Winter in Japan: Part 2

When I wrote Part 1 way back in January, I had the audacity to write “Happy New Year!” —I didn’t know how messed up 2020 would turn out to be…

It’s been exactly 50 days into this community quarantine here in Metro Manila. I hope everyone’s been staying safe and relatively healthy at home.

Missing travel

Like millions of other people —including the entire transport industry– I miss travelling. I miss going outside my house to see something new or to eat an exciting dish. I miss going on an adventure.

Staying at home has given me a new perspective on the right to mobility. My family and I were supposed to go on a trip to Thailand over the short religious break in April, but we had to cancel. Or more accurately, all flights had to cancel.

So while we’re all stuck at home and grappling with pandemic anxiety, I’ve decided to look back with judicious fondness on my last out-of-country trip.

This sudden bout of productivity was also partly inspired by my sister finally uploading a travel video that’s more than a year overdue (you can check out her blog post here!!).

Part 2 featuring Tokyo

I wrote about 10 great moments in Osaka and Sapporo in Part 1 of this blog series. Here are the final 10 other standout moments to remember!

#11: Shibuya Crossing

No trip to Tokyo is complete without a photo-op at Shibuya Crossing! This iconic intersection is one of the first things we crossed off our list in Tokyo.

We tried to get the perfect shot several times as people scrambled about. I think we waited for the stoplight to change at least 6 times. Tokyo natives were probably all resigned to tourists like us, LOL.

Ahhhh I actually bought this Giordano jacket from Gotemba Premium Outlet Store (it’s #13 in the list).

I was browsing through my old Japan 2015 blog post and it seems like I actually didn’t have a photo in Shibuya Crossing??? Wild.

#12: Yakitori in Shinjuku Suehiro Dori

If we didn’t have Tita Bea guiding us, we would probably have never found ourselves eating along Suehiro Dori! Shinjuku Suehiro Dori is a bar street somewhere near Kabukicho.

We had a casual sit-down dinner with delicious yakitori, noodles and sashimi. The restaurant workers were also super friendly!

Every time we go out with Tita Bea, I learn something about local eating habits –which food to eat first, what goes well with what. Then I forget everything a minute later.

#13: Gotemba Premium Outlet

An actual highlight of our trip. SHOPPING.

The large flagship center has outlet stores from brands like Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga, Adidas, Nike, even Pokemon (?).

We had to get a Y1500 two-way scheduled bus trip to get to Gotemba Premium Outlets. The destination was around 45 minutes from our place in Tokyo.

Catch me studying an actual map for a premium outlet.

On a clear sunny day, there’s a great view of World Cultural Heritage Site Mt. Fuji from Gotemba. It was cloudy when we went, though.

Here’s their website for more information.

My sister bought a Kate Spade bag for herself… and a Chanel bag for my mom. HEHEHE CONGRATS ON THE FILIAL RESPECT.

#14: Ginza Shopping District

Time for Tokyo’s most popular shopping district — Ginza! This was actually on a free day. My mom stayed at the hotel while my sister met up with a friend. I personally took the time to go to Kinokuniya (#15 on this list), eat at a local Starbucks (LOL), and look around.

There’s actually nothing to do in Ginza that you couldn’t do literally anywhere else in Tokyo. The shopfronts are killer, though. And we did end up buying something in Pandora for our brother/sister-in-law.

It’s SO HARD to capture how awesome and also grossly capitalist the storefronts are… FENDI MAN FENDI MAN FENDI MAN JACKSON.

Shoutout to my OOTD: thrift ZARA jacket (there’s like a stain or something in one of the sleeves, so I got it for around $6), a really pretty floral long-sleeve sweater from Promod (one of the only things I own from that overpriced brand), and a cute skirt that I got for around $5! And of course my Kate Spade purse from Ate Kim/Kuya Gio and handmade scarf by my mom.

#15: Books Kinokuniya Main Store

Books and stationery are the loves of my life, so I definitely couldn’t have missed going to Kinokuniya! Books Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore chain founded way back in 1927. It’s also a big name in Malaysia and Singapore (which is where I first encountered the retailer).

Its first store can still be found in Shinjuku. This 9-storey building was designated as “Tokyo Metropolitan Selected Historical Buildings” in 2017.

I spent a good forever inside this shop…

I loved the stationery the best. I got so many ideas for my 2020 planner. I also bought a couple of really beautiful traditional art postcards that I’ll be sending out to my loved ones someday.

Since the Shinjuku Main Store carries less English titles than the Tokyo Station branch, I just amused myself by browsing all the Japanese medical textbooks. As I’ve always had English as a first language, the idea of studying medicine in any other medium is really strange and exciting.

Random aside: I left my white infinity scarf at the Starbucks where I had my brunch. When I went back, it was carefully folded and returned to me by the staff. Ahhhh I love how you never have to worry about losing your things in Tokyo…

#16: teamLab Borderless

This immersive experience in the MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM is an intersection of technology, engineering, and art. I loved our visit to teamLab Borderless so much.

I can confidently say that it was worth the very long wait! (Even if you buy tickets beforehand, which we did, you still have to line up for at least 30 minutes).

This was taken in the “Universe of Water Particles on a Rock Where People Gather”, which is part of the Borderless World along with the Crystal World and the Forest of Flowers.
The “Weightless Forest”, along with Graffiti Nature and Giant Connecting Block Town, is part of the Athletics Forest.

My other favorite was the “Forest of Resonating Lamps” (that 1-minute photo op after 30 minutes of queuing was actually kind of worth it). In my opinion, you can skip the “Floating Space – the Nest”.

#17: Gyukatsu Motomura

Speaking of long lines, we actually waited for 2 hours just to get a seat at Gyukatsu Motomura. This “MUST VISIT restaurant” serves beef cutlet which you can sizzle on a mini stone grill and then eat with rice.

I can’t remember the name of the branch we had dinner in, but I think you can expect a line anywhere you go. The branch we ate at only seated 9 people at a time.

This set meal shows the 100gram (or 130?) portion. Honestly? Delicious. Maybe we should have gotten more…

Up until today, I still can’t tell you if the food was worth the 2-hour line. But then again, I think you have to experience this kind of gastronomic wait in Japan at least once in your life.

So, fighting!

#18: Tokyo Tower Illumination

New Year Countdowns… are not a thing in Japan. We couldn’t find any “official” public event. According to different blog posts, the closest thing to a countdown would be drunk people shouting in Shibuya Crossing.

But we were not deterred! We went to see the Tokyo Tower Illumination to have some kind of New Year’s Eve celebration.

Spoiler alert: the lights closed half hour before midnight! We weren’t the only ones confused and disheartened; we even heard another tourist argue with a policeman. The officer just said that if people are looking for a countdown, they could just do it by themselves at home. It’s a bit funny in hindsight. I guess it’s just one of those cultural differences you learn to accept.

We were able to at least eat a good dinner inside the Tokyo Tower and to get some family photos in the illumination exhibit at the foot of the tower right before the lights dimmed.

And with that fairly anti-climactic moment, we ended our trip itinerary! The rest of our stay was just more shopping and physical travel if I remember correctly.

#19: Four Airlines

Visiting three different cities in less than 2 weeks meant a lot of inter-city travel. To save up on the time, we opted to go for budget flights instead of bullet trains.

I got to compare four different airlines: AirAsia, Peach, Jetstar, and ANA. It was my first time with Peach and ANA. I can confidently say that all of the budget flights were comfortable and good for the price.

I got to try ~authentic~ seafood Nissin cup noodles on our Jetstar flight from Sapporo to Tokyo. I honestly can’t believe how much dehydrated protein they packed into this instant meal. The cup noodles in the Philippines can’t compare, LOL.
On our way to Tokyo! While waiting for boarding, I sneaked in some review of my MBA thesis.
All Nippon Airways is one of the best airlines in Asia, so I’m glad we got to try them for our Tokyo to Osaka trip! Even the regular seats for our short flight had plenty of amenities.

I think the only way my experience could have been better is if I travelled with less clothes (that is, with only a carry on). But with everything we bought in Don Quixote… not likely to happen.

Aside: We actually had some big financial mishaps in Don Quixote Osaka because we were spending so much during the trip that my mom’s banks (yes, plural!) got suspicious. Craaaaazzy!!!

#20: Four Hotels

With the way we set up our trip, we also had to book 4 different hotels. We stayed in Centurion Hotel CEN Namba, APA Susukino Ekimae, Khoasan World Ryogoku, and Bon Hostel over the course of the trip.

I liked our stay in Centurion Hotel CEN Namba in Osaka; it was right near the shopping district and train station. The rooms and amenities were clean and modern. It was a great start to our holiday. I don’t have a photo right now though…

We stayed in APA Susukino Ekimae in Sapporo. There were several APA hotels in the city, but I think we got the best in terms of location. It was pretty close to the station going up Mt. Moiwa. However, the customer service for foreigners wasn’t as nice as it could have been, though maybe it was because we checked-in on Christmas day.

We all got this little Origami stork and a folded yukata in the APA Hotel.

Our place in Tokyo was a bit out of the way of all major tourist destinations or shopping districts. Khaosan World Ryogoku was in the sumo wrestling area. Because of the way the dates worked out, we weren’t even able to go to the more historical museums/parks nearby. But what I liked about this old, traditional-style hotel was how friendly it was to people seeking to socialize and to learn about Japanese culture.

The Khaosan World hotel had this little corner where people could play traditional Japanese games and learn more about the country’s culture. There was also a common floor where people could eat together, watch television, and even have a foot bath in an ashiyu!

Finally, we spent our last night in Osaka in Bon Hostel. The place was clean, the rooms were big, and I loved the aesthetic. It was also only around 10 minutes’ walk or a station away from the shopping district. The only catch was that the whole hostel was under the train station and rails! Good thing the hostel provided ear plugs for the light sleepers.

Thank you travel buddies

The last 20 or so moments that I enjoyed in Japan wouldn’t have been possible without my two travel buddies. We may not always get along, but we’re family. ❤️

Walking around Osaka. Hunting for dinner on an empty stomach is always a dangerous and volatile experience.
A family photo inside Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo. This chocolate theme park is one of the more underwhelming stops in our journey. I recommend visiting this at night to fully appreciate the outdoor light installation.

End of Part 2

And that ends our 11-day stay in Japan! I’ll always be thankful for the chance to take a break with my family right in the middle of clerkship.

Clerkship has actually been suspended for almost two months now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been having online classes and meetings here and there, but nothing really beats clinical experience as a teacher.

There are a lot of uncertainties in the world, over things like food security and the changes in the education/work industries. So I really want to express how thankful I am for all the blessings I’ve had and all the things I may be taking for granted right now. And I want to encourage everyone to stay at home and to help promote public health in any way possible.

Take care everyone! Stay safe and healthy!

I sat down near the balloon things in the Weightless Forest in teamLab Borderless to take a selfie… I think I got told off by one of the staff. Follow the rules guys.


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