Goodbye to the Decade | My 2016 Trip to Tokyo and Why A Hard Trip is Good

This post is part 7 of my 10-week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2016 trip to Tokyo. Previous editions of this series include

I’ve learned the good trips are good, but the hard ones are the ones that stick with you. And Tokyo was hard, and interesting, and overwhelming, but orderly and clean and just still so hard for me to wrap my head around.

Like Madrid, I never expected to go to Tokyo, but then a flight deal comes up for $550 to go to Hong Kong for a few days and then Tokyo, and what am I going to do? Not book a flight? Of course not.

Tokyo where you can turn in any direction and see a vending machine. Likely several, but never a garbage can.

Tokyo where you can get a tie at the 7-11. I went and bought gloves because it was rainy and cold.

A city of 35 million people. The biggest in the world. As I wandered around the streets of Tokyo I became overwhelmed with the fact the entire population of my country was in this one city.

A tree with cherry blossoms and people walking by on a street in Tokyo, Japan.

One thing I didn’t expect to see was cherry blossoms on my trip. The cherry blossom season was still a couple of weeks from starting (in Tokyo at least), but I lucked out a saw a few early blossoms.

One of the things I realize I often do when I travel is I’ll visit two different places back to back. I mean all places are different, but in 2012 I went from New Orleans (humid and altitude below sea level) to Denver (dry and altitude above sea level). In 2015 I went from Madrid (where the weather was 25C) to Helsinki (where it was about -2C). And in 2016 I went from Hong Kong, where the weather had been hot and humid (about 28C) to Tokyo (where it was a much cooler 5C). And in Hong Kong getting around with English was pretty easy (aside from when I went to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery). In Tokyo, there wasn’t as much English, although I still got by knowing very limited Japanese.

a 3 coins oops! store, which is a 100 yen store in Japan.

There are some stores with English signage, like this one. 3 Coins Ooops! (which is the greatest name for a store ever) is a 100 Yen Store (kinda like a dollar store, but much nicer).

I often wonder if I just didn’t give myself a good chance in Tokyo. I arrived at night and didn’t really have the best plan to find my hotel. My phone didn’t have a Simcard for Tokyo, and the wifi device I rented wasn’t charged up. I got on a train that was the wrong one, but then figured out where I need to go. At the last subway station before my hotel, I hailed a cab and realized I could use my subway card (I went with Pasmo) to pay for my fare.

I don’t want to give the impression that Tokyo wasn’t a bad city. I had a hard time in Tokyo, but I don’t think that was Tokyo’s fault. And normally I love travelling alone, but I found myself exhausted trying to navigate Tokyo on my own. Or trying to decide what to do every day, because I didn’t have a plan in Tokyo of things I should do. Sometimes wandering around to get inspiration is amazing, but when you’re in the biggest city in the world where do you start?

Giant Gundam Statue beside two buildings on Odaiba Island in Tokyo, Japan.

Obviously, there are going to be giant robots on the streets of Tokyo. This is the Unicorn Gundam statue on Odaiba Island. Every few minutes it lights up and moves (well the head moves; it’s not running round in the city).

One of the best things I did was sign up for a tour through the Tokyo Greeters program. I wrote about that here, but having a local show me around a small part of Tokyo was a great experience. And there were some other great things I got to do in Tokyo. I went to a Kabuki show, something I was really interested in doing. I visited convenience stores and I tried as many weird Kit Kat flavours as I could. I went to a cat cafe and a maid cafe (that was a weird experience). I walked into a pachinko parlour and tried to play a game, but didn’t understand the rules and was very overwhelmed with the loud sounds and all the flashing lights. I walked across Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. I went to one of those massive arcades in Akihabara. I marvelled at all the weird and strange things I saw like Hello Kitty construction signs, hot coffee in a can from vending machines (perfect to warm your hands up at only ¥100), and all the fake food displays outside restaurants (which is actually pretty genius cause you can literally see what’s on the menu).

a display of fake food in a restaurant to show people what is on the menu

One thing that I loved was seeing these fake food displays in restaurants. You can literally see what’s on the menu at a restaurant.

It’s funny because I didn’t do a lot in Tokyo, but I did. There were all these little things that keep popping up in my head that I saw or did that just stick out in my mind. Tokyo was hard because I was alone and overwhelmed, and it’s not often that this happens to me. I didn’t go anywhere else during my 1 week in Japan, because I figured Tokyo would have enough for me to do, and it did. I remember getting on the train and heading to Narita Airport and realizing I barely scratched the surface of Tokyo, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see it all. I would like to go back to Tokyo at some point, and I’d definitely like to see more of Japan.

Things You Should Know
While in Tokyo I stayed at the Asakusa Hotel Fukudaya. This is a great budget hotel (that’s more like a guest house). I had a single private Japanese style room (with tatami mats) with a mini-fridge. There is a shared bathroom, private showers, a male-only onsen, and a female-only onsen. At the time of my stay, I paid about $26US/night for my room. The hotel is in a quiet local neighbourhood but is within a short walk of the Minami Senju Station. I paid for my own stay here and would recommend this hotel if you want a private room affordable room in Tokyo.
Of course, there are plenty of other hotels in Tokyo you can book here.

Check Out Some More Posts About Tokyo on Take Me to the World

What would you do on a trip to Tokyo? Have you ever been somewhere that overwhelmed you?