Japan: Birthday in Tokyo

I wake up to so many wonderful birthday messages from my friends and family, all of whom I miss terribly on a day like today! Everyone has been so supportive of my globe galavanting, and as much as I love being out here, it’s so nice to hear from everyone back home.
I’m not ready to be 22. One day you’re at home, being all angsty, wishing so badly to be 16, 18, 21. Then in what feels like NO time, you’re in Tokyo celebrating your 22nd birthday. What now? I’ve never wanted to be any older than 21. Though, technically, I still am for a little while longer if we’re judging by the current time in my original place of birth…which obviously we must. I still have my youth in Canada! Here I have arthritis and bunions. I’ve got a few short hours to figure out what to do with my life as a 22 year old.

Dad orders our breakfast to the room and steps out to speak to the concierge, leaving me in charge of receiving our meal. He isn’t coping so well with this no-tipping thing, and instructs me to offer the room service attendant a ¥500 ($5) coin. We’re staying in a pretty western hotel, so I figure it’s a grey area anyway. I’ll try it.
The doorbell rings and I am greeted by the most anxious, apologetic fellow on the planet. He keeps saying a mixture of “semimasen” which is Japanese for sorry or excuse me, and a lot of English sorrys too. He is very particular about where each plate and cup must go on the table, which is time consuming…so I just stand there awkwardly and watch him. He points out every individual dish. Water included. I thank him and offer him the ¥500 yen to which he throws his hands up at his side and waves them around saying “no no no” so I retract it. Oh god I am SO sorrrrrry. What have I done?! I’ve made him more stressed. He backs out of the room, bowing and saying thank
you and some more sorrys as he goes. Oh me oh my.

When Dad gets back we enjoy our breakfast while Skyping Mom and Sev, who have just arrived in Chicago. Last year on my birthday, we made a three-way Skype call between the four of us when I was in Australia, Dad was in Peru, and Mom and Sev were at home. I wonder how many years in a row I can accomplish this…


We plan to go visit the Sky Tree, which is Tokyo’s equivalent to the CN Tower. We have dinner reservations at a mountain-top restaurant at 5:30 so time is of the essence yet again. Dad finds out from the concierge that the Sky Tree and the restaurant are at opposite ends of Tokyo, and Tokyo is huge. She’s stressed. She says we need to leave NOW if we want to go to the Sky Tree. I don’t want to leave now, so we decide not to go.

What do we do instead? We go to the gym. Who am I?
The Miyako has a pretty nice gym with a lane pool, sauna, onsen etc. I workout for a bit and then head down to the pool. There are a bunch of rules posted on the wall, like to take off your shoes, shower before entering the pool, and to exercise BEFORE you swim. I don’t see why it matters which order I choose to workout in, but fine.

It’s not a busy day at the gym, and I’m only one of two humans in the pool. There’s one lady who’s been doing laps since before I started my run. I hop in and take it easy, paddling around more than actually swimming for fitness. I make it through one full length of the pool before I’ve broken a rule. A lady comes over to me with two swim caps to choose from and urges me to put one on. I’ve never even worn a swim cap before so I don’t know what to do, but I throw my hair up in a bun and pull the rubbery hat over my head. She looks so relieved. As I go to swim away, I watch her dip a test tube into the water where I have just been. Can she really be checking to see if my hair has contaminated the whole pool? I’m not an expert at chemistry…but that’s totally how it looked. I have ruined the Miyako’s pool. Evacuate! No one swim. There might be a blonde strand on the loose somewhere.

I leave the contaminated fitness centre and get ready for the day in my hotel room, where no one can tell me how to live! I do what I want.

Dad and I leave early so that we have time to explore the surrounding area of the mountain before sitting down to dinner. It’s a long train ride away, and we have to transfer in Shinjuku so we decide to hang out there for a bit and get a coffee instead of heading straight to Takosanguchi. We come across a bakery named Hokuo: The essence of Scandinavia. The sign also says “Scandinavia’s Smell”…which is easy to misread.



We stop and get three little pastries that look like rundstykke (Dad’s spontaneous spelling of what I would pronounce like rrreun-stroo-ga; a classic Danish weekend breakfast bun).

While sitting and waiting for our train to come, we sit down to try our Scandinavian essence pastries. The first one I bite into is filled with bean paste. Danes don’t eat bean paste. The second, has a sort of Indian flavour…perhaps a little tumeric? The third is just ham, cheese, and corn. They were doing so well until the corn. None of the pastries are what we would classify as Scandinavian, but at least they taste good!

Next up is our long train ride to Takosanguchi, yet another destination right at the end of the line. Dad and I take turns napping, and therefore take turns snapping awful sleeping photos of one another. It’s only funny when I do it.


We take a shuttle bus up the mountain instead of hiking, because we’re out of time and my knee is still kind of bothering me. It would take us 90 minutes to hike, and the shuttle only takes 10. We reach the top in no time, which is now a little awkward because we’re way too early for our reservation. No one seems to mind at all, and we are immediately shown through the gardens to our table by a woman in a kimono. We walk over small bridges and on rustic stone pathways to our own private room, over looking a beautiful koi fish pond and the surrounding gardens. We take some more time to wander the gardens before sitting down in our little room, where we have the ability to call our wait staff…from a real phone, not just a button.



I’m not sure if this makes me happy or sad, but the waitress comes without us having to call her. We order one Wagyu beef set and one charbroiled chicken set. We plan to share. They each come with multiple dishes, brought out periodically during our meal. Everything tastes incredible, but the most extravagant part is when our own little personal chef enters the room to set up our hot stone stove and to prepare our beef. He cooks it to absolute perfection (like seriously could be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not a big beef fan), he then gives us instructions on how to cook the chicken. We get to do it ourselves! I love things like this.





Rice and miso soup come shortly after we’ve indulged in our main dishes, which I learned from Angela, signifies the end of the meal. Next up is dessert! Sesame ice cream and a pounded rice matcha bean paste ball (totally not the same of it, but I forget the official one), served with rose-hip tea.


Over the course of our meal, we watch the gardens outside as they change from day to night. Fire torches line the walkways in zen harmony with some electrical lamps, creating a dramatic effect over the grounds. We take some photos, but like all most beautiful places in the world, the magic just doesn’t quite transfer.




We have an amazing experience from start to finish, and I know this will be one of the first things I recommend to anyone traveling to Japan. Only second to sleeping in a Buddhist temple in Koyasan.

What a fabulous way to spend a birthday, and our last day in Japan!

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