Name: Sarah Basford
Place Travelled: Tokyo & surrounding areas
What was your favourite city and why?
Kamakura. I was pretty devastated that I couldn’t see much of Japan outside of Tokyo due to money and time restrictions. Luckily for me, a quick Google informed me that Kamakura is a great substitute for those who can’t make it down to Kyoto (old Japan). It’s a great escape from the skyscrapers of Tokyo and gives you an insight into what the rest of Japan is like or used to be like. It’s a really small city but don’t expect to walk it because small cities in Japan are still pretty damn huge. I hired an electric bike which meant I barely had to peddle and I could get from famous temples to shrines in 5 – 10minutes instead of 30 minute walks.
There is a beautiful central temple in the city, Hasedera Temple, which is a great place to start and features delicious Japanese street food like mitarashi dango which is something rice-y (I still don’t know) covered in sweet soy sauce on a stick. It’s bloody delicious.
Five items that were absolute must have on your trip to Tokyo?
1. Disposable heat packs in the winter (you can buy bulk for super cheap in general stores) and they help with the freeze. A fan in summer because it is the worst kind of muggy you can think of.
2. An app of Tokyo’s metro system because it is extremely complex and confusing to the simple gaijin. I recommend ‘Tokyo Metro Subway Map and Route Planner’ because getting lost is hard when using that.
3. Suica or Pasmo metro card. Okay, so this is another Tokyo Metro thing, but it is completely vital if you want to navigate the city with relative ease. It’s basically the Opal card except there are two because Tokyo has multiple rail companies that operate different lines. Luckily, from my experience, the cards are interchangeable so either one will do.
4. Cold, hard cash. Tokyo seriously hasn’t caught on to the whole concept of being cashless economy and very few places (except the airport) will accept your plastics.
5. A kanji symbol translator. In my naivety, I assumed there would always be English translations for most things, but this really isn’t the case. Memorise the kanji for hot and cold, because it really will make the difference when you’re ordering your ramen or using the shower.
Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled in Tokyo?
I don’t think there are many sites or activities less travelled in Tokyo but there were definitely some places that featured very few tourists. On one day, we went to the older districts of Nezu and Nippori which felt very different from the newer sections of Tokyo. We accidentally walked into Yanaka Cemetery which, even in winter, was quite beautiful and unique.
#TBT to the weirdest thing to happen to you on the trip?
We were returning from a big day of seeing TWO mountains; Mt Fuji and Mt Takao (which btw, aren’t geographically that close) and looking for a place to eat close to where we were staying. Everything seemed to be closed in our dark little suburb of Setagaya-ku until we saw a small glimpse of light peeping from a pretty closed-looking store front. We opened the door to a very small establishment that could probably legally hold 5 people. There were at least 10 people all squished in, laughing and drinking next to a heater radiating an immense amount of heat. The man at the door yelled “Gaijin!!” at us so we awkwardly backed out. It looked like more like a family dinner than a bar, but they (forcibly) invited us in. We then spent the next two hours of our life ordering beers and gyoza and having broken conversations with drunken Japanese men in what felt like an actual sauna (…talking like 35 degrees when it’s 5 degrees outside).
It was totally out of my comfort zone, but it was definitely the most memorable WTF moment of the trip.
Lesson: Force yourself to deal with the weirdest scenarios because they will make great stories later if you decide to write a memoir.
Mandatory student austerity question: What was the budget like?
Tokyo is no longer in the top ten most expensive cities (for 2016 at least), but it still isn’t cheap. You can probably get away with spending $30 a day for eating and $10 a day on public, but if you want to visit a butler or cat café, expect that daily expenditure to rise. Saying that, it’s no New York or London so most students who have saved a responsible amount should be able to visit Tokyo comfortably.
The best thing about Tokyo and maybe just Japan is just the convenience of food. Even in the middle of nowhere, there are vending machines which offer warm and cold drinks and sometimes even small snacks for very reasonable prices. So if you’re trying to skip lunch before that mountain walk just to save some money, you can at least grab a warm coffee can and a light snack for about 500 yen (about $5 to $6).
Unfortunately, travelling intercity is another thing you’ll have to throw wads of cash at though. Japan Rail is very pricey, but they do offer weekly and monthly rail passes similar to Europe which make traversing the country more convenient and slightly more economical.
#Foodbucketlist: Best eats?
Don’t get me wrong, sushi is great but it doesn’t really get me to that happy place like ramen does. I basically only ate ramen everyday (ten days) because it was winter and I don’t get sick of it. So if you’re a #1 ramen fan like me, this will be your nirvana. If you like seafood, this will also be your jam, but as I mentioned, I only ate ramen so I’m gonna write about that.
Tokyo is famous for shoyu ramen which is a soy-based broth and is objectively delicious. There are, however, a multitude of ramen types found in Tokyo and if you’re more into miso-based ramen or the actual god of all ramen, tonkotsu, then Tokyo has got you covered. I found that tsukemen has also become extremely popular which is basically just a bowl of noodles and a bowl of dipping ramen. Anyway, I should probably stop dragging on about ramen, because I could probably write an academic essay about it.
What advice would you give to other people who are traveling?
· Go forever and go everywhere.
· Spend as much time in each city as you can. There’s so much to do and one or two days won’t cut it.
· If you have hayfever, learn how to sniffle like the locals or take heaps of hayfever tabs because using a tissue to blow your nose is super disrespectful (it was a sad ten days for me).
· Take advantage of all the high-tech stuff because you probably won’t see it in Australia for another 15 years.
· Enjoy trains being on time, all the time. Returning to Sydney Trains gave me many sad feels.
My travel mantra is…
Do whatever the hell you want (as long as it’s legal and respectful) and don’t let people tell you it’s uncool to go touristy areas. I loved Shibuya and Harajuku and idgaf what that says about me.