Sometimes a lawyer just needs a break from the voluminous case files and legal work. And so, I took a break and headed to Japan. As this is still a personal finance blog, I will include costs where I can still recall them.
Luckily, we got a direct flight ( PhP 18,000.00 two way) from Cebu City to Narita airport. Manila airports can be soooo inefficient and I couldn’t risk missing a connecting flight. After a four-hour (note that Japan is an hour ahead of us) flight, we arrived at Narita airport.
It was spring so we arrived at a relatively comfortable 5 degrees Celsius. After a smooth and fast immigration clearing process, we went to get our luggage. Note that foreign exchange centers in Tokyo can be hard to find (because their store front names are usually in Kanji characters) so we changed our dollars at the airport. Exchange rates may vary across different forex centers , but we eventually settled on the nearest one as we had to be sensitive to the train schedule.
We exchanged our JR rail pass (PhP 12,220.00 this is unlimited for 7 days on all JR line, buses and bullet trains) at the train station. We also reserved our seats on the express train to Tokyo. After finding the correct platform, we sat to wait for the train. Trains in Japan are so efficient and on time to the minute. Our reservation stated the train arrival at 12:43 pm. Right on the dot, the train arrived. Quite different from the MRT and LRT trains in Manila, which always break their promise of arriving on time, or even at all. 90 minutes later, we stepped off Ikebukuro station and walked 5 minutes to our hotel (PhP 5,000.00 per night per pax). We freshened up and grabbed a late lunch and started on our itinerary.
Shibuya is one of the busiest areas in Japan. On a Friday night, it is bustling with work people in suits, college kids out on a Friday night, and of course tourists of various nationalities.
Hachiko the dog was a little hard to gain access to but we got a take a photo with it. Notice that smoking areas in Tokyo consist of cordoned off plastic/glass see-through walls. These reduce the second-hand smoke a little bit, unless you have the misfortune of standing next to these.
We crossed one of the shibuya pedestrian lanes. Looking at the so-called Shibuya crossing from the Starbucks overhead, you can see the chaos and beauty of it. Shibuya bustles with neon lighted buildings, stores selling various goods from fashion to tech items.
After roaming around the nearby store, we headed back to the hotel.
We took the JR train to Shinjuku and walked towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office/ their city hall. It is a tall sky rise with a free viewing deck at the 45th floor. It was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji though.
We walked across the street to the Shinjuku Central Park where we chanced upon their celebration of Tokyo Outside Festival. There was a variety of activities, from extreme sports, to food tasting at the tent/stores, to eating lunch at the park. The surrounding sakura trees were just a bonus.
From shinjuku we took a JR train to Harajuku. Takeshita street was disappointingly similar to Divisoria in Manila, with hordes of people squished into a dangerously narrow downhill street. It was a stampede waiting to happen, really.
3 minutes from the Harajuku train station was the Meiji-Jingu Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji.
A long walk in and you’ll find the main shrine. I chose to do the ritual cleansing with water of the hands, and mouth, prior to entering the main shrine. My hands were almost numb from the cold but sure. Haha. The cleansing really does help clear your mind and prepare you for the next phase – prayer.
Once inside the shrine grounds there are tables with pen, paper and envelopes. You are to write your prayers/ dreams for the deities to hear. You go up the shrine and pay your respect by giving an offering, silently saying your prayer, clapping your hands, and bowing. I felt so light after this visit. I am catholic by practice but Catholicism always preaches that there is one god (whether for Islam, Buddhism, or otherwise) and is very tolerant of other religions’ gods.
My favorite part of Tokyo is the food and the techy toilets! You only have to touch a doorknob, really. All the rest can be operated by hand sensor. Toilet covers open, trash bins open, all by motion sensors. The sushi here is so good it melts in my mouth. The ramen restaurants are automated. There is a machine where you order, pay and it gives you change. The chef merely cooks the ramen.
On the other hand, Tokyo can be so expensive. A PhP 5.00 / USD 10 cents coke costs PhP 100.00 / USD 2.00 ! Talk about high cost of living. Rush hour at train stations is so stressful. People always seem to be on the go here.
For the rest of our days in Japan, we visited cities outside of Tokyo. We rode the bullet train (covered by the JR Pass and is an experience in itself) to Osaka, Kyoto,and Nagoya, Japan. More on those places later.
20 something lawyer