21 Hours In Japan

Oh, Japan. Why did I only get to spend less than a day with you when I found you so incredibly magical? If I would’ve had more time (and more yen) I would’ve done it all: eaten takoyaki in Osaka, explored tiny fishing villages, indulged my nerdier side at the Ghibli museum in Tokyo. (Because who doesn’t love Miyazaki?)

But the time I did spend in Japan was still incredible- and isn’t a short time in a place you loved better than no time at all?

Walking around Narita on a blue-skied Thursday morning, the first thing I noticed was the silence. Strolling the quiet streets, it seemed to me as the Japanese carefully consider every sentence they say and then evaluate if the words are even worth saying at all.

Layover Japan Narita

Layover Japan Narita

Layover Japan Narita

Layover Japan Narita

My first stop in town was Naritasan Shinshoji, a famed Buddhist temple. While different parts of the temple are newer, the oldest building dates back to 940 A.D.

Layover Japan Narita

Layover Japan Narita

Layover Japan Narita

As much as I tried to enjoy the beautiful temple, I was feeling run-down: sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, hungry, sniffling and hot, to be precise. (Isn’t it bizarre to have a terrible cold in 80-degree heat?)

And though I had planned on eating a bowl of ramen for lunch, hot soup on such a hot day didn’t sound appealing so I stepped into an air-conditioned sushi shop instead.Layover Japan Narita

It turns out that I had made the right choice. Soon after sitting and ordering a draft beer, a smorgasbord of raw-fish delights began: Grilled eel with teriyaki sauce, bright-red ahi tuna, and the real star of the show, toro, or fatty tuna– buttery, soft, fresh and fishy in the best kind of way.

I loved how the sushi chef just placed the sushi and ginger right on top of the bar, which I then picked up and devoured quickly with chopsticks.Layover Japan Narita

Needless to say, it was hands-down the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life, and tasted different from any sushi I had ever had. The rice tasted of vinegar and the ginger was white, not dyed pink like in the west. The one thing that I found subpar was the miso soup, in which balls of tuna, carrots and potatoes were ominously floating.

When I ordered another beer the sushi chef placed more pickled ginger on the glass bar. “To go with your beer,” he says.

So there I was, sitting in a sushi bar with beer in hand, feeling slightly buzzed and incredibly satisfied. It was also a bit of surreal moment, in which I grappled with my current reality. “I am eating the best sushi of my life. I am in Japan. Two days ago I was in Tijuana.”

In total I dropped a little less than $30 for a sushi lunch, a huge splurge for me. But what could be more worthwhile than lunch at a sushi bar in Japan?

With a few more hours to kill, I settled down with my bags at a little tea shop for a stone pot of Japanese green tea.

Layover Japan Narita


And although I didn’t get to see (or taste!) as much as I would’ve liked, all 21 hours I spent in Japan were entirely memorable.

Have you ever been to Japan? What did you think?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

20 thoughts on “21 Hours In Japan”

  1. So sorry that you couldn’t spend more time in Japan,
    for as you say, it is magical. It was that way for me, especially kyoto.

    Love, Gamma

  2. That sushi sounds absolutely incredible. The buttery tuna in particular has my mouth watering/drooling.! Also, I like the shot with the sushi on the bar top with the chef in the background by the way.

  3. I could easily spend a month in Japan and not see everything that I would want to see! You look like you did pretty good with your time, though!

  4. Well for 21 hours, you did pretty well!! That sushi-ya looks like a good deal for under $30 … Japan is pretty expensive unless you’re eating at the 7-11 :) I spent over 3 months traveling there and never saw everything I wanted to, or even a fraction of it!

  5. 21 hours is not much, but it looks like you have seen and done a lot of things :). My dream is to have a real sushi in one of Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. If I ever decided to go to Japan, I would love to travel there for at least one month :).

  6. Such a shame that you got to spend such a short period of time in Japan.

    I hope you get a chance to go back again soon and experience much more. Maybe with a big budget as well to fully appreciate it.

  7. Just the other day Tony & I were reminiscing about our month in Japan and wondering why we didn’t eat more sushi while we were there. Your post just reminded me: it was so expensive! I think it’s a shame that you can eat your weight in sushi in places like Thailand and have it be a fraction of what it costs in Japan. We did splurge once and did a big sushi breakfast at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, but honestly maybe my palate sucks but I just didn’t think the sushi we had there was remarkably better than what I’d had at other great sushi joints back in the U.S. Certainly not enough to justify the crazy price tag that went along with it. We really had fun on our outing to one of the conveyer belt sushi restaurants, however! Yummy & cheap!

    • I’ve always wanted to have a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Market- I’m bummed to hear it wasn’t that great! And yes, Japanese sushi is pretty pricey- after a few days it would really add up so I can see how in a month you would’ve be able to have it everyday.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ashley!
    Sounds absolutely wonderful!!
    I’m on my way to visit family in Philippines and notice I could opt for a 21hr layover in Narita. Was wondering if it was easy or difficult to leave the airport and travel to/from the city and site-see?

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