I figured I had to visit Japan if I’m this close to it. This was certainly a (very distant) dream of mine for a very long time, as I have been fascinated with various aspects of Japanese culture since childhood. And with the flight being only around two hours and reasonably priced, I knew I had to go. I decided to focus on Tokyo since I only had about a week (couldn’t miss two weeks of back-to-back classes). And what can I say? It was the trip of a lifetime. So much so that I’ve spent large chunks of the more than two weeks since my return trying to recover from it.
Since I could probably write an entire book about this trip, I’ll split this up into multiple parts. Tokyo is truly a city unlike any other I’ve ever visited and even makes Seoul seem somewhat provincial at times.
First off, preparing this trip was really nerve-wracking. I had set my sights on this specific time as it allowed me to meet up with some people. However, the process of registering an Alien Registration Card was a bit of a nightmare. I applied as soon as I could and figured I should be fine given that it is supposed to take about two weeks, but the projected arrival date was 4/8, so halfway through my trip. And given that you cannot leave the country until you have received your ARC; this means that my trip was very much in jeopardy. But because of my prior commitments and the fact that I could only cancel my flight by calling a Korean hotline, I just hoped that the ARC would arrive earlier. I had some reasons to be hopeful, as my roommate received his about ten days out. I got word that it would arrive on Tuesday and finally was able to pick it up two days before the flight, so all was well in the end, but it was a real nail-biter until then.
That also meant that I went relatively unprepared as I did not do much research until said Thursday. I managed to reserve a pocket wifi, which I cannot recommend strongly enough to anybody going to Tokyo. It’s a small device that acts as a wifi router for all your devices and works really well (even in more remote places). Of course, the only problem is that it has a limited battery life of about 8 hours. Public wifi in Tokyo – much like in Seoul – was a disappointment, so you don’t want to be stranded without internet access. You can get by alright with Google Maps (works surprisingly well offline if you triangulate your position once with internet access) and a subway map, but it’s not the most pleasant experience.
I even had two pocket wifis for….reasons. And a mobile charger, as well as an additional battery. Still managed to run out of juice twice. Whoops.
I stayed at a cheap-ass hostel in Shinjuku, which was an interesting decision for multiple reasons. First off, my budget simply did not allow for a real hotel. I briefly considered trying a capsule hotel, but even those are not all that cheap and seem like a claustrophic nightmare. The hostel did not understand how booking websites work (‘they just accept every order!’), so my bunk bed was quadruple-booked for the first night. Nice. Took them about an hour to figure out that they could just put another mattress on the floor. Oh well. Doesn’t really make much of a difference if you sleep in a room with eight or eleven people. At least they gave me a second pocket wifi for my troubles. I don’t think I would have been able to afford the trip had I booked a ‘regular’ hotel (or even an AirBnb), but it definitely took a toll on me as I don’t think I got more than four hours of sleep on any night. And to be honest, my sleep patterns have still not recovered almost three weeks later (It’s 9:30 am as I type this, I went to bed at around 1:30 and woke up at 5. Wheeee!).
So in some ways, you could argue that this eight day trip pretty much made me a walking zombie for the next three weeks. I’m really really bad at vacationing.
One thing that was fantastic about the hostel was the location. Right next to Okubo station and in the busy Shinjuku station, infamous for its nightlife. More on that next time.
Basically the first thing you see after leaving the subway station. Yup, we’re in Shinjuku alright…