After a whirlwind two-day trip in Kyoto and Osaka, we flew to Tokyo with high hopes and a long list of must-dos. We arrived at night on a Saturday, equipped with two nights and one full day and a half. (If you're counting, that was five days, four nights in Japan for three major cities. It was very ambitious.)
Admittedly, Mattia and I were tired out from the constant traveling, exploring, packing, etc. After we checked into our Airbnb, we spent our first night exploring our neighborhood, Harajuku and Shibuya. It was an amazing mix of dizzying colors and people and lights.
My eyes felt overstimulated on all accounts, from getting cash from the 7/11 ATM (Mattia: "It's like playing a video game with all the lights and buttons and sounds, where the prize is real money!"), to getting off a train stop (Super Mario-esque victory sounds indicated when you'd arrived at the next stop), to typographic advertisements (not that I can read Japanese, but all those characters seem crazy cluttered). And of course I turned my head every which way looking at all the amazingly insane Harajuku fashion!
My first real shock was when I was first buying subway tickets at the machine. Since we were only staying for a few days, we opted not to buy the metro pass, and to just buy paper tickets as needed. The ticket machine was a little bit complicated because the steps and buttons were pretty different from what I'd seen before. I ended up pressing the Help button, expecting a voice to come through a speaker to guide me through the process.
I was still looking down at the machine, trying to look for the speaker, but instead was shocked when an actual person's head popped out of the side of the machine. I was completely caught off guard and yelled out of surprise, causing many heads to turn. The machine man smiled at me, and politely helped us to buy the right tickets.
I will forever remember Japan as the place where people live in machines.
Just kidding. However, I will never forget everyone's amazing politeness. Even coming from Korea, where I was used to greeting and thanking and bowing just about anyone, I found that the amount of bowing and thanking in Japan was on another level. I was thanked so much that it felt like I was being thanked for breathing. I kept thinking, "Ah, I don't deserve all of this!"
Mattia accidentally bumped into someone at the busy train station, knocking over the man's stuff. Mattia was distracted, looking for the way to go, but turned to him and apologized profusely. The man picked up his things, and glared at Mattia for a few long seconds, almost angrily. Mattia thought he was going to get punched. The man finally uttered, "Welcome to Japan," with a stern look and then briskly walked away.
"I really don't understand this place," Mattia proclaimed.
With the limited time that we had, we were still able to have a mini-reunion with my high school friends over amazing sushi. I love being able to reconnect with old friends in new places. My friends were also able to give us a better, native insight into Japanese culture. I really appreciated how they answered all my silly questions about every little thing.
Tokyo is an enormous city with endless treasures, and although I regret not being able to stay longer, I learned a lot in my short time there and can't wait to go back again!