Our first day greeted us with a deluge. I was surprised to find our hotel was open-air just outside of our door; it looked like it was raining inside.
After a Japanese-style breakfast (I could eat like that every day!), we were glad for the umbrella as we dashed across the small alley to the 7-11 near our hotel. I never thought we’d be so excited to see these around, but they are our only means for cash (see Day 0‘s lesson).
We took refuge in the stores and shops of Akihabara, meandering through tiny nooks crammed with floor-to-ceiling goods and scaling seven stories of manga. We stumbled upon a shop filled with retro games and supplies, and we got a Pikachu overload in the Pokemon Center.
We got a little bit of souvenir shopping done, but not as much as I would have liked.
I was mostly blown away by how overwhelming all of the stimulation was inside the shops. Every level had at least half a dozen screens, each blaring some anime or pop song (different content per screen, mind you). I feared for my sanity.
We took a break for lunch, making our way into a maid cafe. Totally worth every ounce of silly “delicious magic,” “moe moe kyun,” cat ears, and pictures. It was certainly an experience, and I enjoyed myself far more than I should have. Note that a photo with your maid server is included with set meals. I was glad for my quality camera; they’ll otherwise provide you with a low-quality physical print.
After seeking out a Pokemon gift for my nephew (thanks, epic Pokemon world in a nearby mall), we were once more feeling the drag of our limited sleep. We resolved to hop a train, pick a random stop, wander a bit, and find some grub. Spontaneity like this is a refreshing break from the set schedule.
We wound up at Harajuku, and it was one of the highlights of our day. Adorable alleys lined with tiny shops ran up and down cobbled hills. We wandered for a while, taking random turns and mildly scouting for some dinner. However, my dehydration had caught up to me, and I was starting to feel ill. Some bottled water from a vending machine set me straight, and by the time we returned to Akihabara, I was ready for food again.
We explored a few alleys, and a convincing gal managed to entice us inside, but no English could be found on their menu. Fortunately, one of the cooks (on the other side of the counter), knew key words, and he was able to tell us certain dishes were “chicken,” “pork,” “roast beef,” etc. By the time he and our waitress had more-or-less translated the entire menu for us (bless her heart), I had selected crab, eggplant with meat sauce, and garlic rice. I was dismayed when they soon brought out steamed clams. After a very confusing few minutes, I realized our waitress had said “clam,” not “crab.” In my hesitation, they quickly inferred I don’t like clams and took them away, leaving a massive void of awkwardness. Score one for the dumb American…
Fortunately, the rest was delicious and plenty of food. After eventually closing our tab, we slinked out of there as quickly as possible, and I wished I could just be invisible.
Another day done, we crashed once more.
- The jet lag isn’t too terrible, as you really only need to stay up a few extra hours (the next day) to align your schedule. We napped on the plane (only about an hour), but we were otherwise up almost 24hrs straight (and your mind starts to do wild things when you do that to it). Even if you stay up, it will be difficult to sleep a full night without some restlessness, as your body is used to a different clock. As it was, we were wide awake at 1:30am, and it took a couple hours to get back to sleep.
- Don’t try to “shower.” Bathrooms are set up for baths or soaping and rinsing. I nearly soaked the floor with my attempts to shower with the handheld hose sitting in its cradle.
- Japanese hotels don’t have hairdryers. Bring your own, or do without. (I later learned otherwise.)
- Hot water dispensers: just push the big red button. Sometimes, it doesn’t dispense right away.
- Japan is primarily a cash-based society. Carry enough on you to survive daily transactions; don’t expect to use your credit card.
- Money goes into the tray at registers; do not try to hand money directly to the cashier.
- Pay attention to signs. Some direct you to pay for items in particular places (like the floor upon which you picked them up), and some prohibit photography.
- You can be surprised at how many transactions you can survive when the cashier doesn’t know a lick of English.
- Train stations require you swipe your card or show your JR pass both going in and coming out. As you could go beyond your originally planned station, checking you on your way out ensures you’ve adjusted your fare appropriately.
- Get lost. There are so many unique nooks and crannies, and they all have a wonderful character that can really add to the charm of your day.
- Try to bring as much water with you as possible. Water fountains are not as plentiful as they are in the States, and dehydration headaches are really no fun. Carry a bottle with you (get a filtered one if you’re worried, though the water is safe from the tap), and refill it from a bathroom sink.
- Pocari Sweat tastes about that good.
- Bathrooms seldom have towels or a dryer. Carry a cloth with you. Bathrooms don’t usually have soap. Carry your own, or keep hand sanitizer on you. Some bathrooms might not have toilet paper. It’s not a bad idea to be prepared.
- Keep to the left. Keep to the left. Old habits hold on with an iron fist, and you will invariably notice yourself veering right. Break the kittens out of that habit and force yourself left.
- Store proprietors are quite good at cajoling you into entering their shop (especially restaurants).. even if very little English can be found.
- If you need something from your server, call to them. They don’t “check” on you or proffer the check; they leave you to your meal. You must ask explicitly for whatever you need.
Baka gaijin moment of the day: “kuramu” sounds horribly similar to “kurabu.” I like crab; I do not like clams. If you wind up faced with something you don’t like, just eat it anyway. You’ll face far less embarrassment that way.