The Week I Experienced Japan For The First Time

This Week:

  • 2 final days exploring Seoul – palaces, streets, and sweets.
  • The first few days exploring Tokyo, Japan – sushi, shrines, and more sweets.
  • A peek into my mindset the past couple days here.

April 2024

Su M T W Th F S

Where In The World Was I?

  • 🇰🇷 Seoul, South Korea
  • ✈️ Incheon (ICN) to Tokyo (NRT)
  • 🇯🇵 Tokyo, Japan

Live Travel Map 🌎

Metrics From The Week

Business Progress Update

No updates since last week. I’ve shifted my focus to trying to maximize my experience exploring Seoul and Tokyo.

Final Days In Seoul, South Korea

Morning walks and coffee…

I moved guest houses and this one took me back to “college apartment” vibes. Beige leather couch, none of the furniture matches anything else, blank walls and quirky paintings, random items scattered everywhere, always dark 😂 Love it.

Day 2 Of Exploring

I started in the area around Namsan and just wandered my way north eventually to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. I ended up wandering down into this random super-local underground shopping mall and above ground market (the perks of wandering without a path and why I love doing it).

Then made it to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. You can wikipedia the history but my TL;DR’d understanding is that this was originally built (later rebuilt) in 1395! That’s wild.

Besides the pictures from 👆 there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. In between all the buildings is a bunch of open space and all the buildings were empty (and you could only look in from the windows). I think a guided tour learning about all the history and context would be a better overall experience.

I then made my way to this shopping street, Insadong Street. I LOVED the vibes, feel, and energy here! People out and about (despite it drizzling), shopping, eating, walking around. This is a perfect example of the types of streets I love to just wander around. It’s something about the energy and the aesthetics… I can’t explain it… It just feels good.

I had some trouble finding a good place to eat here (more on that later), but eventually settled on this hole-in-the-wall dumpling place. They spoke ZERO english 😄👌 Nothing the good ‘ol “point and wave your credit card” strategy can’t fix (which is literally what I did) 😂 It’s awkward in the moment but I love moments like these – something about thinking on your feet, being humbled, and yet still being able to work something out with someone from a completely different culture/language.

Then gave into the temptation for some sweets.

Then found this beautiful park that hugged a stream/river on the way back.

Day 3 Of Exploring

I started in a similar area as the Palace, in Samcheong.

Kinda cool to see lots of dedicated bus lanes and SOOO many buses everywhere. It felt like it just… made sense.

I went to this Cafe Onion place. I got the impression that it was a big tourist hot spot – line out the door, people taking lots of pictures. Knowing literally nothing going in, it felt a little over-hyped in my opinion.

The croissant was very crunchy and the scone was dry, but hey, tons of creative pastries, the building was really cool, I loved the wood and traditional feel, and if you ate at the cafe you sat on these pillows on the ground (what looked like “traditional” seats) instead of chairs.

I found a nice teahouse after.

Good quality earl grey tea latte, lots of flavor. But side note, I wish there were a way for iced drinks to not get watered down by ice cubes. I keep finding that the flavor curve of an iced cold brew/tea latte is like an exponential decay curve – the first sip is always perfect and delicious but then it just gets worse as you continue to drink.

🤔🤔 Ice cubes made from the drink (tea/coffee)? Or some kind of vessel where the cold/ice cubes aren’t inside the drink? Anyways the reason I brought this up was because I ended up downing that tea pretty quickly because I wanted to get that full flavor as much as I could.

I made my way to the Bukchon Hanok Village after, which appeared to be another tourist hot spot – beautiful architecture!

I didn’t get a picture of them but one of the interesting observations I made was there were a handful of local people/volunteers with yellow vests on that said “Please be quiet this is a residential area 🤫” and walked around shhh’ing people that were talking loudly.

At this point I was gonna take a bus to another part of Seoul but I was walking down this street and saw an entrance to a big park which piqued my interest (didn’t see it on the map). I strolled around and sat on a park bench for a while taking in the beautiful sunshine and nature.

Then ended up hiking up to the top of the mountain trying to find my way out of the park.

I took a bus to Yeouido Park after to try to find some cherry blossoms but all the flowers had fallen off the trees (at least the cherry blossoms, there were some pretty white flowers in the park).

Final Seoul Thoughts

Finding restaurants to eat at was a lot harder than I expected in Seoul.

Part of it was the fact that Google Maps doesn’t really work that well in Seoul (I heard potentially due to South Korea not releasing their maps data publicly while still being formally at war with North Korea). There are locations on Google Maps, but a good handful of places just don’t exist and lots of the reviews on places are from visitors instead of locals, so many good places have just a couple reviews. Instead, Koreans use Naver Maps, which maybe half the app did translate to English but there was still a lot in Korean that I just couldn’t understand.

I also just didn’t really have that much intrinsic motivation to eat at any of the Korean food places. Most looked like hot-plate places where you get a spread of meat and cook it right in front of you. Maybe next time or if I’m with some locals.

And I also didn’t buy a sim card in Seoul so I was kind of playing travel on “hard” mode, relying on wifi in cafes and public mall wifi, which did make it a lot more challenging.

After much searching, I did find a couple places, but I spent a looong time looking and going out of my way for these.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting of Seoul. I remember being worried that it’d be super expensive and potentially boring when I was planning this in Da Nang. 6 days felt like it’d be too long. But I was pleasantly surprised! That fresh spring air and feeling is what really stuck with me the most. And shoutout to the Gyeongui Line park/rail trail, so beautiful and peaceful to walk/run there.

I took a good number of photos with my camera but I found much of the urban scenes hard to get a photo like I would’ve liked. Compared to somewhere like Paris where there’s a general cohesive architectural theme throughout the city, Seoul (and some of Tokyo) seems more… chaotic. Everything is different, all the buildings are different colors and materials.

✈️ Off to Tokyo

I still see some snow and ski resorts up there in the mountains!

High speed train from the airport (NRT) straight into Tokyo (¥2310/$15). Nice.

… and chaotic metro stations, wow (this was a big hub).

Settling In

I took the first day and a half to collect myself and do some laundry (it had been a little bit too long 😅, 10 days 😬)

Ohhhh it felt good to be back moving heavy objects up and down again.

Cultural… Differences 😅

So the first night I’m walking to that conveyor belt sushi place. It’s a well-populated area with shops, convenience stores, restaurants, and some local trinket popup stands.

I passed by a little pop-up stand selling t-shirts… But ON those t-shirts were… pictures of full-on naked women.

Like we’re talking right on the street, not one of these stores where you have to walk in or around the curtain or whatever. ON the street. Plain view for everyone.

It caught me off guard a bit as I don’t think I’ve been somewhere THAT direct about it.

But I brushed it off as just “interesting” until I went to a local coffee shop the next morning.

I sit down, order a coffee, turn to my left and see this bookshelf full of magazines with Japanese women in bikinis (there’s nothing explicit on the edges but I thought I’d blur the photo just in case).

And so well, being a curious fellow, I open one up and see the first like eight pages are just full on nudes 😅 The entire rest of the magazine was normal stuff – comic strips, ads, photos, products, whatever.

Confused, I went to ChatGPT for help in understanding. Apparently this is actually quite common here in Japan, most convenience stores sell magazines like this.

And the line for explicit material is drawn differently in Japanese culture, where depicting nude women is okay and more seen as “aesthetic” than sexual. Evidently depicting any kind of sexual acts beyond that is where they draw the line on what’s okay.

Allllrighty then! 😄

I had this impression that Japan was kind of “buttoned up” and a more conservative culture, but uhhh apparently not 😂

Day 1 Of Exploring

I explored around the Asakusa area of Tokyo for an afternoon/evening – Nakamise-dori street and the Sensō-ji temple (completed in 645!)

I found it a bit hard to really be present with all the people there, but I just took my time and tried to soak it in. I talked about this in This is why I don’t go to the popular touristy places – there were a lot of people there that I could tell were just hitting all the touristy places in Tokyo, snapping their photos for Instagram, then heading to the next place. I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but in response to that I try to be conscious about taking my time to soak in these places. I can’t really claim it’s in any way “better” (how is “better” defined here?) but 🤷‍♂️

And then had some incredible sushi for dinner.

Order left to right ($25.80):

  • Fatty tuna
  • Sweet shrimp
  • Crab salad
  • Cooked salmon
  • Eel
  • Fried bean enclosing rice
  • California roll
  • House special roll

I’ll be honest when I went to the conveyor belt sushi place, it was good, but when I ordered the fresh (raw) fish, I didn’t get much flavor… But THIS place oh my lord the flavor in raw fish, I’ve never experienced that before. It was incredible.

The other thing was I noticed all these carriages around this area. They’re your classic little touristy ride around the area (not implying anything bad with the term “tourist” here), except there’s a catch…

Instead of a horse or little tuk-tuk or motorbike, the carriage is pull by… a man 😂

It’s a bunch of well-built good-looking Japanese men in dress shirts and tight briefs underwear/spandex shorts literally running in front pushing the carriage around 😂

I never got a good picture but you can kind of see if you look closely.

Day 2 Of Exploring

Started out with some coffee, per usual.

And then took the metro out to Shibuya City and to the Meiji Jingu shrine.

There was something absolutely beautiful about this place – huge forest, peace, birds chirping, surrounded by trees – this oasis right in the city.

And there was some kind of ceremony or wedding going on there.

I don’t know who they were but they must’ve been a very important/high-ranking family to have a wedding here, that’s for sure.

On my way out I sprang for the ¥500 ticket to enter the private gardens.

Much more peaceful (fewer people), surprisingly quiet, and beautiful!

Lastly, one thing I noticed at all of these gates/arch (a “torii” gate?) at the edges of the park was that people (mostly Japanese people) were stopping at the gate and bowing before heading in (and after exiting). As I was admiring the beauty, aesthetics, and simplicity of the gate, something started tugging at my emotions as I saw people continue to bow with respect as they entered and exited the park.

I can’t quite put it into words but I felt something deeper at this shrine, gates, and park. I’m not sure when these gates went up, but just even thinking that a group of people many many years ago designed, created, and constructed these buildings and gates was an instant perspective shift.

Speaking both from this moment but also more generally, I admire the culture of respect and preservation of cultural traditions here. I see this in the public transportation too. All the train drivers, bus drivers, security guards, traffic directors, taxi drivers, you name it, they’re all well dressed in uniform and I feel there’s a sense of pride and respect in their work.

Riding the train in from the airport, I noticed the security guard who was walking through the cars would bow/nod his head as he reached the end of the car (waiting for the door to open), then bow/nod his head as he entered the next car.

Anyways, I made my way to Takeshita Street next, a big shopping street, and VERY popular.

Crepe with chocolate ice cream and cheese cake was delicious. Brown sugar boba milk was… eh. Really cool how they make it (didn’t get a photo) – brown sugar boba at the bottom/sides, then ice+milk, cream on top, then sprinkle on brown sugar and burn it with a little hand torch. But, I think I may have had too many milk teas that I was expecting something similar to a milk tea flavor. It was more like light milk with some hard clumps of burnt brown sugar.

Then stumbled across a little mall with a big rooftop park, ALSO really popular!

And it was here, walking around the rooftop park (last photo) for a couple minutes that I couldn’t help but think, “isn’t this what most people want?”

I thought back to the car-centric culture of the majority of the U.S. and how in the U.S. I had always been drawn to these neighborhood shopping streets/commercial centers and parks. To me, it’s the energy – everyone out and about, taking in the sunshine and warmth of the sun, sitting on the grass having a picnic, chatting, walking, shopping, having a coffee, whatever it is – that draws me to these places. I can’t quite put a word to it but it’s something like the shared experience of being together with others.

The one contrarian perspective is that there could be a bit TOO many people, but to me places like these are great, they’re perfect, I love just wandering around them, people watching, and being present. But I was thinking, is this just my personal preference? Is this subjective? Or is there something objectively “better” about these places? Like doesn’t everyone in the U.S. want places like these?

And that’s kind of where that thought thread ended… I don’t have a response or answer or any other commentary, just an open question.

I grabbed a quick dinner then visited the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. It’s just a really big 4-way intersection, but every single light cycle there were a LOT of people crossing in every direction.

Like a LOT of people 😄

Wildly cool.

After that I made my way back to my guest house. But, it wasn’t THAT easy, because I’ve also been playing Japan on “hard” mode without a SIM card. Luckily I found a train that headed all the way across Tokyo straight to my stop. What did they do before phones!?

(Other) Food From Tokyo

The food has actually not been as crazy expensive as I thought it would be. I mean sure I haven’t eaten at quality Japanese restaurants, but at least the fast-casual stuff is pretty reasonable.

  • Chipotle-like burrito bowl for $10
  • Granola+yogurt, carrot cake, and strawberry latte for $13
  • Dessert cake, ice cream, and cherry tea for $10
  • Fresh salad and bread for $14
  • Another Mexican bowl for $9
  • Cuban sandwich for $7

First-ish Impressions

  • Google Maps shows you so much more information! – direct link to buy train tickets, what station entrance/exit to follow, what train car to get on for fastest transfer, cool!
  • The train/metro stations are chaos, SO many people.
  • Trains at Ueno Station literally came every 3 min. I think they had different destinations but still that’s insanely fast.
  • On my walk around the neighborhood this morning I saw three different school kids (definitely elementary school, maybe 5th grade or something, they were small) all walking to school completely alone (some in groups). This neighborhood is super chill, no cars, lots of people walking. But to send your kid off to school alone through the neighborhood at that age 😳😄 It sure is different out here.
  • Bidets everywhere!
  • Vending machines everywhere!
  • These neighborhoods are sooooo quiet and peaceful, wow. No through cars, kids walking to school, all locals.
  • All the school kids dress well (in school uniforms).
  • I’ve seen a lot of designated smoking areas, but different than other countries. They’re more out of the way and it seems like smoking anywhere is prohibited except for the little designated areas.

Some Internal Thoughts

The facts:

My sleep routine has NOT been prioritized (sleep scores are down, consistency is down, etc.) and I’ve eaten quite a lot more sugar (giving into the temptations of “eh sure why not I’ll have a chocolate scone/pain au chocolat/ice cream/waffle/etc.”) the past 2 weeks.

The feelings:

Looking at my sleep scores, it’s not as bad as I think I make it out to be inside my mind, but I think it’s more about feeling the judgement from my past and ideal self, the one with consistent 100% sleep scores and who prioritized(es) his sleep and diet. To come from weeks/months ago having a strict routine (not in the restrictive sense, but in the sense that my health and routine was the foundation of everything else) and to compare that to now, where I blow past my 8pm bed time routine time watching YouTube videos until I arbitrarily decide “eh, I should go to bed now” has been a big contrast. It’s that contrast that’s caused mental tension.

And on top of that eating a lot of sugary non-healthy foods and not working out consistently has also been a sense of friction with the part of me that values and prioritizes my health.

I’ve questioned how to prioritize my sleep routine without the work routine in the mornings now multiple times (every time I take a break from focused laptop work), but I still haven’t figured it out. The only real thing that’s changed is removing that direction of working from the mornings. Then maybe in addition or as a result, the diet has been looser and working out is less of a priority. Morning work for me IS purpose: they are synonymous. That time is my time to move forward towards my goals. Removing that part of my life has seemed to remove any of the consequences for losing discipline in my diet and sleep routine. Getting less sleep means less energy/focus, but I’m not really using that energy/focus here.

It feels a bit like a double-edged sword. Part of what makes it hard for me mentally is that this part of me that values my health, sleep, diet, etc. is not some fantasy. It’s real and I have a LOT of evidence now that I value these things. So in a way it feels like I’m “reverting” on past bad habits. But at the same time the other side of this is that like a light switch I know exactly what to change to align everything again, and I’ve done that multiple times as well. That makes me optimistic. I have so much evidence that I know I can do it again.

So I dunno, maybe I’ll re-read this in a couple years and have the perspective I need. Maybe it’s just not a big deal. Or maybe I’m missing a piece that I haven’t quite uncovered yet.

Interesting Content From The Week

Mostly random stuff, but I’ve been back to watching some of the war footage from Ukraine/Russia war.

Americans, Canadians and Ukrainians destroyed 22 russians within their defense point. 08/23/2023 (from Butusov Plus) – (Note: HEAVY view discretion advised if you watch)

I continue to be fascinated (among every one else watching) that we live in a day and age where you can literally watch the frontlines trench warfare from your couch. Like, literally, front-lines combat. But it’s been hitting me the past couple days, I can really feel my perspective shifting massively about just how lucky I am (and pretty much anyone reading this). I’m feeling more sensitive to any kind of complaining I do or negative thoughts that I have. I’m feeling more sensitive to gratitude in all regards – being in a peaceful country, having a warm meal, having a bed to sleep in. I said it last time (The Week Of Huge Reinvestments And Beach Town Paradise March 10th, 2024) and I’ll type it again… “If you want an immediate gratitude hack and perspective shift, watch a couple of these videos then remember that nobody is trying to throw a grenade into YOUR room right now…” I keep thinking how I have absolutely zero basis to complain about anything in my life right now because there are men and women my age out there fighting in the mud and dirt for their country, and for their lives. What a messy time. I’m grateful for every day I get.

What’s Next?

The time has finally come.



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