Japan, especially Tokyo, has been on the top of my travel list for quite some time. But when I was fully nomadic, it was difficult to organize logistically due to timezone differences. It was also intimidating to plunge into as a solo traveler. So when a mutual friend told me they were organizing a group trip to the area, it was the perfect time for me to cross this country off my bucket list.

I was ultimately in Japan and Korea for almost a month, and bounced around a lot between different neighborhoods and cities. But the first stop for me was Tokyo and the surrounding area.

My landing destination was in Kōenji, a neat little neighborhood on the western part of the greater Tokyo area. Despite my reservations, I found it awesome to get back into solo traveling. The weather was a bit rainy for the first couple of days, but I found a nice coffee shop to relax, read a book and just enjoy my own company.
Shortly after arriving in Japan, I made a day trip down to Kamakura and met my Uncle Fritz and Aunt Atsuko. I've met them before when I was really young, and have talked with them over video chat. But this was the first time, in my memory, actually seeing them in person!
The Kamakura area had a lot of beautiful scenery to view, and we easily filled up a day just walking about the area to see some of the gardens, statues and streets.
Kotoku-in, within the Kamakura area, is home to the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. You can even walk inside of it! The statue was originally made in 1252.
One of my primary rules of exploring is "when in doubt, go up!" Following this rule of thumb, we were greeted with some great views of the surrounding area. Despite the cold weather, we could still spot surfers catching waves on the beach.
Japanese temples were seemingly a dime-per-dozen, but they never failed to amaze me. I enjoyed the intricate carvings, unique architecture and (mostly) quiet ambiance around them.
After a few days of solo travel, a couple more people in the group arrived in Tokyo. At the recommendation of my cousin, who used to live in the area, we headed to Moon Stomp. It's a small bar with live music, and off the typical tourist trail. As such, everyone was fascinated with the American tourists who managed to stumble their way in.
We quickly became the esteemed guests of the evening at Moon Stomp. The ragtime band dedicated a few songs to "The American Tourists," and I bought them all a round of drinks. Despite the language barrier, it was a fun time. After playing their set, the band asked to take a photo with all of us. It was a really fun evening, and one of my favorite memories.
The streets of Japan were dotted with tons of restaurants, many of which hung these glowing lanterns outside. They were really picturesque, and fun to see!
After Kōenji, I made hopped over to a quiet hostel in the Shibuya area. It's known for lots of things, one of which is the Shibuya Scramble pictured here. This is the most heavily trafficked crossing in the world, with up to 3,000 people crossing in a single light change!
The Shibuya area is also known for having a Google office. I ended up working for the first week that I was in Tokyo. I was really pleased to find this music room in the Google Tokyo office, where I could scratch my guitar-playing itch.
The Google Tokyo office also had a very scenic billiards table, where I got the pleasure of losing a game or two against some friends who came to visit for lunch.
While in Shibuya, we went to the "spiritual successor" to the famous Robot Restaurant. The original dinner & show went out of business during COVID, but was brought back under a new name. The show was crazy, over-the-top, and tons of fun.
After spending a couple of days working in Shibuya, I swapped over to a hostel up in the Akihabara neighborhood. This area is known for their arcade rooms, which have tons of vending and claw machines dispensing weird toys. Me, Bryan and Alek had a fun night exploring the plethora of arcade rooms in the area.
When I said they have weird toys, I meant it! This claw machine had prize options in the form of stretchable babies with removable diapers and keychains with plastic chicken nuggest and fries.
And here's Bryan, playing a claw machine and trying in vain to win a "Fuggler" that I later won myself. The Fuggler will return in a future blog post!
Later on that week, I met up with Rich. He's an old friend of mine that I met in Hawaii, who now lives with his fiance in Tokyo. He suggested we all meet up and head out to a J-Pop show, followed by some dinner and drinks.
The J-Pop show was one of my top memories, and so fascinating. When we arrived, the crowd was dead quiet. Japanese people tend to be respectful and quiet, but it was still bizzare to see this behavior in what would normally be a rowdy environment in the US.
To my amazement and pleasure, the quiet atmosphere quickly disintegrated once the performers started. What began quietly ended in utter chaos, with crowd surfing, mosh pitting and other fun stuff. There was even people in the crowd with helmets on!
Here's one of my favorite photos from the concert. I cannot stress enough how fun it was to watch the formerly quiet crowd go utterly nuts for the performers.
Unfortunately, not everyone made it out unscathed. I mentioned some of the mosh pit participants had been wearing helmets, and I quickly learned why that was.
After the concert, we went out exploring Golden Gai and the closely associated "Omoide Yokocho," better known as Piss Alley. Both featured tight, tourist-packed streets filled with bars, booze, and tons of food. We went for a couple drinks in Golden Gai, and then some yakitori in Piss Alley.
The next day, I had no plans and ended up just hopping on a bus and seeing where it would take me. I ended up in Kichijoji for the day, which was such a cool area.
Later that evening, I headed back into the city to check out Tokyo Tower. It was pretty insane to get that high up, and see how large the city really is. Even with crystal clear viewing conditions, the buildings spread as far as the eye could see.
After Tokyo Tower, it was out to a fancy steak dinner. I knew that I absolutely must try authentic wagyu beef while in Japan, and so me and a few friends went to this fancy, all-you-can-eat beef restaurant. The chef cooked right in front of us, which was a cool experience.
There's not really much to add on this photo, just a cool picture that I snagged.
As my last journey in Tokyo, I stayed at this cute little hostel on the outskirts of the city. It was a really cool place, with a nice garden and traditional interior.
I spotted this funny little statue in the garden one morning, which made for a cool picture.
The downstairs of the hostel had a bar, which was mostly filled with locals. It ended up being a really fun evening, meeting a fellow traveler and a couple locals interested in practicing their English and swapping travel stories & suggestions.
Of course, no blog post would be complete without food photos. As usual, I've saved those for the last portion of the blog. And what better way to kick things off with a vending machine I found in Tokyo, which contains nothing but sriracha hot sauce?
I don't think this needs much of an introduction - the sushi in Japan was amazing!
Another classic dish by the Japanese people, I induged in quite a lot of delicious ramen.
This was a new concept to me - dry ramen!? It was actually fantastic! I don't think I could even compare it to normal broth ramen, they were two different dishes.
Here's a shot from the fancy steak dinner, the chef cooking up some wagyu beef.
One of my favorite parts of Japanese food was the wide availability of quick, easy and surprisingly high quality street food. Here's some delicious takoyaki that I found.
And here's a good example of the type of food you can find just wandering around Tokyo. It seemed like 80% of the buildings were occupied by restaurants or food-related markets.