Charging through Tokyo on what felt like an endless train, Britnee and I still had six more stops before transferring to another line and we were both beyond exhausted. Flying SLC to LAX, then LAX to NRT in around 16 hours with no sleep made everything around me feel like a dream. Unfamiliar Japanese characters exclaimed from colorful Asahi ads lining the train’s interior, impossible to read; locals filing on and off busied themselves on cellphones, never speaking a word or making eye contact; meanwhile, the steady rocking of the train threatened to lull us all to sleep in the humid heat of the night. Even when we finally stopped at a station, it still felt like train was moving — my head spinning after so many hours on the go.

I longed for a good night’s sleep. But also dreaded a tiny bed in a cramped guest house, the spacious seat on our previous Singapore Airlines flight growing all the more appealing. Our hostel room in Asakusa, as it turned out, was about the size of a walk-in closet; barely big enough to fit the bunk bed we shared. But, by the time we crawled into bed, it didn’t matter as we longed for deep sleep.

My body had other plans, though, still ticking on Mountain Standard Time, 5,472 miles away. As I desperately tried to get some shuteye in hot, humid Tokyo that night, back home in the U.S. the day was just getting started. Struggling with jet lag and sleeping for only a few hours those first nights, made the following days pass by in a total trance.

Sensoji in Askusa

At first we kept things simple — walking in the nearby neighborhood and seeing sights in Asakusa and the towering Skytree, which we admired from our hostel each morning. We sampled tasty ramen and green tea ice cream, but also skipped meals entirely as we crashed back in our beds, utterly exhausted by 5 p.m. Then, feeling wide awake by 4 a.m. each morning, we would be too excited to see Tokyo and too desperate to escape our closet-sized room to linger at the hostel and rest.


Picking up Tokyo Metro day passes for 700 Yen each, we put them to good use — heading first to Shinjuku. There we admired the city skyline atop the 45-story Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and made a Lost in Translation pilgrimage to the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Then onto Harajuku to spot some of the wild fashion on Takeshita-dori before a visit to Shibuya and its chaotic crosswalk (and even more chaotic Pachinko parlors; someone please explain that game to me).


All that time we were wandering tourists who lacked the deeper interaction with locals we had hoped for. So, Thursday evening, we picked up tickets on the Toei and JR lines to visit acquaintances of my friend Patrick, who we arranged to visit through Facebook. Heading further into the suburbs of the massive sprawl, we wandered much quieter streets to find Kenichi Iwasaki’s traditional Japanese sweets shop in Oota-ku. There he treated us to Dango, Yōkan and iced green tea, while we chatted with his friend Toshinori Yamagata, examined their 3D slides shot on Kodak Stereo cameras and walked the Tamagawa River.


After a pleasant afternoon, we said farewell to Iwasaki-Sanm and followed Yamagata-San back onto the train, which took us to his neighborhood and dinner at Premium Sushi Train Kaio (best described as the Chuck E. Cheese’s of sushi-go-round). The whole meal, we were lost in translation as Yamagata-San and his wife did their best to draw what we were eating on a slip of paper after receiving each dish via mini high-speed train at our table.


Their kindness and courtesy to two traveling strangers was above and beyond, as was that of all the Japanese who gave us directions in the metro, catered to us at restaurants, or continuously warned me to watch my head on low-hanging ceilings.

Yamagata-San stuck with us to the end, making sure we had purchased the right train tickets and were walking toward the right platform as he and his wife waved goodbye in the distance. Back on board the metro, surrounded by strangers, we were grateful for an evening well spent with new friends. And as we made our way back across the vast expanse of Tokyo, the train steadily rocked us, and everyone else on board, to sleep.

Tokyo Metro

More photos from our stay in Tokyo can be seen in the Tokyo gallery.

About The Author


Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

8 Responses

  1. Emi Sorensen

    Ah, the Tamagawa. I spent many days riding my bike back and forth along it. Thanks for the nostalgic trip back. How did you like Harajuku? Was Gwen Stefani’s song bouncing around in your head whilst there? LOVE that picture of Britnee with the “doll.”

    • Mark Johnston

      Thanks Emi, and you’re welcome! 😉 Harajuku was awesome, as was the rest of Tokyo. I think we would have caught more “dolls” there on the weekend, but only saw a handful on our visits. Got shut down twice for pictures, so feel lucky to have got one at all. I’d love the opportunity to go back and shoot endless portraits in that place.

  2. Kenichi

    Hi Mark,
    May I use the picture that you took at my Japanese sweets shop last June for my Facebook profile?
    Kenichi Iwasaki