Imagine the brisk air caressing your skin. You’re wondering if it’s even worth going to a park when you’re originally from Southern California and 50• is considered cold in your beachland. You walk into Ueno Park, found in Tokyo off of the Ueno stop on the JR train. You walk passed food vendors and can’t help but ogle at the authentic Japanese food – green tea or pink sakura mochi on a stick, takoyaki pancakes, fried noodles, and so much festive Japanese beer. But that’s not what stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away.
It’s the cherry blossoms that overtake the park and the hundreds of people that are taking selfies with the blooming Sakura. A tear rolls down your cheek and you try to hide it from the group but you can’t contain your excitement. You feel like you’re in a complete fairy tale as you clutch onto your companion’s arm. You glance at the tiny screen of your camera, trying to match what it can capture compared to what you are experiencing. It doesn’t do it justice. Arrays of pink and white flowers envelope trees down a single lane of never ending beauty.
桜 or Sakura (cherry blossom) only blooms once a year at the end of March throughout April and is what brings foreigners from all over the world; me included, experiencing this indescribable beauty. The blooming of the flowers begins at the bottom of Japan and moves up north as the season rolls by. The flowers bloom and fall in a total of two weeks time, being a special time of rejuvenation for the Japanese.
Cherry Blossom Viewings
- Ueno Park: There are street food vendors throughout the park and people camp out for the festival that takes place in the evening. There is also the Ueno Zoo where you could see the cutest pandas, exotic animals and is only about 6-8 Yen. There are also a bunch of museums you could go to if you prefer the indoor.
- Shinjuku Gyoen: A garden that costs about 2 Yen per person and closes after 5PM. This garden is huge and has traditional teahouses, a koi pond and pure bliss.
- Yoyogi Park: A park in Shibuya that holds street vendors, a farmer’s market, cute little booths that hold vintage treasure, the cutest Corgi and the funniest silent street performers I have ever seen.
- Meiji Jingu: A Shinto shrine not too far from Yoyogi Park dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It is remarkable to see simplicity and beauty hidden in busy Tokyo. You must show respect by bowing and washing your hands and mouth at the Temizuya.
- Kabukichō: Known as the “red-light district” in Shinjuku. There are bright lights, karaoke bars on every corner, and great for nightlife.
- Shinjuku Golden Gai: Probably my favorite find throughout my whole trip. It is a network of six tiny alleyways filled with over two hundred bars that each has their own personalities. My favorite was Albatross.
- Robot Restaurant: Unlike anything you have ever seen in your life. It costs 7,000 Yen to go inside but think robot nation with lights and promiscuous dressed girls.
- Any karaoke bar: Karaoke is huge in Japan. You go to drink sake and sing the lyrics to melodies of songs you may or may not know.
- Pachinko slots or Sega game plaza: Grown ass adults playing video games and smoking cigarettes. What more could you ask for? Just go in to see how intense people get.
- Tsukiji Market: The largest fish market in Tokyo. It is a must see and super chaotic but the food is authentic.
- Muji: A minimalistic 4 story store that pretty has everything from customized canvas bags, travel gear, stationary, women’s and men’s clothes (black, white, blue, pink, beige only), a plethora of Japanese snacks, a cafeteria and furniture. My personal favorite.
- Disney Store Shibuya: We could not go to Disneyland but we went to the Disney store and I fell in love.
- Don Quijote: People who know me know how much I love Don Quijote in Hawaii. Well they have one in Shinjuku and they sell cute knick-knacks, animated costumes (bought a Pikachu onesie), cosmetics and great gag gifts.
- Uniqlo: Japanese are efficient and smart. So their clothes are comfortable, affordable and minimal.
- Yodobashi: A camera goods store with tons of electronics. If you like film photography, the film is pretty cheap and rare there.
- Mandarake: One of the biggest anime/manga stores in Tokyo.
Little tidbits I learned on my travels
- Japanese people walk on the left side of the walkway, drive on the left side of the car and drive on the left side the road. So when you’re walking, be sure to be courteous.
- The toilets. Upon arriving to Japan, you will notice that there are toilets with Bidets. Those are spouts inside the toilets that squirt water at your goods to clean you at the touch of a button. I know that sounds weird but it is definitely a must try. There are also some toilets that are hollowed in the ground. That is where you squat and let your waste flow down naturally. It is supposed to be way better for your bowel movement.
- The Suica card could be purchased at almost every station. It is Japan’s version of a Metro card for the subway stations. You could pre-load the card or pay as you go and you could get your name printed on it. Definitely a must for Tokyo traveling if you don’t plan on taking Uber throughout your own trip. The subway is easy with the Google Maps app and each station has its own jingle.
- Do not get the Acai bowl from Burger King – don’t judge…we were drunk and wanted fries.
- Their Yoshinoya is so much better than the one back in Southern California.
- Don’t expect everyone to know English. Many places do now especially during Sakura season but learn a couple of phrases like:
- “Gomennasai” – I am sorry
- “Sumimasen” – Excuse Me
- “Arigatou gozaimasu” – Thank you (formal)
- “Ikura desu ka” – How much is that?
- “Toire” – Bathroom
- If you are expecting to carry Yen around, be sure to have a coin purse. Most of their Yen is coin based. Also keep in mind that it is a bit pricy in Tokyo so save up.
- Their Katsu-don (fried pork cutlet with rice) is amazing. I wish I could recommend food places but I couldn’t pronounce most of the names. There are so many places to try and the Japanese take pride in their work so their food is amazing.
- Be prepared to take off your shoes in homes and some restaurants and stores. When I went to the dressing room in Uniqlo, I was politely asked to take off my shoes.
- Japanese people are nice, super adorable, and trustworthy. Most of the bikes on the streets aren’t locked up.
Japan is surreal and romantic in its own way. You could tell by the culture and the food that it is completely different than American customs. Some of my experiences were indescribable and you feel safe. Everyone pretty much minds their own business unless you walk into their store and they treat you like royalty. Eight days definitely is not enough to explore but there are so many more things you could do if you save enough.
But I will leave you with this haiku (poem) from Empress Shoken (Emperor Meiji’s wife).
Ever downward water flows,
But mirrors lofty mountains;
How fitting that our heart also
Be humble, but reflect high aims.
Translation: A down-flowing stream still reflects the image of the highest peaks above. Let your heart, in a similar manner, be humble but reflect high ideals.
I cannot stress enough the importance of travel and absorbing different cultures. If you have gone to Japan, comment below and tell me your favorite stories. I hope you enjoyed this article!
More photos could be found on my Instagram (click here) and look for the Japan Recap Video coming next Thursday April 14.
Arigatou Ninjas and Geishas,