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travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams

Except me. I was DEFINITELY lost.

SGMT Japan Tokyo Street Scene 01

When Tolkien wrote his now-ubiquitous, often-misappropriated line, he probably wasn’t thinking about girls who get lost three times in less than 24 hours in Tokyo, e.g., me.

It got to the point that when I told my mum I wish they had come with me — I was traveling alone — she said, “What, so we could get lost too?” (Thanks mum.) 😛

It’s not that I’m entirely stupid. (Or I hope not.) It’s just that the directions from my Airbnb host said I was supposed to use the South Exit of Shinjuku Station, which, it turns out, is the busiest train station in the world and has a million different exits. And for some reason, I get out of the Narita Express and the only things I could see are: (1) directions to the New South and Southern Terraces exits, and (2) a whole lot of scaffolding. There is no sign — that I could see — to a South Exit anywhere.

So then I have this brilliant brainwave: maybe there is no South Exit anymore! Maybe it is currently under reconstruction (hence the scaffolding). Or maybe it has now been replaced by the New South exit (which…come on…that does make a bit of sense, doesn’t it?). And even if there is still a South Exit somewhere, it has to be in the same direction as the New South exit and the Southern Terraces exit, right? Given that they’re all, you know, in the south?

Um, apparently, no.

I find that out the hard way, after more than an hour of pacing the scaffolding-littered walkway between the NEX platform turnstiles, the New South Exit and the Southern Terraces Exit. In Takashimaya, I consult an area map but I don’t see the South Exit. I text my Airbnb host. He doesn’t reply. Finally, I decide to just get out of the buildings and into the street to see if any of the landmarks look like the ones in my host’s directions.

It’s a solid idea, if I may say so myself, except that it’s raining. I go ahead anyway. Eventually, drenched, I find the South Exit and discover it is across an entire road from the New South and Southern Terraces exits. Apparently I had gotten off the train on the same side of the road as the latter exits, and to find the South Exit, I should have gone the opposite way. I should have gone northHuh.

SGMT Japan Tokyo Bridge 01

Okay, so, I finally get my bearings. To help me find the apartment I’ve rented for the next couple of days, my host has sent me pictures of buildings along the route I should take from Shinjuku South Exit. Glancing religiously at the photos, I cross the road, walk, cross the road, walk, cross the road, walk…and suddenly I have no idea where I am. I was right on track till…till I wasn’t. I retrace my steps. I had crossed the last road as directed. And the building across the road was the right one. But even after walking onwards for several blocks, I can’t find the next building in the photos. After several rewinds, I finally figure it out: at the last road I crossed, I shouldn’t have gone straight on. I should have turned left at the opposite corner and crossed the road again. Would’ve been nice if the directions had said “Look left” or something like that, but it shouldn’t have taken me such a long time to figure that out either. Dammit. This Tokyo trip isn’t getting off to a good start.

SGMT Japan Tokyo Bridge 02
No, by the way, I wasn’t still taking photos while I was lost. This was in another part of Tokyo, a few days later.

Finally, I find the apartment. Perhaps all the mishaps of the day so far (starting with the incident of the departure card) are making me see the apartment through a grimy filter but…it doesn’t feel like home. Oh, it certainly has its good points. The view outside the window is nice enough. The bathroom, though tiny, will do. There’s a fridge. There’s a 7-11 in the ground floor. And it is within walking distance of Shinjuku Station — I just mucked it up. So there’s all that.

But. The partitions are thin. I can — I swear to God — hear my next-door neighbor chopping something with a knife. It doesn’t help that I’m alone as I hear all this knife-chopping. In between bursts of extraneous sounds, the silence is so overpowering, it envelops me like a low, steady ringing. Or perhaps that was just the walls, which seemed to be made of steel or a similar metal, such that the door would clang when closed. It feels like living in an oversized locker. And then…I follow the owner’s instructions for connecting to the WiFi and I can’t connect. In addition to the WiFi password, it asks me for a network user name and password, which I don’t have. I text my host. He doesn’t reply till two hours after and all he says is, “It’s the first time I’ve heard that. Did you happen to get it working?” Arrrrggghhh! I would have cried in frustration except that I was too tired and too dispirited for even that. After trudging down to the 7-11 to take out a cold meal, I pile a few futons together and sleep my incredibly bad day away. So far: Tokyo 2, Me 0.

SGMT Japan Tokyo Skyline 01
View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (not from the apartment)

The next morning, I wake up feeling marginally better. The internet still isn’t working — the problem would later be solved by simply turning the router off then on again — but I resolve to have a good day nonetheless. I look forward to a day at Lake Kawaguchiko. I take a bath, make some coffee, and head out.

“Tokyo,” I declare, “let’s begin again.”

And then I spend the next two hours looking for the correct bus stop.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking by now: there has got to be something wrong with ME.

Look, I don’t deny my spatial skills aren’t exactly top-tier. But just for the record, while I was staring helplessly at a map in the bus terminal, a kind Japanese lady came up to me and asked me if I needed help. For 20 or so minutes, she looked at maps, asked vendors for directions, basically made my problem her problem (which was very nice of her), and she couldn’t find the right bus stop either. She finally gave up, apologized, bowed, and walked away.

And by the way, have you tried being in the underground walkways below the Shinjuku Bus Terminal in morning rush hour? It’s amazing — in a slightly scary-but-fascinating, fish-out-of-water tourist kind of way. Everywhere you look, there is a flood of dark-suit-clad workers flowing through the walkways, and I swear to God, get caught in one stream and you’ll find yourself hurriedly heading somewhere you don’t actually want to be, just out of sheer unwillingness/inability to interrupt everyone else’s progress. It was there I spent the better part of two hours, looking at maps, locating stair numbers, scratching my head. The only reason I didn’t bang it in frustration on the gigantic underground columns was that, to be honest, even I found myself and my predicament ridiculously funny. Lost for the third time in 24 hours. I was pathetic. 😀

Oh, well. I find the right bus eventually. And the beauty of the Kawaguchiko area neutralizes the bad vibes of the previous 24 hours.

SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchiko Momiji Kairo 03

SGMT Japan Tokyo Mt Fuji_preview

More about Kawaguchiko and other fall foliage viewing spots (most of which are also prime cherry blossom viewing spots) in the next post.

Have you ever gotten hopelessly lost in a foreign country? Share your story. (Make me feel a tiny bit better.) 😀

Not all those who wander in Tokyo are lost in Tokyo
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15 Responses

  1. Hahaha omg I got so lost trying to get out of Shinjuku station as well!!! So glad it wasn’t just me! It is SO confusing! Your photos are beautiful and well worth it, though 🙂

    1. Yayyyyyyy! I mean I’m sorry you got lost but I’m glad I’m not alone. 😀

  2. Tokyo is definitely the hardest city to navigate. I’ll probably still get lost when I go back, in spite of having lived there for 6 years. Look, the Japanese lady couldnt even help so that gives you an idea how difficult the city is. But once you find (and know) your way, Tokyo is one of the best cities (I’ve been to and lived).

    1. I wish I was there longer, I only covered a very small part of the city, partly due to always getting lost hehe! Are you planning on going back sometime and sort of get reacquainted with Tokyo? I wonder how that would feel, going back to a city you lived in for a long time and finding out what’s changed and what’s remained the same…

      1. We went back there almost six years ago, after nine years of living in Texas. We still found our way but then again my husband was with me and he knew his way around haha! My boys want to go back to Japan again probably at the end of next year, hopefully! But I have so many different places I want to see although no one wants to go with me so I will have to just travel on my own. I love Japan but been there, lived there, and I really would rather go somewhere I haven’t been to. However, I love the food there so I can still look forward to it.

  3. Shinjuku is so big! It’s easy to get lost and I remember the same frustration too bec was my place to stay was in the same area thru Airbnb. I wonder if we stayed with the sane host? 🙂

    1. Ohh! Maybe! 🙂 My host’s name started with N. Yours?

      (Although to be fair, most of the people who left reviews in Airbnb said the apartment I stayed in was easy to find, so maybe it was just me.) 😛

  4. Wow, SGMT, what a frustrating adventure. Since even the Japanese lady couldn’t help I’d say it’s not just you. That opening shot under the bridge is fabulous!

    1. Thank you Alison! It’s kinda funny when I think about it now but all the mishaps really tested me when I was there. Plus I was traveling alone and the internet wasn’t working so I didn’t have anybody to process it with. Makes a good story now though. 😀

  5. first of all, you are a brave gurl to start on this trip alone 🙂 love that you are telling the story with your trademark sense of humor, tho I’m sure you were not all smiles whle lost there… it’s great that you still found so much beauty there, the last two photos are wow… 🙂 loved reading this post!!

    1. Thank you Alex! Well, I can’t claim full credit for being brave because I was supposed to go with one of my best friends but she had to back out a month before the trip, and by then I’d paid for the Airbnbs so… And I figured Tokyo would be safe enough for a solo traveler, which it was. 🙂 All the mishaps weren’t so fun while they were happening but they make for a good story now 😀

  6. Yep! got lost in the Osaka train station a bit after getting off the bullet train! Unfortunately this Japanese guy who offered to help us could not speak a word of english. After some trial and error we found our way. But I imagine it being much worse if one is travelling alone like you did.

    1. Hi twentysomethinglawyer. It’s easy to get lost there for sure! That was nice of the Japanese guy to try to help you though, even though you didn’t have a common language. The kindness of strangers is something I really am amazed at, and humbled by, every time I travel. xx

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