Staggering, Serene, and Stowaway - Stories From Tokyo

I headed to Japan after spending Christmas in Hai Phong, Vietnam. I was looking forward to getting out of the sweltering heat of Southeast Asia and not having to constantly be on guard for mosquitoes. I planned on staying for a month in Japan, and I had the JR pass which meant that I could ride as many trains as I wanted during a three week period. It was the perfect environment to explore and backpack freely around the country.

I flew into Osaka but immediately took a train to Tokyo. My game plan was to make my way north until I got tired or it got too cold, then loop back down, eventually ending back in Osaka because I had to fly out of there.

Here are some stories and photos from my time in Tokyo where I ended up seeing familiar faces from back home for the first time in 4 months, stumbled upon a huge manga convention, caught the sunset from a serene island park, and nearly became stranded and homeless in Tokyo the day before New Years Eve.

I arrived at my hostel located in a small alley in Tokyo and settled in. It was nice to finally get out of the sweltering heat and humidity of Southeast Asia and I was glad there was a laundromat just outside where I could wash all my clothes. Doing laundry on the road was an interesting mini game because I never knew when or where I would get a chance to wash my clothes next.

After a much needed nap I made my way out to nearby Roppongi Tower for a view of the city. I made a goal for myself to snap a skyline photo in every major city I visited and Tokyo was one I was looking forward to seeing. It did not disappoint.

I stumbled into the Mori Art Exhibit after I left the city viewing deck. I'm not much of an art person but I was there already and I figured it would be interesting to walk through and experience all the odd contemporary art exhibits here.

Another day I wandered around the city to see what I could find. Found a nice spacious park with some temples inside, although at this point I was pretty tired of looking at temples, because after 4 months and countless temples they all just start looking the same. People watching, especially at tourist destinations never gets old though.

I explored the Akihabara district of Tokyo that's famous for anime stuff. I'm not a huge anime person and it was staggering to the senses walking through it. Everything had some anime character on it, electronic music blaring out of shops, and there were buildings packed to the brim with people playing arcade games of every type. I also met up with some friends from back home that happened to here on vacation and tried my hand at some of the arcade games. Seeing familiar faces on the other side of the world, unplanned, made the world feel really small.

I wanted to see a view of Tokyo during the day, so I went up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a free birds eye view. I read that the Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and it was really apparent from up here, with buildings densely packed as far as the eye can see.

Within a few days I became really familiar with the train and subway system that crisscrossed through Tokyo. Pictured here is the area outside Tokyo Station, it was immaculate. I have never seen any city big or small that was this clean.

My last day in Tokyo was my most eventful. I went out to a huge manga convention that happened to be going on called Comiket, which my friend had told me about the day before. Even though I haven't read any manga, I figured it would be really cool to experience it. As I got near the convention, I realized the scale of this convention: every street crossing was overflowing with people cosplaying or with hands full of swag.

Now I can say I've attended Comiket 95.

I have never seen so many people packed into one place. It was just a massive blob of humans flowing through the convention. There was no room to go where you wanted so you just had to move with the crowd.

I left Comiket shortly after and walked a couple blocks down the street towards a park called Daiba Park. Every street in the city felt so clean, nice, well designed and taken care of. I have also never see a waterway in the middle of a dense urban area so blue and clean.

Got to Daiba Park and it felt like a completely different world. It's hard to believe that this peaceful and empty park is in the middle of one of the most populated cities in the world, and that an hour ago I was in the middle of the chaotically packed Comiket.

Caught the sunset over the city from this serene island park. It was a beautiful place to just slow down and take it all in. I remember my most prominent thought was that I could not believe I was here: having been on the road constantly for 4 months now and finding myself here in this beautiful little park on the other side of the world, in the middle of Tokyo, watching the sunset.

Afterwards I caught a ferry across the water back towards Tokyo Station. I was forced to head out of Tokyo because my hostel booking ended that day. I had tried to extend my booking or find another accommodation in the city because I wanted to stay over New Years. But I grossly underestimated the New Years demand in Tokyo and I discovered that the entire city was booked. The only thing I could find were places that were over $250/night. So I made the decision to go off the tourist path, head to Sendai, and spend New Years in a little traveler's hostel in a quieter city.

However getting out of Tokyo that night was an ordeal. I arrived at Tokyo Station in the evening hoping to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Sendai with my JR pass. However there were massive delays with the Shinkansen and the station was as packed as Comiket and egregiously backed up with frustrated passengers. After 2+ hours I somehow managed to weave my way to the platform and onto a train headed north. To my dismay, there was no room left on the train, and after walking up and down the carriages I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be on that train because every compartment was ‘reservation only’ and I did not have a reservation. However it was getting really late and if I got off that train I would have be stranded and homeless in Tokyo. So I became a stowaway and stood by the bathroom the entire way up to Sendai, hoping that nobody would come by and check my reservation.

These are photos and stories from my time in Tokyo between December 27th, 2018 - December 30th, 2018.