honeymooners in Japan
My wife and I spent our first few days as a married couple in Japan. We would walk away with our eyes opened and our yearning to explore the country only having grown.
I held the elevator door open for my wife at the Royal Park Hotel in the Shiodome District of Tokyo. Frequented by business people on important trips, it suits the neighborhood which seemed to lose a bit of soul as the day crept into night. We had arrived late in the night, finding a distinctly calm and quiet Tokyo. Our flight from Milan had connected in Istanbul and we were exhausted. It was our honeymoon, so we were eager to get settled, grab a drink in celebration and revel in what was our newly-minted union.
Finally, we arrived at our suite. The busboy opened the door, unbelievably polite. I’d learn later that I should be expecting an unusual level of politeness across Japan. It’s just the way people do things. We walked in to find a room smaller than my matchbox of a room in New York. Seriously, with our bags in the room, we couldn’t walk side-by-side. Welcome to Tokyo, I thought, the only place I knew of where one of our accommodations options was a hole in a wall. I gazed down at the Tokyo Tower, illuminated in the night. Sure, we were tired, but we weren’t going to go straight to bed on an occasion like this: Our first night in Tokyo, our first night as honeymooners. But first, we sorted out our room. After finally finding something big enough for two adult-sized humans, we headed out to a bar.
“Shinjuku?” I suggested.
We grabbed a cab, which are insanely expensive by the way (for a few miles it was nearly $30 USD), and headed to the Shinjuku district. I had heard it was known for nightlife and I didn’t feel disappointed. Bright lights, shops and bars on every floor expanding the possibilities seemingly endlessly, and cartoon-figures everywhere. And yet, amidst all this chaos, we, who had experience with big cities and crowds coming from years in New York, found a calmness that was unbecoming of a place with such a vibrancy and commerce. The people seemed quiet...respectful of what was around them. It was almost as if, in spite of the shockingly bright ads, the stacks of restaurants all grabbing attention, there was a true underlying community with norms and traditions. Coming from the New World, where anything and everything is continuously evolving, it seemed strange, but so comforting.
“This is … something out of a storybook,” I said to my wife, walking by cartoons ripping into a chicken drumstick, an ad for a restaurant that was offering a $10 USD special of some meal. The cartoon was surrounded by photos of dishes, and everything looked so delicious. It seemed like there were thirty to forty restaurants, bars, you name it, on every block. It was both overwhelming and, on a weeknight, not crowded and so, so inviting. I had a grin from ear to ear.
Eventually, we’d find a small restaurant. They spoke a bit of English and we were given some sort of buzzer. They sat us down in a smoking section—which turned out just be the restaurant, and common in Tokyo—and gestured that we should press this buzzer to call them over. As westerners, the relationship with waiters is strained, but I always felt that customers always try to diminish the power dynamic. Especially in the US, where it seems to make people almost uncomfortable. Here in Japan, the originators of that ramen restaurant where you can order without having to speak or see anyone, that norm is often flipped on its head. Call them when you need them, see them when you need to, and avoid all other forms of contact. This is about you, not about the restaurant, it seemed. After settling on some fried shrimp, sashimi, sushi for me, and noodles for my wife, we pressed the buzzer and ordered. I would also receive the smoothest beer in my life, an Asahi Dry, so cold it was almost frozen. It would all be delicious.
After, we would return to Shiodome and our hotel room. Our first night in Tokyo, calm, quiet, and eye-opening. The rest of our time in Japan awaiting. I’d wake up at 5am everyday during this trip, too excited to sleep.
what to do in Japan
Tokyo is a huge city, and moments like the above happen countless times everyday. Broaden that to Japan and soon we’re talking novel-length post here. I’m trying to avoid that. So what did we do?
We spent 3 full days in Tokyo, visiting the various districts in the city. Namely, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku, as well as Ginza. I highly recommend Senso-Ji Temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo), Shibuya for the legendary crossing and the famous Harajuku neighborhood where you’ll find Japan’s streetwear scene as well as some of the anime/manga side of Japan, and Ginza for the shops, some Ramen, and just generally delicious food.
One thing that is a must is the experience we had at Tempura Kondo, one of Tokyo’s Michelin-starred Tempura restaurants. I can’t describe the grace, flavors, and sheer amounts of food that was tempura-d by a father-son chef duo in an intimate setting of eight seats around a fryer. I would have paid almost any amount of money for that experience.
Finally, the day we spent out of Tokyo was dedicated to visiting Nara, that famous town and the former capital of Japan known for the world-renowned Nara Deer Park. It was a life-changing day, and real glimpse into the Japanese traditions and culture that people travel half the world for.
MY TIPS FOR TRAVELING IN JAPAN
Always have a translator app that reads out loud and can translate spoken Japanese. You’ll get nowhere without it.
Keep cash on you.
Prepare your digestive system. This isn’t your local bento box place. The flavors you’ll have will be new, varied, and thrown at you in combinations most people aren’t used to. I come from an Indian and Brazilian family and eat pretty much everything. Even I had trouble.
Get a JR Rail Pass. Cabs and Ubers are just so expensive. Don’t waste your money. And make sure you get your JR Rail Pass before you get into Japan. You can’t get it once you arrive.
Set aside some money to buy some clothes. Japanese are known for pioneering minimalism in many respects, and the same is true of their clothes. You’ll find relatively inexpensive pieces that will fit into your wardrobe and are timeless, subtle, and well-made.
Please, please, please spend more time out of Tokyo than in it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Tokyo. It’s only that the one day we had in Nara was out of this world. To think, we didn’t even see Kyoto, Osaka, or anywhere else. Tokyo is the metropolitan center for a reason, and it has everything. But when you visit a country like Japan, you want to see the culture. It’s honestly very hard to find that in a city that is as globalized as Tokyo.
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