Trip to Tokyo

Prior to my trip, the one and only concrete plan I made was to meet Gizem in Tokyo. She would fly out from NYC, join me, and we’d travel to Japan together for about two weeks.

When we finally saw each other at Narita Airport for the first time in months, I instantly thought to myself: it doesn’t get any better than this.

Cesar and Gizem reunited in TokyoDon’t get me wrong. I love traveling solo and fully appreciate its pros and cons. But…when you’re walking the world together with the right person, everything about everything is infinitely better. Food tastes better. Shopping and sightseeing suddenly seem so much more fun than they usually would be.

Our first breakfast in Tokyo. We were totally clueless about how to eat it.
Everything is awesome
We loved Tokyo. It is a magnificent city of quirks and culture shocks. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, Tokyo instantly shatters that indifference.

For example, on our first evening, we went to go get dinner at a ramen restaurant in the Asakusa neighborhood. We walked in and waited for someone to seat us. After standing around a while, we realized that aside from the chef, the restaurant had zero members on its staff. The chef then pointed to a vending machine behind us.

Our first vending machine experience at a ramen restaurant…” er, does the ramen come out of the machine?”Gizem and I put our heads together and eventually figured out that we were supposed to somehow order our food from the machine. We ended up giggling uncontrollably as we navigated through our cluelessness. I mean cmon, the machine was in Japanese.

We inserted our money into the machine, pushed a random button, and the machine spit out a slip of paper.

all that thinking…for a piece of paper?! It doesn’t even look like ramen. The chef then took the slip of paper from us, and handed us a bowl of hot, steaming ramen noodle soup in return.


magical ramen soup Another instance of awesomeness in Tokyo: people are not allowed to smoke outdoors on the streets. Or at least that’s what I think this sign says.

Quite possibly the best example which encapsulates how Japan wins, in general, is this picture of their toilet functionality.

OK, Japan. You win. I don’t even know what these buttons do, but I will find out.
Neighborhood vibes
Tokyo is a massive, sprawling city and makes NYC look tiny in comparison. A standard Tokyo “neighborhood” would roughly be equivalent in size to, say, all of downtown Manhattan. Except that there are many of those neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive character. Fun fact: the Tokyo commuter-belt area is larger than the entire tri-state NY/NJ/CT area.

The madness of Shibuya CrossingWe went to the Harajuku neighborhood to look for cosplay, hipsters, and interesting stores, and shopping.

Hunting for cosplay people in the Harajuku neighborhood…we found some! We got lost in Shibuya, which felt like the Times Square of Tokyo. It was chaotic but still somehow felt so orderly. Scenes from some of my favorite movies such as “Lost in Translation” and “The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” were filmed here.

Lost in Tokyo! Surrounded by a flood of people in Shibuya Crossing
Hanging out in the famous Shinjuku neighborhood…which is equivalent to Midtown NYC. But bigger.

We stayed in the Asakusa neighborhood, which had a local residential feel to it and lots of amazing restaurants and izakayas (Japanese pubs). It was also home to the Asakusa shrine.

Asakusa shrine

We even met some local girls who volunteered to give us a free tour so they could practice their English. It wasn’t the best tour ever, but at least we got a “peace sign” selfie out of it.

our free tour guides of the Asakusa shrine. One of my favorite activities was to go to a Japanese arcade. Any arcade would do. Not so we can play games or gamble, but just so we can people watch. The arcades are hilarious and are where many young locals spend their time.

Also, the food is ridiculously delicious. Conveyor belt sushi, okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, you name it…here are some pics, but I’ll save the food for a separate blog post 🙂

Conveyor belt sushi. you just serve yourself and take as much as you want. the color of each plate indicates the price of that dish.
Delicious tonkatsu that Gizem discovered at a restaurant hidden on the 2nd floor of an apartment building.
Gizem ordering sushi from a computer. you place your order and your sushi arrives freshly prepared in front of you via a conveyor belt. In short, Tokyo is magnificent. You can easily spend a month here and still barely scratch the surface. We loved it and I suspect we’ll be back again.