This was the moment when I finally stopped and took a breath and remembered why I decided to come on this trip...
Since my first day in Japan was dedicated to homework and sleeping off some jet lag, my second day in Japan was the real first day of my solo adventure. The 13-hour time change had me up bright and early and I decided to take advantage of that since I had a lot of things to do that day.
After showering and packing up the room (because I'd be switching to a hostel in Asakusa later that day) I headed to the hostel lobby and had a plate of curry and a cup of coffee. It was the first meal I'd eaten since the airplane food nearly two day prior so it tasted divine!
The most important thing on my itinerary for the day was to trade my JR Pass voucher in for the actual JR pass booklet.
* I wrote a whole article regarding the Japan Rail Pass on the Travel Budgeting page if you're interested. In short, it's a voucher that foreigners can buy prior to coming to Japan that allows them to ride all trains, most shinkansens, and some ferries for a limited amount of time.
I was under the impression that the vouchers could be traded in at any JR station office and I quickly learned that I was wrong...
After a broken conversation with the poor employee at the JR office in Kawasaki, I was told that the nearest station with a JR pass office was Yokohama...The train station that's located on the opposite side of Tokyo from Asakusa.
I was forced to pay for a train ticket to Yokohama, since my pass wasn't activated yet, and headed to the JR office. The process was easy enough: I took a number, filled out my paperwork, was called to the counter, then traded in my voucher for a pass. The whole process took about 45 minutes or so.
After going through all that work...I found out that I could've traded my voucher at Haneda airport the day I arrived... You live and you learn.
Finally, I was on my way to Asakusa! It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be to get there. I had to take a train then switch to the subway and take the Ginza line. That was my first experience with the Tokyo metro and unfortunately it wasn't covered by the JR pass.
From the metro station in Asakusa, I walked to my hostel which was about 15-20 minutes away and it was such a relief to drop my backpack off. As nice as it is to not carry around a huge luggage case everywhere, carrying a heavy backpack around all day can get very painful.
I stayed in a sex-divided, capsule-type hostel called Khaosan Tokyo Samurai because it was close to Senso-ji temple and only about 35USD per night. I wouldn't call it the fanciest hostel I've ever stayed in, but the location and price were really good and the rooms were secure and private.
After dropping of my bags, freshening up and changing, I headed out to explore the temple.
Since it happened to be Golden Week (a week in Japan when successive holidays fall in a row and families usually take vacations) the temple was bustling with Japanese families and tourists and there were food stalls set up with traditional Japanese festival foods. And after stuffing myself full of takoyaki (octopus dumplings), dango (a form of mochi on a stick and usually covered in sauce), and a chocolate-covered banana on a stick, I walked around the temple for about three hours and in my explorations I stumbled upon a garden hidden near the temple. When I entered the garden it was if I had been transported to Edo period Japan. The sounds of the tourists faded and were replaced with the sounds of the running water of the pond, birds chirping and wind chimes in the gentle breeze.
This was the moment when I finally stopped and took a breath and remembered why I decided to come on this trip alone despite everything that was happening in my life.
I sat on a rock and watched the koi fish swim lazily in the pond while a small group of Japanese schoolgirls dressed in kimono walked past giggling. It was 75 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny yet breezy, and the air carried scents of grass and flowers.
Up until that moment, my trip to Japan was hectic and full of stress and anxiety. However, there's something about Japanese gardens that manages to take all my worries away.
I don't even know how long I spent strolling the garden grounds or watching the water, but by the time I left it was getting dark. No longer was I anxious about being in Japan alone. No longer was I thinking about my circumstances back at home or stressing about schoolwork.
I don't know if this happens to everybody or if it's just me, but Japan has a way of taking away all my worries. Something about the country makes me feel serene and at peace and that's what makes me keep wanting to return.
After my day at the temple, I walked back to my hostel. My feet and back were aching and I was exhausted from a long day and still feeling jet lagged. I planned to go to my capsule and pass out but when I stepped in the elevator, I saw the option for "roof" and I couldn't pass it up.
I sat on the roof for about an hour and reflected on the past couple of weeks. Everything had happened so quickly, the breakup, the trip planning, the homework, the flights and finally... there I was: sitting on the roof of hostel in Japan by myself.
I had so many adventures waiting for me.
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