21 Hours in Tokyo

Well, it was a bit of a wild ride at the end, with a roadside bomb going off in my village the morning I started my trek back to Manila, and the hotel I was staying at before my flight getting shot up the day after I left. Needless to say, I’m very glad to be back in Canada for the next couple months.

Repatriating is always weird, though, and some of the oddities that come with it are more obvious (after leaving Kathmandu, I thought every tram that passed me in Warsaw was an earthquake). Others sneak up on you and make you feel so strange in your home country. I completely forgot that you could use your credit card to tap and pay. One of my huge struggles in my rural area of the Philippines was trying to convince retail/service employees that I could in fact use my credit card to pay for things. I actually had to learn how to use those little card machines (I know, that is not at all impressive) because every time I tried to pay with my chip, I was told it was impossible, because the PIN screen would come up and the employees did not know what to do with it (please note that everyone in Manila, Cebu, and Siargao was able to handle the PIN, it was just my bizarre area – #NoMoreBicol forever). Moral of the story, I tried to buy a coffee in London and got a lot of weird looks when I took the card machine, swiped my card, inserted the chip and then started paying.

Another thing that is making me sound like a lunatic – DO YOU KNOW HOW BRIGHT IT STAYS IN CANADA????? It is like 10pm out there and there is still light from the sun. WHAT IS THIS??? It was pitch black in Not-That-Goa by 6.30pm. Which means I’m now very confused here, because I look over at the clock, realise it’s 8pm and I haven’t thought about dinner yet, because it’s still so bright!

Before making my way back to Toronto, I got to have a long layover, which is one of my favourite things. This layover was in a bucket list city – Tokyo! I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for a few years now, and am going to need to head back for a longer trip, but this was a great taste (pun intended, because all I did was eat) of the city!

Embarrassing confession – I really just wanted to eat in Tokyo. I knew that there was too much for the city to offer, so I had to focus on one thing, and decided that one thing would be food. I know, that isn’t really embarrassing – but to get advice about which restaurants to visit, I sent THE MOST AWKWARD DM to Aziz Ansari, asking for his recommendations.

He did not reply.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

It’s about an hour and 20 minutes to get from Narita to Tokyo, plus the time it took to store my luggage, buy a ticket, etc. I didn’t get into the city until 10pm or so, plus the time it took for me to find and check in to a hostel, so I didn’t get to eat this delicious, spicy ramen until just after 11pm. It was worth the late dinner – I was in the ramen shop for about an hour and a half (I’m a slow slurper, sue me), and was the only foreigner there the whole time.

Giant bowl of rishiri ramen and a pint

The whole ramen shop – outside there was an older man who said “Ramen?” to me when I stared at the door for a few minutes.

So I didn’t get out of there until 1 or so, and needed to wander around in the neon for a bit.

Wandering Omoide Yokocho (literally translates to Memory Lane, but is known more charmingly as Piss Alley)

Japanese lanterns in Piss Alley

It was a slow night, but worth exploring!

Walking around Shinjuku

More Shinjuku neon

The late dinner really would not have been all that problematic, but I was desperate to visit Sushi Dai for breakfast. It’s advised you line up between 3 and 4am to make it to the first sitting at 5.00. I got back to my hostel at 1.45am, slept until 3.15, and was up and in line at Sushi Dai by 3.45am.

The early morning lineup at Sushi Dai

I got into the second breakfast sitting at 5.45am – these were the views while I waited.

The menu – I mean basically your only realistic option is the omakase (chef’s choice)

So get ready for an onslaught of sushi photos.

First course (the beer course)

Sushi chef, featuring fatty tuna ❤

Fatty tuna ❤ and fresh ginger

Omelette course

Wasabi and soy is already placed in the roll.

One of the best – sea urchin.

Life changing.

Lean tuna

Baby squid

Art

Roe roll, tuna roll, eel (one of my favourites, it literally melted in your mouth)

Last course – you could pick anything off the menu. I went for more fatty tuna. I don’t regret it, but I wish I had eaten some scallop.

We were done eating before 7am, which meant we had time to explore the fish market.

Cutting up that tuna – the fatty pieces look like bacon.

So many mystery Japanese foods

Fried corn

Sea pineapple

Squid

Fresh fish on ice

It’s so cheap. Why is it not this cheap in Canada?

Giant asparagus!

We also passed by Sushi Dai again, and despite the rain, the line was wrapping around the building already (make a right after the red letter box and go two shops down – there’s Sushi Dai).

There were a couple shrines in the market as well – one was a shrine to a fox deity, which was very cool to see. It was pretty popular, and a lot of people were stopping to say a prayer on their way to work.

All the little foxes wearing capes!

Smaller shrine in the market

Looking back down into the fish market

Even after all this wandering, I still had a lot of time to kill in Tokyo (seriously, it was like 8.30, 9.00am and I had until 3.30 or so to get to the airport). I headed down to Shibuya Crossing, which is apparently the busiest intersection in the world – it honestly didn’t feel that busy to me, but I think that’s because it was so well organised (I thought I was at the wrong crossing because this one seemed so orderly… so I wandered around looking at different intersections for probably 45 minutes). That was how I felt about Japan mostly, to be honest. So many people have spoken about how busy and crowded Japan is, so I thought I would be a bit overwhelmed. But everything here runs so smoothly – the train system is so clear and runs on time, everyone moves in an orderly fashion – that it didn’t seem overwhelmingly busy compared to Delhi, Kampala or Manila.

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I obviously also had to visit the Hachiko Statue, right outside Shibuya Station. For those of you who for some reason don’t know one of the most heartbreaking dog stories of all time… Hachiko was an Akita, born in 1923, and belonging to a prof at the University of Tokyo. The prof commuted to work every day, and at the end of every day, when the train arrived in Shibuya Station, Hachiko would go to meet the prof. This carried on until May 1925, when the prof suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage while giving a lecture. Hachiko showed up at the station that day to meet the prof… and continued to do so EVERY DAY for the next 9 years, 9 months, and 15 days, until his own death in 1935. BRB, hugging my dog and crying.

Mural of Hachiko and Akita Inus on the exterior of Shibuya Station. The statue is placed where Hachiko had waited (and was erected in 1934, prior to Hachiko’s death, meaning he was present for its unveiling) and the mural is between an exit/entrance to the station. The story of Hachiko became extremely popular in Japan – his faithfulness and loyalty to his family resonated with Japanese culture. After Hachiko died of cancer (people had brought him treats while he waited for his professor so he was well-fed), he was cremated, and his ashes were buried in Aoyama Cemetery beside the professor’s.

From Hachiko, I went on to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (after grabbing coffee and amazing Japanese pastries, I still needed to keep eating after all).

Wandering through the garden – I got lucky and the weather turned out quite nice after the rainy start at 3am.

Before I knew it, it was time to get back on the train to Narita for my flight to Toronto… but not before eating some matcha ice cream at the airport.

I spent the entire flight passed out in a food coma… and immediately upon landing in Toronto met some friends for dinner at Pai.

I’m still holding out hope that Aziz will peep my Insta in a few months, see that I’m now a resident of New York, and take me to all his favourite restaurants not featured on Master of None (because I will obviously be tackling those as soon as I hit those NYC streets).

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