Two Japanese office workers in the customary Japanese office dress—white buttondown, black pants, black shoes. Strangely enough, they are using black umbrellas, not the typical clear. (Photo courtesy of Tung)

TUNG’S TRAVEL JOURNAL: Despite the language barrier, Japan proves worth the stop

Junior Manson Tung will be teaching at Hong Kong Summerbridge from June 21-August 15. He will be writing periodic blogs about his experience living, working, and traveling around Asia.

If you read the preface, you’ll notice that I’m calling this my “Asia Trip.” This is for two main reasons. First, I was corrected rather brusquely by a Hong Konger, that Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China and not part of the mainland. But the real reason for being so general is my 16-hour layover in Japan.

Ironically, this was the part of the trip that made me the most nervous for several reasons.

This was the only leg where I had no friends or family going with me. (Planes are self-contained so they don’t count. Besides “nonstop,” how many times do people get murdered on a plane?)

Nor do I speak the language. While my Mandarin is rudimentary at best, it’s still far better than my Japanese. In fact, besides “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “Can you help me?”, my Japanese is non-existent.

Well, I also know how to call someone a cute bunny in Japanese. Thanks, Ms. J!

My main request for this trip to Japan was good sushi. Thankfully, I had discovered that airport lounges do shut down at night prior to my being on the plane (just barely, booked the hotel the day before I left), and I was now staying at the Shinjuku Sunroute Plaza.

Smack dab in the heart of Shinjuku, the secondary entertainment capital of Tokyo, (nothing beats Ginza), the pulsating energy of the biggest city on Earth was palpable. After check-in (Thank god, the hotel manager studied a year at Sac State and two years in San Jose. I’m pretty sure he even used “hella” when describing the distance between the hotel and Tokyo Tower.), I made my way down to street level and started walking through the streets of Shinjuku.

Unfortunately, the rain had gone from a sprinkle to a downpour, but fear not because swarms of bodies suddenly began wielding hordes of umbrellas, and I bounced between the coverage they offered.

Clear plastic vinyl umbrellas seemingly popped out of nowhere. Underneath the umbrellas were suited Japanese businessmen in black suits and white shirts. There were so many people dressed in this manner, I thought a large business convention was occurring.

But, no, as the concierge later informed me, it is the typical Japanese business look.

When I finally slogged through the rain and into Sakhen Sushi restaurant, I was ready for some world class sushi, and Tokyo didn’t disappoint. The hamachi sashimi I ordered was both soft and hard at the same time. The fish was incredibly fresh.

Tung ordered the Hamachi sashimi selection from Sahken Sushi. He enjoyed it, ordering the sushi three different times, switching up the fish species. (Photo courtesy of Tung)

After my sushi dinner, I wandered around Shinjuku for another two hours, soaking up the sights and sounds. Shinjuku station is one of the busiest train stations in the world, and even as the evening passed from 10 to 11, a constant stream of people flowed into the tunnels and back out. I went to find ramen at around 11:30 p.m., and was struck by the sheer number of people still out on the streets on a weeknight.

The sushi and the ramen were equally good, and I can say that, overall, Japan’s food impressed me. Even though I can’t speak the language, the food was truly impeccable, and the servers did their best to understand my wishes.

The profusion of technology was apparent everywhere. From the way I ordered food (a vending machine that talked to me), to the beverage dispensing machine—put in the cup, and select the drink, and it grabs the glass, pours out the drink, tilts the glass, mixes it and puts it back on the countertop. It’s like the soda machine at Noodles and Company but even smarter. It senses how much liquid is in the cup and stops just before the cup is full—it seemed as if everything had some sort of robotic technology built in.

Even though the hotel rooms were small, the hotel was technologically advanced. There were machines to blow dry umbrellas, another to bag them in self-sealing plastic baggies, and, of course, the now infamous Toto toilet with full blow drying, seat warming, washing functions.

The only real drawback to Japan is that practically no one speaks English. It’s quite strange considering how advanced Japan is, but besides the single hotel manager, English ability was rudimentary at best.

Put it this way: I love Japan. The technology and the food are world class. But next time, I think I’ll bring Ms. J or Zoe Dym along for a hopefully longer visit.


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