I was looking for a getaway in the Spring of 2017 and whenever I run into these feels my normal routine consists of trudging through Google Flights looking for any kind of rare flight deal. Eventually I struck gold and found a cheap flight to Tokyo, which had been on my list for a long while so I made the impulse decision to book it. 6 days later I was on my first trans-Pacific flight heading towards a country where I had absolutely no bearings.
I ended up running into a ton of luck. At the last minute I found out a fellow hackNY alum, Matt Condon, was living in Tokyo at the time. He graciously offered me a floor to sleep on in a student guest house in Shibuya, so I was able to meet some new people and get toured around by someone who knew what they were doing.
This ended up being one of my all-time favorite trips. Tokyo was by far the most bonkers, wild, out-there place I'd experienced by this point in my life, especially since I'd never left the Western world. I certainly need to revisit Japan, as I honestly left this country with more questions than answers.
English was generally so-so around the city, but many average ramen joints around the city were nonetheless surprisingly easy to navigate because of convenient design.
When you walked into the restaurant there would be a vending machine next to the door which would have buttons for every type of food (and variation) that you can order. All you need to do is push the button—many of which included pictures, put in the required amount of money, and a ticket would pop out of the bottom. You can then bring the ticket to the kitchen where they'll prepare your order and deliver your food, all without needing to know a word of Japanese.
A couple of things about the above photos. For starters, the cat picture is taken from a cat cafe and, although I recognize this may seem hard to believe given that photo, I can promise you that cat was actually enjoying his strawberry hat.
Secondly, the next picture is taken from one of many arcades scattered throughout the city. I'm not entirely sure why this is the case, but somehow Japan has maintained its arcade culture, even as the phenomenon has all but died in the Western world. I was shocked by the number of people in the arcades I visited. Not only that, but the demographics of the people there were surprisingly diverse: you'd see a 12 year old playing on a machine right next to a 60 year old on another.
I was also surprised by how popular the claw games were. Every arcade I saw had an expansive selection of these machines, loaded up with crazy stuffed animals of various characters (presumably from anime series). The sheer number of them must mean that they're making money, which is an insane concept to me as I wouldn't even think of putting coins into one of these.
I really loved the density of everything in Tokyo. The photo above is an amazing example, as you can see the vertical signs which are actually advertising the various businesses on the higher floors of the buildings on each side of the street. It wasn't uncommon to have restaurants on the fifth or sixth floors of some random building. The only way (I presume) you would know about it would be from looking up and seeing a sign or finding it on Google Maps.
Interestingly enough, I've noticed a similar phenomenon in K-Town (the only redeemable part of Midtown Manhattan).
I really don't know what's going on with that yellow drink, but it sure did taste like a cream puff. That said, I have no idea what a natural cream puff is...
If you ever go to Tokyo, please, please, go walk around Akihabara. Honestly, that neighborhood was one of the weirdest places I've ever been to in my life. Even the buildings will leave you scratching your head wondering "how on Earth did something like this come to exist in real life."