan. And yes, there was a Hello Kitty Japan section on one of our the floors. It was an actual “Hello Kitty Japan” store. You can bet someone appreciated that. 😉
Had dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant with tatami mats (thankfully we didn’t have to sit on our legs- we could put our feet below the ledge and we just sat on the mats). The food was super delicious since it was our most expensive meal yet (we usually eat on the go stuff around $5-$6 per meal.. this was about $12).
Three days left of Tokyo! So sad. I love being out of the country.
Day 6: Roppongi and Being Squished on a Train (Dec. 28, 2012)
 
Got another late start to the day. *sigh* When I move, I swear I’m going to be out the door with no makeup and no fashion sense whatsoever- I’m a freakin’ explorer, not traveling to impress anyone. I do feel REALLY plain and out of place here- most girls here are so tiny and pretty. But half of them look FAKE, fragile, and porcelain– they’re that dainty with flawless skin. I would probably be shunned for looking like a slob and mouthing off if I ever lived here! 😉 We ventured to Roppongi today, the hip city of Tokyo. Didn’t see many clubs or anything since it was FREEZING and we tried to stay indoors as much as possible. Like it felt like it was in the 30s (I think it was). Manageable, but wow, cold. I still think I could live somewhere in the cold since I love the cold way more than the heat. We did pass this “shot bar” and a couple of interesting stores… And we came across Tokyo Midtown, this gorgeous high-end shopping complex similar to South Coast Plaza but WAY nicer and with even more high-end stuff (Harry Winston, Chloe, etc.). Some of the stores had massive locking doors embossed in gold so that you couldn’t get in unless the guy let you in. The decor and architecture of these places is phenomenal. There were waterfalls along the walls and streams of water flowing down these glass panels on the roof of this mall, and everything looked so serene and peaceful. They even had an adorable doggie shop with a dog spa, dog hospital, natural food products, cute doggie clothes and toys– the whole shebang. Did I mention that Japan seems to have the CUTEST dogs ever? Like any dog in America pales in comparison to these dogs! We saw a Cavalier King Charles, Poodle, Yorkie, and a beautiful Siberian Husky being groomed. The Japanese really pride in their dogs, like they’re officially part of the family. Also experienced being full-on SQUISHED (like, there was no room in our train for anyone else. We were all smushed together so badly– and this is normal in Japan) in a train. I guess it was rush hour around 7 when we headed on this train… It was awful.

The doors slide close and if people are sticking out, the conducter has to come and use a stick to hold the doors open and shove everyone in so that the doors slam closed. Intense. We could barely breathe, but thank goodness no one in Japan smells. I’ve heard other things about China. It was quite an experience. This has been normal for us to see- on most trains, the capacity is full but right before the train is about to leave, about five more people manage to slip in and they actually ALL fit somehow. It’s incredible. The funny thing is that NO ONE pushes, shoves, or gets angry here. They all just let everyone try to cram and everyone is quiet and obedient. Man, Americans ought to learn from them… Freakin’ crime rates are so high in the U.S. compared to here.

The population of Tokyo is approx. 12 mill. The population of LA is approx. 3 mill. The population of NZ is approx. 4.4 mill. I could get used to the whole of NZ 😉 Tokyo is PACKED with people. Overall, Japan’s estimated population is around 37 mill. It’s crazy. We’ve been in the Shibuya Station every day since it’s one of the biggest stations that connects to almost every city. Every time we can see the infamous Shibuya intersection from above and the people look like ants below- like swarms and swarms of ants. LA has nothing on Shibuya and the large cities in Tokyo… It’s so beautiful and awe-inspiring to see how these people adapt to their lives here, though. I highly recommend visiting Tokyo to any of you who haven’t gone yet– the culture, the people, the shopping, the delicious FOOD, the beautiful packaging of items (they tape and wrap everything so perfectly- nothing is done with only half the effort put in, like in California), and most of all, the immense amount of politeness and kindness. It’ll be a little frustrating and disappointing to return to the states where almost everyone is rude and not nearly as patient or helpful. I know I’ve been ranting about this and reiterating this in almost every email, but it’s really true. This trip has truly opened my eyes in appreciation of my Japanese heritage and how traditional Japanese people act and treat others. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll work on being more polite and kind in my words in this coming year (no guarantees, though). 😉

Another thing: Fruits are massively expensive here. As in… $30 for four oranges. $12.80 for a dozen strawberries. And $70 for a freakin’ honeydew melon. HOLY COW. I’ve been surprised by how much American music they play here (at the traditional restaurant we ate at last night, freakin Backstreet Boys and other old school songs were on)– and in all the shops with fancy clothes, all this Forever 21-type music is on. So many of the girls here want to be Americanized– and many are embarrassed when we ask if they speak English. Some of them end up being able to converse with us quite well, but I could understand why many are so reluctant to try and speak, since they know they’re probably pronouncing things incorrectly. Same as in any other country, though.

There are a million other things I want to say but I can’t remember everything. Story of my life. 😛 Ah, Tokyo.

Day 7: Haneda and Odaiba (Dec. 29, 2012)

We traveled 2.5 hours from that crazy Canadian’s house to our hotel (Takaido to Haneda). Such a beautiful change. (Side note: Always do major research before staying at a host person’s house in another country. This chick was crazy, annoying, scatterbrained, and our power kept going off the last night. So happy not to see her anymore.)
JAL Hotel: It was a lovely small room– the bathrooms even had a square that was left for getting ready whereas the rest of the mirror was fogged up. They think of everything, I swear. We ventured to Odaiba the rest of the day and used the Tokyo Monorail to sightsee around the landmarks (Odaiba/Rainbow Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Diver City, this giant rainbow ferris wheel). The monorail even took us in the bridge, which was awesome. Palette Town was like another large shopping complex home to the ferris wheel and Toyota Car Factory. We rode the ferris wheel which was “the largest ferris wheel in the world as of 1999,” so that statistic probably has changed since then. It was 150m high and we got an amazing view of Odaiba from up above, though. We could even see Tokyo Disney far out by the ocean. The Toyota Car Factory was this huge car show with cars on display — they also had a Lexus section. There were different simulator activities for kids- one was a kid hybrid test track which looked like hybrid go-karts that kids raced around indoors. Another was a Grand Tourismo simulator. The car garages were awesome– they looked like tall glass elevators with cars on different levels stacked on top of each other. Like I said before, the architecture of things here is so amazing. There was also a Caesar’s Palace wannabe complex– it looked like an EXACT replica of Caesar’s Palace except narrower and with more shouting (the girls who use their megaphones to shout deals in front of stores are really annoying. I guess that’s one time when girls AREN’T quiet here). There was a dog cafe as well and a huge pet store and this gigantic dog store that sold every type of clothing and accessory for dogs, too. Collars, charms, snuggies, socks, kimonos, fur coats, EVERYTHING for dogs. Pretty ridiculous. Also, Palette Town was probably named for the fact that everything was lit up and colored in rainbow schemes. Much to my happiness, of course. At night, the ferris wheel looked gorgeous (like a gigantic Mickey’s Fun Wheel) but it was cooler since each cart was a different color of the rainbow and they also had glass gondolas where you could see everything below and around you (those were way more expensive to ride, though).

There was also a “History Garage” inside the mall, which featured vintage and antique cars. Uncle Neil was like, “I TOLD your dad he has to see this someday,” haha. It was so cool… They had displays of scale models as well as actual vintage cars you could get in and take pictures while inside. Some of them looked like the Ford Anglia that served as the flying car in Harry Potter. 🙂

We also ate sushi at one of those conveyor belt places– something I had never done before. It was really cool, and I tried all different ones. Tuna, sashimi (the REALLY tiny tiny one), natto/tuna sushi… Everything was delicious, although my favorite was this crab/cucumber one since that was the closest to the California Roll (and they don’t make California Rolls here, obviously).

We also visited the Fuji Television Studios since it was about five minutes from Palette Town. The building featured glass elevators and this gigantic silver sphere wedged between the buildings, which looked really futuristic. Their store was called “F Island,” which was LOL-worthy. Their mascot was this blue copyright infringement Snoopy. HAHA.

The Rainbow Bridge was one of the main things I wanted to see in Tokyo (mom, you’ll be pleased to know that every single thing I wanted to see was hit up). It only lights up in ROYGBV hues at night, but it’s so pretty. My aunt is the worst picture taker ever (just as bad as my mom), so my uncle had to retake all of our photos that she took, basically.

Diver City Tokyo was a nearby shopping complex with this huge Transformers-like robot in front of it. That robot apparently came to life every hour. The stairs had a row of lights on EACH step, so it looked like a waterfall of lights (they basically glowed on and off a bit to give it that effect). So neat.

This is probably one the most interesting and wonderful vacations I’ve ever been on. Mostly because it’s awesome to be over 5,000 miles away from home!

Day 9: Relaxation and Rebooking (Dec. 30, 2012)

Actually didn’t do much today. Found out my flight was goin to be delayed so I had the option to rebook at no extra charge– thus, it all worked out and I’m going home (as intended) on Jan. 1 and returning to CA on the 31st after all. Thus meaning I get two NYEs. 😉 Nursed a headache (I think it’s from too much sodium in all these dishes), napped, Skyped, Pinterested and YouTubed, braved the pouring rain to have dinner in Shimbashi at an udon place, then went back on the trains to our hotel. Day over. Vacation day full of chillaxing. Tomorrow is officially our last day in Tokyo. Bittersweet.

Day 10: Tsukiji Fish Market and the Last Memories (Dec. 31, 2012)
Visited Tsukiji Fish Market which was insanely packed. Like, INSANELY. Narrow rows and rows of shops and outdoor vendors selling heaps of fish, snacks, sushi, etc. We lunched at this cramped sushi place which was supposed to have some of the best authentic sushi (since it was in the heart of Tsukiji, after all). Still not a huge sushi fan, but I did try to acquire a taste for green tea while there.
One of the highlights of the trip will definitely be the random guy I met on the flight home. That sounds really weird. Yet, it’s incredible how you might have a changed perspective on life just from a simple conversation with someone. In this case, it was about a 10-hour conversation in the confines of an airplane. Who knows how we both had the patience to stand each other for all those consecutive hours, but we did.
He’s a PhD candidate in statistics at UCLA and has basically traveled the world in his 27 years of living, mainly due to education and family. (Side Note: Anyone who is well-traveled or loves to travel becomes instantly awesome in my book) He’s lived a good chunk of my dreams already. His inability to sleep on planes and my strong wanderlust made our conversation flow straight through all 10 hours of the flight (except for when I nodded off a little). His parents live in the suburb area west of Shibuya; they barely moved there in August. He was born and raised in Tokyo until he was 3 and had a Japanese caretaker who taught him Japanese (on this trip, he said he reunited with her, which seems awesome). He forgot all his Japanese and said his parents never attempt to learn the languages of the countries they live in, which is really interesting and unusual. He seems like the opposite, always trying to learn (hence his PhD thing). His dad is an education professor at an international school in Tokyo and his mom is a librarian there. I was mainly jealous of the fact that he went skiing in this gorgeous area with deep powder snow. Who doesn’t love the snow?!
But his travels, though. HIS TRAVELS. Born and raised in Tokyo until age 3; moved to Saudi Arabia with his family for six years (where he was in the middle of the Gulf War); moved to Morrocco; moved to Iowa (where his parents are from); moved to Minnesota for college; then moved to California for his grad degree (he’s in his 5th year at UCLA and is currently a professor for stats, earning his PhD. He hasn’t paid a pretty penny for any of his years there since he’s been a TA and professor throughout his grad and PhD studies. Must be nice). Talk about inspirational and smart. His story was simply amazing and beautiful. He’s been in mountaineering (?) classes (he climbed Mt. Blanc in Paris, so we talked about my dreams to climb a glacier someday); white-water rafting; bungee jumping; camping… the amount of countries he’s been to is ridiculous. Like “name a country off the top of your head and I’ve probably been there” status. He’s been all over the U.S. (except NYC and doesn’t remember Hawaii when he went); Africa; South America; Europe (sans London, Scotland, Iceland, Ireland) and also NZ and Australia when he was very little. Yes, I am jealous of him. Our 10 hours of conversation were started by my asking him “Were you on vacation here?” and I just couldn’t stop talking to him after that. People who are well-traveled are the most fascinating people on earth. I want to surround myself with these types of people so I always know how much strength and courage I have inside me to make this move and to succeed. Amidst the horribly turbulent ride (we swore the plane would fall from the sky on at least three separate occasions), we had deep, insightful, and entertaining conversations. Thanks for making it a memorable flight home, random PhD dude. 🙂
I love the people that I meet. Seriously. I’m so lucky. This is mainly why I can’t wait to travel and meet even more amazing people outside the U.S.– it’ll be so eye-opening and great for me. I’m ready.
“Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long… we keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
-Walt Disney

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