In November 2016 I went on a solo trip to Japan for three weeks with just a backpack. The following 11,000 words and few dozen pictures are just a glimpse of my adventures. I'm so incredibly thankful for the people I met along the way. You have all given me an experience I will never forget.
The reason I initially decided to go to Japan was because after a year or so being with Darcy her love for Japan wore off on me. Before this time I had never even considered going to Japan. We had planned to go together after graduating university. I was so excited about this trip that I started learning Japanese at the beginning of 2016. Darcy and I had moved on but I still wanted to go to Japan. I continued learning Japanese for six months leading up to when I would eventually travel to Japan. I booked my trip in August 2016, three months before leaving.
I would fly into Tokyo (Narita airport) on November 4, 2016, for a three-week solo adventure.
I had no knowledge of Japan whatsoever except for a little bit of the language. I knew nothing about Japanese geography or much about the culture, apart from the little tidbits I had picked up in Japanese class.
Two weeks before leaving I had no accommodation booked at all. I wasn't worried. I didn't mind where I stayed, I was just happy to be going over. I knew there would be plenty of options between Airbnb and hostels. I ended up booking the first two nights in an Airbnb close to Shibuya - Thank you so much to Haru for being an amazing host. I figured I could use these first two nights to get the rest of the trip planned. I also decided to purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). I had heard in the past that the Japanese train system was phenomenal and a rail pass was a great thing to have if you were a tourist. I didn't even know it was called a JR Pass, I had to ask Darcy about that.
Leading up to the trip I remember it being a surreal feeling that I was actually going to travel overseas by myself. I had never done something like that before. I was scared and excited at the same time. I enjoyed the feeling.
Four days before leaving, after much scrutiny from mum about not having any accommodation booked apart from the first two nights, I decided to book a couple more nights in Tokyo. Mum did most of the research on places to stay as I really didn't mind. She narrowed it down to three hostels (there are dozens in Tokyo) which all ended up looking incredible. I decided to pick Khaosan Samurai because of the fact it had Samurai in its name and I thought that was cool. I booked four nights here.
One day out, I had six nights accommodation booked, a small amount of Japanese in my vocabulary and a JR Pass ready to go. I needed to pack some clothes. I had said for weeks that I was only going to take a backpack with me. I had asked to borrow Darcy's larger travelling bag but realised I wanted something smaller. I have an everyday bag that I use and I like the size of it so I decided that it was perfect.
It took me about 30 minutes to pack all of the gear I decided to take. This is what the final result looked like:
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 4 pairs of socks
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 long sleeve shirts
- Miscellaneous toiletries
- Japanese power adapter and various cables
That was it. I later realised I didn't even need all of this stuff.
I woke up, amazed I was actually flying to Japan later in the morning. I didn't have to pack anything. I wore the heavier items on the plane (jacket/shoes). I would end up wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane for the majority of the trip.
I went to the airport, said the usual goodbyes and ventured down towards the terminal. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I looked at the aeroplane I was going to get on and just stared at it for a while. I met a friend from my Japanese language class who was coincidently on the exact same flight as me to Japan. The night before, we had completed our level 2 Japanese exam so we were hoping the Japanese we had learned was still fresh in our minds.
I had a whole row to myself on the plane. Perhaps it was a good thing to be flying out on a Friday morning.
I met a girl on the plane called Sally. She was moving to Japan to live. She had already been there many times before and absolutely loved it. I remember thinking that was so cool. I thought she could show me around Tokyo but we never exchanged contact details.
I landed in Tokyo around 5:30pm local time. It was already pitch black. I still couldn't believe I was in Japan.
I didn't know what I had to do to acquire my rail pass, all I had was a receipt for purchasing it. As it turns out, once you get through customs, you can exchange you JR Pass receipt for an actual JR Pass.
With the help of a few train attendants, I managed to find the platform I needed to be on to get to my first stay. It took 45 minutes by train to get to Shibuya from Narita Airport.
Once I had dropped my bags off at the Airbnb, I went exploring the local area. This was one of my first sights in Shibuya (around midnight).
I had absolutely no plans as to what I wanted to do whilst in Tokyo. I decided to just go and walk around.
I ended up discovering Yoyogi park. Here I met Teru.
Teru is 67 and comes to the park every day to play the shakuhachi (wooden flute). I had a go at it but I didn't manage to produce a single sound apart from air simply flowing through the tube.
Following Yoyogi park, I discovered that Meiji Temple was not far. What a beautiful place. There were at least a dozen couples getting married.
I wrote a wish on a piece of wood and hung it on a spiritual tree. The priests pray for the wishes to come true every morning.
Today I had to relocate to another area of Tokyo. I had only booked the first two nights in an Airbnb. The next five nights I would spend in Khaosan Tokyo Samurai.
Staying in an Airbnb was great but I did get a bit lonely going back to the apartment and staying alone. I'm used to being around people 24/7 so it was probably just a shock to the system. My host was very helpful but the language barrier stopped any major conversation. The first few nights staying there all I could think about was how much Darcy would love to be here. That was hard.
I started migrating towards the other side of Tokyo. It was going to be an hour long trip just to get to the next hostel. Tokyo is a massive city.
Arriving at the hostel I received a greeting like no other. It was like the best customer service you could ever imagine. The hostel was by no means five stars but the staff were well beyond this.
I was shown my room and several other facilities. The staff couldn't believe how little luggage I had. They said that Australians always have large suitcases. Stuff that.
I spent a couple hours exploring the area around the hostel. I would later discover that I was in Asakusa, I fell in love.
The common room of the hostel was on the top floor. I met some awesome people here. Adam was from England. We were exploring Japan on a similar time frame. We exchanged travel plans with each other, this was very one sided of course since I didn't have any plans. He showed me some of the stops he was planning on going to next, this gave me a few ideas.
After only one night at the hostel, my loneliness had disappeared. I was grateful to be around people again. I had never stayed in a hostel before. I made the right choice. For the rest of my trip, I wouldn't stay in anything else.
With the help of the hostel staff, I was able to find a location to rent a bike. I wanted to ride around Asakusa to check out some of the places I had been recommended.
I headed towards the Sky Tree. As it turns out, the Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest building in the world. I learned from Adam that there was a viewing platform on the tower that was 450m high. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked out. I had been to tall towers before but I had never seen anything like the vastness of Tokyo.
I collected my bike from the bicycle parking lot (these are everywhere in Tokyo) and started heading back towards the hostel. I stopped in at a small cafe and spoke to two of the Japanese staff, Nobu and Konoko. Nobu had excellent English but my Japanese was probably as good as Konokos English. We talked about my trip so far and what I had plans of doing over the next 20 or so days.
Learning Japanese before going to Japan was definitely a plus. It allowed me to have small interactions like this that I would never have had otherwise.
Upon returning to the hostel I met Jorgen (Netherlands) and Caitlyn (Phillip Island, Melbourne). We were all looking for a place to go for dinner. Before leaving, Darcy sent me a list of places to eat around Tokyo. By fate, all of these places happened to be in Asakusa.
There was an Okonomiyaki restaurant only 500m from where we staying. It was decided.
What an experience this was.
Sitting on the floor, cooking our own food, exchanging travel knowledge. Sitting down with friends for meal times is one of my favourite things to do. The fact that the restaurant was absolutely amazing made it just that much better.
Earlier in the day, I went to a cafe named Byron Bay Cafe (there's a town in Australia called Byron Bay). I met an Australian working there called Isaac. I asked him where some cool places in Asakusa were. He gave me this list.
This list would turn out to be very helpful throughout the night. We started at the Internationals bar not too far from where we were staying. It was a part of another hostel so we were interested in going there to try and meet some people.
We ended up meeting Alice (England) and a whole bunch other awesome people from various countries around the world.
The group decided to go adventuring through some bars in Asakusa. I remembered that I had the list from Isaac earlier that day so we decided that would be our map.
Bars we went to:
- Tokyo Knowledge
- GInmaku Rock - Ask a local about this one, it was really difficult to find.
- Golden Tiger
Finding bars in Tokyo is no easy task. You could have the address on a map and be standing right outside the front door and not know about it. Most of the places we went to on the list were up a set of stairs, through a door, and down a hallway. It was like a treasure hunt discovering all of these new places.
We slowly ticked off the list, even asking the bartenders for their best recommendations for the next place to go along the way. Each place had its own theme. The bar owners definitely poured their heart and soul into making their bars unique.
Alice, Caitlyn and I went exploring Asakusa for some breakfast options. Asakusa is littered with small little markets and food options, it’s definitely an ideal location for tourists. Asakusa reminded me of SOHO in New York.
We ended up having eel (unagi) for breakfast. I had never eaten eel before, it was delicious. After breakfast we ended up satisfying our cravings for donuts at Mister Donut across the street.
The night before, all I could think about was doughnuts after reading an article about them in a Time Out magazine.
Later that day we went exploring Jimbocho, another region of Tokyo. We had heard that Jimbocho was famous for three things, used books, curry and beer, what more could you ask for? I also realised that there are little areas around Tokyo which specialise in different things. There’s a location for coffee, a location for hairdressers a location for bike stores and Jimbocho was home to 180+ used book stores. We spent an hour touring the streets and looking at some of the collections of old books. There were books from all over the world, from fishing guides to the anatomy of bears. Most of them were in Japanese but it was amazing just to see the vastness of information.
Following the bookstore exploring, we decided to find another Jimbocho special, curry. We ventured down several alleyways without any luck. Coming back to the main street, Alice spotted Hinoya Curry. Wow. Probably the best Japanese Curry I’ve ever had. After walking around for hours with a craving for curry, this meal well and truly exceeding our expectations. It was so great to just sit there with some epic people and some epic food.
We kept referring back to the motto of the Byron Bay Cafe - “Cheer Up, Slow Down.” That was our mantra for that meal and it would become our mantra for the rest of our time together.
Today I realised how lucky I was to meet such amazing people. Alice and Caitlyn enhanced my experience of Japan 10 fold. I realise I could’ve done everything I did with them on my own but having them there made the experience that much better.
Alice had been wanting to go to see Japanese artwork since she was young so she suggested we venture to the Tokyo National Museum. I was open to anything so I was happy to go along. I was glad I did. Some of the artwork there was amazing. I couldn’t believe that some of it was created hundreds of years ago. The details in some of the artworks was incredible. Every piece of thread on the kimonos had a purpose. I found it fascinating to explore such a wide-ranging collection of Japanese artworks. It was also great to see how happy Alice was to be fulfilling her teenage dream. The Japanese put so much effort into creating such great art, this inspired me to do the same with the things I’m working on.
The inside of the museum was only half the adventure. Around the outside of the museum were several gardens and tea houses built purposely for tea ceremonies. We were unable to venture into the tea houses because of a lack of appointment but it was still fun walking around the gardens.
I had read a couple of nights prior in a Time Out book that there was a treehouse cafe located somewhere in Tokyo. I took a photo of the address and we decided to venture there on the way home from the museum. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A real life treehouse cafe. I remember thinking to myself that Tokyo really does have everything you could imagine.
You could literally venture up the ladder and enter the two storey cafe. The floor below was a florist, so the main entrance of the cafe could be considered through the treehouse. Inside the treehouse was a table for one. It’s everyone's childhood dream to have a tea party in a treehouse, I got to fulfil that dream on this day.
This was my last day in Tokyo, I ended up deciding to go to the biggest fish market in the world (Tsukiji Fish Market). What an event that was. It was so incredible to see how many people were there purchasing fish and fresh produce. I ate at what was apparently a very famous sushi restaurant. The story I was told my a friend I met (Chen from Singapore) was that father and son compete to purchase the freshest fish from the markets and then use it in their sushi restaurant. What was beautiful is that I discovered this place by mistake. I was just walking around the market and found it. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular, I just saw people lining up for something and decided to join the line. I ended up finding one of the best sushi places I've ever been to. It was definitely a new experience eating some of the items on the menu but it's something I'll never forget. I'm really happy that I got to meet Chen as well.
After visiting the fish market I went to what was rated the best cafe in Tokyo of 2015 by Time Out (Good People, Good Coffee), I referenced the same magazine multiple times.
It turned out to be just a little shack. I was the only one there. I couldn't believe it. If it was rated the best cafe in Brisbane, it would've been packed. It was cool to see the area where it was located. It was just a small little residential area filled some cool cafes. I later discovered that Ikejiri Ohashi was the coffee capital of Tokyo. There was even a map in the cafe that showed the other nearby coffee shops.
After Good People and Good Coffee, I ventured around a few more of the other cafes in the area. It was cool to see some of the styles they take on in Japan. Every shop has its own unique style. P.N.B was the final cafe I went to. There I met Ayumi and Peter (the owner of the cafe). This coffee shop took on a minimalistic type design, only being stocked with the necessities of running a great coffee shop. Peter the owner was originally from Denmark, he's been living in Tokyo for 2 years and started his own coffee shop under his own name. Such a cool setup. They gave me some travelling tips and some more potential locations to visit along the rest of my journey through Japan.
I found this to be one of the best ways to get insights about travelling around Japan, finding someone who was fluent in English. Even though I spoke a little Japanese, it was definitely not enough to have in-depth travel conversations.
Hyped up on caffeine I headed towards Omotesando. There was an Apple Store there I wanted to visit. I was grateful for Takuro to give me a store tour. If you’re ever in Brisbane, I’d love to return the favour for you!
On the way home I stopped into Don Quijote and checked out some of the weird and excellent products that Japan discount stores have to offer. Exploring these stores is an experience in itself. There was certainly some interesting items all throughout. Ranging from animal animal underwear to sushi themed masks. Sadly, I didn’t end up purchasing any of the novelties.
When I got back to the hostel, I packed my gear in about 15 minutes (probably less - one of the benefits of travelling with just a backpack) in preparation to leave for Mt. Fuji the next day.
Adam had recommended a hostel to stay at in Fujikawaguchiko (small town near Mt. Fuji) when I was chatting with him the first night in Asakusa. I decided that this would be my next destination. Throughout my whole trip I would book the place I wanted to go to next using HostelWorld.com a night or two in advance.
I took a bus from Tokyo to Fujikawaguchiko. It cost around $30 AUD but would take me directly to where I needed to go. The transport in Japan is the best I’ve ever experienced. Apart from the JR Pass, I booked nothing in advance and would just arrive at train stations and bus stops and ask someone for directions. Never did I have to wait longer than 15 minutes for a connection to get somewhere. I had no real set plans so I could afford to travel like this but I would suggest if you need to be somewhere at a certain time, book ahead. On the whole though, you could probably get any where you wanted by just showing up to a train station and asking directions.
It took just under two hours to get Fujikawaguchiko. I thoroughly enjoyed the bus ride, I got to view the Japan ‘countryside’. Most of the way through Tokyo it was a concrete jungle. After leaving the outskirts of the city, we entered what would probably be called countryside by Japanese but was just like a small suburban town for me.
I was staying at the Kagelow Hostel. What an awesome place. The outside of the hostel was summarised beautifully by one of my friends back home after I showed him the pictures on the website - “It’s better than most Australian modern architecture.” He was right. There was a restaurant and coffee shop on site, so food and drinks were completely taken care of. The food was delicious and not expensive by any means. All of this for under $30 AUD per night.
I sat in the lobby and did some writing and ate some food. I met a French tourist named Alizee. We talked for a couple hours about our experiences and what our plans were. We both didn’t really have any for the next couple of days. I suggested we rent out bicycles.
The next morning I walked into the lobby asking one of hostel staff where Mt. Fuji was. He pointed out the window to the left. I couldn’t believe it. Fuji was right there. When I arrived I couldn’t see it at all, it had been an overcast night. He said that I was lucky, it was the best weather in the last month. Everywhere I went it seemed I was there at the right time.
Alizee and I went walking around Kawaguchiko to find some bikes. We found a little store that would lend us bikes for 1500YEN. The bikes we got were semi-electrical so every time you took off you would get a little boost from the electric motor, this was so much fun. We ended up riding around Lake Kawaguchi. Some of the views we got of Fuji were breath taking. The area was really popular over the weekend we were there because of the Autumn leaves.
I had dinner an incredible dinner at the hostel. I cannot recommend Kagelow Hostel enough if you ever decide to visit Fujikawaguchiko.
Alizee left for Kyoto on the night bus overnight so this day I was by myself. I spent the morning on the balcony of the hostel contemplating what I was going to do for the day. I was able to see Fuji from where I was sitting.
It was a great way to spend a morning. While I was sitting by myself a group of Malaysians came up to me to say hello. They were travelling together and asked for a photo with me. They then invited me to go explore the area with them during the day. I said yes.
When we were about to get on the bus, I realised I just wanted to spend the day by myself. I told them that I would get off at a specific stop, different to their destination. I don’t know why but I just felt like exploring some things without following someone else’s schedule.
I got off the bus at a bat cave. The whole area around Fuji is littered with lava rocks. I went exploring through the bat cave which tested the nerves and potentially brought out some claustrophobia I didn’t know I had. It was so narrow in places, there was a hand rail on the ground where you literally hand to crawl along to get through.
Exiting the bat cave I had no plans. I had no idea when the next tour bus would arrive to take me back to the hostel. I decided I didn’t really feel like catching the bus and was going to walk home. That was until I saw a group of Japanese boys heading towards their car. I remember talking with Alizee how easy it is to hitchhike in Japan. I thought in my head, “You’ll never regret going exploring with Japanese guys around Kawaguchiko.” So I went up to them and asked them in broken Japanese, “Can I ride with you?” They were amazed that I asked, then the amazement turned into excitement when they all looked at each other and exclaimed a collective, “Hai!”.
As it turns out, I discovered that they were from out of town and exploring the area as well. They ended up taking me to some places I never would’ve gone to if I was just on my own. We went to Oshino, the home of the koi. There was a world heritage lake there that had the clearest water I’ve ever seen.
On the way home we stopped by a small little lake and got a group picture of everyone with Fuji in the background.
If I didn’t decide to go travelling on my own I would never have met Matta, Ikeda and Nieda. It’s just one example of how saying no to one thing can lead to an incredible experience. These types of experiences just kept happening to me all throughout the trip.
I went home and packed my gear ready to head off to Kyoto the next day.
After talking with the hostel staff, I discovered that the best way to get to Kyoto was by Shinkansen (bullet train). This excited me. I hadn't yet been on a bullet train. My JR Pass would cover me for the travel as well, so that was a bonus.
I had heard that you can book Shinkansen tickets in advance, I didn't book mine. When I arrived at the station, I went to the ticket office and got a reserved seat ticket. I later learned that I didn't even have to do this, I could just show the attendant at the gate my JR Pass and I could board the train.
Even though you don't have to reserve a seat, I would highly recommend it. It takes no longer than three minutes. The benefit of reserving a seat is that you have access to a different carriage than everyone else. Often, I would be one of five people in the entire reserved seating carriage. There was so much room for activities.
Riding on the Shinkansen was a phenomenal experience. I couldn't believe I was going at speeds of just under 300km/h on a train. I found myself lost in a gaze out the window throughout most of the journey to Kyoto.
I arrived in Kyoto in the late afternoon. I checked into my hostel (Centurion Cabin and Spa). As I checked in, I realised I had done very well. This place was like a hotel more than a hostel. It even had a spa/onsen available for all guests in the basement.
I dropped off my gear and decided to venture down to explore the spa. As I was walking into the basement, I ran into Adam, the Englishman I had met in Tokyo a week prior. I couldn't believe it. He was wearing a kimono. The hostel even offered free kimonos for guests to wear around the spa and rooms. We later discovered that we were literally staying in the bunk beds next to each other, 439 and 440, this was out of 600+ beds.
I got changed into a kimono and headed back down to the spa area. I hadn't been to a Japanese onsen yet. This place was by no means a traditional onsen but the tradition of entering naked was well and truly alive. I went into the spa originally wearing sport shorts. As I was getting in I heard a call out from one of the naked men in the spa, he informed me that it was impolite to wear clothing in the spa area. I had guessed as much. I exited the spa and removed my pants in the change room. I was free. I hadn't been naked in front of so many people at once ever before. It felt great. I instantly started to ask myself why this wasn't such a common practice. How have we made something so natural so taboo?
I reentered the spa to cheers from some of the other foreign travellers, maybe they made the same mistake.
We all got to talking, I met Thomas from Germany, Nadav from Isreal and Miguel from Portugal. It was like we weren't naked at all. We were simply talking as if we had met at a bar or in the hostel lobby. We shared travel stories and our upcoming plans. Again, I had no upcoming plans.
I had arrived in Kyoto with no idea what was there. I was just going to do the same as what I had done the past week, ask someone what they were doing and tag along.
The group of us that met in the spa, Adam and a few others all went out for dinner. We decided as a group that we wouldn't tell people we met in a spa. Apparently, it's not polite to talk while you're in a Japanese spa. I didn't know this so everyone we'd meet the first thing I'd tell them is that we met in a spa.
We found some awesome food options just walking around the back streets of Kyoto. Walking around back streets and alleyways is how I found most of my meals. I never once had a bad food experience eating like this.
After dinner, we regathered in the hostel lobby and discussed plans for the next day. I had no idea of what there was to do but luckily Thomas had already made a complete 9-5 plan for things to do. German efficiency. Reluctantly I set an alarm for the next day, I wasn't going to be the one to screw up the plans.
I managed to make it to the lobby on time. The hostel offered free coffee and had a machine that produced sparkling water. This became one of my new favourite combinations. Black coffee and sparkling water. They should serve this more often at cafes.
We headed off towards Kinkaku-Ji (the golden temple). The whole temple is covered in gold leaf. Apparently, when the sun is shining, you can’t look directly at it because the glare is too intense. Luckily for us, it was overcast.
All around the temples you will often find giant bells, I don’t know the exact meaning of ringing the bell but you will often see Japanese people clap their hands, bow their head and then ring the bell. I think it is a form of prayer.
After the golden temple we headed to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine (orange gates). This place was absolutely packed with tourists, mainly Japanese tourists. Just be aware, many places on the main tourist destination are also main tourist destinations for Japanese people so if you want to avoid crowds, weekdays and obscure times are your best bet.
Each of the gates is a tribute of some sort. I don’t know exactly to what but you can even purchase your own gate and have it placed within the shrine. The path is littered with hundreds of orange gates for at least a few hundred metres.
Not only were the gates incredible to look at, the autumn leaves were in full swing.
Adhering to the strict schedule Thomas had produced, we moved on to the bamboo forest. We ended up losing half the group due to the crowds. Adam and I ended up exploring the forest ourselves. Again, this area was jam packed with tourists, it must have been a popular time of year. We ended up meeting a couple of Geisha’s (traditional Japanese female entertainers). The Geisha’s were very popular, dozens of people were stopping them for photos, including me.
We never ended up finding the rest of the group so Adam and I just cruised back to the hostel when we were content with sightseeing for the day.
Returning to the hostel I was exhausted. The whole trip I had hardly done more than one thing a day. Today I had done three massive sightseeing tours. There was even an opportunity to do another that the German had planned, I passed. I was content with what I had seen already. I had to let my sightseeing batteries recharge so I could fully experience the next thing I saw.
I stuck to the motto of the Byron Bay Cafe. I went down to the spa to Cheer Up and Slow Down.
Miguel and I spent the morning trekking around the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It was incredible to see just how much space was devoted to the palace. It took us a solid 10 minutes of walking just to find the appropriate gate. Entry to walk around the palace was free, so that was a bonus.
My favourite part about the palace was the zen gardens. The gardens were built specifically for the Emperor to walk around, contemplating, thinking and reflecting. It was such a peaceful place. I thought to myself, if there was anywhere that I could reach enlightenment, it would be here.
Walking around the zen gardens made me think about where the zen gardens are in my life. I realised that anywhere can be a zen garden, it just depends how you look at it.
We returned to the hostel after two or so hours walking around the palace. I was happy for the palace to be the only thing I saw all day. My attention span for new tourist attractions was wearing thin.
Miguel left for Osaka in the early afternoon. Following this, I decided to treat myself to a massage. The massage was one of the best decisions I made the whole tour. I had an hour to just lay there with no goals but to simply relax.
Later that evening I met back up with Caitlyn. We hadn’t seen each other since Tokyo. It was like a reunion between best friends even though we had only known each other for three days. We spent the night exploring Kyoto, laughing, exchanging travel stories and future travel plans. We had both done a great deal since we had seen each other. We discovered one of the best ramen places in Kyoto, of which I forget where it was.
I was heading to Osaka the next day, so I headed back home to get my gear ready. Again, I was thankful to have only packed light because it only took 10 minutes for me to be ready to leave. I was so tired from the past couple of days, I couldn’t think of anything worse than packing a large bag.
The next three days happened so fast. I met up with Miguel and Adam at the Teltel Hostel in Osaka. Once again, we were welcomed with great enthusiasm by the hostel operators.
Adam and I exchanged travel stories of the past few days as we waited in the lobby for our rooms to open up and for Miguel to return home from exploring the city.
In the lobby, we met another Australian, Lachlan. He was travelling solo as well. Like Adam, he had just returned from Hiroshima. This inspired me further to travel to this city before I left the country.
As it turns out we were all staying in the same room. We were so stoked about this. The beds were some of the biggest we had stayed on all tour. They were almost worthy of being called a double bed.
We checked in late so it was almost time to go and get some food. Lachlan asked if he could join, Miguel, Adam and I. We were more than happy for him to come along.
It was cool having another Australian there. We joked about our home cultures and how it was so different to anything we had experienced in Japan.
On the search for food, we stumbled upon one of the coolest looking Thai restaurants I've ever seen. The food and service here turned out to be some of the best we had all trip. We ended up coming back the next night because it was so good.
After dinner, we decided to explore Dotomoburi. What an incredible area.
The vibe of Osaka is different to other areas I had already visited. It's hard to describe but I was loving it. I just had a good feeling walking around and exploring the area with Miguel, Adam and Lachlan. Perhaps it was the company. I don't know.
We went to a bar called something along the lines of "Bar Zero". There were two girls sitting on the opposite side of the bar to us. We noticed them as we walked in.
I decided to go and talk to them to find out more about them. I introduced myself to Alex and Kim. They were on vacation from the US. They were in Japan for three weeks and were heading to Vietnam after, much like Adam. This further inspired me to head to Vietnam for my next adventure.
They told us of a pub crawl they were doing the following night called the Osaka Pub Crawl. Apparently, it was a massive congregation of foreigners all going around exploring the pubs and bars of Osaka. We were all very interested.
We ended up parting ways and heading home for the night.
The next day, Miguel, Adam, Lachlan and I headed to the Umeda Sky Building.
It's rated as one of the top 20 buildings in the world. Going up in the elevator to the 173m high viewing platform was an event in itself. The glass windows and walls made the whole thing like a thrill ride. I've never been the best with heights but I love pushing my limits and visiting the other side of fear.
Following this, we explored an eight storey retail store. Every floor had something different on it. Adam was interested in buying a Seiko watch. He told me, that the watch models made in Japan are the best quality in the world.
On the way home we stopped by the Thai restaurant we visited the first night and discussed the battle plans for the night ahead.
The Pub Crawl began at an Irish Bar we had been to the night before. We met up with the girls. The theme of the night was moustaches. We drew a very generous piece of facial hair on Lachlan's hand, this is when he found his twin.
The next bar was a quiet place in a small area somewhere in Dotomburi. The bartender there was also the DJ, he loved Latino music. It was fun dancing to a different style of music than what I was used to. Dancing makes me happy. I ended up dancing with an Argentinian girl, she was very impressed with my moves. That was an unnecessary but incredible ego boost. Upon leaving the bar, I saw a little boutique store. I had been looking for some novelty glasses to wear on the pub crawl all day. Much to my delight I found some clear glasses with neon lights around the outside. The lights had three different modes, solid, flashing and faster version of flashing. Mission accomplished. I couldn't fork over the 1100Yen fast enough. I ran back to the rest of the group, glasses on full flash. Lachlan and Adam were more than inspired. They ended up running back to get their own pairs.
The party, now with three neon-glasses wearing members, moved on to a nightclub on the river of Dotomburi. I can't remember what it was called. Lachlan was 19 so technically he wasn't legally allowed into the club as the Japanese legal age for drinking is 20. There were bouncers at the door checking ID cards and dates of birth. Lachlan showed his ID and the bouncer paused. He asked Lachlan how old he was. Lachlan didn't reply. Seconds felt like an eternity as the bouncer was staring him down. Miguel chimed in from behind and told that bouncer that Lachlan was 20. The bouncer asked again, how old? Miguel replied he's 20. The bouncer nodded and stamped Lachlan's hand with an entry pass. We were in. Everyone was in. The one hurdle of the night was crossed. The party could continue. As Lachlan entered the club, I embraced him with one of the biggest high fives I've ever delivered.
Japanese night clubs are different to Australia. There are lockers all throughout the entry way for personal belongings. They are all coin operated so if you don't have 100Yen coins, you're out of luck. One thing I didn't like was that you had to pay for water. A glass of water in the nightclub we were at was as much as a glass of alcohol (about 500-600Yen). I discovered this when I went to exchange my free drink ticket for a glass of tequila and a glass of water. I wasn't allowed both with my 1 free drink ticket.
Busting moves on the dance floor was sweaty work. Miguel and I needed water. We left the club and decided to go on our own adventure. It was about 3:00 a.m. by this stage. We found some water and then went searching for food.
We ran into two Japanese girls. I decided to try and talk to them in Japanese. I spoke about as much Japanese as they did English. With encouragement from Miguel, I asked them both out to dinner (or whatever meal you call it at 3:00 a.m.). We ended up getting pizza. They had the Wolf of Wall Street playing in Japanese on a large projector. We exchanged the details we could with the girls, bits and pieces of our lives, as much as I could translate between English and Japanese. They taught me some Japanese and I taught them some English.
After pizza, we went exploring the streets of Dotomburi. It was almost 5:00 a.m. at this stage. I hadn't stayed out this early since New Years. I was well and truly ready for bed. The girls were waiting for the first train of the morning. We went to say goodbye to the girls with a hug. I could feel the air gap in between us when we were hugging. It was strange. Perhaps in Japanese culture, it's not ideal to be seen hugging a foreigner in public or maybe touch isn't high on their list of priorities.
Miguel and I were still a bit weirded out about this on the way home. Not in a bad way though, we were just trying to understand the culture more. We discussed it at length.
We ended up getting to sleep at around 5:30 a.m. What a night.
We woke up at about 10:00 a.m. after getting to sleep at close to 5:30 a.m.
Miguel had already almost finished packing his bag. He was heading off to the Philippines that day to practice free diving.
I had been talking about doughnuts the entire night. I remembered vaguely that I took a photo of a doughnut store that was next to the pizza shop we ate at just a few hours ago.
Doughnuts have become very popular in Australia over the past couple of years so I had to see what Japan had to offer. It turns out the doughnut store was actually an American based chain that had recently opened in Japan. None the less, the doughnuts were delicious. There was probably far too much sugar in there for my liking but I didn't really care.
Lachlan, Miguel and I sat outside the doughnut store eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. Lachlan ended up giving Miguel tips on how to properly carry his bag. Miguel had been walking with his back at an almost 45-degree angle the whole way to the doughnut store. Lachlan showed him how to rest his bag on his hips so he could walk more upright.
Adam was back at the Japanese department store exchanging his watch. It was running slow. It's very unlike anything in Japan to not run on time.
Lachlan and I saw Miguel off. We were then just sitting outside the doughnut store recalling stories of the night before. There were some great Snapchats.
Two Japanese girls walked passed us. They were making hard eye contact with Lachlan and I. They kept walking passed, maintaining intermittent eye contact. I said hello in Japanese. Then asked them to come back.
The first thing they said to us was "kakkoii", which I told Lachlan translates to good-looking/handsome. We were pretty chuffed at that. They asked our ages and when we told them they were amazed at how young we both were, Lachlan especially. I went to ask them their ages but then remembered that it's impolite to ask a Japanese woman her age, regardless of the situation.
The girls left and Lachlan and I just started laughing.
We decided to head downtown and visit The North Face store. They had just released a new style of jacket and apparently people were going crazy over it. The store was out of stock but the reseller had some available, except they were up to four times more than the original price ($1400AUD).
I realised we weren't far from the Apple Store. Lachlan and I ended up getting a behind the scenes tour of the Shinsaibashi Apple Store. Lachlan doesn't work for Apple but we played it off as if he did. So every time he was asked a specific question, I had to jump in and cover for him. That was fun. It was cool to see how another Apple Store on literally the other side of the world operated much the same as the one in my hometown.
Arriving back in Dotomburi we stopped by a ramen store (Ramen Zundoya) that had some incredible reviews.
This was probably one of the biggest servings of food we had both got on tour. The food in the picture was all mine for under $15AUD. "Totemo oishikatta desu!" (It was very delicious).
We went back to the apartment to chat with Adam and discuss our plans for the next day.
Lachlan, Adam and I decided we would head to universal studios. I had no idea that it even existed close to Osaka without Adam telling me about it. That's one of the benefits of having next to no plans, if something unexpected comes up, you can take advantage of it.
I was excited to see what a Japanese theme park is like. In my home town, the best theme parks in Australia are about an hour drive from my house.
We arrived at Universal around 10:00 a.m. Like every other tourist destination in Japan, there were people everywhere. We bought tickets but skipped the fast pass option, it was double the entry price to get fast pass access to the rides. We decided to take our chances and not use the fast pass.
Each of the rides had the expected wait time on the entry to the ride. The first one we arrived at had a wait time of 180 minutes for the groups' line but only 20 for the singles line. We were in a group but we decided to go into the singles line instead. There was no one in line. We were it. We made it to the front of the singles line without waiting behind anyone else. We couldn't believe it. We made it on the same carriage of the ride anyway, we were on separate rows but all together none the less.
This would be our plan of attack for the rest of the day. Every ride we went on had lines longer than you could imagine for groups but next to no one was in the singles line. On some rides, we were separated but we didn't mind. The lack of wait time at each ride allowed us to try almost every ride in the park, something the attendant at the start of the day didn't think was possible. I guess that's why they offer multiple-day passes.
A big feature of Universal Studios Osaka is Harry Potter world. This was the main attraction for Adam. This was our last stop for the day. We were exhausted from the dozen rides we had been on throughout the day.
It was like I was 12 again. Reading the first Harry Potter book, watching the movies, pretending I was a wizard. Everything was there. The streets were styled in the same way as the movies. There was even a replica Hogwarts castle! The candy store sold chocolate frogs and butterbeer. I was loving every moment of it.
I took a second to realise that this entire world I was walking through was created out of J. K. Rowlings mind. It was all fictitious. That was a big realisation. All of the movies I had watched. Characters I had grown up with. They were all made up. It's incredible what the human mind is capable of.
What started out as a story inside one ladies head has now turned into an incredible empire. You could ask almost anyone have they heard of Harry Potter and many of them will be able to tell you more than just his name.
The virtual rollercoaster through Hogwarts was incredible. You got to ride through the corridors and even chase a snitch, all whilst strapped into a small cart on a moving arm. The rest of the experience was all created by projectors on large canvases around the ride. It was amazing how life-like it was. It just shows how far virtual reality has come and what could be next.
Returning home we all went to dinner at Ramen Zundoya again. This was the second night going here because just like the Thai restaurant, the food didn't disappoint.
The next day a friend from Australia was in town. We were going to try and meet up in massive metropolis of Osaka.
I met my friend Tony at his hotel near Osaka train station. It was only a very short ride from Kyoto to Osaka. I barely had to even sit down before the announcement called out that we were arriving.
His hotel room was a similar size to the Airbnb I originally stayed at in Tokyo. He was staying there alone. I don't know if I could do that. I like being around other people to much. Retreating back to the hostel at the end of the day was a great experience as we all got to share stories of our adventures.
Tony and I walked around the train station for at least a couple of hours. We ate twice. That's how big the train stations are in the major cities of Japan. They are literally a tourist destination in themselves. You could easily get lost there. Lucky the Japanese are always immediately helpful when required.
If you ever next directions when you're at a train station in Japan, show them your destination and more often than not, someone will take you directly to the exact platform you need.
Tony and I ate a yakitori restaurant that offered a wider selection of chicken than I was used to. We had chicken heart, liver, intestine and other body parts I can't remember. One thing was clear throughout the whole trip, the Japanese take great pride in their food, no matter where you go.
After the recommendation from Adam and Lachlan, I was headed off to Hiroshima. When I arrived in town it was almost dark. I went to explore peace park and the A-Dome. I can't describe the feeling this area gives.
Everyone is walking around living life as normal but I could feel something in the air. The A-Dome is a building that was almost directly under the A-Bomb when it was dropped in 1945. It's relatively intact due to its position relative to the explosion.
It was hard to imagine what the area I was standing on would've been like some 70 years prior. I saw a photo on a sign near the A-Dome of what the city looked like afterwards. All that was visible was the A-Dome building and the rest of the landscape was a wasteland. It was completely flattened.
It's hard to believe that 75,000 lives were erased virtually instantaneously and a further ~75,000 were lost over the following years due to ongoing effects. It put things into perspective of just how damaging mankind can be, especially to itself.
Even though I had nothing to do with the events of 1945, I still felt a very deep human connection when I was in the area. I believe that we are connected in some way, so when we hurt someone else we are also inflicting pain on ourselves. I hope the world never comes to a state where events like what happened in Japan during 1945 never occur again.
Walking around Hiroshima at night was beautiful. The river was all lit up and there was an incredible display of Christmas lights.
This is just one of many different structures that were constructed completely out of lights.
I went back to the hostel to have dinner and do some stretching. I had plans to venture to Miyagima the next morning.
I was staying in Hiroshima so I decided to head to Miyagima island. There's a floating shrine there. In the pictures I saw online it looked like a tropical beach with a shrine half submerged underwater.
When I arrived the landscape was much different to the pictures but that was expected. It had been raining all night and the wind chill factor made the cold almost unbearable.
The boat ride to the island reminded me of the boat ride I take to Moreton Island (a small island 45 minutes from Brisbane) every year. Except I'm used to it being summer when I head there.
It was low tide there so I could walk right up to the shrine and touch it.
Being able to ask for people to take a photo politely in Japanese was very handy (Shashin o totte kudasai). Even though most people knew what you were after, being able to ask fluently made for some great interactions.
Riding back to the mainland from Miyagima it was raining and windy. It was the first time all trip I was looking forward to going home. I was excited to go home and step off the plane into warm weather.
I headed back to the hostel to pick up my gear. I was heading back to Tokyo that afternoon. I had a hostel booked, Lachlan was staying there.
The Japanese rail system is phenomenal. I've mentioned this before but using it on this day I was able to get from Hiroshima to Tokyo in a matter of 6 or so hours. That's almost 1000kms. This entire trip was covered by my JR pass. Riding on the Shinkansen was also a better experience than most economy seats on aeroplanes.
When I arrived back in Tokyo I got off at a station that Caitlyn, Alice and I had passed during our adventures. That was a nostalgic moment. I realised I had been in Japan almost three weeks. My trip was coming to its eventual end.
By this point I realised that I was completely touriested-out (I don't know if that's grammatically correct but oh well). I felt as if I had to spend a couple of days inside just so I could recooporate my ability to take in any new sights or experiences.
I didn't feel like visiting any other tourist destination. I was completely content with my trip at this point.
I'm all about balance. It was time to relax for at least a day rather than always walking around finding new things. I felt I couldn't experience anything new to my full ability without letting myself recharge.
It was supposed to snow the next day in Tokyo. It was the perfect opportunity to stay in. I had only ever seen snow once. In New Zealand so I was excited to see what Japan had to offer.
Lachlan and I met at the hostel, we went walking around Ueno looking for a 7 Eleven. Surprisingly it was relatively hard to find. During our searches we found an incredible ramen shop (one of many) where I had potentially the best ramen on tour (next to the ramen is Osaka). I don't remember the name of the store but it was next to a 7 Eleven in Ueno.
I woke up to see it snowing outside my window! I couldn't believe it. I had never seen snow in the city.
As I looked the window, this is the first thing I saw.
It was the first time since the 1960s (over 50 years) since it had snowed in Japan during November. I just happened to be back in Tokyo for that to happen.
That seemed like a trend. Everywhere I went I was just in the right place at the right time. I was grateful for being able to have such unique experiences.
Lachlan and I spent the morning chilling in the hostel watching the snow fall. We decided to venture out into the city to return his snow gloves. It was the first time the whole trip I really felt the cold. My socks were beginning to get wet from the snow and my hands were ice blocks.
Whilst we were out we stopped in at a ramen store. The sign out the front had a picture of flames and lighting bolts. We discovered that the fire was related to the heat of the ramen. Level 1 was the entry level and level 6 was the highest you could order. For some unknown reason I decided to go straight for level 5. I thought to myself that I enjoy spicy food and it was snowing outside so a level 5 spicy ramen would be great.
After the first bite I immediately regretted going straight for level 5. It was like a small sun had touch my tongue. I started to sweat straight away. There was an ice water machine at the front of the store for a reason. I went through at least a litre of water before I took a second spoonful. Every spoon just amplified the heat. By about three spoonfuls in I could barely taste anything, it was just straight heat. Lachlan got level 3 and even he was sweating. We both we laughing hysterically at our ignorant choices and agreed that level 1 probably would've been sufficient.
After managing to survive the heat for a few more spoonfuls, I called it in with half a bowl of ramen left. I hardly ever leave any food untouched but this was practically unbearable. I'm sure it was delicious if I could taste anything but heat. All I was doing was shovelling matter into my mouth that happened to come with a burning sensation.
Walking back out into the freezing cold snow was a relief. I walked with my mouth open for a short while in the hope of catching some snow flakes.
I spent the evening writing in my journal at the hostel lobby. I was joined by an American but I can't remember his name. He was smoking a vape in the lobby. I could tell he was a little high. I asked him what flavour his vape was and he told me that it was actually hash oil. It was legal where he was from in the US so he bought some over to Japan. The Japanese are incredibly strict on drugs so he was playing with fire having that on him. Funnily enough, I didn't think about this strictness when he offered some to me.
I took two light hits of the vape and I immediately felt the effects. Within a few minutes I was slouching over the couch drifting off into the abyss. I was still conscious of what I was doing but everything was a kind of split reality. I would spend 30 seconds in a state of paranoia followed by 30 seconds of deep euphoria. During the paranoia I was convinced that I was either going be scammed by this nice American I had just met or that I was going to jail for smoking weed in Japan. During the euphoric stages everything was bliss, I was in a slowed down timeframe, I felt like I had reached enlightenment.
This constant flipping between euphoria and paranoia continued for what felt like hours but probably ended up just being a few minutes. I had no concept of time. I managed to make it back to my bunk bed. The curtains surrounding my bed blacked out the rest of the world pretty well. The contrast between the white bed sheets and the black curtains caused me to feel like I was floating through space in an Interstellar-ish kind of way.
All this time I was texting my friends trying to describe my experience. I felt like I was trying to paint them a picture except I was like a snake trying to draw in the dirt with crayons.
I suppose I managed to fall asleep. I woke up and realised I was back to normal. It took me a while to realise I wasn't engulfed by the trip anymore. My somewhat 'normal' sense of reality was back. I was relieved.
Even though the previous night had been one of the scariest nights of my life, I'm glad I got to experience a feeling of warped reality. It literally left me questioning what we actively conceptualise as our normal reality.
After coming to my senses, I realised it was my last day in Japan. What a trip it had been. At this stage I was completely content with everything I had done. There wasn't anything else I wanted to desperately do before heading home.
Lachlan was heading to Niseko to work for the ski season that morning. The hostel we were staying at had a whole wall dedicated to polaroids of past guests. We had to get in on this.
We farewelled each other and wished one another all the best at our next destinations. For me, it was home and for Lachlan it was three months in the Japanese alps.
My flight wasn't until later in the evening. I took advantage of the sunny day and strolled up towards Ueno park. I checked out the museum of natural science. Everything was in Japanese so I couldn't read much of the displays but looking at them was interesting enough.
There were whole sections devoting to time pieces and telescopes. The Japanese are very good at mechanical engineering so it was no surprise that these two pieces of technology had their own sections. Some of the clocks there were hundreds of years old. The cross sections looked incredible, dozens upon dozens of gears interacting with each other to produce the relevant time.
Seeing the exhibits of Homo sapiens really put things into perspective. It made me think that one day everything we do now will be on display in a museum somewhere. I want to make that display interesting.
Walking through the museum I was approached by a group of school children. They stopped and asked if I could help them with their English assignment. I was more than happy to help out.
They asked me some questions in English and they all started writing their answers down in their notebooks. I helped them read over the answers I gave them. Even though I knew some Japanese, I learned through an English teaching course to minimise the use of someone's native language when you're trying to teach them. That was hard.
After we finished the interview questions and reviewed them, I asked one of the staff to take a photo of us.
This was one of my most memorable experiences on the trip. I love helping others. Especially younger kids. Sharing knowledge is one of my favourite activities.
Walking through the park I saw a group of school kids laughing together with a busker. I decided to go over and join them. He was making balloon animals. The kids were laughing at their friend who couldn't blow up the long thin balloon required to make the animal.
The busker saw me laughing as well and offered me a balloon to try. I couldn't get it either. It was much more difficult than I thought. If only Miguel was here. His free-diving lungs would've been able to blow it up in no time.
The busker made me a small dog out of the balloon I couldn't blow up. I took the dog back to the hostel and handed it to the front desk as a parting gift.
I looked in the mirror before leaving the hostel. Three weeks of travel flashed before my eyes. My trip was over. The only thing left to do was get the airport.
I remember thinking to myself what an amazing experience I had been fortunate enough to have over the past three weeks. I saw things I never thought I would ever see and I forged relationships that I will have for the rest of my life.
In the end I was glad I went. I'm also happy I had a great time on my own. I learned a great deal about myself. Two of the major things being, you don't need many things to have great experiences (I travelled for three weeks with just a backpack) and that I'm well and truly capable of creating my own joy.
I'll go back to Japan one day. Next time I'll probably go skiing. There's so much still left to explore there.
Nihon ga daiski desu!