For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go to Japan since I was a child! I used to religiously read manga books and attend a manga club at my local library.
#10PlacesIWantToGo Japan <3
— Joyce | Food + Travel ✈️👩🏾🍳 (@DIYWITHJOY) July 29, 2012
Wish I was going Japan this year as well 😢
— Joyce | Food + Travel ✈️👩🏾🍳 (@DIYWITHJOY) April 18, 2017
This deal is calling my name 😭 https://t.co/ZSnmxY9kYl
— Joyce | Food + Travel ✈️👩🏾🍳 (@DIYWITHJOY) July 8, 2019
You tweeted it into existence so I better so you in Joyce in Japan 2k19 or 2020
— Char 📝✈️ (@char_x0) July 8, 2019
Yeah you get my point. I was obsessed with Japan! Fun fact, in my teen years, I attempted to teach (emphasis on the word attempted) myself Japanese. Ps, don’t ask me to say anything because I can only say a handful of words these days. I finally booked my ticket in July 2019 and the excitement was real because I hardly book my flight tickets that far in advance but Jack Flight’s Club came through with a sweet deal that I couldn’t turn down. What I didn’t know was that I would be travelling solo to Japan in very disparate circumstances than I had envisioned.
A week before my March 2020 solo trip I was mentally preparing myself of the possibility of one of my bucket list destinations being cancelled due to COVID-19. I still tried my best to be physically ready by having a rough itinerary and purchasing gloves, antibacterial wipes and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. I patiently waited during this time, constantly checking for updates for global travel.
I’m not going to lie, the day before I was about to fly out, I was extremely close to cancelling my trip. My family discouraged me not to go and some friends messaged me concerned for my safety as they were watching the news of the pandemic unfold.
I spent hours on the phone to my travel insurance company, calling the airline, reaching out to locals based in Tokyo, reading up on important travel advice from the UK travel government website and Japanese media outlets. I was trying to figure out if it was still safe for me to go. With all the information that I gathered, the engineer in me calculated the risks. I knew in my heart that I would be alright. God gave me peace of mind.
He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. – Psalms 91:3 – 4
Travelling through the airport – Transiting in Russia
I flew with Aeroflot airline, a Russian airline which meant I had a stopover in Moscow. The flight journey from London to Moscow itself was not to bad, but the food was below average. If you are thinking of flying with Aeroflot in the future Char has done a great job summarising my thoughts with her London to Tokyo (via Moscow) flight review.
Travel smart Tip: Always pack your snacks or food before entering the plane just in case the food onboard sucks. If you are trying to stay hydrated, bring an empty bottle of water with you through security. It’s important to note the limit for liquids items for carry-ons is 100ml. I recommend bringing an empty eco-friendly refillable water bottle instead of a plastic bottle, as most major airports do have drinking water fountains which you can use to refill your water bottle.
The struggle to get through airport customs while trying not to miss my connecting flight was real. There was a lot of disorder and I was just trying my best to keep my distance from everyone. I eventually got on board the plane and was greeted with flight attendants wearing face masks. This
was/is the new normal and before I sat down at my designated seat, I channelled my inner Naomi Campbell and wiped my entire seat, including the table surfaces, armrest and seatbelt buckle. Thankfully the two Russian sisters sitting next to me did the same and we bonded over flight cleaning hacks.
We laughed and conversed for hours about many topics and since our flight was over 10 hours, the conversions made the flight journey feel less painfully long. They gifted me with steam warming eye masks and viral infection tablets that their parents (who were doctors) gave them as a precaution for Covid-19. Don’t worry, I didn’t take the tablets but I did end up purchasing boxes of eye masks in Tokyo. They are amazing!
What was it like travelling during the pandemic?
Contrary to what the western media portrayed (at the time), Japan took drastic measures to try to contain the virus. I really and truly felt safer in Tokyo than in the UK. Many public events were cancelled, almost all museums and tourist attractions were temporarily closed when I arrived. I found out Tokyo Disneyland closed on the day I arrived and that’s when I knew this was more serious than I thought!
To be honest, this made it a lot easier to avoid large crowds and I would try my best to avoid rush hour. I obsessively washed my hands before I departed each train station and I carried hand sanitiser with me everywhere. During my hotel stay, bottles of hand sanitizer were stationed at various public meeting points of the hotel. All staff wore face masks and gloves as precautions. Many locals wore face masks in public and understood the meaning of personal space, thankfully. I have always made it a habit to wipe down my phone every day but during this trip, I did so more frequently than usual. At restaurants, it was custom for staff to wear masks and provide customers with hand wipes.
I learnt so much about myself doing this trip. The language barrier forced me to trust strangers, heightened my senses, kept me on my toes to explore, hear and smell unfamiliar sounds and scents. I loved that Japan is quite a homogeneous society, sill keeping to its traditions and culture in contrast to western Europe. I lost sight of the familiar comforts of home and embraced my surroundings.
There’s this phrase ‘African timing’ and according to the urban dictionary it means when one says they will arrive at a certain time, but arrive much later. I have a confession to make…..I’m one of those people who do African timing a lot but when I was in Japan, I was committed to always being on time for everything. I learnt very quickly that when it comes to time, Japanese people do not come to play. It is customary for Japanese people to be punctual. The tour guides would arrive at least 20 minutes early, the trains, buses and activities were always on schedule.
I immersed myself in culinary experiences and took myself on a street food tour around Nakamise Dori, Ameya Yokocho, and the young pop culture city, Harajuku. I spent an early afternoon baking and cooking with a Japanese nutritionist. Also, I loved the fact that this experience was in her home as it felt homely and comfortable. Besides, it was refreshing to see the interiors of a modern Japanese home. We made shokupan bread (Japanese milk bread) and a traditional Japanese lunch featuring miso soup, Tamagoyaki (egg rolls) and onigiri (rice balls).
The tech I witnessed in Tokyo was on another level! Right from the cleaning robots in the airport to the bidet toilets in my hotel room, I was truly impressed. I strolled into a local restaurant and ordered fried rice and wontons through a vending machine. This was also the first time where I used google translator to communicate with the restaurant owner. If I didn’t go to Tokyo, I wouldn’t have experienced the delicious food, have interesting conversations with locals and expose myself to another culture.
For the most part, life almost seemed ‘normal’ in Tokyo, considering a lot of tourist attractions were closed. Restaurants were still thriving and locals were still socialising in restaurants and Izakayas (casual drinking establishments like pubs).
The Japanese cheerful spirit was alive
I loved the Japanese joyful spirit while I was out there. The locals were gracious, taking their time to guide me with directions whenever I missed my way and never hesitated to help me take a photo of myself.
The Japanese locals working in the tourism industry were very apologetic about the disruptions the pandemic caused but their eyes lit up in excitement, relieved to see that I didn’t cancel my trip. Although they wanted me to have the Tokyo experience with everything running smoothly still, I was grateful I got to experience Tokyo without the massive crowds.
Travelling While Black in Japan
”Can I just say how comfortable I feel in Tokyo right now. No one has come to disturb me, ask for pictures, stare at me in an uncomfortable way, touch my hair, skin or body. I feel seen as a young beautiful Black woman just exploring a new city. The kindness and respect I’ve received as a Black woman is unmatched!”
This was the note I wrote to myself on my phone while I was in Japan and my feelings remain the same. Tokyo gets my praises as a Black-friendly destination!
Since I had jetlag, I found myself walking around late at night and I felt completely safe as a black traveller throughout my time in Japan. That being said, I would recommend checking out The Black Experience Japan on youtube. It’s one of my favourite channels sharing inspiring stories and the experiences of Black individuals who are living, working, studying, owning businesses and thriving in Japan.
While I was in Tokyo, it was very important to stay connected with family plus friends and made sure I had enough data to regularly keep updated with the news of the pandemic. I rented an unlimited WiFi pocket router which was great for me as it was easy to pick up from the airport and carry around with me. Conveniently, the pocket wifi can also be delivered to your hotel.
8 Interesting things To Do In Tokyo
Travelling during the pandemic caused a lot of disruptions to my plans. I was getting cancellation emails of activities pre-booked while transiting in Moscow. I didn’t let this stop me from enjoying my trip and found it amusing coming up with various things to do.
1. Watched the wackiest but intriguing robots restaurant show. This was a full-on production show filled with flashing colourful lights, energetic dancers and robots. This was something I wouldn’t normally watch but I’m glad I came across this activity because I left the show laughing as it was thoroughly entertaining.
2. Checked out the best 360-degree panoramic views of Tokyo at the top of Tokyo Tower. The tower has two decks, the main observatory deck and the top deck. Tokyo Tower has plenty of shops and restaurants where you can eat and enjoy skyline views.
3. Swapped the city for nature on a day trip outside of Tokyo to Mount Fuji. This was an amazing day to just get some fresh air away from the city and take in breathtaking views of Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi. Tip: You will want to plan this day trip according to the weather conditions. If it’s raining or cloudy you most likely won’t get a clear view of Mount Fuji.
4. Do an evening photoshoot with a local professional photographer in the buzzing cities of Shibuya and Shinjuku. This is a nice way to treat yourself and support a local photographer.
5. Explored the electric town of Akihabara. If you’re an anime lover, this is the city to come to as there are plenty of manga cafes and anime stores (Animate). While you’re here, stop by the Kanda Myojin Shrine.
6. If you’re a foodie like me, what better way to learn about Japanese food and culture is through a cooking class. I had an amazing time baking and cooking class with Yuko, a Japanese Nutritionist.
7. One of the first things I always do when I travel to a new country is to go on a free walking tour. I highly recommend doing the Asakusa Walking Tour of Tokyo as the guide will give you a detailed history lesson of the historic sights you’ll see. During the free walking tour, we visited Senso-Ji temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) and experience the drawing of omikuji, a fortune written on a strip of paper. Hopefully, you’ll get a good fortune but if you don’t, don’t worry as you’ll have the chance to tie your fortune to a pole and leave it at the site of the temple which is traditional to do.
8. You can’t come to Tokyo without making a stop by the picturesque parks like Ueno park to spot the beautiful cherry blossom trees. Make sure you visit Tokyo during the spring and summer season to spot them though.
Some more recommended activities for your Tokyo trip:
- Asakusa: Kimono Makeover with Photoshoot Tour
- Tokyo: Thermae-Yu Hotspring in Shinjuku Entrance Ticket
Cost Breakdown of my solo trip
Japan has an image of being an expensive country but depending on your travel style and budget there are many ways to travel smart. Here’s a round-up of my trip costs.
Flight: London to Tokyo (Return) = £352
The average costs are usually in the £400s but I booked my tickets in July 2019 when the flight tax was low and got a notification from secret flying & Jacks Flight Cub with flight deals I couldn’t resist!
Accommodation: Stayed in the Richmond Hotel Asakusa for 7 nights. Cost = £297 ⠀
Getting around Tokyo: The average cost for Local transportation via per train journey was around 300 yen.⠀
Travel smart Tip: Get a pasmo or sucia card. They are rechargeable contactless smart cards which are similar to an Oyster card used in London.
Food: The average cost I spent on a meal was 1000 yen! You are spoilt with plenty of options from Michelin star restaurants to local Izakaya’s. ⠀
Travel smart Tip: If you’re travelling on a budget, check out 7/11 or Lawson convenience stores for Bentos and hot food on the go like fried chicken & onigiri. They open 24/7 too! ⠀
Activities: Total spends = £180. I spent a lot more money than usual on activities as I was finding new things to do in when I arrived. Nevertheless, I got to do activities that I wouldn’t normally do and I also had the opportunity to support local businesses!
I am incredibly grateful I was able to experience this trip and hope to travel back to Japan to explore other cities beyond Tokyo. Hope you enjoyed reading my account of my travel experience.
Are you planning on travelling to Japan in the future? Let me know in the comments!
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