I arrived back at Narita International Airport in Japan as Typhoon Lan was unleashing its fury across almost the entire nation. Thankfully the weather wasn’t bad enough yet to delay or cancel my flight from Busan but it was very wet at Narita when I landed and the forecast called for the rain to grow increasingly intense as the typhoon bore down upon the region. While I can handle heavy rain just fine it would mean my main camera would be kept largely out of action until the rain stopped, so there won’t be many photos to view until you get to the lower half of today’s post At the immigration and customs checkpoint I had my backpack inspected but otherwise I had no issues and was able to quickly make my way through the airport. Interestingly, my flights in Asia had worked out such that I had visited all three terminals at Narita—when I flew in from America I landed at Terminal 2, when I flew from Sapporo to Tokyo I landed at Terminal 3, and when I flew from Busan to Tokyo I landed at Terminal 1. It wasn’t part of my plans, but I had become quite familiar with this airport. Once I picked up my pocket wifi device from the airport post office I made my down to the basement to catch a train to Tokyo. I had three nights in the city and then my journey across Japan and Korea would come to an end.
From Narita I took a Skyliner train to Nippori Station in Tokyo and then transferred to the Yamanote Line, which I rode down to Hamamatsucho Station. For my final three nights in Tokyo I had rented out an entire apartment on AirBnB in the Minato District, about half a mile southeast Zojo-ji Temple. Like my apartment in Busan, the place had enough room to comfortably hold at least four people but I would have it all to myself. Unlike my apartment in Busan, however, I forgot to take any photos of it so I can’t show you what it looked like. It was pretty nice and would be a calm, relaxing place to stay at the end of my journey. As a nice bonus, my host had left me a large umbrella that would be very helpful while the typhoon continued to unload a massive amount of water in the city. I still had the Umbrella of Constantine with me and it would have been sufficient to get me through the storm, but that larger umbrella was a nice upgrade. After I unpacked my backpack and did some organizing I went first to a nearby 7-Eleven to withdraw some money and then paid a visit to the neighborhood grocery store to buy some food.
Once all that housekeeping business was out of the way it was early evening and I had a little debate in my head about what to do next. I felt like heading out, even with the rain, but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. A minute later I settled on what most people would consider a rather unorthodox activity for a Saturday night: going to church. I knew I was probably going to sleep in the next morning so a Saturday evening service seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Online I found a church with English services called Tokyo Baptist Church over in the Shibuya District, just a bit west of Minato. It took me awhile to get there—I first took the train to Shibuya Station and then had to navigate the narrow city roads for half a mile on foot—but I eventually arrived at the front door just in time for the 7:00pm service. The pastor was preaching from the third chapter of the book of James that night and the worship music was the modern variety that’s more popular with the younger generation these days. Afterwards I talked to a couple of congregants and found them to be very friendly. While the pastor and a few other people at the church were Westerners, the vast majority of attendees were of various Asian ethnicities and I was told by one of the congregants that the church has quite a few Chinese and Filipino members.
When I exited the church the rain was still coming down and as I walked towards Shibuya Station I noticed that the clouds were getting low enough that they were engulfing the upper levels of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. That gave me an idea and when I got back to the Minato District I hurried over to Tokyo Tower. Sure enough, the low clouds had swallowed the top of the tower and the large yellow light at the top now almost looked like a flame burning in the clouds. I wasn’t willing to bring out my main camera in the rain but I got a couple of half-decent photos with my phone. It was a cool sight, though I wish the rain had stopped for a moment for me to get a better photo. I then returned to the apartment to eat dinner and spend the rest of the night uploading photos to social media and doing some other work on my phone.
The next morning I didn’t get up until 9:00am. It’s rare for me to sleep in when I’m traveling abroad, but with the typhoon still delivering a torrential downpour that was going to last all day long I didn’t feel any particular urge to be productive. I took a really slow pace that morning and made use of the apartment’s washing machine while I was lounging around. Had I stayed at a hostel I would have had to leave at some point for the cleaning staff to come through, but because I was renting an apartment I could potentially stay inside all day and wait out the storm. I did intending on heading out that day, but was in no hurry to do so.
It was a little after noon when I finally walked out of the apartment. I figured I might as well spend the rest of the day traveling around the city by train and metro and looking for some gifts for friends and family. My first destination was the shopping center at the Tokyo Skytree. It took quite a while to get there but I was able to find a manga for a friend of mine at one of the stores in the shopping center. The manga was in Japanese and my friend can’t read or speak Japanese, but he loved the anime adaptation of this manga and it seemed like a good gift for him. Once I paid for the manga I put it in my daypack and then returned to the metro station to head to my next destination, though it took a few extra minutes to get back there because I took a wrong turn on the way.
A metro and train ride brought me next to Akihabara, where I’d end up spending the rest of the afternoon. I had visited Akihabara during my first stay in Tokyo but this time I checked out more of the stores there. Among other things, I saw a lot of toys and figurines for sale and a few times briefly considering buying one or two. I’m not a toy or figurine collector, but there were some really cool things on display. While going from store to store I noted several items that could possibly work as gifts but nothing really grabbed me as a sure pick. My sister had given me a list of a few manga to keep an eye out for and I browsed through some manga shops but didn’t find what I was looking for. If I could read Japanese it would have made things easier.
My last shopping destination for the day was Character Street in the basement level of Tokyo Station. There I found a possible gift for my sister but I decided to hold off on buying anything in case I found something better. Before leaving Tokyo to get to Narita Airport I would have to come back to Tokyo Station anyways, so if I came up empty-handed again the next day then I’d simply stop by Character Street on my way to the airport.
The rain still hadn’t stopped when I returned to the apartment in the evening and I stayed inside for remainder of the day. With nothing better to do, I made use of my host’s Amazon Prime account and watched some Japanese TV and movies. One of the things I checked out was the Japanese version of Big O, an anime I watched when I was in college. Ideally I would have done something more engaging that night, but it was kind of nice to just lounge around for several hours before going to bed. It had been a long time since I had last spent an evening loafing on a couch.
At some point during the night the rain finally stopped and I awoke to find the skies steadily clearing. The past two days had been a nonstop downpour but now it was strangely calm after the storm. I sent a few messages to my cousin who lives in the Hiro-o neighborhood and we agreed to have breakfast in Shibuya. We met up at the Hachinko Statue and then walked over to a cafe that my cousin liked to eat at. I had a breakfast sandwich and afterwards I helped my cousin do some Halloween shopping. Although Halloween is predominantly a Western holiday it’s apparently been becoming more popular in Japan over the past decade or two. A friend of mine who had previously lived in Korea had also mentioned to me on social media that Halloween is steadily growing in popularity over there too and if I had been in Asia for longer it would have been interesting to see what Halloween looked like in either Tokyo or Seoul.
When we wrapped up Halloween shopping we returned to Shibuya Station and got on a Yamanote train going north. My cousin exited the train at Harajuku but I stayed on and continued north to Ikebukuro Station. The Ikebukuro neighborhood is an up-and-coming part of Tokyo and has its own area that’s kind of like a smaller version of Akihabara, but not as weird or touristy. Among the manga stores there I finally tracked down one of the manga my sister had told me to look for and with my quest now complete I would no longer be the guy awkwardly searching through the girls’ section of manga stores. This manga was probably available in Akihabara, but in Ikebukuro I had at last figured out the proper way to search for titles by author and publisher, so even though I couldn’t read Japanese I now knew where to look. The sun was shining brightly as I stepped back out onto the streets of Ikebukuro and I knew it was time for my main camera to emerge from my daypack and start capturing photos again. I snapped a few shots of Ikebukuro and then walked back to the train station. When I got to the station I was feeling parched since I had forgotten to bring a water bottle with me that day. Japan’s numerous vending machines had me covered, of course, and one of the ones at the train station had a variety of milk tea that I had never tried before, so I bought that and drank it on the train.
From Ikebukuro I went south back down to Harajuku Station to visit the Meiji Shrine again. The shrine was just as busy as when I had visited it in September but now the weather was nicer and a new outdoor exhibit had been set up on the pathway leading to the shrine. A whole bunch of miniature landscapes dioramas were on display, along with a lot of flowers. I don’t know what the exhibit was for but I was impressed by what I saw. When I got to main part of the Meiji Shrine I found it was still covered over for restoration work like it had been last time though I could see a few priests moving around in the rear of the shrine. When I was finished there I accidentally took a wrong turn and wound up on the path to the northeast exit rather than the primary entrance on the east side, but once I realized my mistake I was able to just loop back and get where I needed to go.
It was now the late afternoon when I exited the Meiji Shrine grounds and before moving on from the region I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look at nearby Harajuku. Takeshita Street was as crowded as ever but this time I detoured to one of the side streets running parallel to it and found a completely different world. Whereas Takeshita Street was noisy and packed, the side streets were fairly quiet and had hardly anyone walking around on them. What a difference a mere 80 feet can make. If you decide to visit Harajuku and need a little break from the crowds all you need to do is walk away for a few seconds and you can easily find a calm place. I took some photos of the side streets before returning to crowds and on my way out of Harajuku I stopped to get a tasty crepe. That was probably a very touristy thing to do, but I have no regrets about satisfying my sweet tooth.
For my last bit of sightseeing that day I took a long ride out to Odaiba Island in Tokyo’s harbor. It was getting dark when I arrived and I made my way to the life-sized Gundam statue that’s next to the Diver City shopping center. While I’m not actually a fan of the Gundam anime or manga, there’s an old joke between myself and a good friend of mine about how I’m actually a Gundam pilot and I wanted to get some photos of the giant Gundam statue before I left Tokyo. The statue looks really good at night with its lights turned on, though I wish I had arrived on Odaiba earlier in the day so that I could have explored more of the island. Right by the statue is the Gundam Cafe and I bought a small gift for my brother there since I remembered that he was a fan of the Gundam Wing anime when we were younger. A cold wind was starting to blow as I left the area by the statue and started walking northwards in the general direction of the Rainbow Bridge that connects Odaiba to the main part of Tokyo. From the north shore of Odaiba I took a photo of Rainbow Bridge with the Tokyo skyline in the background. In the far distance I could even see the Skytree.
I took a train across the harbor to the Minato District and then walked through town back to the apartment. There weren’t a lot of people walking around the neighborhood that night and I was surprised at how few cars were on the roads, but then again it was a Monday night so I guess it made sense that hardly anyone was out and about. When I reached the apartment I unloaded my daypack and originally I was thinking about going to a nearby restaurant that was highly rated online but when I checked its hours I saw it was closed on Mondays, so instead I just finished off most of the leftovers in my refrigerator. That night I loaded up my backpack as much as possible to save time in the morning and I uploaded some final photos to social media. As I went to bed I could feel the end of the journey was nearly upon me.
The next morning I began what was quite literally the longest Tuesday of my life. I’d be flying out of Japan at 5:25pm that evening and when I arrived in America it would be 11:25am on the same day. With most of my packing have been done the night before I had a little extra time in the morning to enjoy the apartment and not be in a crazy rush to get everything in order. At around 8:30am I slung my backpack onto my shoulders and left the apartment behind as I set out for Tokyo Station. When I got there I found a locker to store my belongings for the day, minus my camera and daypack. I had just a few hours left in Tokyo—enough for two or three last minute bits of sightseeing.
First on the agenda was a tour of the Imperial Palace grounds. This was something that I had meant to do during my initial visit to Tokyo in September but you have to make a reservation for the tour and all the slots were booked during the days I was there. The Imperial Palace is directly west of Tokyo Station so I cut through the station and then walked right over to the meeting area for the tour. There was an informational video playing in the hall where me and all the other people on the tour were waiting and before the tour got started we were all given lanyards with tour badges attached to them. The tour then began and we were taken around sections of the Imperial Palace that are normally not open to the public. I didn’t see the emperor, but I did see where he lives. Overall the tour was fairly interesting but it’s not something that I’d say is a high priority for people visiting Tokyo. If you’ve got extra time by all means take the tour but don’t feel bad if you’re not able to.
When the tour was over I originally was thinking on getting on the metro to go elsewhere but when I checked the map on my phone I saw that Japan’s National Diet Building was in the area and I decided to walk over to it. The Diet is Japan’s parliament and it took me a little longer to get there than it should have because I accidentally walked in the wrong direction as I left the Imperial Palace but thankfully I caught myself before getting far. I had to get a photo of the Diet Building through the security gate, as one might expect of a government building, and this was the one place in Tokyo where I saw a significant police presence. Japan is a very safe country but they do take the security of their parliament seriously and there were cops all over that place.
I then took the metro over to Roppongi to take in a final observation deck view of the city. In September I had captured the nighttime view from Roppongi so now it was time to get the daytime perspective. It was a cloudy day but the view from up the top of the tower was still good. I lingered as long as I could, hoping that time would somehow slow down and allow me to stay longer. Soon, however, I had to leave and start on my way back to Tokyo Station.
For my final meal in Tokyo I looked at Google Maps and saw that there was a Shake Shack right by Roppongi. I had only had a meal at Shake Shack one time in the past, namely in 2015 when I was in Istanbul, and I decided right then and there that I would only eat at Shake Shack when I was overseas, and never in America. Unfortunately when I got to the Roppongi Shake Shack I found that it was closed for renovation, however there was another one close to Tokyo Station so I took the metro there and then went the rest of the way on foot. My experience at a Tokyo Shake Shack was better than the one I had in Istanbul, but my opinion on this chain has now been solidified in that I think the food is tasty but wildly overpriced. The shakes in particular are way too small for the price you pay.
With my little fast-food escape complete, I hurried back to Tokyo Station and grabbed my backpack from the locker. I loaded my daypack and camera into it and then proceeded to the bus station right outside. Previously I had taken the train between Narita and Tokyo so I thought I’d do something a little different and take the bus this time. The bus ride was slower than the train, but it was also cheaper and I got some new scenery that I hadn’t seen on the train.
At Narita Airport I didn’t have any issues with immigration or security and was soon on my way to the gate for my flight home to America. To get rid of my remaining yen coins I bought some snacks from a convenience store and then I also purchased three boxes of mochi to bring back to my family. I believe the Japanese word for this sort of small food gift is “omiyage.” Once I was at the gate there was nothing to do but wait for the time to board, which arrived exactly on time, like everything else in Japan. After I took my seat I found myself just staring out the window as the plane slowly advanced towards the runway, took off, and then left Japan behind. The journey across Japan and Korea had been a great one and it was kind of sad to be seeing it end. In my wallet I still had a ¥1,000 bill that I hadn’t spent. It’s something of a tradition of mine to have leftover money in my wallet when I fly back to America and that tradition continued on this journey to Asia. The first time this happened in 2012 it was unintentional and I was disappointed that I had forgotten about the €10 bill in my wallet, but later I came to see this sort of thing as a down payment on a future trip. That ¥1,000 bill is still with me at my house and it serves as my promise to myself to one day return to Japan. I don’t know when that next trip will happen, but as I’ve written out these travelogue posts and reviewed photos from the journey it’s clear that Japan and Korea haven’t seen the last of me.