This was my very first solo travel.
I had traveled out of the US a few times in the past. In 2006, I visited my cousin in Montreal for a week. In 2007, I went with friends on a 15 day Eurotrip to Germany, Ireland, and Scotland, with the climax being Oktoberfest in Munich.
With a girlfriend I had made my way back to Dublin one year & then to Costa Rica the next.
But for me, traveling out of the country was, at max, a once a year kind of thing. That all changed in September of 2016.
You know when you’re getting out of a breakup and you feel like you need to get busy doing something? That was me.
One of the biggest perks that comes with being a firefighter is the schedule. I get lots of vacation time each year. So with 3 weeks off, I had made up my mind I was going to go on a solo travel adventure.
I decided to travel as far as away as I could to a destination I’ve always wanted to go to where I knew no one and didn’t understand even a syllable of the language.
I’m going to try my hardest to recount my time in Tokyo as best as I can. I’ll include lots of pictures, and with this particular trip, there’s a great video that I’ll put at the end.
I gotta be honest. After 15 or so hours of flights and then a 45 minute bus ride from the airport to Tokyo Station, the busy and chaotic hub for everyone needing a subway, train, or bus, I definitely thought to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Imagine a sea of asians, all rushing through ticket gates, everyone on their way somewhere. Half are making their way to catch a train, while the other half are rushing off of one.
You can’t make sense of a single word you hear, you’re a foot taller than everyone else, and while some signs are in English, words like “Roppongi” and “Shinjuku” mean nothing to you.
You’re wearing a heavy backpack, filled with everything you have for a week, you stick out like a sore thumb, and you have an address in your hand to a hotel you’ve never been to.
“How in the world do I find my way to this hotel?”
But you know what? You take a deep breath, realize the pure awesomeness of your situation that you’re halfway around the world in friggin TOKYO, and you tell yourself that everything’s going to figure itself out.
And it did.
I made my way to a ticket counter and played charades with the person behind the glass doing my best to communicate to her where I needed to go.
It must have worked because she gave me a ticket and motioned that I should go around the corner. I went around the corner, and in front of me was that same churning sea of asians.
I stood off to the side for awhile to try and figure out how this was going to work. I had a paper ticket in my hand, the small kind that you get when you enter a raffle. Everyone rushing through the ticket gates was using electronic tickets on their phone. I needed to wait until I saw someone use a paper ticket so i’d know how to use mine.
Finally, a lady rushing through slides her ticket into a tiny slot in the front, walks through the opening gates, and then swipes her ticket back up as it popped up on the other side.
She’s probably done this 1000 times before because it all happened in one motion.
Now it was my turn.
I’d like to think I looked as smooth as her, but I’m sure I didn’t. I was just happy that I didn’t seem to interrupt the flow too badly or manage to anger 1000 asians all at once.
I was past the gates, I got on the train, and an hour or so later I was lying in my tiny bed in my tiny hotel room. Home sweet home. I did it.
Technically this would be day 2, but it was my first morning in Tokyo, and I had scheduled an excursion for around 11 am. I had booked the Sunamachi Ginza Food & Drink Walking Tour.
It didn’t disappoint.
Sunamachi Ginza Food & Drink Walking Tour
I met my tour guide and to my surprise found out it was going to be just her an I on this tour. This tour was such a great time! She was a sweet, older lady. I wish I remembered her name.
She walked me through the Sunamachi Ginza strip amongst the locals telling me all about its history as I tasted bite after bite of delicious Tokyo street food.
We took our time walking and eating as she told of how the locals live while giving me a history lesson about the strip itself. Along the walk I also got to check out a small shrine & go through a lesson on making green tea.
By end of the tour I had a full stomach and a huge smile on my face. When it was all over she even helped me learn the subway which was PRICELESS!
No more needing to go up to manned counters to figure out where I’m going. Tokyo was now unlocked!
I closed out my first full day in Tokyo with an evening at the incredible Robot Restaurant! I suppose there is food served there, but don’t be mistaken, this is not a restaurant. It’s a MUST SEE SHOW!
The Robot Restaurant Show
Seriously, this needs to be the first thing you book when you know you’re going to Tokyo. You can’t miss this! It has all the crazy spectacle that you expect from Tokyo and more. What a show!
When you’re getting ready to walk in from the street outside you’ll notice all the pictures all over the walls of celebrities who have been here. It’s THE show that Tokyo is known for.
You walk inside into a lobby area where you can have some drinks before the show starts. There will be live music, and the performers are dressed like metallic robots. Then, it’s time for the show! You walk down like 5 or 6 flights of stairs, take your seat which is really close to all the action, and prepare for a great time.
Dancing, singing, drummers, fire, explosions, animatronic monsters, dinosaurs, dancing pandas, and crazy narratives make up this incredible show that only make sense when you’re in this kind of crazy atmosphere.
It lasts around an hour and a half with some intermissions so you can get more drinks or stretch your legs a bit. Trust me when I say you will leave this show with a huge smile on your face!
The pictures don’t even do this show justice. Watch the video at the end of this post to get a real feel for how spectacular a show they put on!
After the show, one of the ushers made an announcement that if you’re looking to have a few more drinks (which I was) their sister bar, Ren, was just a few blocks away.
Ren was this cool lounge with a really chill vibe to it. There were only like 5 people in the place, but a gorgeous girl was singing Whitney Houston to me, so I stayed a while.
The 3 piece band played song after song on a stage that had all these screens behind it showing different cityscapes from all around the world. I wanted to talk to this singer, but when the band took a break she walked offstage to the back and never returned.
Even when I got back home, I kept thinking about how I should have talked to this girl. It’s gonna sound crazy, but I found her online after looking up Ren’s facebook page and when I returned to Tokyo 2 years later we hung out! I’ll save that story for that trip’s post.
My next full day in Tokyo was one where I got to see so many of the city’s incredible sights on a jam packed full day excursion where I got completely lost and left behind just an hour into it. Yes it was as fun as it sounds.
So let me explain the getting lost part, and then I’ll show you a ton of pictures from the day.
The excursion meeting point was at an ultra packed bus station early in the morning. I found where I was supposed to go, hopped on a bus, and our first stop was Tokyo Tower.
Think Eiffel Tower, only red. There were some really cool views from atop this observation tower. After spending some time taking in the views, I decided to go check out the gift shop. I had around 10 minutes before the tour guide said we’d be off to the next stop, so I thought I was good.
As I’m at the checkout I start looking around and I notice that I don’t recognize any of the people there. None of these people were on my bus. I check the time, and it’s 9:58 am. The tour guide said to meet back at the bus at 10.
I make my way down to the ground floor and see the bus. Whew! It’s still there. And then I watch the wheels of the bus go round and round as it happily drives off without me.