Tag Archives: Japan

Drinking in Tokyo: Almost Like a Local

Selfie at the last pub in Tokyo (before blackout)

It was impossible for me not to drink while in Tokyo. The questions were: what to drink, where to go, and how smashed it could be. And I did so, almost like a local did or to the same level as I would in the home cities.

The first two nights of the four-night stay were mild. It started with some mainstream beer at the capsule hotel on the arrival. The following day, I got to taste the first craft beer of the trip in Tsukiji Market and more beer along the day. That was it. 

The last two nights, however,  were worth elaborated.

The Night Observing Locals

The drinking ramped up on the third night. I booked Shinjuku walking tour from Air BNB Experience. The guide showed us the area including where to drink. Of course, there wasn’t a shortage of it. I expressed I was into craft beer. He didn’t take us to one but after the tour, he directed me to a local brewery, Yona Yona Beer Works. Their beers were very impressive. I ordered more than I should have just because it nearly hit the end of happy hour. The cutest thing was a sheet of paper laid down to indicate what beers on it.

As the result, I was drunk already when wandered off. However, I went back to where the guide showed us—Omoide Yokocho—to get the feel of izakaya culture. This alley was my kind of scenery and atmosphere. But with the amount of beer prior consumed, I could only get one sake and some snacks on skewers and needed to catch the train back before it got too blurry to do so.  

But it didn’t end when got back to the hotel. After re-checking-in and changing in a robe, I order a potato soju at the bar. It was just after midnight and there were more people than any other time I was at the bar. I  could just assume they were stereotypical Japanese salarymen.

Last drink at the capsule hotel bar

The Night Drinking with Locals

That night cost me a bad hangover in the morning after but I managed to Sensoji Temple. It was a long walk and got back to the hotel late in the afternoon to decide how to spend the last night in town, searching for a pub within a walking distance.

I ended up in a local, 338 Counter: Ueno Music Cafe & Bar. There was no expectation but the place was the tiniest I’ve ever been to. It was on the second floor of a small building. The seats were only at the bar and could accommodate just less than ten people. When I entered the room, others had to squeeze to let me sit at the near end of the bar.

Full house at 338 Counter: Ueno Cafe & Bar

On the other hand, that intimacy translated into a cozy and friendly mood. The hospitality of the pub owner and other customers was incredible. Apparently, the night was exactly its three-month anniversary. The owner kept feeding us food which I had to turn him down because of the sushi (with sake) I had earlier.

The only lady in the house introduced me to Kirin Whiskey that I stuck with all night. She also drew each one of us a portrait and gave us as a gift. When other guys found out I was Thai, they told me they took a holiday in Thailand every year. There was even a framed photo of them, riding an elephant, in the pub. Later on, a new customer got in and handed his music to the owner to play. We made more space for him.

The night went on, the group of the guys left, and I was pretty pissed. The owner walked me down the building but I decided to get back up. There were only four of us left. We took a selfie and that was the last thing I remembered. I wasn’t sure if I could let myself get intoxicated like that if it wasn’t Tokyo.

Consequently, the next morning was a real challenge, getting to Haneda Airport in a peak hour with a terrible hangover. I made it on board though. It was a reasonable price to pay for an extraordinary night.

Sensoji Temple: The Last day Visit

Sensoji in symetry

It was the last full day in Tokyo and the last chance to go somewhere touristy like the first day in Tsukiji Market. I took a long walk from the capsule hotel in Ueno to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. And here were some photos I took there.

To my mind, this wasn’t a place I would be eager to visit. But I prefer somewhere with a walking range to explore the city street on foot and see what there would be something more about bicycles on the way. Totally worth it.

When done with the temple, I wandered around the area. Then, a thought sank in. That was about urban street walls. It showed how similar and different urban landscapes in the cities I have been to.

To be honest, I wasn’t so thrilled about the photos I took there. But in the end, the products from the walk before and after that mattered.

Tsukiji Market: the First Tokyo Exploration

In the back
In the back

It was a no brainer that the very first place I explored in Tokyo was Tsukiji Fish Market. It was to orient myself how to get around in the city. More than that, I was curious to see what would come out from this popular tourist attraction. And it turned out that it gave me the main direction to explore the city.

While the inner wholesale market relocated to the new Toyosu Market a few months earlier, shops and restaurant in the outer market were still open. I’d be more interested in Japanese street food than fish auction in the early morning anyway.

To be honest, the place didn’t awe me as I’d expect from any tourist-filled place since it had been showcased in many media outlets. However, some nuances shifted my perspective. Apart from obvious street food shops and their customers, rooted traditions and orders emerged. Knife shops, specific recycle bins, old and new carts, and especially, bicycles—the ecosystem of the market.

Moreover, it eventually set photography focus for rest of the trip. It was where I first notice something unique about the city. I was fascinated by the relationship between bicycles and the city. Since then, it became my trip’s main obsession.

Because of that, an urge to go deep into the market’s ecosystem was overshadowed by the bicycle theme. Therefore, this photo set turned out not to reach the bar I set for my own standard. Nonetheless, it was a blessing that this first Tokyo exploration shaped up my theme for the rest of the trip.

Staying in a Capsule Hotel

One thing I got excited about Tokyo trip was the first time staying in a capsule hotel. The vibe couldn’t get more local than that. It was truly a worthwhile experience.

Sleeping Pod
In a sleeping pod

Apart from a very good deal from a booking website, the hotel—Sauna & Capsule Hotel Dandy—seemed to check all the boxes I was looking for. It was just a walking distance from Ueno Station and easy to locate even though there was no hotel signage on the street. Above all, as the name stated, it’s got an onsen.

New Experience

It wasn’t just my first time staying in a capsule hotel but also the first time in the country. Surely, I was expecting some orientations with some new norms. But I didn’t expect it would be even before checking in.

First of all, before anything else, shoes off. Taking off shoes in the house wasn’t an etiquette I wasn’t accustomed to. But that custom in hotel was the next level. Basically, there was a small step up to the lobby. You were not allowed to have shoes on beyond that point. After taking off the shoes, you bring them to a shoe locker, keep them there, and take the key to the reception to check-in.

At checking-in, they kept the shoe locker key and gave you a set of towels, a robe, a pair of boxer shorts, and your locker key that matched your sleeping pod.

My previous concern was the luggage. Actually, they could store them during the stay. But you had to organise your stuff, taking things in and out, i.e. clean cloths.

The sleeping pod was not too bad at all. It was equipped with a power outlet and a TV. There was a blind covering the pod for privacy. Usually, you didn’t hear anyone from others except some snoring. And I could be able to sleep every night.

One minor hassle was that you had to be out by 10 am for cleaning. Luckily, with the time difference, I got up around 4 am and couldn’t get back to sleep anyway. And you’d have to clear the bill when you ate, drank, or got a massage each day. But they left your locker alone so that you could keep something there. When you were back at the hotel, you’d get the same sleeping pod.

Onsen Experience

Did I mention an onsen in the hotel? Dipping in a hot bath was the best thing you could treat yourself after the long flight from Washington DC. I was aware of their etiquettes and could be able to relax.

To be honest, I didn’t find it awkward being naked amongst other men. No, it wasn’t my first time in a public bathhouse. But it was the first in a straight one without sexual intention. That was such a difference. Somehow, it was a humble expression of acceptance and tolerance.

Speaking of acceptance, there were a no-tattoo sign in Japanese. Tattoos have been associated with underworld gang in Japan. That unnerved me to expose my inked body the bath. However, there was not any sign of disgust from any patrons or staff. Not even a cringe (that I could notice). Everyone seemed to mind their own businesses.

Hotel video advertisement

Staying in shared facilities let me observe some social behaviours without having to interact with them. I found that was a great experience.