My final blog post…only about a month later than I had hoped…whoops! Nonetheless, here is my recap of my Tokyo trip, including an overnight stop in Shanghai, as well as my updates on life since arriving back in the US:
May 17 – I was traveling with Hedvig, a City U friend from Sweden, and her friend who was visiting for a couple weeks, Julia. We arrived in Shanghai at 4pm and took a cab to our hostel. Our other City U girlfriends had recommended it and we were thrilled to find it very clean and nice. After checking in, we got ready and headed to The Bund, which is the walkway along the water displaying the old vs. the new Shanghai skylines. Unfortunately, it was very foggy that afternoon, so after snapping a few awful pictures, we took a taxi to Xin Tian Di. It was a great, small, bright area of the city – a true hidden gem! We found a nice restaurant, Kabb, for dinner before continuing to explore the area. Later, we took cab to Taikang Road for small corridors of local merchandise. It almost seemed like a city within a city. While there, I bought a leather ring for $1US. After seeing all there was, we went back to The Bund for better pictures of the skyline. Thank goodness it had cleared up! For our nightcap, we went to Bar Rouge where I had a delicious ginger pineapple drink. Around midnight we returned back to our hostel for our early morning flight to Tokyo.
May 18 – We flew to Tokyo, arriving around 1pm. I had arranged for our group to stay in “capsules” for the first night and a hotel for the other two nights. If you have a chance, Google some pictures of capsule hostels. They are basically just bed pods in the wall that business men and women stay in for one night when they get stuck in the city. We ended up arriving at our hostel location, but had to walk around for 30 minutes until check in. We hit the streets for some lunch, but could not find anything since there was no English anywhere! Japan marked my seventh and last country I visited and yet I felt overwhelmed and experienced culture shock for the first time during my entire abroad experience. There were just so many things and colors to look at and with no English, I found it nearly impossible to find basic needs, like food. After an unsuccessful exploration attempt, it was back to our hostel to check in and get ready. We took the “JR Train” to Harijuku where we walked around, then to the nearby Yoyogi Park. Next we walked to Shibuya. Tokyo has multiple trains with maps in Japanese, of course! Trying to figure out how and how much money it required to get from point A to point B was difficult for our group. But, by midday on the second day, we had it pretty well down. Also important to note, Shinjuku (where our capsules were located) and Shibuya are the main areas of Tokyo and the areas we chose to spend the most time. After our 30 minute walk from Harijuku to Shibuya, we looked for Alcatraz ER, which is a typical Tokyo themed restaurant one of my friends from Semester at Sea had suggested. It took us forever to find it since it was tucked way (like most places in Tokyo), but we finally found it and enjoyed dinner and drinks in a small, jail cell while sitting on the floor. I really enjoyed the experience since it was so unique. After, we walked around Shibuya then back to Harijuku, but found it empty. So, we enjoyed crepe wrapped ice cream scoops with yummy toppings, then went back to our capsules.
May 19 – We enjoyed our first night in our capsules so much that we decided to cancel our hotel reservations and stay in the capsules all three nights! The next morning, we started our day at 9am at “Bill’s Restaurant,” which was located in Shibuya and founded by a famous chef from Australia. The meal was so fresh and delicious – it was nice to start our day with a more western style breakfast. Next, we went to Daikanyama – we were really starting to master the train system now! This area featured French vintage knick knacks organized on cute, little tables. After walking for a bit, we visited the touristy Tokyo Tower. We went up to two different levels and enjoyed the views each level offered. After, we went to Yoshinoya, a cheap Japanese restaurant chain frequented by business men and women who belly up to the bar on their lunch breaks. I enjoyed beef and rice with ginger and miso soup for $3US. It was a yummy, quick, and easy meal for cheap – it would be great if the US had something similar. Next, we headed to the Akihabara district. This is the gaming area and offers fun, bright colors, as well as video game stores, DVDs, and comic books. Then, we went to the Asakusa district for old, but touristy trinkets and to visit the Sensoji Temple, which also included a pagoda. It was a quick stop before heading back to Shibuya for research on what to do next at Starbucks. We decided to have sushi in the Ginza district. We stumbled upon this great, little sushi restaurant with cute, funny waiters. We bellied up to the bar and the food was delicious! It was fun to enjoy such a yummy meal with awesome girls – we enjoyed great conversation at dinner (and throughout the trip, of course). After dinner we went back to our capsules for another quick research session (we had to visit Starbucks or our capsules for wifi in order to do research). We decided to check out Golden Gai, which is a local secret featuring six streets composed of 200+ bars! It ended up being right behind our hostel, which was a nice surprise. The bars are small and usually have room for only 6-10 people. We decided to try two bars: Albatross, which is ranked the #1 bar online and Tomorrow, a bar we stumbled upon and decided to try. We had an incredible experience with the bartender and a local student at Tomorrow. It was the coolest thing being able to carry on a conversation with the bartender, who spoke only Japanese, and us, who were only speaking in English. We were able to figure out that the bar owners and the bartender are artists, so Hedvig and Julia took a picture to email to the bartender. Then, she will paint and mail the picture to them. We ended up staying at Tomorrow until 3am, but it was by far my most favorite experience of the trip!
May 20 – We checked out of our capsules at 10am and went to the fish market. We wandered around only briefly because we were a little late and most of the fishermen were packing up their seafood. Next, we had a sushi lunch composed of the freshest sushi in the world – the clams were even still alive (you could see them moving through the glass) and were served that way! Afterwards, we wandered the small shops at the fish market and I bought a Japanese tea bowl. Later, we went to the Meiji Shrine, which featured a beautiful tree lined walkway and Shrine to pay tribute to Emperor Meiji and his Empress. Since it was close, we walked to Harijuku and got candy before eating at Jangara Ramen, a highly suggested ramen restaurant. It was not my favorite meal of the trip, but ramen is something you have to try in Japan! Then, we walked around the area more before resting at Starbucks for an hour to recharge. After a coffee, we were ready for KiddyLand, a fun shopping mall with many floors of children’s toys. Next, we wanted to do “Purika,” a past time of Japanese teens during which they and their friends go into a Photo Booth, take pictures, then edit the pictures to have fun backgrounds and doodles. It was really cool to do with Hedvig and Julia! We then headed back to Shinjuku for dinner at a ramen place near our hostel. It featured machines as the ordering system. After dinner, we returned to our capsule building for karaoke on the fifth floor. We sang for an hour together and had a blast! How cool is it to say we did karaoke in Tokyo?! Later we headed back to our capsules to shower and get ready for bed. Since I had an early flight the next morning, I went straight to the airport and pulled an all-nighter there before beginning my 6am voyage back to the US. I stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before finally landing back in the US!
I have been home for just under a month now and have already done so much! I visited Nashville, Tennessee and Appleton, Wisconsin, including a stop in Chicago to move my things into my apartment on the way. Tomorrow I head to Chicago to begin my second internship with PwC! It is bittersweet to be back on this side of the world. It has been great to see my family, friends, and finally spend time with my boyfriend, but I do miss my girlfriends in HK and the life we had together. Reflecting back on the experiences we had and the things we did and saw – there is no way I was cool enough to do those things! I learned so much about myself and others and feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to study abroad, especially in HK! I would highly encourage anyone to live on their own abroad and would hope that they would embrace their experiences as much as I feel I have. I cannot wait to see what my future holds, but I hope it one day includes another trip or living experience in HK!