So, how do you usually celebrate your birthdays? As someone who grabs every opportunity she can to travel, I would go somewhere on my birthday, whether it’s on a nearby beach or another country. It doesn’t matter. I’ve had half of my birthdays so far with the presence of my family, so this time it’s all about me. I was lucky enough to have celebrated my birthday at Shibuya Scramble Tokyo, and here’s my story.
It only started, of course, when I was able to secure the right amount of salary to save something for my travels. As a typical Asian youth, we were expected to contribute to our families financially once we finish college and start working. In my case, I still have a sister who’s still studying so I have to contribute to her expenses (#FilipinoCulture). With whatever remained from my hard-earned salary, I would save a fraction of it to travel.
How I started traveling solo
My quest for solo travels started in nearby provinces. But before jumping in to that kind of lifestyle, I have been reading, a lot. I read and read and tried to study how to travel on a shoestring and how to travel safely as a woman. I read travel guides, news articles, blogs, and all possible source of information. While there is no general answer to that two inquiries and the answer would depend on the destination of your choice, I started with taking the safe, familiar road: local travel.
You would find it funny, but when I was a little younger, fresh from college, my first solo travel was in Tagaytay City, a popular tourist destination south of Manila. Why is this a funny fact? It’s because my hometown is practically 30 minutes from Tagaytay! But it was a challenge to me because I have never commuted to Tagaytay, and I never explored the said city alone. So I went for it.
Like any other first time travel experience, it feels exciting and scary at the same time, and in my case, I am bound for a city I frequently go to, afraid, because I’m doing it in the way I have never done before. I could talk more about it in another post, but mind you, the feeling and experience I had could equate with my other solo travel experience in even farther destinations. That solo Tagaytay trip was one of the things I did outside of my comfort zone and it was liberating. Then I got more addicted to solo travel.
What got me obsessed with the idea of solo travel was the idea of being free. To be honest, the idea of being alone (not only in travel, but in other aspects as well) really scared me at first, but once I got the hang of it, I became obsessed. In fact, I would now complain of consulting someone whenever making decisions and compromising my standards given the presence of others in a situation. Applies to friends, family, and all people in this planet. I became an expert on being an introvert.
Aside from the feeling of liberation and all those not-so-emotional shit people reason out with traveling alone (saying this because a Grab driver in Manila once mocked me when he found out I just came from a solo trip from Brunei, as if I’m trying out some hype. Gave him 3 star ratings.), I got curious about staying in hostels and socializing with people because it has been written about in several blogs. I have never shared any sleeping space except with my siblings, so I always wondered how it feels to stay in one of the bunkbeds in a hostel full of strangers. And… and… sharing bathrooms with them *insert crying emoji*
But I survived it! In fact, I started to love the idea of hostels. I stayed in hostels in Legazpi, in Cebu, in Makati, Coron, and other parts of the Philippines. I became comfortable with that initially was uncomfortable. I learned life skills. I learned to socialize better with people. I learned to exercise discretion. I learned to travel safe. In this case, I considered myself ready to travel abroad, alone.
The “Birthday Leave” and Piso Fare Victory
When I was still working with the government, we have this leave called “Birthday Leave” which was part of the five special leaves that we are entitled to for the calendar year. Knowing me and my endless pursuit of wanderlust, my boss, who is also a travel enthusiast, btw, asked me where will I go for my birthday for that year. I was actually supposed to go on a one-week trip to Laos and I already have my Budget Spreadsheet, Itinerary Spreadsheet, and all necessary spreadsheets I prepared when I planned that travel. I happily showed told him about my plans and I even bought a travel guide overseas just to research for the trip. I was prepared af.
Something happened. My brother got reassigned to their company’s main office in Yokohama (he’s a software guy). To be honest, I would rather go backpacking around Mainland Southeast Asia than to visit Japan. First, it’s hella expensive to go there. Second, I think everyone has been to Japan, and I always hate doing what everyone does. And third, I’m just not excited about Japan because I’ve been bombarded with photos of it in social media. But my brother has been sending us photos of him with Hachiko Statue, him experiencing his first snow in Japan, and him by that giant Gundam statue in Odaiba.
I started experiencing a different feeling with Japan that time. More than that, I have never traveled with anyone from my family. My brother being in Japan is something I could take as an opportunity so that I could at least travel with him there. Hence, I changed plans. “I’m going to Japan for my next birthday. I’ll set aside Laos for now.” (But thankfully, a few years after that, I had a short but sweet and unforgettable travel to Laos.)
As I have revealed in the Yokohama Travel Guide I have written in this blog, I was lucky enough to have scored a Cebu Pacific promo fare to Narita (it’s a one Peso fare and I only had to pay the travel tax which totaled only around USD50 or PhP2500) and my departure flight was my birthday itself! How lucky was that? But as I said, it took me using multiple devices and office slacking to score that flight (but hey, it was my boss whom I first told about it!).
Please note, however, that I don’t know how other people score discounted flights, because my previous attempts to it were unsuccessful. Plus, I can’t just pick a random departure date with promos because I have a job. But nonetheless, that Japan ticket happened out of sheer luck! This is it, I’m going to Japan!
Lucky Birthday to Me!
I flew with an early morning flight, on my birthday, and it was not a full flight. I have no seatmates! Talk about the luckiest birthday ever! Before my flight I got a birthday call from my parents and they were more than excited with the idea that I will be visiting my brother in Japan. I slept through the whole flight, but when the pilot had the final descent announcement, He mentioned that we have were having a beautiful view of Mount Fuji because the skies are very clear.
I peeked through the plane window and there it is, Mount Fuji, a small white beautiful dot. I took a photo of it. I started crying. I cry for breathtaking moments and things. I cry about beautiful things. Sometimes I cry for everything, like Rachel Green throwing a pizza box at the garbage room. My excitement about this trip elevated even more. I can’t wait to land and get off the plane and see Tokyo and Yokohama in the next few days!
As soon as I went out of Narita Airport to go to Narita Express train station, I sat in a random waiting area to calm myself down. I was very excited, I can’t even describe it, and I have no one to share the feeling face to face. I sent a selfie to some friends and chatted a little then proceeded to the train station.
During the train ride, I was having a view of the Narita countryside and it’s like an anime the came to life. Those houses in that Doraemon cartoon show are damn accurate! The train is like those ones you see in films shot in Europe, but this is a high-speed train. I don’t even know how to express my excitement. See, this is how a solo travel becomes happy and sad at the same time. It’s a struggle. You have all those emotions but can’t share it with anyone.
The train made a stop at Shibuya which is my destination. My plan for the day was to explore Shibuya and Harajuku and go to temples as I wait for my brother to finish working so that we can have our legit Japanese ramen dinner together.
As soon as I alighted the train, I got a little intimidated with all the signs and where to go out, adding to that is the typical Japanese hustle vibe where everyone seems to be in a hurry. Then I saw an exit which says “Hachiko”. “I’M ABOUT SO SEE HACHIKO OMG ASDFGHJKL” (Can somebody please train me on how to better express excitement in writing? I’m bad at it, and I tend to curse a lot. Haha)
The Cats at Hachiko Statue
While everyone was graciously walking fast towards their exits of destination, I ran. I ran like a kid with my very heavy pink JanSport backpack on my back with my leather boots (which was very comfortable, thank God) and feeling free without any luggage on my hand. I used to challenge myself to never travel with a luggage, but you know, we grow older, and we can’t carry heavy backpacks and travel light forever. I reached the exit and there was Hachiko statue, right before my eyes, on my birthday. Mentioning me crying was an understatement.
I saw people flocking by the Hachicko statue which I assumed was normal, but when I tried to see what’s going on, I saw three cats in the statue, sleeping, and they were just the cutest thing! Later I found out from a frined that these three cats are popular in the area (I actually saw them clothed up) and it’s a lucky sign to see all three of them up in the statue. Hold on, is this another lucky thing that happened that day? Yay for all the luck the universe has given me on that day!
After I moved on from my disbelief of seeing Hachiko statue in person, I saw this Hello Kitty mini-bus parked at one corner, and it says “Tourist Information Center”, if I’m not mistaken. I went in and there’s an old Japanese man handing in tourist maps. He asked the “Where are you from?” question every traveler hears every single time, and when I told him I’m from the Philippines, he responded, “Ay, malamig sa labas!” I was astounded.
As I was walking towards the Shibuya Crossing, I got stunned with the whole surrounding. I felt like a 10-year old who saw a big city for the first time, like “Wow, tall buildings with Japanese characters! Wow, Japanese people all over! Wow, winter is indeed really cold!” I won’t even tell this to anyone, but just to make you happy, I’m revealing it. Hahaha!
“I’m in motherf*cking Tokyo, b*tches!”
I crossed the Shibuya Crossing for the first time, and those scenes from the movie Lost in Translation flashed back on my mind. And it finally sank in. My mind was screaming, “I’m in motherf*cking Tokyo, b*tches!” and again, I have no one to share the excitement with! Imagine how hard that was!
After crossing the Shibuya scramble, I checked the map and planned my route on my mind. And then the pedestrian sign beeped again signaling that people can cross the scramble. Oh, you know what I did. I crossed again! I felt like Nadine Lustre in the TV show On the Wings of Love when she first stepped in at San Francisco (but I did not meet any James Reid, that’s the difference). And I crossed again. I did it for about 30 minutes. It was fun doing it all over. It looks and sounds crazy, but it was one of the happiest travel moments of my life. More importantly, the happiest birthday of my life thus far.
I spent the rest of the day exploring Harajuku, Meiji Temple, and walking around the streets. Remember I was carrying a backpack? My back starts to ache and I had to do something very, very cliche which I usually do when stepping in a new city: eat at McDonald’s and have coffee at Starbucks (Hey, stop judging! I was saving my first Japanese meal when my brother shows up after work!). My brother and I went to Ichiran Shibuya for our mandatory ramen dinner.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I spent my birthday in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Celebrated My Birthday at Shibuya Scramble Tokyo: Your Thoughts?
I see you’ve reached this far. After all, what’s travel without some drama, anyway?