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Before the Pow: Taking Time to Explore Tokyo and Osaka

Posted by Khai Johannes on May 2, 2019

Once you land in Japan, the different commute options to snow sound like a lyric from the Plain White T’s, “they've got planes and trains and cars.” The excitement you’ve managed to cultivate through hours of day dreaming and checking snow reports likely will have set a preverbal fire under you, and you’ll want the next few hours to pass faster than Rocky’s montage – with the result being you bombing through a knee-deep line and the birch trees giving a standing ovation for your GoPro-worthy face shots.

Face shots

Before any of this can happen, though, you’ll land in Japan, where port of entry is only possible [from the US] through two cities: Tokyo (NRT) and Osaka (KIX). While there isn’t a powder hound alive that would fault you for beelining straight to the mountains, shredding, then leaving – not exploring either port city is a missed opportunity to discover some truly amazing finds.

Reach for the (Food) Stars

Japanese food Michelin Stars

Tokyo and Osaka are both heavily saturated; the two city’s populations are listed as numbers one and eight worldwide, but are even closer in a different numbers game: Michelin Stars. Japan holds three of the top four spots in number of Michelin Stars awarded, with Paris sandwiched between number one, Tokyo, with 314 stars, and number three, Kyoto, with 134. While a three-star Michelin dinner may force you to tap into your 401k, a one star (which Tokyo has approximately 166 of to choose from) can cost as little as eight USD. Luckily, transportation between these restaurants is so effortless that had Lionel Richie ever taken the Fukutoshin Line line to Shinjuku station, he would have sang, “I’m easy like Japanese public transportation”… even if doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Sunday morning.”

Move Like a Local

Japan city traffic

In some of the most populous cities in the world, locals need a way to commute, and cars simply aren’t the answer (major U.S. cities, take note). The correct answer to the commuting problem is 13, which is the total number of train lines that web the city, allowing passengers to get from end to end seeking pork and other delicious foods. Out of the 51 busiest train stations in the world, 45 reside in Japan. Despite the high number of commuters packing themselves into metal tubes and swapping body heat in complete silence, the train system remains punctual to a fault. Pushers are even on hand during high-traffic hours to assist passengers with boarding – just don’t be offended if that hand urges you forward at an unexpectedly hurried pace.

Channel Your Inner Brock (Takeshi)

If you utilize the train system correctly, walking in Japan will be minimal – which can be a problem considering the multitude of dining options. Fear not, though! Keeping in shape for the snow can still be done.

Walking in Japan

Simply typing “bouldering gyms Tokyo” into Google Maps will give your phone screen a quick case of location-smallpox. There are traditional gyms throughout the city but be aware that most of these gyms are members only due to the problematic space-to-bodies ratio. Gold’s Gyms are a saving grace, with 18 location options throughout the city. Tattoos should be covered, since gym management reserves the right to deny any patron with exposed tattoos. No shoes that have been worn outside are allowed to be used as gym shoes – either bring a second pair or be prepared to rent some thrift-style sneakers (send a Snapchat to your dad, because you’ll probably match) for 500 yen. Once you’ve successfully worn your body out, repair and relaxation can be found at a nearby onsen.

Hot bath before snow showers

Onsens are bathing facilities that utilize hot spring water for guests to soak in. These facilities are traditionally fully nude and segregated (though a handful of coed onsens can be found throughout Tokyo). Onsens that see frequent visits from foreigners may have signs guiding users through the proper way to enjoy the zen atmosphere.

Tourism in Japan

Here is a quick rundown on guidelines in case your onsen is more local than anticipated:

  1. No clothing (including swimwear) allowed
  2. Showering is required before entering
  3. No splashing
  4. Keep conversation low
  5.  No tattoos in some onsens (ask around to ensure your onsen accepts body art)
  6. Keep hair out of water

High temperatures and minerals will do your body wonders in pursuit of repairs. Your body is a temple, after all.

Was the end of the previous paragraph set up flawlessly to transition into suggesting several shrines and temples? Yes – however, I’ll leave the temples, robot cafes and real-life Mario Cart to your quick “things to do in Tokyo” Google search. (Here: I did it for you.)

Japan's snowy mountains

After all, you came for the pow.

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