After many years of having our connecting flights at Narita International Airport on the way back home, we finally visited Japan for several days. Travelling to a country full of rich traditions such as Japan is interesting and sounds scary at the same time: language barrier, intricate etiquette, complex train station map, the high-tech butt-washing toilet, venturing the unknown, etc. However, in the end, the fears are unfounded.
We decided to spend all our time in Tokyo due to our short time there. We chose to stay in Shinjuku, which is known to be the best area for first-time tourists to stay in Tokyo. Shinjuku represents the real Tokyo: endless neon lights, huge department stores, entertainment establishments and lots of places to eat. While our hotel is located in Kabukicho, the largest red-light district in Japan where most businesses are run by members of the Yakuza, we felt pretty safe throughout our time there.
We did most of the touristy attractions, such as getting up at 4:45 AM to go for sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market, wandering around in Akihabara, learning about old and new Tokyo at Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida, witnessing plum blossom at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, tranquil strolling at Meiji Jingu in Shibuya and many more.
A couple of observations…
The Japanese people are polite to a fault. There are a lot of bowings and greetings. When an ambulance passed by a crowded intersection in Ginza, it used the loud speaker to say thank you to the pedestrians. An elderly lady sweeping the floor went out of her way to point us the right direction to our connecting train station to Edo-Tokyo Museum. People patiently queued up while waiting for the train to arrive, then allowed passengers in the train to get off first before boarding them. The streets are always very busy, yet most drivers rarely honk… a stark contrast to the drivers in New York.
While smoking is not allowed on the streets except on designated areas, it is usually allowed in most restaurants we have visited.
The language barrier is certainly an issue in some cases, but it wasn’t too bad. Most of the time, we would get one’s attention by saying “Sumimasen” (excuse me) first, then ask the question in English and got a fluent response in Japanese instead. We got around through hand gestures and pointing on the phone.