The glistening sun has gradually risen above the mountains here in Chichibu and gives me the energy to start a new day.
The pure serenity of this landscape is a far cry from what I'll be going to later today.
After weeks on the road, crossing the rural stretches of Northern Japan, my trip is about to veer into an urban jungle. Today is finally the day that I make it to Tokyo.
The plan is to be there for a week, but I'll see what you have in mind with your itinerary.
Something about these envelope openings invokes a festive mood. It's almost like I'm getting a birthday present every week, except they're just different colored headbands...
It beats socks, but some extra yen would be nice every now and then... Nonetheless, I took a peek at what you had to say.
Here's the itinerary for your first week in Tokyo. As you can imagine, the city is impossible to navigate in one week.
For that reason, I anticipate you spending multiple weeks in the large metropolis. Your hachimaki for this leg of the trip is pink.
Like the color of this band, you should enjoy the vibrance of this city with your own glow. In a city of millions, don't be afraid to stick out.
Have a great time and I'll see you soon!
-Explore the alleys of Shinjuku
-Try some of the best arcades in Akihabara
-Visit the well-known shrines (Meiji Jingu/Sensoji)
-Get a view of the bay from Odaiba
-Double that view from the air via Tokyo Tower and Skytree
-Find the best wagyu you can afford
-Take a spin through the city with the "go-kart experience"
I know you're trying to help, but pink? If anyone asks, I'm saying the color's diet red.
As for today's route, it appears that it'll be a 2-hour trek into the city. I'll have to keep potential traffic in mind, so my ride day could be a lot longer than expected.
One thing I plan on doing while in Tokyo is to do a routine "night drive". To experience the spectacle that is those bright neon lights, I'm going to map out evening rides throughout the city.
I'll try to hit a different Ward (section) of the city each night, hopefully seeing the best of what Tokyo has to offer.
As for my accommodations, I'm starting my time in the city with a new experience. For the first time on this trip, I'm going to stay in a capsule hotel.
If you're not familiar with these places, they're essentially hotels with pod-shaped sleeping quarters and shared amenities.
I'm not sure how I'll handle those cramped quarters, but sometimes, you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to grow.
The minutes melt away on the road and after a few short hours (with less traffic than expected), I enter the outskirts of the city.
It becomes immediately clear to me that the flurry of human activity in this place is unlike anything I've experienced before.
With over 13 million people within the Tokyo Metropolitan area (and over 37 million in the region), I've officially immersed myself in the epicenter of the urban bustle.
The multitude of towering buildings mixed with the ant-like pace of the busy city streets just demonstrates the magnitude of this concrete landscape.
Perhaps the first thing that surprised me about this city is how light the traffic is, despite the size.
I know that many residents rely on the subway for transportation, but I didn't expect the lack of density on the roads. That's nice to know, as I can be a little more reckless on my night rides.
The capsule hotel I've chosen to stay at is in Shinjuku, which is known to have the busiest metro station in the world. Finding the hotel was rather easy.
Check-in, on the other hand, was kind of strange. For one, they provided me with a tote bag full of toiletries, towels, and slippers. That wasn't a big deal.
What was odd was how the hotel was set up.
Before I can make my way to the capsule, there's a locker room/bathroom area in which I store most of my belongings.
It's highly recommended that I wear slippers throughout the property, so shoes will be a mainstay in the locker.
As for the capsules themselves, well, they look like something from another planet.
In a dimly lit hallway, a row of tan glowing pods levitates above the cold, dark floor. White arrow marks are laid along the ground to direct traffic towards their designated pod.
My pod for the night is #139, which looks to be a lower bunk-style pod. The pod itself is a pleasant surprise.
Inside is a well tucked set of bed sheets and pillows, but what stood out was the ancillary amenities. For example, my pod had a built-in A/C, charging outlets, and a tv.
Oh, and of course there's a blind at the end of the pod for when you want your privacy.
After I put my things away and take a quick power nap, I leave my borough of a pod and begin to explore the neighboring area.
Shinjuku is known for many things, but perhaps the most iconic part of this ward is the various back alleys that are named "Golden Gai".
Between bars, restaurants, and various forms of entertainment, Golden Gai houses perhaps the most picturesque part of Tokyo.
For that reason, it will be the first part of town that I'll explore this evening.
In the meantime, I found a nearby convenience store and picked up lunch. It sounds cliche, but every city block has either a vending machine or convenience store (sometimes both).
I had my fill of the latter in Hokkaido, but I can't wait to venture into random alleyways and find some of the most unique vending machines.
The thing that cracks me up about some convenience stores here is that I can get fresh, hot food.
I understand that a lot of it is due to the population density of the city and the need to get fresh food to people,
but it's incredible how they rotate between fresh food with nutritional value in these places.
Shinjuku has a popular garden, where I spent my afternoon eating lunch and preparing the route for my night ride.
Before I know it, dusk creeps into the light and the prime opportunity to walk through Golden Gai presents itself.
This section has six alleyways that house over 200 businesses that range from restaurants to nightclubs.
What this part of Tokyo highlights better than anything is the sheer size of these businesses.
When I think of a bar, I imagine a good-sized building, filled with patrons at different seating arrangements. Here, many of the local bars are the size of sheds.
One I came across is called "Deathmatch in Hell". If you're a fan of heavy metal music and horror movies, this is the dive for you.
This pint-sized bar is a living shrine to all things loud and obscene.
If you can get a seat in this shack, you'll be treated to an array of metal music blasting, with slasher movies being shown on old TVs in the background.
To top it all off, all drinks at this fine establishment are 666 yen. I couldn't help but spend a bit of time in there, taking a few shots with their vivacious bartender.
After getting my fill of metal and Fireball, I meander back out into narrow alleyways and navigate my way through the rest of the area.
One thing I discovered along my walk is the number of bars that don't allow foreigners entry.
From what I understand, those bars know that they have loyal regulars and they don't want to take up limited space by bringing in tourists.
I normally would be pissed at this kind of omission but with how densely populated this area is for drinks, I can understand.
With the burning spice of those shots in my stomach, I couldn't help but compliment it with a nice bowl of ramen. Again, a shack sized restaurant acquiesced to my nutritional needs.
It's kind of incredible to see the number of businesses tucked into such a small area. While it's not verbally expressed, it's as if this area is a village within a metropolis.
Everything about this area just has this communal, rural vibe to it. It's like a longstanding village that was swallowed up by a modern sprawl of a city.
The hours seem to pass by and I suddenly find myself hanging around the area until closing time.
Because of my inability to tell time (and the number of drinks I consumed), I decided to put my first night ride off until tomorrow.
I make my way back towards my capsule hotel and walk through the alleyway affectionately termed "piss alley".
While the name is a bit extreme, the staunch smells of that alleyway can't be avoided (no matter how many drinks you've had).
I nestle my body back into my pod and will hit the hay momentarily. Tomorrow, I'll check out Tokyo Tower and Skytree.
Thanks again and I'll see you soon!