One Weekend in Japan

Summer Sonic 2011 Osaka

Tickets to Summer Sonic Music Festival = $100, 1 hour flight from Seoul to Osaka = $500, 2 nights in a hostel = $100, getting to see my ultimate favorite band, The Red Hot Chili Peppers live in concert = priceless! (This blog post is long overdue.  I’m technically writing it in September and the concert was in mid-August so sorry for the delay!) One of the things I wanted to do before I die is see RHCP in concert.  At the beginning of last year I knew that they were coming to Japan so I promised myself that if I was still in Korea I would do whatever it took to see them and that’s just what I did. Since the band members are so old now it’s very rare to see them in concert and they rarely tour the US especially not the east coast.  Some people might think its a bit crazy to go to another country for a concert, but minus the expense, it is only an hour flight across the pond between Korea and Japan 🙂

After purchasing my concert ticket, flight, and booking my hostel I was ready to go.  This trip would be much different from any trip I had gone on before because I was traveling alone.  Besides going to Korea on my own, this was the first time I would travel to another country solo.  After my experience I can confidently say that Korea and Japan would be the only two countries safe enough to travel alone to and you will understand why after reading this blog.

I left for Osaka on a Friday evening after school.  I had a rough plan in my head.  I would get to my hostel and scope out the surroundings, wake up early the next day and go to the music festival on Saturday and then I had the entire day Sunday to do one cultural tour in Japan.  When arriving at the Osaka airport I was glad to see that the subway was conveniently located in the airport just like Seoul.  I had reviewed my subway route several times so I was able to navigate well, but I hadn’t really factored in the cost of the Japanese subways.  In Seoul you can pretty much go from one end to the other (about 2 hours) for around $1-$2 USD.  I expected Japan to be more expensive but figured since it was the subway it would be similar right? Wrong! The 40 minute subway ride from the airport to my hostel cost me around $12 USD! After exchanging my Korean won for my Japanese yen at the airport I had already lost out on the exchange rate and at that point the yen was still looking like monopoly money so I had no idea how much money I had on me.  I went into this trip on a tight budget and for the next three days I made sure I always had at least enough yen to get me back to the airport.

I made it to the hostel and was already amazed at the cleanliness of the city.  The owner of the hostel welcomed me and showed me to my bedroom, which was actually sectioned off so I had my own space.  Another foreigner also welcomed me at the desk and told me to come up on the roof to meet everyone else at the hostel.  I made my way up and met 6 Australian guys who ironically were also going to the music fest! They were all Chili Peppers fans as well.  One of them even had the RHCP symbol tattooed on his arm. A year earlier I had just read the lead vocalists’ autobiography so I was able to join in their conversations about the band and music history.  I was so relieved that I wouldn’t be alone on my journey from here on out. Like a true girl on a budget I opted for grabbing some cheap beers at a convenience store to enjoy at the hostel and a cup of noodles. We headed to bed early that night so that we were able to get up bright and early for the music fest.

Some of the Aussies at my hostel

We left our hostel at around 10 a.m. and made our way into the scorching heat towards the concert venue.  I had only brought some sandals and upon looking at my feet one of the guys strongly recommended that I borrow his sneakers.  I reluctantly did, but in the end I am so thankful because I was able to be right up front and center in the midst of some heavy moshing while the Chili Peppers were playing.

Can you tell I'm wearing men's sneakers?

Japanese subway

That day temperatures reached over 100 degrees.  I have never sweated so much in my life from just standing in one place for so many hours.  You were actually forced to wear a towel on your head to keep from sweating profusely. The day was packed with bands.  We saw Panic! at the Disco, Neon Trees, Zebrahead, Yelle, Friendly Fires, Hollywood Undead, an extremely famous Japanese rock band, X Japan, and of course The Red Hot Chili Peppers. For that entire day we were able to live our lives the way it was before cell phones.  After each set we had a meeting place and it worked out nicely.  At the end of the concert we all left together.  If I was with a group of girls I don’t think that would have been possible but we made it work.  I had expected to see many foreigners at this concert but in fact there were none except for the Aussies that I met.  Without them I don’t know what I would have done.  The Japanese are a very quiet and peaceful people.  During sets they would be cheering, dancing, and clapping for the music but in between sets the arena was dead silent.  It was kind of eerie.

Rocking the towels

Wearing towels became the staple fashion statement

X Japan

Finally, after much anticipation, at around 7 p.m. RHCP were getting ready to come on.  I pushed my way to the front with one of the other guys.  We were jammed right up in front.  Before the band came on he instructed me to stand strong because I was going to be pushed forward.  As soon as the band came on stage I felt myself being pushed in all directions and I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe.  Then, I held my own, pushed back, and told myself that this was the moment I had been waiting for for so long.  I was going to be right in front and soak in every part of this moment.  After the first few songs the pushing stopped and I was able to create my own dancing space and just exist right in the moment of the music. I rocked out with thousands of other people to the classic sounds of “Californication,” ” By the Way,” “Scar Tissue,” “Under the Bridge,” ‘Give it Away,” and so many more! Their setlist was amazing.  They played mostly classics and only one song from Stadium Arcadium and two songs from their newest album, “I’m With You.” They even did their infamous cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” The live music was everything I had hopped for.  I wish I had seen them during their prime when they were crazy and high on everything.  They definitely have a much different vibe now.  Now they are in their late forties with the exception of their new bass guitarist.  They have a new spiritual vibe and a maturity that has come with a lot of hard life experiences.  I left that concert feeling a natural high from the sound of their music and the vibes of the people around me.

I met up with the guys and we couldn’t wait to get back on the bus and head to our hostel for a hot shower and a comfortable bed.  We were covered in dust and sweat from being outside literally all day.  At the hostel I quickly grabbed my shower stuff and towel and headed toward the bathroom.  I was immediately stopped by the owner.  She said, “Sorry, water not working.” I said, “Really?” And as she looked me up and down she realized that this problem needed to be fixed.  I refused to go to bed completely filthy.  I waited for about an hour.  Some of the guys went to bed, but me and two of the guys were going wait it out.  I finally suggested that maybe she could tell us the way to the public baths.  She said the closest one was 20 minutes.  After some deliberation with another worker she told us that she would pay for our round trip taxi and bathhouse fee.  I had never been so happy in my life! The two guys, myself, and another Japanese woman staying at the hostel got into the taxi and made our way to the bathhouse.  I was excited to have two opportunities.  One was the experience of a Japanese taxi and the other was the experience of the Japanese public bathhouse. The taxi driver was wearing a tuxedo and driving a neatly polished car inside and out.  It was so nice I didn’t even want to sit in it with my dirty clothes.   The 5 minute ride from our hostel to the bathhouse cost around $20 USD! If the hostel owner didn’t pay for this trip I would never have had the experience of a Japanese taxi.

Taxi

I had been to the Korean traditional bathhouses or jimjilbangs so I figured the system would be similar.  I was so grateful for the Japanese woman who came with me and showed me what to do.  After stripping down in front of the Japanese women I made my way through the routine of the baths and we even had some time to relax in the hot tubs.  I felt much more comfortable in the Japanese bathhouse because I wasn’t stared at like I am in Korea.  Japanese women also had tattoos and piercings.  They seem to be much more liberal and open-minded toward foreigners thankfully. I made it back to my bed that night thankful to be clean.  This is the first instance where I experienced the great hospitality of the Japanese people.

The next day, Sunday, I was on my own.  I had until 8 p.m. to do something culturally Japanese.  I woke up early that morning and headed to find an ATM.  Convenience store ATMs in Japan do not take foreign cards like they do in Korea so I had to go all the way to Citibank, which was a 20 minute walk.  Or at least it should have been except that I walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction to start.  I have become so comfortable in Seoul that I forget the trials of visiting another country. It was so hot and I started to become frustrated.  There was no one around to ask and I was starting to feel nervous.  Then a lady came out of nowhere and approached me and asked me where I was going.  I told her.  She told me to get on the bus and told me the stop to get off.  I didn’t have the coins I needed to get on the bus so she gave me 200 yen, which is about $3 USD.  I couldn’t accept it but she insisted.  I felt so grateful for her actions and I couldn’t imagine this act of kindness happening in any other country in the world.  I made it to the ATM and back to my hostel safely.

On my walk I found the "5th Avenue" of Japan

After walking in the heat for a few hours I wanted one last shower before I left for the day.  The showers were up and working and I was able to use this amazing sit-down shower.  It is literally a seat with jets that come out from all sides and a shower head that you can use for your hair.  It was great.  Showers and toilets in Japan are amazing! I wish Korea would get with the program where toilets are concerned.

Instead of traveling quite far to see some outdoor temples I opted to stay close to my hostel and visit the famous Osaka aquarium and one of the largest ferris wheels in the world.  I didn’t want to risk getting lost on the day I had to leave and I didn’t want to be outside in the sweltering heat.  The aquarium was actually pretty nice as far as aquariums go and the ferris wheel was fun too.  The ferris wheel took about 15 minutes to go all the way around and it was enclosed and air conditioned.  I was able to relax and see an amazing view.

Unfortunately, due to my strict budget I wasn’t able to sample any good cuisine or experience the nightlife.  My sole purpose for traveling was to see RHCP and I don’t regret it.  After saving up some money I would love to go to Japan again.  Compared to Korea Japan is much cleaner and quieter and the people are much more open-minded and helpful.  I learned that they will go out of their way to help someone in need.  I was also amazed at the safety.  Everyone in Osaka rides a bike but I did not see one bike with a lock on it.  They are all lined up along sidewalks in neat rows.  I hope that I will have the chance to go back someday and experience it more completely. I feel like I did as much as I could in the mere 36 hours that I had there.

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9 responses

  1. Jen,
    That is so great! Despite the challenges, you found a way to get around and enjoy. I don’t know how you made it thru a day of heat. I was in Rome visiting the coliseum during very high temperatures and was able to find frozen water. It cost more but I didn’t care. I am so glad that someone was able to help you with the bus fare, too – amazing! Mary Ann

  2. Hi Jen,

    wow, that was so different a trip, really sounded wild. glad you had a chance
    to see your favorite band. good to hear from you again.

    Joan

  3. I’ll bet this will be right up there on your list of top10 adventures. I now love the Japanese people as they helped keep you safe. I am still trying to figure out where you got your amazing sense of adventure; keep it up!!!!

    Aunt Diane

  4. Nice blog! I want to go to Summer Sonic this year, and I’m also in Seoul. Where did you buy tix last year? Were you able to get them online? Thanks for your help. I agree: Japan and Korea are great for women traveling solo.

    • Hi! Thanks for reading! I bought the tickets through a link on the Summer Sonic website. I ordered them about a month before the concert and I remember feeling stressed as to whether I would get them in time or not, but they did come delivered to my Seoul apt. address! I’m pretty sure they are purchased through a company in the UK. If you can, purchase them ASAP to be sure and also try to go to both days. It’s worth it! Good luck!

  5. Hello! I’m planning to go this year too (2014) alone like you! I love your experience. CAn you tell me which hostel you stayed in and maybe more tips?? 🙂 THANK YOU!!!!

    • Hi! Sorry it’s taken so long for me to reply. I stayed at Hostel 64. As I remember the price was average…hostels in Japan tend to be pretty pricey. It was easy to find from the subway, safe, clean, and a great place to meet people if traveling alone. Let me know if you have any other questions.

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