I’ve done it again. I’ve taken an impromptu trip to Japan! I’ll only be here five days, and then I’m going to Bangkok and (probably) Chiang Mai in Thailand to meet a friend.
This trip is different from any other I’ve taken for one reason: I don’t speak the language and I’m by myself! Previous trips I’ve taken to foreign countries with different languages have been with other people, which I think makes it easier to navigate the social and transactional landscape. At worst, you have a friend who speaks the same language as you.
It’s amazing how useful your first words of a language are. Being able to say basic things like “hi” and “thank you” makes a huge difference! It’s admittedly easier as an English speaker, since many people know at least a little bit.
I arrived last night in a place called Asakusa, and found myself mystified at the sights around me. This country is more of a culture shock than I’ve ever experienced before. I like culture shock.
For starters, I’m almost certain the toilets here have more RAM than my laptop.
And then, I saw a food stand casually selling fish impaled on sticks.
Here are some other highlights of my first night in Japan.
I practiced some Japanese at the restaurant. I told the waitress three things in Japanese. She walked by and I got her attention. First I said, “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!” (Translated: Happy New Year!).
A few minutes later, I got her attention and said, “Yoi goryokou o!” (Translated: Have a nice journey!)
As I checked out, I wanted to say something she didn’t expect, so I said, “Sumimasen, watashi onchi desu.” (Translated: Sorry, I sing out of tune). It was funny, but I wasn’t sure if she was laughing with me or at me. Either one was fine. I figured it’d at least give her a decent “One time a tourist came in and said…” story. I’ve always found it hilarious in movies when a person is trying to speak in another language and they say nonsense (which is shown in the captions). So I got the opportunity to do it in real life. I’m sure it won’t be the last time. 😀
I came across a nice temple that’s very near my hostel. It was quite large and majestic, and gave me a thirst to see more of Asia’s famous temples and shrines.
7:15 AM — Breakfast Time!
9:50 AM — What’s All This Change in My Pocket?
— So many people over here wear masks over their nose and mouth. I keep thinking that there are an abnormal number of surgeons or just a lot of sub zero fans. It’s thoughtful they do that to prevent spreading germs, but how am I supposed to know if a girl is cute when she’s wearing a mask?
— I LOVE BOWING! Japanese eschew the Western handshake in favor the the bow. After seeing it in action, I think bowing is interesting, cool, respectful, and a most satisfying gesture. Every time I see it, it makes me so happy.
— To me, all Japanese TV looks like an infomercial because they overlay big bright text over the screen. Maybe all I’ve seen are infomercials, but unless 60% of channels here are infomercials, then I don’t think so! I grabbed this lovely screenshot.
Later that day
I made some friends at the hostel. We went out for lunch. Burgers were the choice. After eating, one of the guys suggested we go to the cat cafe. He spoke about a magical place where cats were abundant. I was sold. (Cats are the best.) On the way there, we had to wade through a dense crowd of people going to see the oldest temple in Japan.
The Cat Cafe
For a somewhat steep price of 800 yen (about $8 USD), you could snuggle, pet, and play with cats for an hour. Here’s what we saw when we entered, followed by unbearable cuteness.
Have I mentioned that I really want a cat? I do, and the world keeps throwing cute cats in my direction. Maybe it’s a sign.
Sake, Souvenirs, and Dinner (Were Amazing)
After mingling with the kitties, my new friend wanted to get a souvenir for his girlfriend. So we walked around. I stepped into a 7-11 and bought sake. Then I used it to blend in with the crowd. (I looked like a native Japanese man, so you might not be able to spot me in this picture.)
I then bought a snack. I still have no idea what it was. The girl at the hostel said it was some kind of wheat or rice with soy powder on it? Weird. It had the consistency of bubble gum. 600 yen for a pack of five sticks. To roughly convert yen to USD, you remove two zeros. 600 yen = $6.
For dinner, we went to a place called Sometaro. If you ever find yourself in Asakusa, Japan, you MUST go! It’s a “cook your own meal” place. At first, this sounded terrible. I was tired and I’m not known for my culinary skills. But all it entailed was mixing a bowl of your chosen ingredients, pouring it on the griddle, and flipping it a couple times. Done. And it was DELICIOUS. It was my favorite meal here so far by far.
This post is getting huge. Therefore, I’m making a part 2.