06/10/2017
The country of Hello Kitty train stations, pink McDonald’s burgers and all-you-can-eat KFC.

Words by

Nikki Escalante

Tackling a foreign country on your own is fun and exciting. However, it comes with an inevitable list of ups and downs.

Contrary to what travel blogs will have you believe, you don’t always find your soul on your soul-o travels.

More likely, you’ll come home with a lineup of embarrassing stories, unnecessary souvenirs and an insurance claim for a missing electronic device.

A week in Japan taught me a few useful lessons for future adventures – some learnt the hard way.

If you’ve come searching for advice after your wild Jetstar Starter seat purchase, here are my tips for the Land of the Rising Sun. Of course, those already blessed with navigation skills, basic competencies and common sense are entirely free to click away now.

Don’t: Underestimate the railway system

Growing up in Melbourne, I’d always been trained (lol) to expect delays from public transport. The Craigieburn line, for instance, taught me the importance of carrying headphones and being house-trained. Japan’s concept of time seemingly soars above ours, with every train running like clockwork. It helps if you miss one, as there’ll be another precisely three and a half minutes later.

On the other hand, making room for delays for precautionary purposes also means you’ll arrive at everything waaay too early – which inevitably leads to the next point.

Do: Prepare for the cost of shopping

You is kind. You is smart. You is deserving of new sneakers.

Allowing the heart to make some financially-reckless fashion decisions is a lesson in itself. It’s part of being in your 20s. The lineup of small, hidden boutiques littered across Tokyo will test your self-control like that fourth slice of garlic bread. Before your trip, save up enough so you’re not forced to spend your life savings in Takeshita Street and put cash aside for glittery, crystal acrylics.

Also, prepare to come home to a little sister who will ruin your haul with things like “did you just spend $60 on a garbage bag?” In which case, you can make it clear who works in fashion. And quickly run away with your beautiful, new tote bag.

Don’t: Mistake Acne Studio for Acne Studios

In hindsight, if they offered an affordable nose job, I most likely would have stayed.

I 100 per cent realised the colour scheme looked different to Acne's usual pink, but I was (relatively) within the fashion district. And in the country of Hello Kitty train stations, pink McDonald’s burgers and all-you-can-eat KFC, a blue Acne Studios logo didn’t seem that farfetched.

On my way up, I prepped myself for the irrevocable havoc my bank card was about to cause. The elevator doors opened to reveal an open studio of glass doors and white walls, akin to the interiors of every other Acne store I’d been to. So chic. So minimalist. I love Japan.

But a reception desk on my immediate left was an instant throw-off, almost as much as the significant lack of clothes on display.

“Sorry, is this Acne Studios?” I asked the receptionist. 

“Yes. We have lots of skin services and treatments. What would you like done for your skin?”

I took that as a sign to stop spending for the day.

Do: Visit Genki Sushi

Genki Sushi is so beautiful and holy, it may as well be a World Heritage Site.  After all, the first criteria to becoming enlisted is that a place must ‘represent a masterpiece of human creative genius'. Express, restaurant-quality sushi train? Ingenious.

If you haven’t heard of the magical realm that is Genki, think pink lights and everything full of flavour.

It’s fast food minus the junk. It’s meals that come delivered to your table without needing to speak to anyone and unlimited green tea.

The self-serve system means you can order on the iPad whenever you like. And within minutes, a little tray of happiness will arrive at your table via train track.

If you’re on your own, you’re also bumped right up to the top of the waiting list on popular nights. I’d never been more happy to say that I only needed a table for one on a Saturday night. Express entry is like a special gift for having no friends. 

Don’t: Fall asleep on a tour bus before the tour is finished

Getting a decent amount of sleep before a 12-hour day would probably help if you want to be awake for beautiful, $180-worth attractions.

The great Adele once said, “Regrets and mistakes are memories made.” And I guess a missed stop at a scenic lake certainly makes for an unforgettable bus ride.

I’d be lying if I said no one tried to wake me up. But in a loss of translation, it turned out my European bus buddy was saying ‘we’re at the lake’ and not ‘toilet break'. I was comfortably slumped in my little corner of the bus when I awoke from the sound of the engine starting back up. As we took off, I saw a tiny glimpse of Lake Chuzenji as it faded behind us. Realisation hit me almost as hard as my palm on my face, and this pain kept me very awake during the five-minute drive to the next stop. We soon arrived at a towering waterfall. Although, I’m still unsure if I was taking in the beauty of the 97-metre drop or seeing the tears pour out of my eyes.

At least I didn’t miss the included lunch.

Illustration by Twylamae.

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