Leaving Korea was a bear. We packed all of our bags, tied up our loose ends, and got our final bills taken care of on our last day at school. I walked out of the front door of the school, unceremoniously, with just a “have a good life” from the administration office and a plane ticket to Tokyo, basically. Once Carolyn got home we headed over to the cafe to check bank accounts and transfer money out of the country, and then had a really nice dinner with our friends. They were kind enough to help us get our bags to the subway station and we headed down to the bus depot to wait for our 1:00am ride to Incheon International Airport.
Overnight bus rides are a two sided sword. They remove the need and cost of a hotel room. They give you a warm (and in Korea probably too warm) place to sleep for a few hours. They scare the crap out of you (sometimes). They make it easy to deal with bags. They’re probably not the best option for a good night’s rest, though. We got to the airport at about 4:40 and couldn’t check in until about six. There was no sleep. We waited with some friends and planned to meet them inside security after check in, but we were in different terminals, so that was that for goodbyes. We had a flight to catch, you know, to take us to Tokyo.
When we arrived at Narita everything worked out as planned. We dropped off our biggest bags at the baggage storage counter, bought tickets on the Sky Access train to Asakusa, and talked to the tourism counter to see what resources they had for us to use. We climbed onto the train and somehow managed to stay awake for the 57 minute ride to Asakusa. When we arrived we found the elevator, tried to orient ourselves, and headed up the street towards the Asakusa Smile Hotel. Check-in was easy and fast, but we were d e a d tired by this point. We barely got the bags in the door of the room before we both passed out on the bed.
We woke up at about 8:30pm, and we were hungry. I stopped at the counter and tried in my best Japanese to ask where the nearest ramen shop was, “Ramen-ya doko desu ka?” and the girl at the counter replied in perfect English (with a California accent) “oh, you want a noodle shop. There’s one down the street.” So we headed out to find this noodle shop that may or may not be open at this time of day. Luckily it was open for business.
From our previous visit to Japan, we knew that we should order and pay at the machine at the front of the shop, but we were having a hard time getting the options we wanted to line up. We watched another patron make an order, followed suit, and just randomly selected options, handed our cards to the chef, and waited. It was fun to watch the chef do his thing. Exacting movements, precision everywhere, and a fierce look on the chef himself made me think “yeah, we’re in Japan alright.” When he brought over the two bowls he said “BUTTER?!” as in “WHO ORDERED THE BUTTER?” We had no idea that we ordered anything with butter, but there was a pat of butter floating in the noodles. It was Carolyn’s as it was a bit spicier. The other bowl was filled with white onion and corn. It was all delicious, and the noodles were nice and fresh. They had a great texture, just slightly chewy, but not underdone. Ramen in Japan will make you rethink the instant noodles you’re familiar with at home, ya know?
After dinner we decided to go out for a walk, and found that we had a great view of the Tokyo Sky Tree. The Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest building in Tokyo, and one of the tallest (if not the tallest) free standing towers in the world. It has a very interesting shape and construction. At night it’s a great sight to see because it’s lit up in colorful lights. While we were in town it was blue and violet, depending on the night. We were still tired, though, and decided to head back towards the Smile Hotel to get some rest so we could enjoy our first full day in Tokyo.
Asakusa seemed pretty quiet, and didn’t have the flashing lights and noise and masses of people that we expected of Tokyo, but there were still plenty of businesses lit up in the dark to feast our eyes upon. After a quiet walk back to the hotel we settled down and slept like the dead for the rest of the night.