Part 2 (Japan)
This time I’m going to narrate the rest of my holiday in Asia this year. It was also the third time I went to Japan but this time I was going to meet several people there, whom I have already met before at a meetup in London; and coincidentally they were all women: Kayla, Eri, Rino, Saaya, Masayo and Yuki.
24th Sep: I arrived at Terminal 3 of Narita Airport, feeling very hungry and preoccupied with the fact that I had to collect a pocket-sized wifi router before I left the airport. Terminal 3 was relatively new; the décor appeared to be simiplistic, the walls and floors were grey and white; and the floor was made to look like a racetrack. At customs the guards laughed when they saw that ¼ of my suitcase was filled with Yorkshire Tea and biscuits (for Yuki and Rino) before they searched them for drugs but it was fine.
For lunch I had a nice, long awaited meal at a 7-11 that involved more than one course and (if I remember clearly) either a bottle of Pocari sweat or milk tea. I took the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station in 40 minutes. At the hotel I started to decant the souvenirs to the respective recipients. Later I walked to Yanaka (I went there last year, very nice area) and back before eating ramen for dinner.
25th Sep: I went to collect my JR rail pass and then I went to Ueno Park and then the National Museum of Tokyo. Sadly I did not get to spend enough time there because I had to meet Kayla in Meguro at 12pm because she was on her lunch break. I waited for her in a local ramen shop and I took a picture of her trying to pull open a sliding door to her embarrassment. I give her the first of my souvenirs and we ate pork chatsu ramen together.
After lunch I went to Odaiba and took a light rail train to the area that looks very much like London’s Docklands. I went to Pallet Town and visited Tokyo DECKS, a shopping centre with a classic arcade with games like pinball, gift shops and a toy shooting range. There was a Takoyaki restaurant with a small shop, I ate some but it wasn’t quite good because it didn’t have sauce nor bonito flakes but the restaurant did sell other varieties of the fried octopus balls. I returned to the hotel to relax and that night I took a local line to Shibuya to visit a meetup where you spoke English and Japanese. It wasn’t as good as the meetup in London because they weren’t many people and some of their rules were restrictive such as no eating. Afterwards I went back to Nippori for a katsudon dinner.
26th Sep: Today I left early to take a train to Nikko. However, I went into the wrong carriage that had solely reserved seats (my pass was only valid on non-reserved seats) I made my way through the carriage (known as a “bangousha” in Japanese) until I stopped at the exclusive first class Green-Car carriage and waited until it stopped at Ooyama station. There I got off, sprinted all the way to the non-reserved carriage and got on before the train took off again.
At Nikko I took a bus to Rinnoji temple and walked around for a bit, visiting a mausoleum of a shogun. For lunch I went outside the temple and had yubasoba for lunch, which was dried and solidified soy milk with soba noodles. The meal was very nice. There was a vast lake just beyond Nikko that I wanted to visit but I didn’t have enough time so I had a good look around Nikko. And once again I encountered two hoardes of schoolchildren waving “HELLO!” back at myself.
Back in Tokyo I went to Kanda to meet Eri for a drink and some Tsukimiyaki (that is a fried meat skewer dipped in a bowl of raw egg). Sadly Eri couldn’t stay for long because her son was sick so I went back to Ikebukuro (where I first arrived in Tokyo on my very first trip), had fried squid with beer and turned back.
27th Sep: I checked out of my hotel but asked if I could leave my luggage there before 4pm and they agreed; before I realised I left my JR pass in the suitcase. Retrieved, I went to Asakusa to see the Tokyo Skytree to have one last look at the capital. After I walked through the downtown area near Yoshiwara and back to Nippori to collect my suitcase.
I left Tokyo by shinkansen and arrived at Shizuoka at 5.50pm to meet another Japanese friend: Rino. We went to a small izakaya for fried snails, snacks and beer. 90% of the time we spoke in Japanese. Before leaving I gave Rino her gifts of Yorkshire Tea with custard creams and jaffa cakes, as well as her picture. When I tried to hug Rino at the station I almost punched her in the nose by accident, but she was okay, 大丈夫 です. When I was on the escalator to the platform, she was still standing there, watching me leave which I actually found a bit heart-warming. I left Shizuoka and arrived in Kyoto rather late and relatively tired.
28th Sep: I woke up late and left for Osaka to meet another friend: Saaya. We took a train to Nara together while listening to Japanese singers from the 80s (like Anri and Mariya Takeuchi). When we got off the train we walked to Nara and I kept humming 80s Japanese songs which soon irritated Saaya, to the point where she turned around and said ダニエルは杏里が好き! Daniel wa Anri ga ski! (Daniel likes Anri!) さあや は “K” ポップが好き。
We went to the park to see the famous deer (famous because they bow down to you if they want food) and feed them. We bought some biscuits, fed deer, baby deer, old deer and one that was having a dip in a pond. We saw a lot of Chinese tourists around taking photographs (yi, ar, ban!) One of the temples we visited nearby had a giant buddha statue inside that was over 50ft high. There was also a hole carved into one of the wooden support columns that was 5ft thick and it was said in ancient folklore that anyone who would squeeze through the hole would receive good luck. I passed through in under one minute. We were soon tired so I had a rest in Starbucks with Saaya and we found a UK style supermarket before taking the train back to Osaka.
We had dinner in an izakaya followed by another meal where we cooked our own okonomiyaki. After we went up to the 15th floor of a nearby building to watch the view and then we crossed over to another building which had a huge hole in its centre criss-crossed by escalators. We took more pictures of the Osaka skyline up there and afterwards we went to the station to say goodbye. Like yesterday, that was another enjoyable day.
29th Sep: I went to Arashiyama in western Kyoto by myself. I went to the monkey park which I enjoyed and fed the monkeys before going to Arashiyama district. I walked down its famous bamboo trail (complete with kimonos and rickshaws) right down to the level crossing but it was hot and I felt tired so I went back to my hotel and underestimated the length of Kyoto’s streets as I didn’t feel like walking again after that long ordeal. I went out to eat at Yoshinoya (a great restaurant chain, best eaten with a raw egg!); after I looked around the alleyways, ordered 4 pieces of Takoyaki but I ended up with 5 pieces (probably because I ordered it in Japanese) and went to sit on the riverside by myself at night with hundreds of locals and tourists.
30th Sep: I checked out of my hotel in Kyoto. My time in the city passed very quickly, my hotel was very nice and clean; although I was out most the time the hotel went out of their way by leaving a bag with an English speaking newspaper outside the room and they left a traditional tea set in my room as well with some powdered tea. They also left a green tea waffle snack as well and I made the mistake of thinking that the snack was meant to go in the kettle to make green tea and I nearly ruined the teapot when the waffle got clogged in the teapot and left it. I did some last-minute sightseeing by putting my bag in a locker and visiting a temple I hadn’t been before. (I’ve been to Kyoto three times).
I took the train to Shin-Osaka and changed to take a 2.5 hour train to Hakata (Fukuoka) in Kyushu, the island in South West Japan. I went to the wrong platform and ended up running to the right train with my heavy suitcase in one hand and my lunch in another.
I met another friend I knew before in London called Masayo and wee ate local ramen together at a food stall and we did some walking around and went to Ohori Park in western Fukuoka which reminded me of Central Park in new York and I took some wonderful pictures of the park at night. I had a great time that night and so did Masayo.
1st Oct: The next day I met Masayo again at the hotel and we went to Fukuoka Zoo together. The zoo was quiet and I was confronted by local children shouting “Hello!” and “Gaikokujin!” (Foreigner!) Later we looked around the temples in the backstreets of Fukuoka and I found out that we didn’t really have a plan and quite strangely Masayo did not really mind.
Before I picked up my suitcase again, we found some parks and private places (including a park built on a pyramid shaped skyscraper) to kill some time. We said goodbye (at the time I didn’t want her to leave) and I took the train back to Osaka Namba where my final hotel was.
2nd Oct: I left Osaka late to go to Himeji castle – a world heritage site. When I arrived a met a local guide who ushered myself on a tour at 1pm. The guide was born and bred in Himeji and her English wasn’t perfect but was funny because she could not stop using Japanese pronouns. (e.g. kore wa famous castle). At once point she had trouble explaining why children used to be locked in the castle’s vaults back then so I had to help her a bit by finding the correct English word.
The word she was trying to say (Gyougi ga warui = bad behaviour). The guide was a very nice person and she also took pictures of me wearing traditional robes. I left Himeji after and went to meet my final friend in Osaka at 6pm – Yuki. For dinner we had a large pork cutlet with rice, soup, brown sauce and mustard. Then we went to a nearby observation deck and Yuki bought me a large bag of grapes. Then we said our goodbyes, unsure of my future post-Japan.
3rd Oct: My third JR rail pass (which let me travel smoothly across most of Japan) ran out but I went to universal studios Osaka. Despite checking the weather, I thought it was going to be sunny and I left my umbrella at the hotel and when I arrived at the park it started to pour heavily. I went on three rollercoasters and an interactive zombie experience called Bioshock where you are chased by Japanese zombies in narrow corridors. The flying dragon (Jurassic park world) was my favourite.
I went back to Osaka and I made two new friends by accident called Ban and Chiise when I was buying a pot of oden. We had Takoyaki for dinner together at the infamous riverside and later I went clothes shopping reluctantly with Chiise. She showed me Namba station because I had to go there next morning. Afterwards we walked through Dotonburi and said our goodbyes, presumably to meet again in London.
4th Oct: I left my hotel early at 6.30am, walked the quiet streets of Osaka and made it to my train on time. I went to Kansai airport, had a Tsukimi Burger (月見バーガーがおきにいりです。) for breakfast, said my goodbyes to Japan for the third time and reminisced. I arrived back in Seoul airport for a connecting flight back to London Heathrow and there I had some food, listened to Anri (a Japanese singer) and tried to find a Kochikame manga book to no avail. On the plane I watched Toy Story 4, Men in Black: International, Pokemon Detective Pikachu and Yesterday.
Final review: I would say it would be an understatement to say that I liked the holiday because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only parts of the holiday I did not enjoy were:
* Sitting next to the man on the plane to South Korea; I saw him again in the toilets in Beijing airport, he gave me a funny look and walked off.
* Being left alone in Gangnam at midnight by a drunken Korean lady in a place I’ve never been to, with no idea how to read the bus timetables nor how to get back to my hotel. That almost triggered an anxiety attack and I had a similar experience in Berlin in 2014 but I found a taxi rank nearby and I managed to call a taxi because that was the only option for me and felt lucky that I had enough money for the fare.
* Rushing between stations in Kyoto and Osaka in humid weather trying to buy a bento box and some beer with one hand while hauling a suitcase with the other hand and 3 minutes before your bullet train for Shin-Osaka leaves.
* My second day in Fukuoka. Most of the time I felt like I was the tour guide instead of the other way round with Masayo.
As it was my third time in Japan, I felt more comfortable travelling around the country and because I met several friends on the trip, I did not feel lonely at all. The days where I was by myself felt rather strange and I felt I was missing something; compared to last year in Asia where I was largely by myself. People still ask me “Are you going back to Japan this year?” and my answer for them is simply, No.
My reasons being that:
- I want to travel to new places across the world
- I don’t have a relationship nor a family commitment to visit Japan again. If I had a career or a wife over there then I would have a commitment to go back there.
I have considered living and working in Japan, but I’ve put it off firstly because travelling and working in another country are completely different, Japan has an overly stressful and fastidious work culture that can severely restrict your lifestyle and it’s unlikely that I’ll get a job over there, even as an English teacher because I don’t have a master’s degree in anything. Yes, in Japan if you have a degree in ANY subject, they’re guaranteed to get you a job as an English teacher, even when it doesn’t match your skills.
I’ve also wondered what I’m going to do now since I learned enough Japanese to impress a native but I don’t want to waste my skills. Sometimes I go to a meetup in London but I don’t get the chance to practice properly and I sometimes meet a friend on Friday to speak Japanese but I haven’t had to chance to do so lately due to other commitments. This will be harder when he goes back to Japan in October.
As for the people I met in South Korea and Japan, Jihyeon came back to England last November to study again and now lives in Birmingham. I saw her again and gave her a 2-litre bottle of Old Rosie hard cider as a gift. She still cherishes it.
Rino (the one from Shizuoka) is coming back to London in mid-February to visit and of course, I will be meeting her again with a bag of Custard creams and Yorkshire Tea in tow. As for the rest of the people I met on holiday, they have no further plans to visit the UK again.
As for my next big holiday for 2020 I was thinking about going Asia once more but maybe not Japan again…