I received a scholarship from the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation for my study abroad year in Japan. They organized an event in Tokyo for us to get to know other scholars, network with representatives, and listen to a talk sponsored by Temple’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies. The speaker, Professor Akiko Hashimoto, is a sociologist whose special interests include culture and power, war memory, and national identity. Her topic was “Something Dreadful Happened in the Past: Generational Memory of War and Peace in Japan,” which was about a book that she wrote.
I did not have to attend this event, but it was a good opportunity to go to Tokyo and talk to other students that are going through similar experiences. I missed my class on Thursday in order for me to have the opportunity to explore the area before the event, as well as to not have to take the Shinkansen and spend $140 both ways.
Now, originally, GoogleMaps told me I could get there for $40 and back for $60, which included all the trains, subways, and buses I would need to take, as well as the night bus which was the primary method of transportation.
However, I got lost looking for the first bus, and missed it. So, someone told me to go to Osaka-Station (Umeda) and get a bus from there. I did not really understand everything they told me to do, but once I got to Osaka-Station, I asked some other people how to get a bus ticket. I ended up at the JR Station and got someone to point me in the right direction from there. I got a bus ticket for 3,500 yen, so about $35 to get there, so still cheaper than the Shinkansen, but more than I originally planned.
The bus departed around 11:00 and I arrived in Tokyo around 7:30. It was not a bad ride at all, in my opinion. I had two seats to myself and a curtain blocked my side off from the other side, so I was able to have my own personal space. Also, the seats reclined so I was able to sleep fairly well, despite the bus stopping about 8 times along the way.
Finally, I get to the Tokyo area! Technically, Shinjuku. My first stop is Starbucks! I was hungry and needed some caffeine to survive the first part of the day.
In Tokyo, people were more impressed by my horrible Japanese, than people around campus have been. Ordering from the menu at Starbucks is really not that big of a feat, with the menu basically in English– granted Katakana, Japanese-English, but regardless, not the most complicated task. Yet, the barista complimented my Japanese… In response, I choked on my latte.
After that, because I was afraid of getting lost on the subway lines, I decided to see if there was anything nearby that I could do. I saw that the National Stadium where the 1964 Olympics were held were nearby. I wanted to see the stadium, so I decided to try to walk there. It was supposed to be a 35 minute walk from the Starbucks, but it ended up being close to an hour after getting turned around several times. Finally, I found it…
Or I think I found it… But…
I think because of the 2020 Olympics, construction is all I was able to see. However, I still spent a good amount of time looking around this area. A security guard at one point started to approach me as I stood on the grass watching some construction near a small soccer field… I assume it is because I was on the grass, but maybe it was nothing at all. I walked away before he could say anything to me.
Then, I began my search for something more interesting to do, still nearby, I wasn’t feeling super adventurous just yet.
However, after walking and walking I became tired and wanted to rest. Let me point out the fact, I was carrying a book bag which had a reading book, a change of clothes and shoes, a blanket, neck pillow, and toiletry items in it– okay, it could have been heavier, but I am weak, and I was exhausted. So, I decided to head closer to the event area and see what was around there. I was glad I did so!
After taking the subway I was close to a Snoopy Museum which I originally planned to go to first. However, I got lost and ended up around here:
Tired, but content with finding Asahi-TV, I decided to walk around the garden and watch a movie in Japanese at the neighboring movie theatre.
The movie was okay…weird plot, and seemed to encourage teacher-student relationships, but I got to rest my feet and try to practice my Japanese, so it was a good experience. Plus, I really wanted to go see a movie at a theatre in Japan. After working at a movie theatre, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is to compare how movie theaters operate, I am sure I will talk more about that another post.
After that, I wanted to check out the Tokyo observation point and what was supposed to be an art museum, or art gallery. However, I couldn’t find it, or was unimpressed that I did not notice that I was there. Although here, the signs were in English as well as in Japanese, if you are directionally challenged, as I am, it is very easy to not find what you are looking for. So, after wandering around for a bit, it was off to the Snoopy Museum I go! Again, I took a couple wrong streets, but ended up successfully finding it!
In Japan Snoopy is a very popular icon, at least compared to in the United States. This museum seemed extremely popular, their tickets seemed to only allow people in at designated times. Maybe because I did not understand the Japanese, or maybe they were not so busy on a Thursday, I was able to go in right away, which was great! Of course, since I was there, I had to eat at the cafe, and I ate pancakes (for a late lunch, by then it was 2:45).
After the museum, I decided to walk towards Temple University, where the networking event was going to take place and thought once I found it I could find something nearby to sit down at– such as a cafe, or bookstore. Well, I found bookstores, but there were no chairs and I could not find any cafes around. So, instead I ended up wandering around looking for some bench to sit at. Japan does not really have benches, unless it is at a bus stop or a park. Therefore, I had to look for a park. I ended up finally finding one and I sat there for a bit reading my book.
If I was a bit better with directions, or traveling with my non- directionally challenged friends, I feel like I would have enjoyed my time more and done more. However, after getting lost before even reaching Tokyo, I was not up for the challenge navigating the streets solo. Despite all that, it was a very good experience for me!
After the event I took the same subway back to the Shinjuku station area, then I tried to buy a ticket for the bus I wanted, but they were sold out! So, I had to get on a later and slightly more expensive bus. It still got me where I wanted to go, but again, I was sad about having to cough up more money.
My advice for travel:
- Make sure to buy overnight bus tickets in advance (at least from Shinjuku area to Osaka, apparently it is a very popular route)
- Plan out more about where you want to go and study the map, as well as making sure that the place you want to go will be open when you get there.
- Most of all though, be flexible! Things will most likely not work out 100% the way you want them too, but the more worked up you get, the harder it will become to navigate a new area.
- For me, solo-travel is not as fun. Big group travel for me is also stressful. However, with a small group (my definition of small is ~3-8), I think that it can be a lot of fun.
That being said, I am looking forward to my next overnight travel experience, most likely with friends!