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Tokyo Skytree with a friend





Two years ago when I came to Japan I made an awesome friend named Yumi. She is so cute and such a kind person. I was looking forward to visiting with her while I was here, but I don't know if we will be able to meet up again since we are both busy. It was really nice to get to see her though, and I really valued the time we spent together. I think when you go to another country to visit it's important to try and make connections with people. Learning about them and their life in a place unfamiliar to you is a good way to broaden your world view and learn something new. Yumi will start her job soon and I'm really rooting for her to achieve her goal! I am also hoping that she will be able to come and visit me one day and I can show her around Washington D.C. 

For the first time in months I finally got to cook an actual meal! I was overjoyed you have no idea. I love being here, but I really miss being able to cook for myself and Austin. We always had fun whipping up something, and I definitely had fun doing the same with Yumi. We picked out a recipe in her cookbook and picked up the items as well as a yummy dessert. The main dish was a sort of donburi (rice bowl dish). We cooked together ground chicken, carrots, onions, red pepper, and basil into a mouthwatering concoction then topped on to rice. We also made a soup that had ocra and seaweed in it. I think my first time trying ocra was here in Japan. Yumi and I talked about family and boys and the future while we ate. For dessert we had croissant taiyaki. Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake usually filled with sweet red bean paste. These were slightly different and I loved them!

Yumi is lucky enough to live five a minutes walking distance to Skytree, so after our meal we headed over to the Skytree village to shop and go to the planetarium. Skytree is the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world. No, I did not pay to go up there. I already have a great view from my house, remember? I did walk around the village area and browse the Studio Ghibli store (haha), and then see an awesome planetarium show entirely in Japanese. Ok, I didn't really know what was being said most of the time, but I learned that Sasori means Scorpio (for anyone who likes Naruto). I would definitely recommend coming here to see one of the shows. They are beautiful and fascinating in and of themselves even if you can't understand them. There is also a nice aquarium in the Skytree village I would recommend. I went there two years ago though. 

After a day wonderfully spent with a great friend I returned home, already planning my next visit there to the chocolate cafe (which I already did by the way)! It was amazing. 


Discoveries and suggestions

Just like that, and there is only less than a month before I complete my study abroad term in Japan. There was time when I felt a bit homesick, but now I do not want to leave. There are still so many things I want to do here in Japan, yet time is so limited. However, I do not think I will leave Japan with any regrets, because I have spent every moment in Japan very wisely. 

I always have an agenda and plan every day. It was pretty overwhelming to have a mindset of wanting to visit all the places and try all the food in Japan. I cannot go a day without opening my agenda, and looking through to see if there are any open spots for me to fit more places/ restaurants in there. I managed to go to at least one unique town/ spot of Tokyo, or try the food that I haven’t tried before, or go to a restaurant that I cannot find outside of Japan. I am always doing something every day. By doing so, at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied because I don’t want to waste a single moment to explore Japan (mostly Tokyo in my case). Also, by keeping a calendar, it helps me remember the places that I have been to and the things that I did in Japan. I want to forever remember the joy and happiness that I experience daily in Tokyo.

With that being said, I understand how stressful it is to having to keep up with everything, so I am coming up with the list of the places that I have been to, and want to recommend to everyone.

 One life-saving tip: utilize the “save” button on Google Map. Whenever I find a new place, I immediate go to my Google Map, look it up and save the location so I don’t end up forgetting everything, or having a long list untouched.  

There were several great shops which I do not remember the names, but I will try my best to make sure the best places are listed.

Note: I am a big foodie, so most of the places will be restaurants, but food is such a large part of the Japanese culture (especially sweets!). I am not sure about others, but the Japanese food/ sweets give me such a strange feeling of happiness that I don’t think I can find it anywhere else.

Most of these places can be found immediately using just the name on Google Map, so I hope finding these places will not be any problems.


-       Nabezou / Momo Paradise / MK Restaurant (they have many different branches, from Shibuya to Harajuku to Shinjuku)

  • All you can eat for Shabu Shabu (hot pot) and Sukiyaki (special Japanese dish stew served in hot pot style)

-        世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス in Shibuya

  • The one and only place that sells this unique melon bread filled with ice cream!

-       Soup Stock Tokyo (right outside Sophia in the Atre Building)

  • Famous healthy and delicious soups with a wide variety. They also serve curry and different lunch sets

-       Hatsudai (初代) in Ebisu:

  • White potato cream curry udon (shiroi kare udon)

-       Japanese Ice Ouca in Ebisu

  • In my opinion, has the BEST ice cream with the most unique flavors (4 tea flavors alone, pumpkin, premium milk, different fruits, cream cheese, etc.)

-       Bittersweet Buffet/ Sweet Paradise in Shinjuku/ Ikebukuro/ Shibuya

  • all you can eat Japanese sweets (the crepes and waffles here are amazing), on top of salads, Italian cuisines, drinks, etc.

-       Cosme Juicery in Daikanyama, Shibuya’s Hikarie Building

  • Healthy organic cold-pressed juice/ smoothies

-       SASA Grill Burger in Daikanyama

  • Serve avocado, salmon, mushroom, and all types of unique and delicious burgers with great atmosphere

-       Burn Side Café in Harajuku

  • Soufflé pancakes! One of the best

-       Rainbow Pancake in Harajuku / Honolulu Coffee in Yokohama:

  • Madacamia nut cream pancake

-       Pablo Cheese Tart in Shibuya

  • They have seasonal flavors! This is a great gift to buy and enjoy with host family because only a whole cheese tart is sold here (but it was so good that I could finish the whole thing by myself).

-       Rapoppo in Shinjuku Station/ Shibuya Tokyu Store B1/ Sky Tree:

  • Sweet potato sweets!

-       Bills at Harajuku/ Yokohama:

  •  Hot cakes!

-       Ichiran (一覧)everywhere

  • Known as the best ramen restaurant

-       Harbs in Shibuya/ Shinjuku Lumine Est

  • Mille Crepes with fruits filling- one of the best creations in the sweets industry in my opinion

-       Tsurutotan in Roppongi

  • Authentic and delicious udon. The size of one serving is three times bigger than normal, and the “udon” is all you can eat, so enjoy

-       Ice Monster in Harajuku:

  • Taiwanese ice shave

-       Bake Cheese Tart in Jiyugaoka/ Shinjuku

  • Famous baked cheese tart- there is always a line but it is worth it

-       Quil Fait Bon: fruit tarts

-       Croquant Chou Zakuzaku in Harajuku/ Shinjuku:

  • Premium Milk Ice Cream from Hokkaido and churros with custard filling

-       Pancake House: Dutch pancake

-       Gyukaku (every where): all you can eat yakiniku (Korean BBQ)

-       Croissant Taiyaki


Interesting shops to check out:

-       Kiddy Land

-       Tokyu Hands

-       Book Off

-       Troll along Harajuku/ Shimokitazawa for unique cheaper goods


Small local towns:

-       Daikanyama

-       Ebisu

-       Shimo kitazawa

-       Kagurazaka

-       Yanaka Ginza

-       Enoshima/ Kamakura

-       Nakano

-       Nakamekuro

-       Jiyugaoka

-       Tsukiji

-       Ameyoko

-       Jimbocho

There are many more places that I want to talk more details about, but I am sure if students take time to explore the local stops on their route home, there will be plenty of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered. 


-       Soufflé Pancake at Burn Side St. Café

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- Melon Pan Ice (Melon bread filled with ice cream) at世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス


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-       Ice shave at Ice Monster

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-       Premium milk ice cream at Croquant Chou Zakuzaku



Studying abroad in Japan has given me all kinds of opportunity and benefit. Even though I did not start off learning about Japan from anime and manga but through the arts; I have become a huge anime lover over time. Being in Japan, especially Tokyo, gave me countless access to anime so I can let the inner otaku me runs free. I have been to several anime-related places like the Jump Shop, Naruto Museum, to Manga Museum (Kyoto), Anime/ One Piece shops on the 6th floor of Parco Building in Shibuya, and even the Ghibli museum. However, the place that I have enjoyed most is the One Piece Museum on the Tokyo Tower. 

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One Piece has been one of my all time favorites since forever (beside Detective Conan). Since One Piece is very popular especially in Japan, the admission for the museum is quite expensive (3600 yen). I had a hard time deciding whether or not to check out the museum with this cost, but since this will probably be the only chance and place for me to check out the One Piece museum, I have decided to go for it with no regret. 


The museum is much larger than the Naruto museum that I have been to in the Mori Tower. There are three floors with several different activities. The first floor consists of life-size One Piece figures and walls full of One Piece important moments and story lines. The set up of all three floors really reflects the setting of the anime. On the second floor, there are special rooms/ spaces with unique themes for each specific One Piece character. For example, there is a sword training room for Roronoa Zoro, who is a “bushido” in the anime. There is also a casino room, a haunted house, and “sniper” contest space among others. Each room is filled with special 3D effects that one can barely tell which is real and which is not. Lastly on the third floor, there are two cinema rooms; one is for a special short video that is only available inside the museum, consists of the past, and future clips of the anime. Another cinema room is used for a live-action show of One Piece. Everything was done very elaborately with great details. I have really enjoyed myself there.


Many who do not know much about Japan, usually see Japan as a place filled with anime/ manage geeks and cosplayers. However, anime-related matters are just parts that made up the characteristics of Japan. Anime/ manage-related museums is not just there to promote the anime/ manga, but also to show the real progress of creating the work, which reveals many other aspects of the Japanese culture as well. For example, it requires highly advanced technologies to create these special affects. It also demands high collaborations and great passions to create the arts and the story lines, especially for long-running anime/ manga like One Piece.  Going to the One Piece museum really helps me understand a lot more about the process. It is no less interesting than the Ghibli Museum, where the development, the work of arts were show cased. Being exposed to unexpected museums like this makes me appreciate Japan even more. I can always find a nice balance and mixture of every little thing here. Even with anime museums and anime shops everywhere, the environment here clearly indicates that anime is not just for the “anime geek,” but it is a huge part of modern Japan culture that many Japanese people are very proud of. It is not just about the anime alone, but about the people behind the scenes and many other aspects which together built a unique characteristic that makes Japan, Japan. 



A Day Trip to Nikko






Nikko was such a cool place I wish I could go back! If you travel north to the very end of the Nikko line, you will reach this delightfully quaint town. I went with my very good friend Mac, and it took us about two and a half hours (plus accidentally getting on the wrong train) to get to there. Nikko is a World heritage site and home to the Toshogu Shrine. I am actually learning about this shrine in my art history class so I was pumped to get to visit! It was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he is enshrined there. He then became deified as the shinto god of the shrine, and he was known as "the Great Illuminator". The Yomeimon (Sun-bright gates) was actually the most expensive structure of the time period (Edo period). They felt like flaunting their wealth with this giant and elaborate gate, which was unfortunately covered up when we went. :( However, all of the buildings at this shrine were intricately decorated. Tucked into the forest and surrounded by lush mountains, it was probably the most breathtaking shrine I have visited yet (architecturally too, because my favorite shrine is still the Fushimi Inari in Kyoto). There are lots of animal motifs in the buildings as well. The three monkeys-hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil- are carved into one structure, there is a sleeping cat on another (not sure why though), elephants, and a room with a giant dragon painted on the ceiling. This place had it all.

So this adventure began early on a Saturday, to where I took a train to meet Mac in Ueno. We then took another train to....I forgot the name of the station, and once there I got a delicious teriyaki hotdog wrapped in a tortilla. These things will be the future of hotdogs. I'll make sure of it. It was another two hours to Nikko after we got on and off the wrong train. Luckily we didn't miss the one we actually needed. It was cool watching the landscape change from urban buildings to rice fields and trees. I am always fascinated when I can actively watch the bustling city of Tokyo melt into a natural paradise. 

As soon as we made it to the rural town it began to rain. Ok, downpour is more accurate. Mac and I were desperately searching for a place to eat, and we settled on a small restaurant that offered Nikko's specialty-Yuba. Yuba is the thin layer that accumulates from boiling soymilk. Sounds weird, like how would you eat that? But it was interesting, aside from slightly resembling a soggy plastic bag. Go try it, it actually tastes good. And it's nutritious! The entire meal was delicious and comprised entirely of several small plates.


After our lunch we set off towards Toshogu Shrine, but the rain was relentless. I took pictures anyways, because dangit I needed them so I could write this blog! I actually really like the way they turned out, so I was not mad about the rain. In fact, there was a point in which it was raining so hard, I just laughed and laughed because what else can you do in a situation like that? I actually brought my smaller umbrella with me so I could put it in my backpack, but that also meant my backpack and purse were basically soaked. But lets be real, I was pretty much just wet in general. Mac kept joking about getting trench foot because he wasn't wearing waterproof shoes, and the hairspray he sprayed on them due to strong encouragement of his host mother did nothing to help. Maybe laughing in the face of the onslaught from the heavens actually proved to be good luck because the rain let up once we made it to the shrine. 

After the shrine we visited a temple next door, but it was under construction. It was an interesting experience but it felt more like a museum. Because it was contained inside a metal building, it didn't have the charm of the naturalistic elements that play in to the architecture of a temple or shrine. When they are finished reconstructing or whatever it is they are doing, I'm sure it will look amazing; but if you should go to Nikko and see this building that is supposed to be a temple, I can't say I would recommend paying to see it. However, Mac and I walked up several flights of stairs to view the scenery from up high (we climbed a lot of stairs that day). I think my favorite part of being in Nikko was seeing the thick steam created from the rain billow out of the forested mountains. It was so mysterious and alluring. Thank you rain!

Other things that happened on our trip:

  • I got a death glare from a European girl (I don't know why)
  • We saw a man walking his ferret
  • We got gelato and talked with the woman working there. She was vey nice.
  • I celebrated the 4th of July by consuming my second hot dog of the day, which happened to be from a French bakery...



In past blog posts, I’ve often enthused about the very admirable unity that exists between urban civilization and nature in Japan. And if that topic hasn’t gotten old to this writer, then it goes to show that natural wonders in this country really are astounding. It really depends on the season, I suppose, and after enjoying all the fall-slash-winter brand of natural wonders in Japan last semester, I feel myself very inspired to report on my personally preferred spring-slash-summer brand of outdoor tourist destinations. This time, I would like to talk about a little daytrip I took to a vast field of pink, purple, and white flowers out in the boonies of Chichibu, Japan.

               There were a few weeks before the rainy season settled in, when Japan enjoyed sunny day after sunny day. It was during one of these days that I was struck with the familiar urge to go do something outside. Usually, I would greet such a feeling with much dread, as back in Los Angeles, all I could find within a drive-able distance on such a day was concrete and more concrete. In Tokyo, however, the internet has thus far revealed to me many great outdoor locations within reasonable distance, including a field of beautiful flowers in Chichibu, just under two-hours away from the city via a limited express train. With little difficulty, I purchased my ticket from the ticket machine at Ikebukuro station, and hopped onto the train with little waiting time in between.

               Chichibu is a quaint little mountainous city in the west of Saitama that doesn’t get to enjoy a lot of visitors all the time, which I think is why so much energy surrounds the train station during the times of year when events are taking place there. I’d arrived too late to catch the bus up the mountain to where the flowers were, but there were plenty of signs in every direction (some in English) to show me the way by foot. Though I did regret having left so late, it was a relief to know that at least, I was going to get to enjoy a marvelous sunset as I walked through the city of Chichibu, even if the park had already closed for the day.

               As I made my way up a hill (where the field of flowers was supposedly located), I encountered more than a few signs in Japanese that said something about the park closing at five o’ clock. I solemnly glanced at my cellphone, saw that it was already a half hour past five, and nearly turned on my heels, when I decided that hey, I might as well just make it to the top. Boy was I not expecting there to still be a crowd of people walking through the field of pink, purple and white when I did reach the top, nor did I expect no one to stop me from walking through the gates – the security guard even waved at me with a smile.


               Sure, the flowers and sunset were both really pretty, but what really got to me that day was the idea of how accessible nature is in Japan. In spite of it having been past the park’s closing time, visitors were still allowed to enter in light of the beautiful sight that had been spawned from the union of the golden sunset and pink petals. It’s the kind of nationwide appreciation for nature – free of all the artificial “save nature” campaigns which take the magic away – that I haven’t found anywhere else. And it’s an attitude which I will truly miss upon my return to the United States. For now, I’m planning to soak up as much of that Japanese sunshine as possible, before the rainy season hits.



On the topic of Japan’s most iconic indigenous sports, I’m sure many would agree that one is most likely to think of sumo wrestling. For me, just hearing the word brings to mind the image of two gargantuan human beings battling each other upon a clay ring, and since the last time I went to see a sumo wrestling match in Japan, that image has grown extremely clear.

               The first sumo wrestling match I ever saw live was at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, on a CIEE-organized event in December 2014. I remember feeling extremely pleased at the prospect of finally seeing in person something which I had thus far only had a very storybook image of in my head. We were seated on the second level, looking down as pairs of very large men entered and exited the stage. Too preoccupied with excitement, I failed to understand anything about the art of sumo wrestling. My knowledge of sumo wrestling, however, was to become much more profound the next time I were to visit the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

               I had the chance to become acquainted with the mother of one of my friend’s students at the international school where she teaches part-time – turns out, the mother’s what they call an “okamisan,” the master of a “sumo stable.” Indeed, sumo wrestlers train, eat, and are housed in what is called a sumo stable, and I was lucky enough to have met the master of one. Apparently, being the acquaintance of an okamisan comes with a few perks, as I eventually found out when my colleague and I were presented with free front-row tickets to another sumo wrestling match at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

               Here’s how a day of sumo wrestling matches works: The spectator area remains open, meaning you can go in and out whenever you want, thus facilitating the processes of getting a snack or going to the bathroom. Matches are held throughout the day in procession, beginning with the lower-ranking (not-so) small-fry sumo wrestlers. On average, each match lasts just a few seconds, so it’s easy to become familiar with the process after a few matches. A pair of sumo wrestlers enter the ring, and each wrestler bows to the other. Then, each wrestler begins to cycle between the motions of squatting at the starting line, performing a few motions (slapping their bellies, stomping on the ground, etc.), and throwing salt across the ring. Then, the fight begins. It usually only takes two to three seconds for one sumo to ring-out the other. This is a simple enough process, to say the least, and I was able to enjoy the matches my first time at Ryogoku Kokugikan. However, it took the okamisan explaining to me the significance behind these motions for me to really appreciate the art.

               As I watched from one of the front-most sections, the okamisan explained to me that the wrestlers wrestle each other when they feel like it, without exchanging a word. The cycle of motions and throwing salt serve to pump up the Japanese fighting spirit of the wrestlers themselves, as well as to excite the audience. When both wrestlers are ready to take on the other, they will communicate their readiness with a mere look – the referee is just there to make sure they don’t go over the time limit.


               Apparently, there are both honorable and dishonorable ways for a sumo wrestler to win, and a wrestler is not liked simply for his fighting ability, but also for his “nihonseishin,” or “Japanese spirit.” I remember the okamisan expressing particular distaste for one wrestler who had won by tricking his opponent to come at him, then dodging out of the way.

               Occasionally, a match would be preceded by several people in robes walking onto the circular stage, and circling around the wrestlers whilst holding up flags with advertisements on them. It was a sight I had seen my first time at the stadium, but had yet to understand. The okamisan explained to me that these were sponsors for either one of the sumo wrestlers on stage, and that each flag was worth about six hundred US dollars. The victorious wrestler would be given six hundred dollars for each flag as reward money, a discovery which had me gaping for several minutes straight. Some matches were preceded by about two or three flags, others by over thirty, and most with none at all. I remember counting a total of over thirty flags for the final match, and watching with great envy as the victor left with literal handfuls of money.

               To me, the most interesting part of this experience was seeing how the wrestlers who were popular for their “Japanese spirit” weren’t all Japanese, but mostly Mongolian. There was even one Russian wrestler amongst the top-division sumo who was received with quite an uproar after winning his match. It goes to show that being Japanese isn’t a prerequisite to possessing the moral values which the Japanese people uphold, which gives me hope, as after seeing all those six-hundred-dollar flags, I am currently considering a lucrative career in sumo wrestling.




There are 24 hours in a day, right? So an itinerary consisting of 10 hours of travelling – 5 hours there, 5 hours back – plus maybe about 3 hours at the actual destination, not counting meals, should, in theory fit into a single day. This is, of course, if one were to negate the need for sleep and food, the possibility of getting lost, and assume that there would be no school the following day. Well, I am proud to announce that as of the end of May 2015, I have joined the ranks of people crazy enough to undertake such a demanding daytrip. Now, one might begin to ask, “what kind of tourist destination in Japan could possibly warrant exhausting oneself to such a degree?” The answer, in the case of this blog post, would have to be “Zao Fox Village” in Miyagi, Sendai.

               A friend of mine, whose favorite animal is the fox, spends much time on the internet looking up things about foxes. One day, whilst searching for fox-related things to do in Japan, she stumbled upon the website of a fox preservation site up north in the Tohoku region. I consulted my agenda, but it did not seem like we were going to have a good chance to go up there anytime soon, as Golden Week had passed, and there were no three-day weekends in sight. Upon my friend’s fervent urging, however, we eventually made plans to make a daytrip to Sendai. This was our plan, which was to be executed on a Saturday: leave extra early in the morning on a bus, get to Sendai station just before noon, ride down to Shiroishi station, catch a taxi to the fox village, then do the reverse on the way back. Equipped with an artillery of snacks and caffeine, we set off upon this journey.

               After hours of non-stop travelling, we finally reached Zao Fox Village. Around May, the weather starts becoming oppressively hot very fast, so I had preemptively dressed in single-layers. Unfortunately, I had failed to account for the fact that we were going to be at a higher altitude in the north, where the winds blow particularly cold. But once I paid the 1000-yen entrance fee and was brought into the village, the sight of adorable little baby foxes made warmth pour from my heart and flood my body.


Prior to my departure, I’d seen many mixed reviews regarding Zao Fox Village. A lot of people were reporting how broken-hearted they’d felt to see such cute little foxes locked up in such small cages. Indeed, whilst the entry-area is where baby foxes are kept in cages, one of the village guides explained that it was for their safety as they were being raised, and once they reached adulthood, they would be released into a significantly larger free-roaming enclosure – one which guests were allowed to enter.

               The enclosure is designed to feel exactly like a naturally-occurring forest populated by foxes. Albeit, a forest with signs all over the places warning you against touching the foxes, lest they bite you. My friend had to fight hard to resist the temptation of petting her favorite animal, and was rewarded for her resistance when the staff announced the following: for 300 yen, we would be allowed to hold the baby foxes (which had yet to grow teeth) for as long as we wanted. Now, I feel pretty neutral about foxes, but the moment that baby fox was placed into my hands, my heart melted. At this point, I’m not sure what to say. It was seriously very cute.



               With that said, one can only imagine the state of senseless bliss my friend must have found herself in. I almost had to drag her out of the village in order to make it back home on time.

               I feel like something such as a “fox preservation site” that is open to tourists would never fly back in the United States due to some inherent “dangers,” so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have been able to get so physically close to one of nature’s cutest marvels in Japan. Though I probably won’t be undertaking a trip of this scale again, I don’t regret my decision whatsoever, and am glad I made the trip. Now, if only there were a pug preservation site in Japan…


How to Have Fun in Tokyo, Japan While on a Budget

Before coming to Japan, one of the first things people warned me about was how expensive everything is – to which I’ve quickly come to discover, they were right. Unfortunately, being a major city, Tokyo turned out to be just as expensive as people warned, however, not in the way I was necessarily expecting it to be.

Essentially, I was anticipating spending all of my money on clothes, shoes, and other entertainment related goods, but to my surprise, most – if not all – of my money went to food and travel expenses. Not to say the food here is expensive – it’s actually quite the opposite. Most food purchases can be made at any local convenient store for no more than five dollars, the only bad part is convenient stores are almost too local. I routinely stop in and purchase a snack or two of some sorts (typically melon bread), which has quickly depleted my money supply.

I knew I had to break my bad habits of making daily trips to convenient stores and limit my travels to just the weekends. Looking back on my experiences adjusting to life in Tokyo, I would have benefited greatly from knowing how to spend my money more wisely on inexpensive fun and more substantial (and filling) meals. Luckily, after getting adjusted to Japanese life, I’ve been able to find fun places to go and cheap places to eat that are relatively cheap, affordable, and won’t suck your wallet dry.

First off, if you're looking for a place to hang out with friends that is easy and fun, local game centers are the way to go. Not only are these places hard to miss – as they are typically large, red buildings with the sign “game” plastered on the front – but these massive giants have multiple floors, each containing various types of amusement, able to satisfy even the pickiest of gamers. What’s more, each game typically costs around 200 to 300-yen, which is around $2.50 a game. In my opinion, this is a small price to pay for the amount of fun a person can have for one game alone.

And ladies, don’t worry! If gaming isn’t your thing, there is an entire floor dedicated solely to purikura – which is essentially a Japanese version of a photo booth. Basically, for around four dollars, you and your friends can get high quality photos taken. And, for a small fee, you can dress up in various costumes ranging from an adorable tiger to a dedicated flight attendant.  

Aside from common game centers, there are also local parks such as Yoyogi and Setagaya, located about ten minutes away from the heart of Harajuku. These natural playgrounds are the perfect place to go and enjoy nature and spend time talking with friend. The best part is, it’s completely free.

Ideally, to make parks more of an enjoyable daytime activity, stopping at nearby convenient stores to gather some tasty snacks is always a good idea. Essentially, some sun, a cold refreshing drink, and quality conversation is all one needs. As an added bonus, Yoyogi Park and Harajuku are optimal places to spend a few hours because they are both about a ten-minute walking distance from Shibuya.

And while I highly recommend doing some of the aforementioned activities with friends, these are just a few suggestions on ways to have fun in Tokyo while being on a budget. There are many different things to see and do in Japan and knowing how to save money wherever you can helps make the experience a little more enjoyable. Happy saving! 

The Road Less Traveled in Tokyo, Japan



Day and night, hundreds of people – from tourists to natives – flood the streets of Tokyo. So much so, if you’re not careful, you can easily get swept away in the strong wave of bodies moving unanimously from one place to the next. And, while following a crowd around places like Shibuya and Shinjuku can lead you to popular and exiting places – especially if you do not already know where you are going – many unique side streets are sadly overlooked. I’ve come to discover, by getting lost, I stumble across places I never knew existed and may have never found while moving with the crowd.

Often times, when I find myself wandering the lively (and kooky) streets of Harajuku, I tend to stay within the areas I am most familiar with such as Yoyogi Park and Takeshita Street. Little did I know, by doing so, I really hindered my chances of coming across a really cool store, or truly awesome (and delicious) pancake restaurant.

Recently, I decided to be a little more unconventional and venture down streets I would always pass along my typical route down the main strip. Finally, I broke away from the swarm of people in order to venture a little farther into the maze-like streets; and, to my delight, I discovered places I would never have ventured into otherwise.

One place I stumbled upon in Harajuku was a large vintage thrift store – need I say more? This massive clothing wonderland had just about everything you could think of, from large tiger-faced fanny packs to sky-high platform boots – this place had it all. The best part about it was the location. It wasn’t near the main strip that was littered with high-end stores and overpriced coffee shops. This unique gem was hidden under a little walkway I only discovered after wandering a little ways deeper into Harajuku side streets.

Another great place with a few unique side streets is Shibuya – which luckily, is walking distance from Harajuku. After making my way through the famous Shibuya crossing, I came across a small alleyway that was lined with quaint little bars and restaurants. As I made my way through the cluster of tiny stores aligned closely, one next to the other, I stopped in front of one specific shop that peaked my interest and decided to give it a try. Fortunately, there was only one other customer eating what looked like octopus, which left room for me to comfortably set me things down and grab one of the seven seats available, which were lined against one narrow wall.

One of the aspects I loved most about this tiny shop was the fact it was run by an elder woman and her husband. I could tell, simply by observing the place, this dedicated couple had been running their shop tirelessly for some time.

On the other hand, I was a little apprehensive about sitting there in such confined quarters knowing I wouldn’t be able to hold a decent conversation with the shop owner and her husband. As much as I wanted to keep conversation light and airy with the welcoming couple, my Japanese speaking ability wasn’t up to par. However, once I ordered a small plate of bright red octopus legs, I broke the ice and started conversing with the shopkeeper. And, while I made many grammatical errors and endured enough awkward silence to last me a lifetime, I truly enjoyed myself. I even gained more confidence in my Japanese speaking ability – although, I can still use a considerable amount of practice.

But overall I’ve learned, gems are not so easily found and it takes patience and curiosity to discover some of the most secretive spots in the most obvious of places. And although Japan is a relatively safe place, filled with kindhearted people who genuinely care about the safely and well being of others, it is always important to utilize caution and common sense when traveling in a foreign place. That being said, if you do choose, or have a heart, to venture into the side streets of Tokyo – or anywhere for that matter – I advised you to do so with a trusted friend, and always be aware of your surroundings. Once you understand and recognize this, I highly recommend taking the road less traveled and wander a little farther, as you never know what awaits you in the heart of Tokyo.  


Adventures in Kyoto, Japan







Recently, I received the wonderful opportunity to join my friend on a weekend adventure to Kyoto, Japan. And, after a brief two and a half hour Shinkansen ride, I was away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and transported to an entirely new Japan.

Tokyo, known for it’s fast-pace city life, is unique in that it differs from the rest of Japan’s slower, more laidback areas, such as Kyoto. And, being from California, I truly appreciated Kyoto’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Not to mention, I was able to see clear, blue skies rather than dark shadows of towering skylines hovering above me. What's more, escaping city life for a short while was extremely refreshing and rejuvenated my wanderlust spirit.

Despite only having a brief two days to bask in the wide-open spaces, I did my best to make the most of it. In order to do so, I booked the earliest departure time from Tokyo to Kyoto, which meant I had the wonderful task of waking up bright and early at 4:45 in the morning to make it to the station on time. To my delight, the train ride itself was a great experience in and of itself. Whizzing by at an astounding 200mph, the Shinkansen is called the “bullet train” for good reason. Surprisingly, it was a fairly smooth ride with little bumps along the way, along plenty of convenient store bought snacks to keep my appetite fully subdued.

Once in Kyoto, I immediately went straight for the information booth to grab myself a 500-yen (around five dollars) bus ticket and local maps of the area. I wanted to do my best to cover as much local ground as I could, as I knew my time there was incredibly precious. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet up with some friends who were also in Kyoto the same weekend. Having them along with me definitely enhanced my experience for the better – I even got some awesome Purikura pictures out of it!

In regards to some of the more historical places I visited, Kiyomizu Temple unquestionably made a lasting impression on me. I undeniably fell in love with the vibrant, red temples intricately placed amongst the cluster of trees. Not to mention, the view was impeccable and truly breathtaking – I was even able to see Kyoto Tower from the very deck of the Temple itself.

After spending a decent amount of time exploring the temple grounds, I made my way over to traditional, Kyoto style house – one with a long entryway leading up to the front door. Here, I partook in the time-honored painting of traditional Japanese fans. This by far was one of the most relaxing activities I participated in, and I would surely jump at the first chance I got to do it again. The best part was, you didn't have to be an expert artist to paint something beautiful, as stencils were provided to help those achieve a more professional looking masterpiece. Unfortunately, being the perfectionist I am, I spent around two hours making sure my work of art turned out just how I wanted it to – even with the use of guided stencils.  

Lastly, after all of the site seeing was done and I had my completed artwork – which I was very proud of – to take back with me, I ended the trip doing what I love most, shopping.  Fortunately for me, I was able to exercise self-control and managed to walk away having purchased only one item – a beautiful gold necklace from a store located in OPA shopping center (it has quickly become one of my favorite pieces).

Overall, I had an amazing time exploring a different side of Japan and not only learning more about the traditional history of Kyoto, but actually seeing the innate beauty this rich land possess. It’s safe to say, I highly recommend Kyoto to anyone who is presented with the wonderful opportunity to go!