This is Part 3 of my Japan Trip report. For more details, please refer to the preceding sections of the trip report:
Day 7: August 14
While I was en route from San Jose to Tokyo, I had no itinerary or plans awaiting me. Through my first few days in Tokyo, I somehow managed to become resourceful and found ways to entertain myself. Up to this point, things were going really well and I was having a wonderful time! 🙂
As luck would have it, a reader of this blog (and a kickass blogger himself), The Kechi One, reached out to me through e-mail and asked if I wanted to meet up in Tokyo. Another FI blogger who I also read and follow wanted to get together and talk shop? Of course, I was interested!
In general, I feel like early FI is a universal goal; it is one that anyone in the world can appreciate. As it pertains to Japan, however, I’m guessing that the mass majority (mainstream) would have some difficulties getting used to the concepts of early FI. Not that Japan is so radically different from the rest of the world, but working long and hard hours (associated with the daily grind) is something that is deeply rooted in the culture here. Working up to retirement age and beyond is something people here do with a sense of pride, not anguish.
So, to be honest, talking early FI was the furthest thing from my mind when I first arrived in Tokyo. I really didn’t expect to cross that bridge at all… But early FI is a strong passion of mine, so I’m always ready and willing!
We scheduled to meet for some yakitori (chicken skewers) for dinner in Shinjuku. Since I had some time to explore before then, I decided to start my day off in Harajuku, which is two train stations away from Shinjuku using the JR Yamanote line (green train).
My first stop that morning? More ramen, of course!
I decided to try some tonkotsu (pork bone based broth) ramen today at Kyusyu. Another small ramen shop that was pretty well packed… I had a strong feeling it would be good!
The meal was well balanced and not too salty. I appreciated the liberal amounts of meat, since the last few places I had visited seemed to skimp in that department. The broth and noodles were right on point, and I was well satiated when all was said and done. My only complaint? Kyusyu uses a hard boiled egg, which I don’t think really works well with ramen. Most ramen places use soft boiled eggs, my own personal favorite sidekick to a bowl of ramen.
I walked around Harajuku for a few hours, but didn’t really photograph much. Another rain filled day, unfortunately.
Finally, it was time to head on over to the train station for my meet up in Shinjuku. I was really looking forward to this since I was forewarned to expect some DELICIOUS food.
We arrived at the restaurant and ordered a few plates along with some beer. “Don’t worry, there will be plenty more of both,” I was told. So, we kicked things off with this:
Over the next hour or so, Kechi and I talked about early FI and the many different ways of getting there. Naturally, we touched on topics such as: real estate, dividend investing, and the differences between working in the states compared to Tokyo. I gotta say, I really admire the man’s commitment to early FI — he’s a value maximizer and a very frugal guy. Actually, a year ago, Kechi inspired me to start biking to work, which I did throughout most of last summer. But he’s many times more hardcore than me, and has logged many thousands of miles on his road bike.
After dinner, I accepted his invitation to join some of his friends for karaoke. Next to dancing, singing is probably the next thing I am most terrible at. So, of course I wasn’t going to turn down his offer! A few months ago, I wrote a post about immersing one’s self in discomfort, so how could I go back on my own word?
Good thing I decided to go, because I had a smashing good time with some AWESOME people! 🙂
Here’s a popular tune we all sang along to:
Yes, I even found myself attempting to rap through “Empire State of Mind”… No, I’m not posting any pictures or videos of that spectacle…
I think we ended up staying an hour or two longer than we had planned for… Too much fun, what can I say?
And that was Thursday night…
Day 8: August 15
On Friday, I decided it was time to explore Tokyo in somewhat greater depth, and venture further out. Today, my agenda consisted of visiting the Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa Shrine. That, and some more good eats, of course!
The train ride to Asakusa Station took about 30 minutes from my hotel.
I was now in Taito City! Taito is one of 23 wards in Tokyo. It’s in the north, which is a bit further away from Minato, where my hotel was located. Up to this point in the journey, the wards I was most familiar with were: Minato, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Meguro.
I was pretty hungry by the time I got off the subway. No problemo, I thought, there must be good ramen out here somewhere… I wasn’t joking about being a ramen fiend, and I figured if I was going to be in Japan, I should make every effort to try as many bowls as possible… Or at the very least, eat enough ramen until I was literally sick of it…
This local shop is what I was able to locate:
Next to Ichiran, I would say that this was the second best bowl of ramen I had in Tokyo. Everything about this meal was solid, and I was glad to get back to eating ramen with soft boiled egg again. 🙂
I also ordered some gyoza, which complemented the ramen nicely. Very crunchy and flavorful!
Feeling full and satiated from my lunch, I continued on to the Asakusa Shrine, located about five minutes away from the ramen shop.
Wow, so many people here! I really enjoyed walking around the shrine, as there are a ton of small shops and interesting things to observe. Unlike Shibuya, or Shinjuku, the area around the Asakusa Shrine is very old, and historic. You could say the town has a lot of character, and does its best to retain that historic look and feel to it.
Yes, the shrine is sort of a tourist trap, but I think it’s still worth seeing.
To get away from the hustle and bustle, I stopped by here to sit down and relax.
I didn’t stick around the shrine for too much longer, as I was eager to visit the Tokyo Skytree, which I could easily spot out in the distance from the shrine. Getting to the Skytree was no problem, as it’s only one subway stop away from the Asakusa Station.
Here’s a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree:
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan, opening in 2010. At 634 meters (2,080 ft), it’s also the tallest tower in the world. After the Burj Khalifa (829.8 meters; 2,722 ft), the Tokyo Skytree is the next tallest structure in the world.
I didn’t get a chance to go up to the top, but there are still many levels that are accessible without needing a ticket. In fact, I got to catch a live show:
Tokyo Skytree is a great place to visit and hangout. There are a ton of cafes and restaurants on-site, and the whole area is buzzing with activity.
After grabbing a smoothie, I decided to leave Asakusa and head on over to Ueno. Ueno is home to some popular museums, and is known as a cultural site. I didn’t frequent any museums, but did walk around town:
I capped the night off with some “American” food. After so much sushi and ramen, you can say I was starting to miss some home cooking. There aren’t too many options, but I did stumble into a TGIF. I know, I know, not the finest establishment out there, but I was in the mood for some ribs!
The following dish shows the Japanese twist to some American dishes:
All in all, another fun filled day in Tokyo!
Day 9: August 16
Alright, it was now Friday and I got to check two items off of my list: Asakusa Shrine and Tokyo Skytree.
At this point I should mention that this trip to Japan wasn’t so much about sightseeing for me as it was about embracing the local culture. Yes, I wanted to see some local attractions… but I really wanted to avoid the tourist traps where everyone else goes, as much as possible. No Mt. Fugi for me…
So, I decided to go ahead and visit the Meiji Shrine today. This was probably the last remaining tourist spot I had left on my short list of things to see.
Getting to the Meiji Shrine actually involves walking through a pretty long trail. Thanks to all the trees, it makes for a fun, relaxing hike.
Here’s the entrance to the shrine:
Just like with the Asakusa Shrine, I didn’t spend much time here. Actually, I arrived even before having breakfast…
Which meant my next meal was just around the corner… Haha, yes, yes, I had ramen again… 😉
And some more gyoza:
Shout out to my friend Natsuko:
This ramen, unfortunately, wasn’t all that great and an altogether forgettable experience…
After lunch, we went to the mall and had an interesting conversation. As I mentioned in the previous entry above, my intention was to not address the topic of early FI while on vacation. However, this time the topic was prompted when my friend told me about her AMAZING travel plans to Europe and round the world. Conversations about how to maximize and enjoy free time, while making do on a tight budget, make for an obvious transition to the topic of early FI, wouldn’t you say? It was kind of refreshing getting a local’s take on early FI, and how one goes about achieving it in Japan…
One thing we could both agree on — it’s extremely tough trying to hack it in an expensive city. Just like New York City, or Silicon Valley, a young person trying to make it in Tokyo is facing a daunting task.
But there’s so much more to life than just: work, work, work…
I shared some of my own strategies (plans to retire abroad in a cheaper destination), and we spent a lot of time talking about dividend growth investing. I even mentioned some of the DGI blogs I follow, so if you’re one of those bloggers, I just referred another reader over to you! 🙂
That’s about all the photos I have for this day… Today was memorable for the conversations, not so much the places that I visited. Isn’t life great when you get to call all the shots and do whatever you want with your day? 😉
The adventure continues…