Check out Part 1: here
When we finally got to our Airbnb, we realized that it was still about 4 hours until our check-in time.
“Well, at least now we know where it is.”
It was still early in the morning, everything was closed, and the only people on the streets were the ones going to work. Although, to be honest, the way people dress in Japan, it seems like they’re always going to work. Or happy hour after work. There is no in-between.
Still lacking Wi-Fi or any idea where we were, we looked around us to search for a sign of where to go.
And there it was, so obvious in front of us, that it’s hard to believe it even took us that long. Luckily, the area in which we booked our Airbnb was walking distance from the Tokyo Skytree and even more luckily, is that you can see the Skytree from pretty much any location in that area. We looked up in the sky, did a quick turn, and headed towards our Northern star.
“I remember reading something about the Tokyo Skytree.”
“Oh, yeah! There’s a Starbucks on the fourth floor that gives an amazing view of the city for free, without having to go to the top.”
Say what you want about huge conglomerates, but when you’re traveling and lost, they are your best friend.
So, off we headed towards the Skytree in search of a place to sit down and relax until it was time to trek our way back to the Airbnb.
We got to the Skytree and Starbucks was a lot less easy to find than we imagined. We knew that it was on the fourth floor, in fact we could see it from where we were standing, but getting there was the trick.
Up the stairs we went with our backpacks, around the bend, up more stairs, only to find locked doors and no way to enter. Down the stairs we went, back around the bend, down more stairs and headed to find another entrance. We must’ve circled around the Skytree at least ten times, climbed 15 flights over and over again, only to be met by another locked door.
“I’ve never worked so hard for Starbucks before, this is crazy.”
We found some metal chairs outside and sat down on the ice cold seats trying to get the glimmer of sun beyond the shadows while figuring out our next move.
“Okay, one more try.”
Up the stairs, down the stairs, around the bend and through another set of doors which were now open.
We followed the little green signs signaling Starbucks and used our last bit of energy to make our way through the doors.
Once we arrived, it was glorious. Rows of empty, comfy chairs facing the large glass windows overlooking the city.
Most times when there is a place charging ridiculous money for a view, there’s often a local’s version of that same view for free. And, everyone knows that the view is always better when it’s free.
Here we were, in Starbucks, just gazing out into the crowd below us, watching them with their selfie sticks posing, jumping, and getting on the floor for the best angle. We soaked it all in, spent a few more hours just people watching, and then it was time to go.
“I think we could check in now. Let’s see if we can find it again.”
By some miracle and faint memory, we found our Airbnb and checked in.
As soon as we got inside, we took off our shoes, threw off our bags and our clothes, showered and went straight to bed.
All of the motions, new impressions, and lack of sleep left little room to think of much else.
“Just think, when we wake up, we’ll be waking up in Tokyo!”
We closed the blinds, curled up in bed, and took our first nap in Japan.
When we woke up, it was already dark. Our quick nap turned into a full day sleep and we awoke around 8pm, reenergized, hungry, and ready for more adventure.
Given our lack of research and preparation, we thought of where to go that we were sure would be open late night. Only later realizing, that there were a lot more options than we could even have imagined at that time.
So what’d we do? We headed to Shibuya: The Japanese Times Square.
Or at least that’s the description given whenever someone tries to compare. Truthfully though, it’s difficult to compare Japan to anything else. Which only becomes more apparent the more time you spend there and then the more time you spend away.
This time around, the experience felt different. After carrying the backpacks, and then walking without them, it almost felt as if we were flying.
“This feels awesome. I can walk forever like this.”
We walked to the train station, made our way to Shibuya, and arrived at the infamous crosswalk everyone talks about.
We expected it to be hectic and intimidating, but actually it was the most organized we’ve ever seen pedestrians be. The system was actually pretty genius. Instead of only allowing certain sides to cross at a given time, it allows for all the pedestrians to cross at once.
Granted, if this was in New York, people would probably be trampling over each other, pushing, and fist fights would break out, but here it was rhythmic and calm. In fact, most of the crosswalks in Japan function this exact way, it just so happens that Shibuya crossing is the most populated and therefore the most famous.
We made our way to the other side and began to roam the streets looking for a place to stop. It was a very young vibe full of very drunk people, toppling over each other, laughing, and eating. It’s not exactly our scene, but the great thing about traveling is that everything becomes your scene.
You adapt to your environment, and everything becomes fascinating to explore. Back in New York, the thought of us being out late in a crowded area surrounded by drunk people sounds like a nightmare, and yet, in Tokyo it was fun and interesting.
We’re not big drinkers anymore, but decided we needed a celebratory drink to mark our official landing in Japan and a place to warm up from the cold. After trying some different bars, we settled on one up a few narrow flights of stairs in one of the small buildings.
In Japan, everything goes up. So, all the bars, restaurants, and businesses are dispersed among the buildings on different floors.
For a foreigner, the experience could feel a little sketchy. As you make your way to the place you’re looking for, it always feels like you’re trespassing because it doesn’t seem possible that this would be an actual entrance. But, lo and behold, once you slowly push open the door, it’s actually just the place you were looking for.
We were greeted by a warm energy and an empty room. Just how we like it. We sat at the bar and started practicing our Japanese from the phrasebook I downloaded on our bartender.
It was our second experience conversing with someone we couldn’t understand and vice versa and it was just as pleasant as the first time. It really makes you realize how real communication happens even when no sentences are exchanged or understood.
Sometimes energy speaks louder than any words ever could.
He gave us two shots of Shochu, their traditional drink usually made of rice, barley or sweet potato and it was delicious. It immediately warmed us up even more and we were ready to continue exploring.
We bowed gracefully, thanked him, and went on our way.
After a little bit of walking and working up even more of an appetite, we found the only restaurant with an English menu with nothing that could crawl in the pictures.
We headed downstairs this time, on a spiral staircase surrounded by hundreds of books and CD albums from all over the world. Once again, the place was nearly empty with only one young Japanese couple sitting on the other side. We ordered whatever we could recognize from the menu and sat and enjoyed the vibe.
The only real downside to any of the experiences is that no matter where you go, there will undoubtedly be people smoking cigarettes inside. And, for two people who don’t smoke, it could be quite uncomfortable. But, once again, when traveling, your mindset is more adaptable. Even the things that would normally drive you nuts become only a mild irritation.
Hazy tobacco smoke aside, we enjoyed gazing over at the couple from time to time. Their mannerisms and even the way they speak is so fascinating. They’re so kind, polite, and respectful that it was like being in a museum and observing a reenactment of some previous era in time.
As they spent minutes in silence just staring at each other, and the other time just laughing and holding their hands over their mouths, we were filled with joy from something so unfamiliar.
They kept getting food brought to them that made us wonder about their magic metabolisms. And then we watched them exchange large, beautifully wrapped gifts in the most authentic way I’ve ever seen.
We got so caught up in the moment, the music, and the atmosphere that we completely forgot about the time.
“I think we just missed the last train.”
“There’s a last train? Shouldn’t they run all night?”
I don’t know what made me think they would, I mean, even in the city that never sleeps, the trains stop running. So what made me think Tokyo would be any different?
It was a little after 1am, the next train wasn’t for another four hours, and we were once again stuck, tired, and cold with nowhere to go.
There was the option of a cab, but it wasn’t an option for us. Aside from trying to be as low-budget as possible, it just seemed like a complete cop-out.
“It’s okay. We’ll make the most of it!”
“What better place to be stuck out all night than in Shibuya? It’ll be a first night to remember for sure!”
To be continued…