My trip to Japan was my first time traveling out of the country. I traveled four thousand miles alone to a place where I did not speak the language. People told me I was crazy. I had the time of my life.
A big thank you goes out to everyone who submitted questions, as well as everyone who reads and comments on the blog.
Since Japan is a peculiar country, what was the most strange thing/person/place/whatever you’ve seen during your trip?
As a somewhat-lapsed-but-still-congoing Anime fan, I’m quite familiar with cosplay, the Japanese custom of creating costumes and dressing up as characters from popular television shows, comic books and video games; I’ve even wanted to make my own costume, although I never seem to get around to it. At anime conventions, I love seeing the elaborate and creative outfits other people create, and I was really disappointed to miss seeing the cosplay girls in Harajuku. That being said, it’s an entirely different thing seeing a large, middle-aged man in a Pikachu costume doing a mock strip-dance in the middle of a somewhat seedy back alley in Kanda while somewhat shocked onlookers laughed and took photos. This was a little after my friends and I had inadvertently wandered into a porn shop, so I guess I was already weirded out. As a girl who wears pink floofy hats in the middle of the summer, I’m not the one to be passing judgement, but it was definitely the strangest thing I saw.
Did you get a chance to go to any temple flea markets? Do you have any shopping tips?
The most impressive flea market I saw was outside the temple in Asakusa. I also saw a smaller market at the Jindai-ji temple in Mitaka, and some non-temple markets in Ueno. My biggest tip is to not rush through these places. Give yourself at least half a day to browse at your leisure. If you plan on making many purchases, try to bring along or buy a sturdy shopping bag to tote everything in. Finally, decide whether or not you’re going to buy the first thing you see of an item. Shopping around for a lower price can be a good thing, except that in mazes such as the Asakusa shopping center you may never find the original product again! If you really like something but want to make sure it can’t be found cheaper, take careful note of the location– “The watch store next to the ice cream shop, in the third aisle running parallel to the main temple building.” I almost missed out on buying something because I couldn’t remember where I saw it.
Also, a tip for shopping in general — keep a list of everything you buy that you plan on taking back, along with the price you paid, and receipts if applicable. My departure procedures at customs would have been so much less stressful if I hadn’t had to do a mental inventory.
What was the scariest thing to happen on your trip?
Losing my passport was terrifying. It happened the first night as I was checking into my hostel. I knew I’d had it on the train in from the airport, because I’d put it into my zippered pocket for safekeeping, but somewhere between the train station and the hostel I’d misplaced it. The hostel called the train station for me, but their office had already closed for the night, so there was nothing for me to do but go to bed and hope to track it down in the morning, which seemed hopeless unless someone found it and turned it in. As luck would have it, I ended up finding the passport in my back zippered pocket rather than the front one, which left me feeling like a fool but very much relieved.
Another tear-inducing experience was trying to use a public phone to call a friend from the airport after my flight was pushed ahead an hour. Even with the instructions written out on the pay phone, it took a good twenty minutes to figure out which numbers to press before dialing. This wasn’t terrifying like the passport experience had been, because in the end I just would have ended up waiting longer at the airport in Honolulu, but it was still maddeningly frustrating.
While you were in the, did you see or touch any monkeys?
Only at the zoo (and no touching). Staying in Tokyo as I did, I didn’t expect to see monkeys, but I was surprised that I didn’t encounter other wildlife. I saw more Shar-peis than I’d ever seen before, and a variety of other pet dogs, along with stray cats, but the only animals I saw that I would really consider wildlife were birds. Tokyo is abundant with crows (which are particularly impressive when seen up close for the first time) and nice assortment of waterfowl. Were I a bird person it would have been quite exciting; as a rat person I was mostly disappointed. There definitely were no monkeys.
Do you think you’ll ever go back?
One of my rules when traveling is that there will always be a next time. While I agree that you only live once, you can’t cram everything you’d want to do into a single trip. There are a million things I would still like to do and see in Japan, and I will definitely be going back. If all goes well, I plan on studying abroad there either next summer or the following spring.
My first Japan journey is complete, but my wanderlust is far from sated. Next stop — the Pacific Northwest.