Departing for an adventure of a lifetime!
Today is the day that we leave for Tokyo – some fabled futuristic, neon, modern city across the world that seemed like it was only in textbooks. We had no idea what sort of culture shock was in store for us, let alone what the next 46 days would entail.
We left our Hilton hotel bright and early in the morning to head to the airport via bus. However, when we woke up, we noticed a white wonderland outside! My fellow Texans might refer to this sight as “NOPE!” and burrow back under the sheets. We arrived to the airport early in the case of delays, but to much of our surprise, we made it through within five minutes again.
Now, this may seem normal for some of you.. but what you don’t understand is that Rachel and I always have issues at the airport. Before meeting her, I always flew through the airport (pun intended). I never knew how unlucky this sweet wife of mine could be when it came to travel. She was stuck in Europe during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. She also was notorious for being full body searched, obviously because she was the most innocent looking person around. Rachel refers to that experience as “Helga,” as a very large muscular woman searched her. To those who have watched American Gladiator, you may recognize this reference.
In Toronto, we were a bit late for our flight to Texas due to horrific traffic. Once to security, we got an odd look with a “ma’am, you’re going to have to come with me.” A full body search + drug/explosive swab later, off we went. Now, her luck has rubbed off on me in airports. We always arrive two hours prior to flights.
Delta Premium Select flight!
Anywho.. We were extremely excited for our flight, as it was a wedding gift from her aunt. This was a Premium Select Delta flight – we had cooked meals, a blanket, a pillow, and headphones! I’ve never been on an overseas trip before, so what interested me is that we flew over the arctic ocean to go to Japan. It was interesting to see the giant ice sheets, snowy mountains, and sun on the horizon for nearly 6 hours of our flight.
Snow-topped ice sheets of the Arctic Circle!
Twelve hours later, we arrived at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan! My ears gave me a significant amount of difficulty, and ended up leaving me hearing as if I were underwater again until that night. Thank god the flight was over!
Off the plane, into.. is that a toilet?
Once off the plane, we ran for the bathroom – as one does.. but when we got to the toilet, we were met with quite the surprise! What in the world? Is this a toilet? I’ve never been so culture shocked in my life. It’s common to have a squatting toilet rather than a traditional toilet in Japan. We also noticed that many times, there was water but no hand soap. If in the case that you were lucky enough for hand soap, there were no dryers. Very interesting, to say the least!
Wait just a minute – I’m confused! Here lays the first toilet I witnessed in Japan.
Out of the bowl, and into the airport! Our next plan was to find where to exchange USD-YEN, and where to pick up our JR pass + pocket WiFi. To those who don’t know – a JR pass gives foreigners the opportunity to ride every train, bus, or shinkansen as many times as they can for the duration of the pass. Keep in mind – you must buy your rail pass prior to traveling! A pocket WiFi is a device that connects you and anyone near you with the passcode pretty decent WiFI! It was quite the life saver. We strongly recommend T-Mobile, as they pair with Docomo in Japan for service.
Photo taken as we exited the airport.
Public transit roulette!
After many redirects from customer service, finally we had everything we need – it was time to head out to the train station attached to the airport! We needed to head to Ryugoku station, a popular sumo tournament area. This was an interesting one to figure out! When arriving to the station, everything was in Japanese with little English guidance (or so we thought.. it was printed on the doors). We flipped a coin to decide which train to get on, and lucky enough we chose the right one! This was my first train – they aren’t too useful in my area. We wish that there were more public transit (train) options in Texas. Most people stood holding a grip or rail protruding from the ceiling. There were lights on the side of the train telling us which stop we were at.
We got to our destination, and then looked at eachother.. “Now what?” We followed a good number of signs, questioning our every choice. When we finally made it to a street outside of the station, the culture shock truly started to hit us. Here we were, in Tokyo – a town that seemed so out of reality and far away! We walked through the streets, and finally arrived at our hotel – Ryugoku View Hotel. We felt silly when we realized we took the wrong train company. It turns out we could have saved ourselves the 15 minute walk by taking the JR line – we didn’t really get off at Ryugoku station.Check out the Ryugoku View Hotel!
No jet lag for us – Akihabara, here we come!
After setting our belongings down, we knew that we had to stay up to fight jet lag the next day. We showered, got dressed, and departed for Ryugoku station! MAN were we hungry! We took the train to Akihabara, a neon, anime, die-hard district. This district is devoted to all things anime, manga, and electronics. It is also popular for its ramen, as there are many shops competing for the top ratings.
The first thing we did was take a picture to be sure we didn’t miss it – WOW!
We thought we were in culture shock before – this was like a futuristic New York. We walked the streets to explore, and found ourselves upon our very first vending machine ramen restaurant! Insert your yen, press a button, give your ticket to the chef, and boom! Out comes your ramen. Broth of the angels, heavenly noodles, Spongebobs seaweed – whatever you call it, it was amazing!
Our first authentic ramen restaurant in Japan!
After walking the streets further, we found out our favorite cultural wonder yet – trash men. Yes, you read that right. Trash men.
They play the ice cream truck song with their carts. Incredible! We could not believe it, and couldn’t stop laughing. Ironically, we were at an ice cream shop at the time. We had just had a cheese tart beforehand – highly recommend! Here’s an example of a cheese tart.
To wrap up our night, we found what many consider to be the largest electronic store in the world – Yodobashi Camera Akiba. We had no idea where to even start – we somehow found ourselves to keep finding luxury watches, as nothing was in English. After a long night, we took the train from Akihabara station over Ryugoku station, and walked a short distance to our hotel.
Check out how many people were at Akihabara station!
A lifesaving call.
Once at the hotel, we showered and got ready for bed.. until we got the email that would come to be a LIFESAVER during our quarantine. A balcony room upgrade for our Princess cruise! I called Princess at 0200 on 2/20/2020 and stayed on the line for two hours to secure the deal. We got out balcony for a $400 upgrade. Moral of the story – always sign up for the upgrade deal when booking a cruise with Princess!
Now, off to sleep for a new day of adventure in the morning.. sumo practice, Japanese McDonalds, the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station, delicacies, and embarking on our cruising journey!
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