Japan 1998. My First Solo Trip | Japan Travel Memories

Kinkakuji in 1998.
My First Solo Trip To Japan in 1998 - Kinkakuji.

Retro pictures, #mondaymemories of my first overseas solo trip in 1998. Destination, Japan. Overall experience, extremely educational and enlightening!

While digging for the Hardy Boys books I mentioned in my previous post, I came across these. The film photos from my first overseas solo trip to Japan in 1998.

All were faded and terribly amateurish, but nonetheless precious to me; all were shot over ten days in February and March 1998. During a trip I could only describe as eye-opening and humbling.

You see, back then, the Internet was hardly as informative or as pervasive as it is today. Most of my travel information thus came from dog-eared public library books. With these books seldom providing precise information the likes of today’s Google Maps.

To give you an idea of the kind of difficulty I wrangled with throughout this solo trip, none of the photocopied maps I brought with me remotely depicted the area they represent. Perhaps for reasons of limited printing space, these maps also only indicated the main roads but never the many alleys in between.

On day 1, yours pathetically lugged my luggage around for near an hour before I located my ryokan. That evening, I got utterly lost in Shinjuku. It took me half an hour before I found Studio Alta. (I used the West Exit instead of the East)

PS: The following retro photos are nowhere near the quality of what I’ve been posting on this blog. Not only were these shot with a cheap camera, I had no clue at all about photography back then. I didn’t even know what aperture size or shutter speed meant.

Ueno Daibutsu (1998)
A shrine somewhere in Ueno Park. If I remember correctly, I found this while wandering around the park, waiting for check-in time at the ryokan. (Update 2019: I finally learned this is the remnant of the Ueno Daibutsu. Thanks, Google Maps!)

Ueno Park Torii Gates in 1998.
Torii gates at Ueno Park. This being my very first Japan solo trip, I was endlessly fascinated by these classic Japanese entryways.

Travelling alone in Japan 1998 - Keisei Ueno Station.
Near Keisei Ueno Station. (You can see the sign marking the entrance). I must have been hunting for lunch or something, or energy drinks, to stay awake when I shot this.

Japan Solo Trip 1998.
This looks and feels like somewhere in the Asakusa area. But going by the date, I believe this is still Ueno Park.

Nighttime Shinjuku in 1998.
Alright, this is an interesting one. This is somewhere in Shinjuku after dark. Nothing particularly special about this random shot too except, 20 years later, I would be obsessing over the same scenery in the virtual paradise that is Sega’s Yakuza series. Bicycles also happen to be my favourite pick-up weapon in the games.

My First Solo Trip To Japan in 1998 - Hakone Ropeway
A pretty awful picture taken while riding the Hakone Ropeway. That I chose to go at late winter, just before Sakura season, highlights how travel-stupid I was back then.

Interlude, if you would permit me.

And in advance, I apologise if I come across as unnecessarily maudlin.

Within 48 hours of this first-ever solo trip to Japan, something big dawned on me. As in, literally. I painfully realised that living in a tiny country like Singapore hemmed in my mentality in more ways than one. Beginning with how I expected every location to be compact or within walking distance.

I was positively terrified when I stepped out of the Narita Express at Tokyo Station. Not even the largest mall in Singapore back then was the size of this transportation behemoth, not to mention the number of people shuffling, dashing, and sprinting within it.

And then you have the neighbourhoods, and the subway stations, the latter often with underpasses longer than any I’ve ever been in. It was … eye-opening, to say the least. Didn’t help too that in all previous holidays I was conveniently ferried about by a coach. I never had to walk by myself, with luggage, for more than a few yards.

In a nutshell, this 1998 adventure in Japan permanently changed my perceptions about myself and Singapore. Not entirely in a positive way too, if I might add. Why so? Well, I think I should leave that for another post.

Tokyo Disneyland Dance Fever (1998)
Tokyo Disneyland 1998! With Mickey & Minnie’s Disco Fever as special programme. I still have the special edition lunchbox I bought.

Travelling alone in Japan in 1998 - Tokyo Disneyland.
More Tokyo Disneyland. As you can see, it was always crowded. (Will always be crowded too, if you ask me)

Tsukiji Fish Market 1998.
Tsukiji Fish Market. This is one of my better shots from the trip. It is also particularly memorable for I have never since returned to the famed fish market. (And I’d probably never be able to, given it is scheduled for redevelopment)

Background for this 1998 Japan Solo Trip

A little bit about what led to this solo trip. Please try not to roll your eyes after reading too.

In November 1997, I strolled into a gaming shop at Singapore’s City Plaza and ended up buying an art book. This being a collection of the illustrations Kaneko Kazuma did for Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner (Sega Saturn).

Hard for me to explain what happened next, it was rather heady, but by the New Year, I was determined to visit Japan. In fact, I was so determined to go, I went right in the middle of my tertiary school semester; during my one-week break in late February, to be specific.

Looking back, it was decisively overboard, I actually skipped several days of school to do it. But, oh well, I acquired some important life skills from this adventure. Things I would never learn in school too. Again, maybe I’d someday write about these skills.

Other Places I Visited During This 1998 Trip

Ise Sengoku Jidai Mura (1998)
The mock battlements at Ise Sengoku Jidai Mura, the theme park now known by various other names. This was a high point of the trip for me. Cheesy as it was, I utterly enjoyed the periodic build-ups.

Azuchi Castle Reconstruction at Ise.
Reconstruction of Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle within Ise Sengoku Jidai Mura. Allow me to reveal that my main purpose for visiting the theme park was this gaudy funhouse. Azuchi Castle, or the “Illusion Castle” (幻影城), was the demon fortress in the second Peacock King (孔雀王) Anime movie. I was crazy about Peacock King back then.

Shingu Taisha (1998)
Shingu Taisha. My one and only reason for visiting: I was also a huge fan of Yasha Karasu (夜叉鴉), a gruesome, very adult manga series by Ogino Makoto, the artist who drew Peacock King. I loved the series enough to endure hours of local train rides just to get to the Kumano region.

Snowy Mount Koya (1998)
Naturally, the Ogino fan I was, I visited Mount Koya too. There, I learned to my disappointment ura-Koya wasn’t accessible to casual tourists.

Kyoto Gion Corner Tea Ceremony (1998)
My final stop for this holiday was Kyoto. Here, I attended my first-ever tea ceremony. That is, a tourist version of, at Gion Corner.

Nintama Rantarō Fire Prevention Mascot.
Walked by this on my last day! Hi no youjin! By Ninja Rantarou! (It’s a fire-prevention campaign)

My Other Japan Posts

Japan 1998. My First Solo Trip | Japan Travel Memories
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Japan 1998. My First Solo Trip | Japan Travel Memories
Retro pictures from my first overseas solo trip in 1998. The destination, Japan. The experience, educational and enlightening, and humbling!

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