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Japan, Land of the Rising Sun (Part I)

Japan or Nippon, they’re both the same, as it’s the exonym that is used by many people around the world. When I came back from Japan, a friend of mine asked, “How was Nippon?” and I laughed because not a lot of people refer to Japan as Nippon in North America. To answer the question, it was an unforgettable trip where I learned a lot about the Japanese culture in a way that leaves me speechless. From their history to culture and values, it was fascinating. This short vacay was truly amazing and I would fly back again to visit other Japanese cities.

In six days, I explored two cities: Tokyo and Kyoto. Because of the cultural differences between the two cities, I will break down what I did in Japan into two blog posts: Part I and Part II. In Part I, I’ll be sharing the 11 places I visited in Tokyo.

1) Asakusa A district in Taito, Tokyo that is known for the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, Tokyo Skytree and fireworks along Sumida-gawa River in the summer. Asakusa is convenient to get to other districts in the city such as Ginza, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya since the subway stations are always close by. For this reason, I stayed at an Airbnb close by Komagata Bridge. I suggest staying at an Airbnb if you plan to travel in a big group since it’s more cost-efficient compared to staying at a hotel. FYI: hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals in Japan are small like Hong Kong housings.

2) Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe I’m sure you’ve heard of cat cafes, owl cafes are essentially the same thing. However, instead of hanging out with cats, you hang out with owls. ‘Owl Cafe’ is one of the latests trends in Japan and if you are curious how it’s like to hang out with an owl – you’ll definitely want to check out this cafe. You will have to make an advance reservation, so make sure you email before you visit the cafe. It costs 1,500 yen/person (about $15 dollars USD/ $18 CAD) for an hour visit.

3) Meiji Shinto Shrine This famous shrine is located in Shibuya, Tokyo and it’s dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife. This shrine offers walking paths with so luscious green surroundings, thus making it a great place for a relaxing stroll. A calming stroll with a towering gate, sake and wine displays and of course, beautiful mother nature.

4) Tsukiji Fish Market The infamous fish market in Tokyo. It’s a wholesale market for seafood, vegetables and fruits. Most known for its tuna auctions. The auction starts at 5:00 A.M on a first-come, first-serve basis (usually restaurant owners) and it’s limited to 120 visitors per day. Although I did not see the tuna auctions, I was happy that I got the chance to visit to the market before it moves to a new location in Toyosu in November 2016.

5) Shibuya, Shinjuku & Harajuku Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku – they’re all the same in a way that’s popular for entertainments such as shopping. These 3 districts are so close to each other and busy that you may walk through it without even knowing it. You can say that Shinjuku and Harajuku are sub-cities in Shibuya and they’re all known for entertainment, shopping and nightlife.

6) Akihabara This district is known for having over hundreds of electronic shops with the newest cameras, computers, televisions, phones and electronic parts. If you are looking for electronics, this is the district to go to! Not only is it known for electronics, but also anime/manga and maid cafes. This district is fun to walk through and I enjoyed seeing every bright anime/manga illustrations on the buildings and banners.

7) Sensoji Temple You may recognize the red lantern, as Sensoji temple is the most iconic and oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. This is a must-visit destination in Tokyo, for this there are over 30 million visitors a year. I can confirm with you that the temple is packed with locals and visitors, so come in the morning to avoid the big crowd.

If you’re curious why I’m washing my hands, it’s because I’m purifying myself with water before entering the temple. This is an essential step to all Japanese, so you’ll see water fountain made of stone at every shrines and temples. These water fountains are called chozuya or temizuya.

8) Nakamise Dori This is where all the stores are lined up and it’s supposedly the best place to buy souvenirs. Believe it or not, but Nakamise Dori is located just outside Sensoji Temple. After entering the Kaminarimon Gate (where the red lantern is), you will walk through Nakamise Dori where all the little booths are.

9) Tokyo Imperial Palace The primary residence for the head of the Imperial family is located on the former site of Edo Castle. Inside the palace, there is the Kokyo Gaien (Imperial Palace Outer Garden), Kokyo Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden) and Kita-no-maru-koen Park – which are all open to the public. The only days that the Imperial Palace is not publicly open is Mondays and Fridays. I assume it’s closed for the emperors.

10) Tokyo Downtown Like all cities, Tokyo’s downtown also have high rise buildings. What leaves me speechless is how clean Tokyo is and that the floor is spotless wherever I went. I agree with everyone when they say that the downtown district in Tokyo is the cleanest ever.

11) Don Quijote The last place I stopped by before flying home was Don Quijote, which is a discount chain store that carries a wide range of products such as groceries, electronics and beauty products. I was here for their matcha powder and snacks – and boy, it was worth the trip!

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