Finally finally finally I made it to summer break! And by break I mean we had about a week and a half off from work, which is a far cry from the summer vacations I’m used to with American schools… but I still intended to make every minute of it count!
I have a friend who was brave enough to make the long journey out to this foreign land to see the sights. They brought me a wonderful care package (okay, so I bought some things online from Walmart and had them sent to their house to bring with them, but its still a care package!) Among the goodies were cereal, face creams, spices, and my life blood – peanut butter. I almost cried. Its always the small things that make us the happiest.
The break started with us exploring Toyohashi and all it had to offer for two days: all it’s three things, Mega Don Quijote (cross between a Walmart/supermarket/Best Buy/Dollar Store), Toyohashi Park, and my preschool. So we took our time exploring Toyohashi, walking around my now familiar and me playing tour guide. I got to show off my navigational skills and not once took out my GPS to check directions. (Pretty proud of that. I don’t ride around aimlessly on my bike on the weekends for nothing!)
Then it was time to leave for the real vacation: Tokyo!
Tokyo will always hold a special place in my heart. Back in 2016 I took my first solo backpacking trip to Tokyo (probably against the better wishes of my parents). Looking back, that trip kind of changed the trajectory of my life and I will forever be grateful (and in awe of) the bravery that overcame me to get on that airplane alone. So whenever I’m in Tokyo, I can’t help but remember the me that was in complete amazement at walking those streets alone for the first time.
There were sunburned necks, blistered toes, and gallons of sweat lost, but I wasn’t about to let those small things stop me from exploring the endless alleyways, restaurants, and temples! Heat or not, this was my vacation and I wasn’t about to spend it sitting down, (heads up future travel partners, I don’t sit still for very long on vacations…)
I (tried) to get us exploring each neighborhood to their fullest, but the heat and his pal humidity were fierce opponents, and together they were an indomitable force for my travel companion (who preferred the solace of the air conditioning in the afternoons). So each evening I went back out in search of dinner and to watch the street come to life as the city prepared itself for the evening. Cities are a different animal at night, the lights, sounds, smells, colors, and energy all just change. It’s wonderful.
This trip was my third time visiting that crazy metropolis, and by now I was pretty comfortable in my role as tour guide extraordinaire. We bounced around all week to the different neighborhoods that make up the metropolis that is Tokyo. We saw the neon street signs of Shinjuku, the Scramble Crossing in Shibuya, the mega shopping mall of Odaiba, the funky winding streets of Harajuku, the ritziness of Ginza, and the old world charm of Asakusa; I love them all! I especially love how Tokyo combines the traditional with new. There are beautiful temples, parks, and memorials that stand in stark contrast to the high rise apartments, skyscrapers, and radio towers that dot the skyline.
I even got a chance to explore one of the “up and coming, trendy” suburbs of Tokyo, a neighborhood called Kichijoji. I’ve never been before and I fell in love with it a little bit. Nice walkable downtown area, some good food and shopping, a big park/green space, and about a half hour train ride outside of Tokyo. It was my kind of place!
But time to talk about food. On my previous trips to Tokyo, I was all about eating as much authentic Japanese food as possible before I had to fly home, but this time my taste buds craved something else: “western food”. Tastes of home. Thankfully Tokyo is a big enough city that they have some restaurants and flavors I can’t find in tiny Toyohashi.
I still had the required amount of rice, raw fish, and noodles too, don’t worry, but the allure of Japanese foods has changed since I now have easier access to it.
I was lucky this trip. I found a taco bar for lunch (6.5/10), it was all you could eat but the meat was pretty flavorless. But still, sometimes you just need a lot of mediocre tacos! A burrito for dinner, (7.5/10) would eat there again, much better flavor. An American BBQ place where I had a pulled pork sandwich, bonus, it came with french fries! Not bad, (7.5/10), it definitely hit the spot. And chocolate chip cookies from a bakery chain I first found in London called Ben’s Cookies (9.5/10, I haven’t had a real choco chip cookie since March and it’s been killing me). And finally, pancakes for breakfast twice, which could definitely have used some more chocolate chips (by my metrics, but the chef didn’t ask me… 9/10), but nonetheless were still very very tasty pancakes!
There was also copious amounts of ice cream consumed. The whole week the temps hovered around the 90’s, plus another 10 degrees with the humidity, so obviously ice cream was a necessary (and sometimes daily snack.) My personal two favorites come to you in three colors; purple, orange, and green. The first was a soft serve mix of purple sweet potato and mango and the second was an ultra matcha green tea ice cream. The matcha one was from this tiny shop called Nanaya, which specialized in green tea ice cream and chocolate (heavenly combo) and they had seven ‘levels’ of matcha ice cream available. Level one having the lowest concentration of matcha and level seven having the highest. Naturally, it being vacation and all, I had to try the one with the highest matcha concentration. Matcha sort of tastes like grass, which is why some people don’t like it, but I love the stuff and will eat it in any form, ice cream being one of my favorites. Was the tiny cup worth almost $6? Not really, but it was vacation so I splurged! Also, not ice cream, but I went to my favorite bakery, Antique Hearth Bakery (what a name), and bought this cute little donut filled custard pastry thing because I have a weakness for donuts… and custard. It did not disappoint!
One highlight was finally visiting Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city about 40 minutes south of Tokyo. Japan’s largest Chinatown lives here, as well as a big port waterfront area with beautiful walking paths, an aquarium, a ferris wheel, some cool shops, and a botanical garden. The baseball stadium is right around the corner and if I had planned better, I might have gone to see a Japanese ball game! Next time… But this trip coincided with a Pokemon festival in the city park and of course I had to see it. There was a performance of 50 dancing Pikachu’s and let me tell you, watching that many giant waddling Pikachu’s make a kick line was definitely the highlight of my trip! And if you think I didn’t elbow my way through a crowd of parents and children to get a good spot, then you’re wrong, because I totally wormed my way to the front around many strollers.
Will I go back? You better believe it. There are still so many restaurants, temples, malls, and alleyways I haven’t tried or explored yet! Plus, the city is constantly putting out seasonal “pop up” cafes and exhibits that I can’t plan for. As crazy and overwhelming as Tokyo is, it’s still my happy place. Maybe next time I won’t wait for a long break, maybe I’ll treat myself to a spontaneous weekend trip and just get on a train and go one morning. Who knows? What’s the point in being here if I can’t explore!