After more than a decade of procrastination, finally booked that trip to Tokyo, Japan.
Yes, folks thought I was crazy traveling so far by myself for Hanami. Commonly known as cherry blossom viewing. They said, “You can see cherry blossoms in DC.” Truthfully, I could see cherry blossoms anywhere but nothing beats the Japanese cherry blossom experience.
After a long flight, I arrived in Tokyo mid to late April which put me at the tail end of peak viewing season. However, the solo trip was not in vain.
If I weren’t a New Yorker, it may have been overwhelming. Instead, fell fast in love with all things Tokyo. Starting with the transit system.
Made the perfect choice staying at Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo. A 5-star luxury hotel on a hilltop. The warm reception and quaint location set the tone.
Plus, my Japan Rail Pass awaited my arrival adding to the excitement. The JR Pass is extremely cost-effective if you plan to travel outside of Tokyo. You can’t purchase the Japan Rail Pass within Japan, so, order in advance if you plan to venture beyond Tokyo.
There are two classes of service on the rail.
The green (superior class) rail pass cost 38,880 Japanese Yen and came in handy although the blue (coach class) is sufficient too. The green pass most useful during heavy transit times. Also, you can sit anywhere between zones. There’s an extra level of service obviously that comes with superior class as well. While the JR Pass is not necessary for local transit around Tokyo, it saved me tremendously for travel between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka via the Shinkansen or “bullet train.”
Getting around Tokyo on local trains and busses is seamless.
Tip: Taxis in Japan are expensive. Plan ahead.
I took a taxi on a few occasions for short runs. My first taxi ride left me on the edge. In that moment, I understood what it meant to Tokyo drift!
We were on two wheels if not off the ground altogether. Raced, whipped, changed lanes and pushed 90 mph down the highway. Yup, I prayed.
…It’s been a while!
I took interest in Japanese culture and language nearly two decades ago following a trip to Hawaii. I studied at Tenri Institute in Manhattan. My hectic work schedule ultimately led to missing class more often than not. So, I put off travel to Tokyo for a long time. Convinced myself I needed fluency before traveling to Japan.
Self infliction is something else. At the end of the day, Japanese overall speak English very well. Even those who proclaim to have poor language skills have a strong command of the English language.
People were helpful, friendly, courteous, and simply amazing. I recall four specific instances where strangers turned around to help me, stopped what they were doing to escort me, or pointed me in the right direction. I trusted apps to translate Kanji which helped me interpret and communicate.
Asking for directions, help, and speaking in Japanese made me feel like a superstar on foreign land. The unfamiliar became known. Proud of myself for not succumbing to the fear of mispronunciation and vulnerability in speaking a new language. Not only did I hone my language skills, Japanese were welcoming and appreciative of my effort. In some cases, shocked.
Volunteerism in Tokyo
Philanthropy and charitable contribution is part of my core. I love to help others. So even when I travel abroad, I find ways to volunteer and give back. Building bridges in my community locally and across borders is crucial to me. And, I don’t volunteer for recognition or court order. I volunteer because it feels good and is the right thing to do.
Before taking off from New York to Tokyo, opportunities to serve the community were part of my trip plans. Luckily, Second Harvest Japan had multiple needs during my travels to Japan.
They provide nourishing meals to those in need throughout Japan. Working with corporations, donated food is packaged and distributed by Second Harvest.
Their mission is to create a food safety net in Japan. The food is delivered to children’s homes, single-mother shelters, orphanages, and centers for the disabled. Many welfare organizations and those in need benefit from the services provided by this admirable food bank.
Taking time during my vacation to step forward and pack boxes for children in orphanages was time well spent. Fellowship was great too. Turns out two women volunteering with me had ties to New York City. One lived near my apartment in Midtown as her husband worked in the city for years. Another lived in Paramus, New Jersey while attending college.
We spent half the day serving others. A rewarding experience before exploring more of Tokyo as a solo female traveler.
Sightseeing in Tokyo
Hopped the train at Edogawabashi Station near my hotel and got off at Akihabara Electric Town. It was immediately clear why this is known as the best electric and pop culture town in the world.
Find all the electronics you need (and don’t) in Akihabara. Looking for video games, anime, manga, computers, cos play, karaoke, maid cafes? Akihabara is your spot.
Admittedly, I didn’t spend enough time here. Kept planning to circle back but between trying to chase Sakura (cherry blossoms) and see Tokyo, there wasn’t enough time.
Up next, Shinjuku Station for some fun at Odakyu Shopping center. A vibrant retail mall full of places to eat, shop and people watch. A range of high and mid-range stores are here.
Tip: With endless retail and dining options above and below ground, you should walk around and explore first. Take some notes, then circle back before indulging. There’s so much to do and see. Even the alley’s are filled with dining options, unique stores, and risqué adventures.
Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble
Also in this area is the busiest cross walk in the world!
Shibuya Crossing sits just outside of the Hachiko Exit at Shinjuku Station. Did you know that more than 3,000 people cross per green light! And, it feels like home with the big ass Starbucks that might make you rethink any ill feelings you have toward the mega coffee chain.
The term scramble makes perfect sense too. Traffic stops from all directions. Pedestrians then scramble across in every direction through the intersection.
Who doesn’t want to stop and capture this iconic moment other than yours truly:
Playing around with some of the settings on my camera allowed me to capture pretty cool images of people in motion within the cross walk. More of those in the photo gallery.
After playing in the cross walk with tourists, my nightcap ended at Hachikō Statue.
As a pet lover, they become part of the family. So, I was emotional to see lovely Hachikō while reminiscing on the fun times with my own little pup who traveled the world with me. If you don’t know the amazing story of Hachikō and his loyalty, you’re going to learn today.
Hachi starred Richard Gere who played Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University, tells the story of Hachikō.
Like clockwork, the professor took the train home from work at four o’clock. His dog, Hachikō would wait for him at the platform of Shibuya Station. In a sad turn of events, Professor Ueno died in class during a lecture. He had a cerebral hemorrhage. Unbeknownst to the loyal pup, Hachikō returned to the train station daily, on time, waiting for his owner.
For the next 10 years!
Hachikō was an Akita and eventually died in the streets of Tokyo. His body was found and is now on display in Japan’s National Science Museum. A bronze stone erected in honor of the famous dog along with a memorial beside his owner’s grave in Aoyama Cemetery.
My heart overwhelmed with love posing with the cute statue.
Mary J. Blige Performs in Tokyo, Japan
When the timing is right!
Checking in to my hotel was like Christmas. So many wonderful things awaited me. Including my tickets to see Mary J. Blige in Tokyo.
The concert just before the release of her new album Strength of a Woman was fire! I got a sneak peek into what was to eventually come on the new release.
Never saw Mary J. Blige perform live.
She shut the house down at Ageha Studio Coast and poured her heart into the performance while sharing intimate details of her looming divorce. We were there for it. United in culture, music, and arts. We rocked, swayed, cried, and sang in unison to her love and pain.
The thrilling concert-going experience was the first time I saw African-Americans in a week too! Everyone came from the military base for the concert. Some of the women invited me to hang out.
Intrigued by my solo travels around the world. One girl was from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. We’ve kept in touch.
Watching Japanese socialites display their urban style was super fly. Asian culture mixed with African-American culture resulted in dope ensembles, hair, makeup, and fierceness!
Mary J. Blige delivered in Tokyo. And, her fit physique inspired me to get my behind back in the gym…
I’d be remiss not to mention Tokyo Station which to me was like an amusement park of sorts. You can get lost (in a fun way) in the massive terminal. The excitement is endless. As are the shops and places to eat.
One of the many things I loved about Japan was the food. You can find full-course meals in fast food establishments. Healthy meals and well-prepared eats too.
Clearly, the locals have a helluva sweet tooth!
Being vegetarian in Japan is tricky. Even meals “without meat” often contain fish oil, juice, etc. So, you just have to ask for clarity. Pretty much stuck to Udon noodles (my favorite) and vegetable tempura.
And, I steered clear of tourist traps in an attempt for an authentic dining experience as you see me here on the floor at Toritake:
As usual, pieces of my heart remain all around the world and Tokyo kept a slice. That said, trip planning for 2018 Cherry Blossom viewing is underway. I’ll get a jumpstart this time.
Cannot wait to spend more time in the beautiful, immaculate city of Tokyo, Japan.
Enjoy pictures from my solo travels in Tokyo: