Like the rest of our time here in Tokyo, week 4 was jam-packed with new experiences and amazing sights. From having a tough day navigating the crazy Japanese subway system to finding a bit of Texas in Tokyo, it’s hard to describe every single thing we’ve done and seen. Here are five highlights from our past week that stood out from the pack.
To unwind from the constant hustle and bustle of Tokyo, we decided to take the subway to the end of the line for a day of hiking in the Unazawa area. The area is full of steep mountains, winding rivers, and tall, imposing forests. To get there was a bit of a pain in the neck though. We originally thought that we would have to change at two subway stops and then it would be smooth sailing for two hours. At one point in our journey, I realized that the train we were riding had switched directions and was going back the way we came. Never a good sign. After that, it was a constant scramble from train to train to get where we wanted to go. 6 train changes and a missed bus later we finally arrived at our destination.
Okutama is a cute little town hidden deep in a valley. Our original plan was to hike up to Hyakuhirono falls but we were disappointed to find that the trail was closed. The adventure planning gods were just not on our side that day. Instead, we were advised to try another hiking trail up to three smaller falls. The hike out was beautiful, the scenery had some serious Spirited Away/Totoro vibes. Despite all of our time spent on difficult trails in Hawaii, the hike up the waterfall's steep sides left me out of breath. We were gasping for air as we watched a group of 70+ year old guys climbing up with ease, ouch. All three waterfalls are worth the trek, but the second one we hiked to was by far my favorite. Tucked away into a crevice it looks like it could be an awesome water slide if only it didn’t have sharp jagged rocks everywhere.
The Sushi Meal that Ruined Me
We were treated out, courtesy of Shane’s dad, to an intimate sushi lunch which has now ruined me from enjoying sushi the same way ever again. Down some dark steps to the basement of an unmarked building is Ryusuke Sushi. A super cozy space that only seats about seven with traditional Japanese minimalistic decor. Mentally and physically, I was ready for the eleven-course fancy schmancy sushi lunch. Spoiler alert, IT WAS SO GOOD. We were the first to arrive so the chef started making our meal in front of us. Although a little awkward at first, since he didn’t speak a lot of English, he was very nice and his sushi did all the talking. Piece after piece of delicious sushi came and was devoured immediately followed by glass after glass of sake. At the end, I felt like I had sushi coming out of my ears I was so stuffed. There are many delicious and more affordable places to eat, but if you are ever in Japan, I highly suggest you splurge at least once and reserve a traditional sushi meal. It’s an experience I will never forget and it’ll be hard for any sushi outing to live up to it in the future.
*Some tips to eat sushi the proper way:
-Once the chef has masterfully created a piece of sushi and puts it on your plate, eat it right away
-Don’t use chopsticks, use your hands to pick up the sushi piece. You don’t want to ruin the shape of the sushi that the chef has already created (Sashimi and ginger can be used with chopsticks)
-Once you’ve picked up the sushi piece, place the fish side down on your tongue so you can taste the full flavor and freshness of the fish.
-Eat the sushi piece all in one bite
-Never mix wasabi and soy sauce together, instead, place a little bit of wasabi on top of your fish (the chef has usually already applied some). If you wish to add soy sauce, dip only the fish side of the sushi into the soy sauce. Soy sauce and rice are not meant to touch!
-Eat ginger in between sushi pieces after you have fully swallowed the sushi piece. It is meant as a palate cleanser
After four months of growing like a weed, it was time to trim my shaggy mane. I booked an appointment at Watanabe, a hair salon in Harajuku that had great reviews and english speaking staff. Shane was long overdue for a trim too, but he decided to save some cash and visit QB House, the Japanese equivalent of SuperCuts. Our experiences were a little different, to say the least. My experience was pleasant and I walked away with a cute short bob, Shane’s experience was...interesting. While my hair cut was a bit pricey, it came with a luxurious, essential oil head massage and a cocktail. Shane’s haircut involved his head being literally vacuumed and left him with a mullet. Later that night he trusted me to fix his new do with some clippers (even more risky on his part). Moral of the story is - although you don’t have to pay an outrageous amount for a haircut, it’s probably best to avoid the cheapest option. If you are getting a haircut abroad, be prepared going in with some phrases written out in that language (like in Japan “just a trim please” translates to “揃えるだけで大 丈夫です” or “Soroeru dake de dai jōbudesu”) and pictures of the style you would want!
Finding Little Texas in Tokyo
It seems that despite our departure from the Lone Star state, we will never be able to fully break ties with Texas. Of all things, what did we find on our daily walk to and from Meguro’s metro station? A Texas bar. Yes, that’s right. In the heart of Tokyo there is a bar dedicated to all things Texas. The Little Texas bar is about a 10 min walk from Meguro Station in the basement of a building. Step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the Dixie Chicken in College Station. The whole bar is Texas-ed out. Even the wooden walls were imported from an abandoned barn in Denton! The owners of the bar are a super friendly Japanese couple who are crazy about line dancing and all things Texas. Their knowledge of the best two-stepping bars in Texas rivals our own. They even have official state of Texas honorary Texan certificates hanging on the wall. When we arrived, the bar was empty but we ordered a few beers and two-stepped on the empty dance floor. It even made me a little homesick!
Halloween in Shibuya
Although Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in Japan, in recent years it has been taken up by young locals as a chance to dress up in costumes and hit the town. I absolutely love Halloween and I was stoked to be in a place where they take cosplay so seriously. But it was a bit of a disappointment on that front. Weirdly, only like five categories of adult costume are popular in Japan: Minions, Mario and Luigi, Where’s Waldo, zombies of some sort (zombie cop, zombie soldier, etc), or sexy characters (cop, maid, nurse, etc). We saw so many minions, literally you could have a whole minion army. We decided to go as Pikachu and Ash this year and our costume was a hit! So many people were jazzed that I was dressed as Ash (aka Satoshi in Japan) and Shane had a lot of folks telling him that they didn't know Pikachu could get that tall. We decided to hit up Shibuya and actually stay up past 11pm for once, to experience what Tokyo nightlife has to offer. It was a total sh!$ show in the best way possible. SO many people all dressed up and drunk off their butts. Japan has no open container laws and people were standing around, pounding them back on the street. This was also the first night that we met a ton of foreigners. We talked to expats and travelers from all over. I even met someone who went to my highschool! Crazy!
Tomorrow we will be leaving Tokyo to travel around Japan by train for a week! Stay tuned for all kinds of good stuff next Thursday!