We were looking forward to Japan, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a two week whirlwind of great food, amazing experiences, fun people, and historic sights. Yes, it was very expensive, especially compared to Southeast Asia, but it was worth it. We’re both a little bummed to have to leave so soon and go to China, where things aren’t as convenient, clean, or well-designed. Here’s what we thought of our time in Japan.
Top three experiences?
- Our night out for sushi and jazz in Tokyo.
- Going to the Tigers game in Osaka.
- Eating! Japanese food is the best! When we went out to eat, all we had to worry about was the price, we knew the food was going to be delicious and safe.
- The night with Yoshiko in Shibuya where we ate delicious yet cheap conveyor belt sushi and went to a wild jazz/funk show.
- The baseball game in Osaka. Like in Korea, baseball games have so much more energy than in the US.
- Our day in Hiroshima. Even though it was very depressing and sad, the museum was top-notch and the Peace Park was a moving experience.
Bottom three experiences?
- Dealing with the public transportation, especially in Tokyo. Different companies run the metro lines and they don’t always show their competitors’ system maps or how to get to their stations. It all gets very, very confusing and expensive.
- Smoky bars and restaurants. In some ways, Japan is really far behind the rest of the world, and their smoking culture is one of them. Smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere.
- Our overnight bus from Hiroshima to Kyoto. The other overnight buses we took were comfortable, but this one was not. I was exhausted when we arrived in Kyoto and we couldn’t check into our hostel for another two hours.
- Our route through Japan. We backtracked several times, wasting time in the country–just look at our route. Part of it was we had to make the baseball game at a certain date, and part was we decided to go to Hiroshima just a few days before.
- The subways are fragmented and owned by multiple private companies. In Tokyo, there are two companies that run the subway networks, then there’s the JR, and a number of other companies’ networks like Tobu. Here are some annoying consequences of this:
- The only subway map we could find was for Tokyo Metro and Toei lines, but that map either doesn’t include or has very abbreviated, misleading information about the other networks.
- The networks’ stations aren’t the same, leading to four different subway stations named Asakusa. If you choose the wrong one, getting to the right one requires a mostly unmarked 10 minute walk.
- Every time you change lines between the companies, it’s a separate cost.
- The overnight bus back to Kyoto from Hiroshima. The seats were just a standard coach bus, and with the miniscule leg room and uncomfortable seat, I only got a couple hours of sleep. The “relax” style Willer Express seats were much better for sleeping.
Nikki: Like I said, Japanese food is the best. I guess the sushi was my favorite, especially the sushi we had in Kanazawa, but really everything was great.
Brad: Back in Wisconsin I was never a fan of sushi, but coming to Japan has really changed my mind! I discovered I just don’t like the maki, but I love nigiri. My favorite place was the cheap sushi Yoshiko took us to in Shibuya, where I discovered this.
Nikki: At one rest stop, we picked out what we thought was fried chicken, but it turned out to be more like a deep-fried mashed potato. Very strange and not what we were expecting to bite into.
Brad: I liked just about all our Japanese meals. My least favorite was McDonald’s we ate in Fukuoka waiting for our bus to go to Tokyo.
Favorite person we met?
Nikki: We were lucky to meet so many awesome people while we were here. Since I have to pick just one, I’ll say Yoshiko because she was hilarious, warm, and welcoming.
Brad: Yoshiko, who invited us to her home for dinner, took us out to dinner, a jazz club, and karaoke. She helped make our time in Tokyo magical.
Nikki: At breakfast one morning, Brad cracked open what he thought was a hard-boiled egg. It turned out to be a raw egg.
Brad: I cracked open what I thought was a hard-boiled egg at a buffet breakfast and it turned out to be a very runny one and made a big mess. Somehow it passed the spin test.
Favorite place we stayed?
Nikki: Khao San Tokyo Ninja. I loved my little cubby. It was like having my own room again. That’s one difficult thing about life on the road, you never really have your own personal space.
Brad: Khaosan Tokyo Ninja hostel. The faux-cubes were very comfortable and convenient.
Worst place we stayed?
Nikki: The Ace Inn Shinjuku. Dirty place filled with obnoxious Westerners. We just crashed there our first night in Tokyo because it was close to the bus station.
Brad: The Ace Inn in Tokyo on our first night. Mostly, I didn’t really like the roommates there.
Best thing we didn’t blog about?
Nikki: In one of the temples in Kyoto, you can enter an area that’s supposed to be like the womb of Mother Earth (or something). You go down a flight of steps and all of the sudden it’s pitch black. Since you can’t see anything, you have to hold on to a railing and walk along totally blind. You go around a few corners and all of the sudden you’re facing a stone bathed in light. You’re supposed to spin the stone for good luck or health (or something), then you go back in the darkness to the outside again. The whole thing is supposed to symbolize rebirth, which doesn’t interest me at all, but it was still a fun experience.
Brad: We looked in a samurai sword shop in Roppongi and the swords were absolutely gorgeous. Many of them were antiques, almost 500 years old, and looked like new. The staff were very helpful and showed us details of how the swords were unique. They also have a good display of samurai armor.
Nikki: Japanese pop culture. Sometimes we would just stare at the TV and say, “What on earth is going on?”
Brad: Akihabara neighborhood in Tokyo. With the maid cafés, anime stores, and AKB48 mixed with electronics shops and arcades, this was a strange place. It’s probably the stereotypical computer programmer’s heaven.
Statistics for Japan
Statistics for the Trip
* The number of stations at which we entered, exited, or transferred.