japan

Japan: Food Poisoning & Saki Bombs

I apologize in advance for the lack of detail on this post. I really slacked and waited a month to write it… oops.

So I arrived in tokyo after a very long day of traveling between phuket and kuala lumpur and then on to Tokyo. We deplaned and went through immigration where they absolute TORE apart my bag. I really think these guys get a kick out of this. They rip your bag apart and leave it up to you to put everything back together. I understand WHY they look through the bag, just think they could be ‘nicer’ about. 

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After getting through immigration I exchanged some money that I had brought with me from thailand. My hopes of getting a sim card (i knew the chances were low seeing as it was 1130pm) were squashed pretty quickly. There was really NOTHING open in the airport between leaving security and leaving the airport. 

I was nervous as I didn’t have any way of getting in touch with my airbnb host or knowing if the driver was going the right way without internet or phone service. I knew that taxis were EXTREMELY expensive (about $75 to drive less then 5 miles and less then a 15 minute trip) but at that point of the day I didn’t want to have to try and figure out the local subway. I made it to the airbnb without any troubles though and checked in with my hosts who were super nice and had a really sweet spot overlooking tokyo tower.

The plan for my 4 full days in Japan was to spend my first half day around tokyo and then head to kyoto on the bullet train for two nights. After a good nights sleep I ran around tokyo and got as much done as possible. I hit Harajuku (this crazy busy block with so many people walking down it that you could barely move). I got over to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I got more street/people photography done in a half a day then almost the entire rest of the trip. Tokyo was a cool place and was pretty easy to get around via the subway. I only had about 5 hours to roam around town before getting to the bullet train station to head to kyoto. 

So this was a pain in the ass. I bought my bullet train ticket (i thought) all through a website i found online. Essentially i only paid for the ticket but still had to go pick it up. One thing to note about Japan, they LOVE heat. They love it on the subways, they love it in restaurants, they love it in stores and shops. They blast the heat in some places at like 85 degrees. It was so hot in the bullet train ticket office that i literally gasped when I walked in. Spending an hour in there to get my ticket actually printed was no fun. Suggestion to anyone looking to take that train, I’m sure there is an easier way of getting your ticket… figure out what it is and do it. 

The bullet train itself was actually really nice. I don’t spend much time on trains here in the states other than back and forth to manhattan, but these trains were pretty upscale. They had power outlets at every seat, wifi, beverage and food service, etc. The seats were really spacious and the overall experience was great. It didn’t really feel like it was going any faster then a normal train, but it sure did look cool when it pulled into the station. 

Kyoto

I am going to talk about 2 things in regards to my trip to kyoto. First, I had one of the coolest experiences at dinner while at my airbnb. Second, that great experience was followed by one of the worst nights of being sick in my life. 

I got to my airbnb which was an old 2 story home which featured a “samurai” style japanese restaurant on the first floor and a small 3 bedroom apartment on the second floor.  It was by far the least modern place I had stayed at throughout the whole trip but did have a bit of ‘charm’ to it. The rooms were all small, the ceilings were low, and the bathroom was just barely big enough to were I could close the door while sitting on the toilet (this would be important later as I spent much of the night cramped in this little hole of a room). 

The host was nice, spoke english and showed me around. I figured the place would suffice as I didn’t plan on spending much time there other then to sleep. I had a lot of places to visit and sites to see. Kyoto features some of the oldest temples still standing in Japan after WWII so I was looking forward to getting some great shots.  It has features Geishas in certain neighborhoods and I was looking forward to trying to get some photography done for that as well. 

I went down to the restaurant to grab some dinner and figured I’d just pass out early and get an early start to the day. The whole restaurant seated maybe 20 people and I was put at a table next to a group of 10 japanese young adults. I don’t really remember how it happened but we engaged each other in conversation and started chatting. About an hour later we were all laughing and sharing drinks and talking about our respective cultures and ways of life. They were all extremely interested in what it was like to live in the US and what I wanted to do with my life and what I believed in, etc. It was kind of flattering that they took such an interest but I think it was a matter of respect for them as well. They had welcomed a new friend into their group and really made me feel like a part of their crowd.

We sat on the floor for 2 hours and shared stories. Ikumi , the 26yr old girl I was sitting next to, refilled my glass when I finished each drink. It is bad form to fill your own glass as I would learn so I was more than happy to oblige. They each shared their business cards with me and they presented them to me like a gift, with the utmost respect. It was just a very interesting experience. 

I brought my own “flare” to the exchange as well. I couldn’t believe it, but they had never heard of saki bombs (dropping a shot of saki into a beer and drinking it all at once). So that lead to about a dozen saki bombs which they really got a kick out of. They told me about their favorite comic, “One Piece”, and Nobu (one of the guys) shared his love of “Bushido” (the samurai way/lifestyle) and recommended a great book to read (which I am currently reading now). We all did some laughter yoga at the table (which is essentially just belting out some great big laughs.. its invigorating).

The whole dinner experience was just one of the most interesting and enlightening experiences during the whole entire 7 week trip. It was, unfortunately, followed by the worst experiences of the trip. As we neared the end of dinner I started feeling some stomach cramps. I didn’t think much of it though and we all said our goodbyes,  expressing our gratitudes and pleasures to meet each other and went on our way.  I retired back to the apartment upstairs and got some photo editing done. 

The next 7 hours was filled with the worst food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. I could not keep anything in my system. My body rejected anything that came in. Without getting to graphic, I don’t think that little 4 foot by 3 foot bathroom will ever recover. It got to the point, around 3:30am, that I decided I had to go to the hospital. I was completely dehydrated and had no nutrients in my system what-so-ever. I was cramping up and could barely move from exhaustion. 

I will have to give some major credit to my airbnb host who drove me to the hospital and translated for me for 2 hours. Thank god he was there because I don’t know how i would have gotten the medical attention I needed without him. The whole hospital visit including an IV drip and other medications cost me a grand total of …. wait for it…. $190. A trip like that would have cost easily several thousand dollars here in the states. By the time we left I was feeling a bit better and at least got some electrolytes in my system via the IV.

That was my whole kyoto experience. What was supposed to be a big highlight of my trip with views of old temples and geishas and the real “old japan” was summed up to a great meal in a restaurant and a hospital visit. I had no energy to do anything the next day and while I was supposed to stay another night, I really just wanted to get back to the much more comfortable airbnb in Tokyo. I got back on the bullet train and headed back where my hosts there was nice enough to open their place to me a day early.

The next day and a half I spent trying to keep some food down and doing a bit more touring around and grabbing some photos. 

I did not get to eat all the food I had planned on eating while in Japan and certainly am planning on going back and doing it right. Overall, thought, it was a great experience to add to the entire journey. The japanese 20 somethings that I met gave me some really cool perspective of japanese culture and left me wanting more for sure. 

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