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.
Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest and busiest fish market. We were initially very disappointed after learning about the relocation of this iconic fish market that was supposed to happen in November 2016 in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, the move was delayed indefinitely due to soil contamination at the new site.
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Built in the 7th century, this Buddhist temple is the oldest and the most significant in Tokyo.
Zaru soba with tsuyu dipping sauce at 130+ years old Kanda Matsuya. First time trying cold soba and it was one of the best meals we ever had. Sat among the locals, we had to observe the neighboring tables to figure out the right way of eating it. A salaryman who shared the same table with us was kind enough to show us how to eat the appetizer paste with sake.
Plum blossom at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. We know we were a month early to witness the cherry blossom festival (Sakura Matsuri), but we were pleasantly surprise to learn about the on-going plum blossom festival (Ume Matsuri), which we didn’t have a clue about.
The most expensive meal of our lives at 130+ years old Sushiko Honten in Ginza where we made our reservation one month in advance. Stumbled upon this one Michelin star sushi restaurant after watching ‘Parts Unknown’ where sushi legend Masa Takayama brought Anthony Bourdain there.
An epic view of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku. Pretty excited to witness this active volcano in person since we were not be able to see it from Bunkyo Civic Center two days prior due to low visibility.
Samurai Museum in Shinjuku. We were supposed to spend just half hour here but ended up spending two hours enjoying the samurai demonstration and the story telling from a guided tour.
A 40-foot high Torii Gate at Meiji Jingu. This famous Shinto shrine is located in a 170-acre forest and it is dedicated to the late 19th-century Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, who opened Japan to the West.
Our first ever Kobe beef experience at Han no Daidokoro in Shibuya.
Press Play button to watch the clip – A 30-shot time lapse of the world famous Shibuya crossing where the traffics stop for a few minutes and the pedestrians can scramble in all directions. The evening rain made the whole experience even more memorable with the see-through umbrellas filling the busy intersection and the whole scene glowing due to the reflections from the neon lights and the water on the ground.
Sunrise view from our 19th floor hotel room.
Places we covered in Tokyo.

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