Today was my first day in Japan. I was out exploring Tokyo, and boy was it an adventure!
The hostel that I’m staying at is simply luxurious. It’s like a hotel. Amenities include: 8 floors, a terrace, a kitchen, blackout curtains for every bed, great wifi (I’m writing this in bed) and:
That’s right, free breakfast. Pro tip: If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, try to book your accommodation somewhere that offers free breakfast. This saves you from having to go and hunt for food like our ancestors in the morning.
Okay, not exactly like that, but you know what I mean. No one wants to wake up hungry and then have to go find an acceptable place to eat. Get the free breakfast, eat as late as possible (read: free brunch) and you’ve just saved yourself some buckaroonies!
I opt for the bowl of cereal, as much OJ as I can handle, and 4 slices of toast with jam plan. I eat later in the day, having an early dinner, which means paying for only one meal and a pre-bedtime snack.
Akihabara – Nerd City!
First let me say that Tokyo has like 13 different train lines and it’s confusing as hell. I’m sure I’ll get it down eventually, but I am quickly learning Japanese trial-by-fire-style so that I can actually get to where I need to go – Ikou! (let’s go)
That being said, the 1,000+ hours I’ve spent watching Naruto is actually helping me out here!
The first stop on my list today was Akihabara – it was on the top of my list for a reason.
Akihabara gained the nickname Akihabara Electric Town shortly after World War II for being a major shopping center for household electronic goods and the post-war black market. Nowadays, Akihabara is considered by many to be an otaku cultural center and a shopping district for video games,anime, manga, and computer goods. Icons from popular anime and manga are displayed prominently on the shops in the area, and numerous maid cafés are found throughout the district. Make that plenty of maid cafes.
Famous for it’s nerdy shops, I spent literally 5 hours just walking around, surrounded by my people (nerds). I poked my head into every door, hunting for a good deal on a Nintendo DS2. I saw thousands of figurines of every type, with Dragonball Z seeming to be the most popular – but there were hundreds of others I didn’t recognize.
I visited cosplay shops where you can pick up entire costumes, pre-made (wigs included). I stopped and enjoyed purchasing little trinkets from the abundant vending machines – sorry Omega, no panties yet – and kept my eye out for anything Naruto.
My favorite store was one called “Super Potato”. Famous in Akihabara, Super Potato sports everything retro.
That gun bringing back any memories for ya? How about Atari – ring a bell? They had one for $26! I can’t even tell you how tempting it was to drop 100 bucks for an original GameBoy and Pokemon game!
(Sad/side note: I literally did drop 100 bucks..like on the ground, fell out of my pocket…boo! Normally I’d say ‘someone is having a luckier day than me’ but they aren’t – I’m in Japan!!)
Mind you, Akibahara isn’t run simply by nerds and their electronics. Despite the streets upon streets of Apple products, super computers, video games, arcades and manga shops, there was one other guest making an appearance in the neighborhood – Maid Cafes.
I didn’t take that picture – I stole it from the internet. I did however see TONS of maids at every street corner. A lot of the maids were actually wearing signs that said “no photos”. I understand why – if they let people take their photos they’d be doing photo ops all day instead of promoting their businesses!
Also, with my experience in Vietnam of everyone trying to take my picture, I’m sympathetic and would always ask for consent.
I didn’t visit a maid cafe (YET) but the concept is this: it’s kind of like a regular cafe – picture Starbucks – except it’s run by ladies in sexy maid outfits.
Why didn’t I visit the cafe? I had other plans for my belly.
“WHAT?!” you’re going. “Zoom, are you totally broken bonkers? It’s your first day in Japan and all you’ve been talking about is sushi this, and sushi that…why did you not have sushi?!”
I know, I know. I’m sorry to disappoint you. Just like anywhere, there is good sushi, and bad sushi. Quality sushi, and shit sushi. While I’m here, as I’ve been saying, I’m going to eat some GOOD SUSHI. That takes a little bit of planning and research and I just haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but believe you me, I’m on it like white on rice.
So much rice in my life nowadays.
So what did I have instead? Well, the next thing on my list was Ramen. Ramen quality is pretty universal – flavors vary by shop of course, but overall you have about 8 different types to choose from: Shoyu, Chasu, Tonkotsu, Shio etc.
I was on the hunt for some ramen.
All throughout Akihabara were ramen shops. Some had signs out front, advertising the menu, and this baby caught my eye.
It says No.1, so it had to be good, right? Yes, yes it was.
I’d never heard of Sutameshi, but it’s now one of my favorites. As described, it’s a bowl of rice with melt-in-your-mouth pork rib on top and a raw egg. Mix it all together and holy god in my mouth, it was incredible. Way beyond what I expected, honestly.
No, the raw egg hasn’t killed me. You’ve eaten raw cookie dough before, don’t lie, it’s fine.
The miso soup was included – not gunna lie, I’m normally not a big miso person, but this has changed my mind. Maybe the miso was fresher? Maybe it’s the placebo effect of being in Japan? Maybe it just pairs well with this particular dish? Don’t know, don’t care – I didn’t even bother with a spoon. Slurp!
Oh, and I got cheese on my Sutameshi, cause I’ve been cheese-starved the last few months. I’m going to learn to make this guys. I am seriously considering making the 1 hr trek out there to have this again before I leave.
Belly full of happiness, I start plodding back to the train. I’m headed to the hostel, but kind of want to keep the party going. I know that if I take a nap, it’s just going to exacerbate the issue I’m having with my sleep schedule being wonky. However, I need a rest, so hostel time it is.
I come back to the hostel and change clothes. Even though it’s not at all hot out (relative to where I’ve been the last few months), I’m still a bit sweaty and I know I need to do laundry. I’m still itching though…I want to keep Zoomin’. I go down to the lobby and chat up the receptionist, explaining my conflict. She has a perfect solution.
Public Bath House
Japan is known for having Onsens – essentially a bath or pool that is filled with water from a natural hot spring. This is on my list of course, but there are many onsens that are still old school and don’t allow anyone with tattoos. I’m up to 8 now, so I’m SOL there.
She told me that this was a public bath house – similar but a little different. They do allow tattoos, and the water is artificially heated vs. naturally heated from the earth. That is totally fine with me! She hands me a map and I make the easy 10 minute walk to the bathhouse.
Now, in Chicago, we have the amazing King Spa. It’s a Korean spa, known to us as the ‘amazing naked spa’. It’s $30 to get in unless you have a coupon. Inside are pools of different temperatures, dry saunas, a movie theater and a restaurant that serves yummy Korean food. You can get a massage, steam your vag with herbs, a body scrub, or a bunch of other services off the menu.
Entrance to the bath house is $4.50. FOUR DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS!!
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the bath house, but I kind of expected it to be like King Spa. I was counting on my experiences there to guide me through this without looking like an idiot. Thank you King Spa and Burning man for getting me naked so many times.
Now, your momma shoulda taught you that before you get in the pool, you go pee. I made a pit stop in the bathroom and met…the super toilet.
We have smart phones, and tablets and …smart toilets, oh my?! So many buttons. I pushed them all…including the musical one. It plays a faux flushing sound if you’re pee shy – how cute.
The bath house was basically exactly like King Spa! Men and women are divided, each group having their own half of the building. Entering the women’s side, you strip down and cram all of your stuff into a coin operated locker. You take your bad, naked self into another room where there are lots of showers.
Difference here: no standing showers. You must sit and bath in the traditional asian style.
Wash down in your sit down shower and then you can enter one of the 5 pools available. All are different temperatures ranging from ‘oh-god-my-nipples-are-so-hard’ to ‘I’m-going-to-pass-out-its-so-hot’.
Each of the pools has a life size tea bag in them for giving the water difference scents and healing properties. I spent a few hours pool hopping, gave my dreadies a bath and headed back to the hostel.
Going down an alley
You’d think after my scary incident in Vietnam, I might be apprehensive to go down alleys – and I am, don’t get me wrong, but when there’s other people down the alley and a an amazing smell drifting from somewhere down there, I felt it was worth the risk to check it out.
Coming back from the bath house, I knew I should eat something small before heading back or I’d be up with a hangry headache. I followed my nose down the alley, coming across several ‘Izakaya’ (think Japanese “gastropub”). Good for drinking after work and having drunk-people food.
I decided to pick up some gyoza. A favorite back home, I had to see what it was like over here. I placed my order and got to watch it made before my eyes! Quick and fresh, I came back to my room and noshed it down with some cartoons while the laundry was going.
I’m happy to say this was pretty close to what we have back home as far as taste. It was fresher and the sauce was good, but it tastes about the same as Sushi Para M in Chicago. MMM…sushi…tomorrow, tomorrow!
The laundry wraps up and I get sleepy – but I had to write this post for you guys first. What a perfect first day in Japan. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.