Crashing Japan
Tour Experience - Free Day

by Bamboo Dong,

As a first time visitor to Japan, it can be daunting to navigate through the labyrinthine train stations, or wander aimlessly through Shinjuku in search of local food options, which is what makes tours so nice. The first few days give you a chance to acclimate to your surroundings, as well as get some pointers on customs, reading signs, and figuring out how to use a vending machine to order curry. After that, though, you're generally comfortable enough to wander around by yourself, which is what makes the Free Day so great.

I woke up at 4AM on my free day, with plans to go to the Tsukiji fish market. (Actually, I set the alarm for 3AM, but after years of practicing in undergrad, was able to turn it off without even waking up.) From Shinjuku Station, the place was very easy to find—I hopped aboard the Oedo line, and headed straight for Tsukijishijo Station. A quick survey of my surroundings when I exited told me that in order to find the fish market, all I had to do was follow the guys with the rubber boots.

If you ever happen to find yourself awake at 4AM, or if you're just finishing partying from the previous night, you owe it to yourself to check out the fish market. The place is insane. Never in my life have I ever dreamed of seeing such a huge mountain of empty Styrofoam boxes, nor have I ever thought that I would be standing in a space the size of an airplane hangar, surrounded by aisles and aisles of every kind of edible (un-endangered) marine life imaginable. The best part is that none of the workers seem to care that there're tourists everywhere. As long as you stay out of their way, they let you stare and take as many pictures as you want. There's even a strip marked off for visitors near the tuna auctions, which is where all the action's at.

After wandering around for almost two hours, I found myself craving a solid sushi breakfast. My decision to go to Tsukiji was two-fold—one, I wanted to see the hustle and bustle of one of the world's most famous seafood markets, and two, I wanted to check out Daiwa Sushi, which was somewhere in the vicinity. Unfortunately, my directions were shoddy, and I had no idea where I was going. Luckily, I had rented a Japanese cell phone before I left for Japan, so I took the chance to wake the tour guide up at 7AM to see if he could point me in the right direction.

Let me go ahead and say that we had the best tour guide in the world, and it's all thanks to Destination Japan. I don't know anyone else who would've sounded so cheerful about being woken up, just for directions to a sushi restaurant. Unfortunately, even after 45 minutes on the phone, I wasn't able to find this hidden gem, but directions from a Chinese dock worker finally led me to the side alley where this place was. This place is amazing. Just amazing. You can read me wax lyrical about this place here (and get directions!)

After the most satisfying breakfast of my entire life, I headed back to my hotel to rest a bit before heading out to Mitaka to check out the Ghibli Museum. Accessible by the Chuo JR line, Mitaka is a quaint suburb west of Tokyo proper. When you leave the station, you'll see the bus that takes you to the museum (200JPY one-way, 300JPY round-trip), but if you want to make the relaxing 15 minute walk, just look for the small street signs with the Totoro on them. The signs aren't immediately visible, but if you wander in the direction of the tree-lined stream, you'll eventually see one.

If you choose to go to the Ghibli museum, be aware that you need to get tickets in advance. They cost 1000JPY and can be purchased at kiosks in Lawson convenience stores in Japan. If you're traveling from abroad, you can also get the tickets from certain travel agencies, like JTB.

Designed for children, this fine arts museum truly knows how to breathe the very essence of life into all its drawings and art pieces. With animation exhibits, rotating displays, and examples of character designs, storyboards, and everything else, this place is a must-see for all visitors of animation, and especially Studio Ghibli fans.

Afterwards, I only had one more stop that I had to make—Ueno Park, famous for its zoo, its homeless people, and its armies of friendly stray cats. Although it's against the law to feed the cats and the birds at the park, you'll often see people feeding and playing with the cats. If you love cats, this place is heavenly. The cats are friendly and plump, and as far as I know, they're all fairly healthy.

There were probably a billion different ways I could have spent my free day, but after eating the best sushi I've ever had, and immersing myself in the Ghibli Museum, I think I made some pretty good decisions.

For more pictures and commentary on the tour, check out Destination Japan's flashback page.

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