Sunday, March 22, 2020

Exploring Ueno & Ginza

Today I decided to go to Ueno, an area well known for having the first designated public park in Japan. The park is called Ueno Park and it's famous for it's cherry blossoms. The first time I visited this park the flowers hadn't bloomed yet but this time around, there was quite a spectacle! a lot of the buds had bloomed and the flowers looked so pretty. The park was full of people taking photos of the cherry blossoms and I took my time walking around enjoying the beautiful scenery and weather. 

After getting my Zen on at Ueno I headed to Ginza, a district well known for upmarket shopping. Today being Sunday, the main street was closed to traffic and allowed only pedestrians so it was nice getting all that street space to walk about freely. Tables and chairs had even been set in the middle of the street for people to sit on and relax. I wasn't at Ginza for any shopping but I enjoyed taking a lazy walk up and down the street checking out the window displays of some of the designer shops.

I decided to go back to Asakusa where I am based at and today being my last full day here, I wanted to do more last minute sightseeing and take on different adventures and that's how I ended up taking a rickshaw ride. In Asakusa one of the first things you will notice are the number of rickshaw rides, they are everywhere.

My ride took me through different parts of the city that I hadn't explored yet and It was interesting to learn the history of some of these areas. 

The ride was enjoyable although I felt it was a bit over priced but I wanted to treat myself so I figured why the hell not. My next stop was Sumida Park, a public park in Asakusa where more cherry blossoms can be seen.

That's it folks! from the park I ended up walking up and down the lively streets of Asakusa taking in the sights until my feet declared defeat. Right now I am super tired but impressed that I even managed to update this blog albeit half heartedly. This trip has been bitter sweet for so many reasons but I am so glad I was able to celebrate my 40th here, now I have to go back to reality which at the moment isn't looking too good. Any who, Japan is the coolest country I have visited so far and I couldn't have picked a better place to usher in my milestone birthday. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Today I woke up with so much energy and decided to put it to good use by exploring some of the areas I had briefly been introduced to, on the Tokyo walking tour that I had taken on my first day in the city. My first stop was at the Asakusa Tourist Information Center where I got some very good tips on places to go and how to get there. The lady helping me spoke English and was super helpful, she kept telling me, "anytime you get lost please ask anyone and they will help you, ok?" she was so sweet and even informed me of an observation deck at the top floor of the building where I could get good aerial views of the city. I wasted no time in getting up there for a couple of photos before starting my adventures.

I used the subway to get to Shibuya, one of Tokyo's busiest districts that's famous for shopping, dining and clubbing. I don't know if I had mentioned this before but Shibuya is the birthplace of many fashion trends in Japan. I decided to start my exploration by visiting the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto Shrine honoring emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who led the rapid modernization of Japan. Unlike the first time I had been here, today there were more crowds but it wasn't too overwhelming and I was able to peacefully explore the surrounding gardens at my own pace.

The very pretty barrels you see behind me are sake barrels offered by various sake breweries wishing to show their respect for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

The Meiji Shrine

There is always that one awkward photo, Ooh! well, my lipstick looked great though! 

After having my fill of the Shrine and it's surroundings, I headed to Takeshita street which is said to be the focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture. I loved how vibrant everything was and it appeared more lively than the first time I visited, I especially enjoyed entering some of the quirky shops to look around. There were several Nigerian and Ghanaian men working along Takeshita and I struck a conversation with a couple who gave me an insight on how life is in Japan. They were helpful in recommending where to eat, hang out and gave me a bunch of other useful tips. 

If you thought the photo below is of ice cream, you're mistaken. These are all crepes and of course I had to try one, very filling!

After getting a sensory overload at Takeshita, I decided to head to the nearby Yoyogi Park for a little bit of relaxation. Yoyogi is one of Tokyo's largest city parks where you can have a picnic, walk around the extensive grounds, catch a show or just chill out at one of the park's seating areas.

If you are lucky enough you might also witness a wedding photo shoot.

I got a good rest at the park and after I felt ready, I decided to check out one more spot before heading back to my hotel. I was determined to once again check out the purported busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing. A lot of articles online suggest going to the Starbucks in front of the crossing for a good aerial view so that's where I found myself and trust me, the place was packed! I had to be very patient to get a good spot to take a good photo of the crossing. 

Feeling accomplished after getting my photos from Starbucks, I decided to explore the surrounding streets which were full of stores.

Thankfully I remained disciplined and didn't do any damage to my wallet. My feet were aching and I was feeling really tired so I decided to call it a day but not before taking one last photo of Hachiko. Hachiko was a dog that journeyed everyday to Shibuya station to wait for his owner's arrival from his daily commute from work. One day the owner did not come back from work because he had died but the poor dog continued his journey to the station. The dog became a symbol of loyalty and this statue was erected in his memory, it also serves as a meeting point for many of the city's residents.

That's it folks! I felt very accomplished today and my feet can testify to that, I am getting the hang of Tokyo and getting more comfortable with moving around using the metro. I can't wait for more exploration tomorrow.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I am always a bit scared of  getting lost in any city that I am not familiar with but I don't feel the same here in Tokyo, as long as there is a train station nearby I can always find my way to wherever I need to go and also people have been very helpful whenever I asked for direction.

The train system here is very extensive and can be confusing for a newbie but there is always an attendant at the various gates ready to assist. I am never shy when it comes to asking for help so if I get confused I just approach one of the attendants for assistance.

Here is a fun fact, years ago prior to moving to South America I had planned to move to South Korea to teach English. Japan had actually been my first choice (I went through a phase where I was really into the Japanese culture) but at the time South Korea seemed to be the easiest option so I settled on that. I did my research thoroughly and was prepared for the big move but unfortunately it did not work out and I was crushed. Now being here in Japan I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out had my plan gone accordingly, hmm?! anyway, no complaints here because my move to South America brought a lot of good to my life.

While I was in Shibuya I came across this one store selling a famous Japanese shoe brand. Their shoes were cute but pricey and I just wanted to check them out without buying. The attendants were very helpful and I felt so guilty that I had mentally decided I was just going to close my eyes and have them swipe my card because it would have been a shame to leave the store empty handed after having been attended to so graciously. Luck was on my side today because the guy helping me asked if I had my passport so that they could scan it in order to waive the 10% tax on the shoes. I told him I never walk around with my passport so I did not have it. I grabbed that opportunity for what it was and feigned great disappointment at not having my passport, the guy understood and I got out of that store real quick! he was even asking if he should hold the shoes for me but I told him I might not make it back. Phew! saved by my passport, those shoes were expensive and this girl has a tight budget.

Although English is not widely spoken here, a lot of Japanese from what I have been informed do understand the language because it's taught in school, but may be too shy to speak it for fear of making a mistake.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Exploring Asakusa

I left Kyoto this morning and took the Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo, I arrived in the afternoon and as soon as I checked into my hotel I headed out for some solo exploration. I am staying in Asakusa which is a district in Tokyo that is famous for having the oldest temple in the city, Senso-ji.

I got to visit the temple and surrounding areas where you can find souvenir stores and various food stalls, it was packed with people unlike the first time I visited.

You can get your fortune "read" here (referring to the photo below). You have to pay something like a dollar then shake a container that has fortunes written on paper and pull one out. If it's a good fortune then yay! but if its a bad fortune you have to tie the fortune to one of those wires across the red poles and I believe say a prayer so that the bad fortune stays there.

These girls' kimonos were so pretty, I had to ask for a photo and they were really gracious about it.

Hoppy Street - This street is popular for it's cheap bars and restaurants and is not too far from the temple. Most restaurants were packed to capacity but I managed to come across one that had some space and I did not waste anytime grabbing  a seat before it got packed. I ordered their most popular meal called special ramen which had me so full by the time I was done. Don't let the photo below deceive you, the food was a lot! and it only cost $7.

Tokyo Skytree - I didn't actually go inside but I got some good views of it from the street, I am still debating on whether or not I should go inside to get an aerial view of the city. Do you all notice that building next to the Tokyo Skytree that looks like it has poop on top of it? it's actually the headquarters for a Japanese beer brand called Asahi. Lord knows what the hell they were thinking with that poop looking thing on top of the building. It looks horrible!

That's it folks! I walked around quite a bit and I must say, I love Asakusa's vibe. My mood is a bit off because I really miss my husband who is currently visiting family in the Dominican Republic. It's all fun and games until you start missing each other amid this coronavirus crisis, now both of us are on the phone regretting why we traveled separately. Ooh! well, tomorrow is another day and I plan on checking out other places so watch out for an update and before I forget, I had to highlight my last amazing breakfast from that place I stayed at in Kyoto. I truly will miss these daily delights and if anyone reading this happens to pass through Kyoto, check out Kyoto Mori Yurinsha.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I may not mention coronavirus a lot but that doesn't mean it's not worrying me. I am supposed to be leaving Tokyo in two days time and I really hope my flight will still be on schedule. Yesterday I met tourists from Italy and Australia who said their flights got canceled so they are staying in Japan for a prolonged period of time. The Italians were actually relieved to be staying longer as they said they felt safer in Japan anyway. Personally I wouldn't mind staying longer but it's not financially feasible at the moment because it wasn't part of the plan nor budget so yes, I am very worried about my flight being cancelled.

I was talking to the couple who own and run the guesthouse I stayed at in Kyoto and they were telling me how their business has been affected. They have had over 90% cancellations and business has been really slow. I can't even begin to imagine the many more people that have been affected by all this in one way or another.

I remember someone telling me that Japan is a very intuitive country that makes things easy for you to figure out. I now understand what that person meant, it's almost like someone sat down and thought of all possible scenarios and came up with solutions. That's the best way I can describe it and everyday I get impressed by something new.

One interesting thing that you will notice here in Japan is that despite its cleanliness, garbage bins are scarce and you will be forced to almost "treasure hunt" for one. Turns out there is a reason for this and it's best explained here.

I don't know what it is but ever since I got here I get super bloated after every meal, I don't know if there is something specific in the food that's causing it but it's very uncomfortable.