September 7th, 2017
Today is my last day in the Kanto region before I board the Shinkansen for Hakone. Near my hotel lies the famous Ramen Museum which I most definitely want to check out, but for now, it was much too early for lunch. On my little walk through the area yesterday, I noticed that there was a bakery downstairs that sold all sorts of fresh breads and breakfast goods. I got dressed and began my morning with a walk to the lobby of the hotel with freshly baked bread in mind.
In fact, not just the bakery was closed, but an entire wing of the mall attached to the hotel. I suppose they were cleaning it or something. Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed and was still pretty hungry. I did notice that there was a McDonald’s near by though. At home, I hate McDonalds. I think it tastes gross and is way too expensive. …But, I was willing to see the Japanese take on it. I ordered the standard pancake meal that we normally have in The States. This was referred to as the “Mega Meal,” even though to me, it seemed like an average breakfast portion. Ordering was very simple. It seems that most things in Japan, especially near the train stations, are very foreigner friendly. Simply point to what you’d like on the menu at the counter, pay, wait a little bit, then your number is placed on a big screen when your order is ready. Easy. I picked up my breakfast and headed back to the hotel to dig in.
Yep. It was still the same mass-produced, overly expensive garbage that we have at home. I must admit that everything was cooked well and tasted better than what we have in America, but it was still a super greasy, mostly unsatisfying meal. For the same price, I could have waited until lunch and grabbed that fancy tuna meal I wrote about in my previous entry. McDonald’s has made my personal list of international disappointments. At least I know now!
That breakfast made me feel pretty “ughufdsirelhuaishfd.” If that is a real word. I wanted to walk it off a little to get the “ughufdsirelhuaishfd” feeling off my mind. I packed up my bag, grabbed my rail pass, and took a walk through Shin-Yokohama in the morning. Much like the last couple days, it was grey and lightly drizzling. I like the rain here so far – It’s soft and gentle and doesn’t soak you through. 雨, 雨, 雨. My morning walk through Yokohama mostly uneventful. One thing that I loved was the soundscape of the area. In the little manga books I bought, there is often Japanese onamonapia that describes the ambient sounds in each scene. Frequently, you’ll see “チチチチチチチ” (chi-chi-chi-chi) in outdoor scenes. While I read, I wondered what it represented. As I walk through Yokohama, I hear it. chi-chi-chi-chi. It was the cicada bugs in the trees! Another onamonapia is “ピ-ボ” (Pi-bo). It’s the crosswalk signs beeping to let you know when you can cross! Listening to the sounds of the world just as they’re described in text was super fun. Even the crows here caw with their own unique Japanese accent which I found to be super neat.
A couple hours later, it was just about lunch time and I was pretty gassed from walking. I needed an awesome lunch to offset my disappointing breakfast. Ramen museum time. Fortunately, the museum was only a short walk away from my hotel, so I set off in search of some delicious noodles. After a short walk, I see a line of people and the famous noodle-bot-9000. To enter the museum, you needed to insert 310 yen to the front ticket machine for admittance. In retrospect, I see that this is actually pretty clever design since this is a foreigner hot spot. They were attempting to teach visitors how to use the ramen ticket machines before they even enter the museum by forcing them to use one to buy an admittance ticket. Clever. I paid for my ticket, gave it to the attendant, and walked through the gates.
On the first floor, you see a large display of banners and exhibits on the history of cooking ramen and all of the different styles possible. There was also a gift shop and… an enormous slot car racing track? I love this country. I even met a couple visitors from America! Once you’re ready to eat, you must walk down a flight of stairs to the real portion of the museum. After you’ve reached the bottom of the stairs, you’re suddenly transported to a recreation of a 1950’s Tokyo. There were lots of dark alleyways and real ramen bars around every corner serving up any style you could think of! So cool!
A bit of walking through the alleyways later and you will arrive at the main hall. Here, dozens of little ramen shops serve up delicious bowls of soup and noodles. I walked down to a shop serving a style of ramen with a darker broth than what I was used to, bought a ticket from the machine outside, then was quickly seated at the cozy little ramen bar in front of the chefs that were tirelessly working away. I didn’t take any photos of the food or bar since it was a little too cozy for photos, but you can be assured that the meal was delicious! That totally made up for my lackluster breakfast. I even met back up with the American visitors in the same store and had my first English conversation in about a week. We talked about how awesome Japan was and how confusing Kanji characters were.
The Ramen Museum was a great experience and the food was delicious. Totally recommend it if you’re in the area. After I left, it was only about 13:00, which was still pretty early in the day. I was kind of out of activities within Yokohama that I could reach within a reasonable time and I still wanted something to do. Then I remember – earlier this morning I took my rail pass with me.
…What if I just hopped on a Shinkansen and zoomed off to Tokyo station just because I could. Yeah, that sounds fun! I’ll go down to Tokyo again and just turn off Google maps and get lost! I begin to walk to Shin-Yokohama station and proceed through the gates to the Shinkansen platforms. I find the platform bound for Tokyo and as if by fate, there stands the train bound for Tokyo just about to leave in 20 seconds. I jump on as fast as I could and within seconds, the train departed. As I walked down the length of the train towards the unreserved section the train began to accelerate. It feels like you’re running at an incredible rate, Harry.
I find an open seat, begin to stow away my bag.. and.. a JR employee is looking at me concerned. uhh… did I do something wrong..? uh oh. The JR employee walks toward me and asks, “May I see your ticket, please?” Oh shit. I hope he means my rail pass. I slowly show him the pass and… “Okay, thank you.”
ALRIGHTY THEN GUESS I’M GOOD. That slight heart attack aside and within minutes I’m back in Tokyo. Man, I love these trains so much. They’re just incredible. As I depart from the train, I find an exit that reads “Imperial Castle” and decide that I’d like to head in that direction first. I close out of Google Maps and begin to just wander. I walk… and walk… and walk… I have no idea where I am. Then…
In the middle of a concrete wonderland from the future, The Imperial Gardens. There have been so many times on this trip where I have been surrounded by the high-energy, fast-paced lifestyle of Japan then, bam, sudden serenity. I walk along the silent gravel paths and admire the perfectly still moat waters. Ancient stone structures are scattered throughout the park and they are huge. So much of the park is forested, and on this mild and humid day, the cicadas were singing in numbers. Before I officially entered the park, I noticed another beautiful symbol of Japan grooming itself along with its mate within the moat waters.
A short walk later and I arrive at the main entrance of the gardens. Here, a police officer requests to search any bags that you may have in search if anything that could damage the ancient stoneworks. My backpack was checked and soon I was released into the enormous stone walled gardens.
Past the huge gates and down a bit lies a large open expanse of land surrounded by giant stone walls and guard barracks. I love the sound of the cicadas. I also loved the juxtaposition of this serene and ancient park smack-dab in the middle of the craziest city I’ve ever seen. Further still I wander through the park, randomly forking through all of the paths and wondering where I would end up. Eventually, I reach some huge fields and what seems to be castle ruins in the distance. I pass the fields and take in the nature a bit on a bench before embarking on the steep climb towards the top of the ruins.
Moments after reaching the top of the ruins, the rain began to lightly pitter patter and I thought it to be best to move on. I opened my umbrella and continued in a random direction and left the gardens. Now remember, I’m still challenging myself not to use Google Maps here. The Imperial gardens have exits that lead in all sorts of different directions, so I genuinely have no idea where I am. I am reminded of a silly web game called “Map Crunch” where you are placed in a random location in the world and must find your way to an airport. I wanted to try out a real life version of this to see if I could find a major train station that would eventually take me back to Yokohama. No subway or bus cheating!
I began my walk and searched for landmarks. Nothin’ looked familiar, so I looked at the street signs. From those signs, I had an approximate idea of where I stood. I knew that Akihabara lie to the north east and Kanda to the far east. Both of those towns I was familiar with since that is where I stayed last, so I set off in that direction. I walked loosely in that direction for a while, then walked north until I found train tracks. The fact that I finally found train tracks means that I was on the right… track. Heh. I looked at where the trains were headed and loosely followed them in the direction I thought that Akihabara was. A few hours of walking (and a little coffee shop stop), I found tall buildings that I have seen before. Wait… there’s the train station. Hey I’m in Kanda again! I did it! I navigated all throughout downtown Tokyo and found a train station that could take me back to Yokohama without Google Maps. That walk was LONG. I think that’s the most I’ve ever walked in a day before. What’s funny is that when I first arrived here, my legs were killing me after only walking a couple miles or so. Now, I can walk over 10 miles no problem. As I write this a day later, my legs do not feel sore at all. Amazing!
Well, now that I’ve made it here, I might as well catch some dinner and have a little more fun in Akiba. I had amazing ginger-pork Donburi complete with raw egg. Food here is just to die for. After dinner, I spent a little more time in the massive arcades and even met some more English-speaking visitors from the United Kingdom. Sweet, two English conversions in one day! Of course, we had a common interest in the Table-flipping game. Nothing quite brings people together like absurdity. I love that game.
By the time I was done messing about in Akiba, I decided it was time to go back to Shin-Yokohama and get ready for bed. Only one problem… it was rush-hour. I’ve heard horror stories of the trains in Tokyo during rush hour – salary men packed in a small train as close as they can get with zero breathing room. I look up towards the passing trains and sure enough, each and every car is PACKED! Wow.
You know what? Screw it, I’ll go up and see what it’s like anyways. As I enter Akihabara station, I notice waves and waves of white-shirted, dresspant wearing, breifcase holding salary men walking through the station. It was so crazy crowded in here – but you know what was a funny detail that I noticed? While it was pretty hot and stuffy in there simply due to the amount of people in there, it didn’t… well… smell like a hot and humid pit of humanity. It by no means smelled fresh as a daisy, but on a hot damp day like this, I expected to be insufferable. Interesting.
Eventually, I navigate to the green Yamanote headed towards Tokyo station. I head up the stairs expecting the worst and…. only a few people stand in line. What?
I turn around and see DROVES of people heading in the opposite direction. I suppose that makes sense. People are mostly leaving Tokyo and not heading towards it. My train into Tokyo station was mostly empty! Neat!
I quickly zip off to Tokyo Station, where yet again, as soon as I navigate to the Shinkansen stations, there lie my train just moments from departing. I jump on board, walk the entire length of the train to the unreserved section, and easily find a seat. Back off to Shin-Yokohama like clockwork.
What an incredible day of just walking around and seein’ stuff. Traveling in Japan is so crazy convenient. I love hopping on the trains without a care and seeing where I end up. I highly recommend the JR rail pass to anybody planning to visit. It’s awesome and well worth the money!
Here’s where I traveled according to Google:
Finally, I just wanted to share this short clip of people Mario-karting down the streets of Tokyo. So awesome.