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Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

Sorry for such a long absence!

The last month and a bit has been very busy with a fantastic 10 day visit from my parents, never ending mountains of work, and a trip up to Niigata for a weekend of snowboarding!

Seeing my parents was a really nice break and we managed to cram a lot of travel into a short period of time, visiting places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara, as well as Nagoya! Its interesting to see Japan through their eyes since it was their first visit. Some of the things I take for granted here or have become used to are actually really strange when you think about it – like the lack of fresh vegetables in my diet, vending machines which serve anything from a meal to beer to hot drinks in cans and cold tea in bottles, crows which are the size of a semi-detached in Harlow, and how can I forget the crunchy bean bag “rice pillows”!

I think my favourite place we went to was Kobe due to its small size and the friendliness of everybody I spoke to.

Throughout the trip we stayed in a mix of normal western hotels and Japanese style ryokan with tatami mat floors and futon. We visited a whole variety of places from the ancient mossy zen temples of 8th century Japan in Kyoto and Nara to the more modern style of Kobe and a glimpse at sprawling and gittering futuristic-tecnology-centric Tokyo (Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza etc).

Other stuff:

Snowboarding was absolutely fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I had never done it before, but I guess all that practise at surfing on the tube back home helped because I got pretty good pretty quickly. Rumi taught us the basics and before lunchtime we were hitting up the Intermediate level slopes! Its just as well I’m fearless when it comes to stuff like that because it meant that hurtling down the slopes at what feels like 1000 mph without having fully grasped the concept of braking or mastering basic steering was a lot more fun! The snow was abundant and beautiful, and such good quality. Luckily the 9 hour bus journey was worth it – going an extra couple hours north of the highly popular Nagano resort meant that the slopes were virtually deserted and the snow hadn’t become compacted into ice. I lost my phone the first morning and I thought that it was buh-bye (either destroyed by water damage from melting snow, or buried under fresh snow that fell later that day, or stolen) but this is Japan. I found it the next day – someone had handed it in! What a miracle. All in all it was an amazing weekend. I didn’t break anything, although the proceeding few days had me in a world of pain, the likes of which I haven’t experienced for a very long time!

The workload this term is much more than I anticipated, with business Japanese taking up a lot of my time (learning how to use honorifics in the workplace is essentially learning a whole new set of verbs for all the basic actions and their respective conjugated forms… fun.) On the flip side we went to the Asahi Newspaper office in Nagoya to see “a real Japanese work place in action” and although I only got the bare minimum of what the tour guide was saying it was an interesting experience, plus  we got a bunch of cool freebies.

Taking my first ever foreign policy class this term has also been a challenge – it is absolutely fascinating and the teacher makes it interesting, but its pretty hardcore for a newbie like myself having to start from scratch! The learning curve is steep but I prefer it that way. I’m finding out all sorts of things about Japan and its politics that I should probably have known before; for example, Japan is still technically at war with Russia having never signed the peace treaty at the end of WW2! (Its all to do with the fact that the land border of the northern territories is still disputed.

Ikebana and Sumie (black ink painting) are still my”escape classes” and I love having them as a creative outlet. Last Friday in sumie we were practising all the different types of brush-stokes we have learnt so far and the main task was to create out own new brushstroke. As he was walking around and checking our work he saw the one I had designed and said that he had never seen one like it before – that it was highly original and should be called “Shepheard Stroke”! He then proceeded to show the rest of the class and use it as an example of what you can do with different types of pressure and water/ink balance. So I felt really chuffed about that!

I’m doing English Conversation with a few pupils on the side to earn a little bit of extra money which is working really well for me. The exchange rate is so bad right now that earning yen is far more lucrative than it used to be, and so a fairly standard fee of 3000 yen suddenly has  increased in value from about £15 to a mighty £25! Even though its only occasional, its actually quite fun and once you have the materials its really easy.

A final thought; My theory of Umbrella Karma. Sometimes you lose your umbrella or it gets borrowed/stolen. Other times you may have to “borrow” from other people. Its a never ending cycle trying to stay in balance. There is also a black hole where all the lost umbrellas go – umbrellas left in shops, bars clubs. It is also an indisputable fact that umbrellas are able to grow legs and walk. Possibly towards said black hole.

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For me, New Years Eve is never really a big deal. There’s usually a house party or something going on somewhere, but I tend to avoid the clubs and bars because of the hiked up prices and unnecessary drunkenness. This year however, seeing that I was in a different country I figured I’d give something new a try, which meant going to the biggest club in Japan – AgeHa, Tokyo.

I took the night bus there which seems like a really really good idea on paper; its about half the price of the bullet trains and sure it takes a while but you can sleep on the way right? Wrong! After leaving Nagoya at 11pm I arrived 6 1/2 hours later in Shinjuku after barely more than an hours sleep! (c.f. the shinkansen takes a mere 1 hour 40 mins. Guess which way I went home!)

After a shower and quick breakfast at my friend Chiyonos house (which could be more appropriately described as a palace) we all headed off to Akihabara. Akihabara, or Akiba as it is know to the locals, is the electronics centre of Japan, the world and possibly the universe. It has everything technology can think up, all the latest video games, cameras, robots, you name it. It is the stereotypical “futuristic japan” that is bursting with flashing lights, sounds, and short acne-ridden unmarried men wearing glasses.

We got kaitenzushi for lunch (that’s conveyor belt sushi for the uninitiated) before shopping and heading off to a maid cafe for an afternoon cup of tea. Even though I had heard a fair bit about Maid Cafes, I was so unprepared for what I saw! The maids welcome you with the most ridiculous language, and call you “My most honoured master/mistress”and serve you almost like they are your slaves! But its all good natured and fun, and the key point is that it is unbelievably CUTE. There should be a word in English to describe this kind of cutesy overload that makes you feel as if you have eaten too much candyfloss. All I can say is, if you get the chance GO, simply because there is nowhere else in the world that you can have an experience like this. I got a Polaroid taken with one of the maids as a souvenir and they drew on it and made it all cute!

萌え萌え!

After that we checked out the fashions down Harajuku way, before going on to Shibuya. Disappointingly I never seem to see many “harajuku girls”, such as those seen in Shoichi Aoki’s street magazine Fruits which has been documenting trends since 1996. But I always keep my eye out for this iconic style of haphazard fashion. I have a special interest in it because it really bucks the trend against social conformity:

Fruits

AgeHa for NYE was amazing. I was expecting it to be good but it totally blew us all away. The music was perfect (Osawa Shinichi/Dexpistols/Emma) , the crowd was fun and up for a good time, there were performances from a crazy MC and Diva (apparently both famous) pole dancers dressed as geisha, rope dancers and I got to fulfil one personal lifetime ambition which was to dance around in gold and silver confetti to electro music. I couldn’t have wanted anything more except perhaps a new pair of feet for the morning after – we danced non-stop from 9.30 till 4.30am!

The next day we paid a visit to the shrine as is customary on New Years Day, but we didn’t bargain for quite how busy the Meiji-jingu shrine was going to get! We had to wait over an hour and a half to get in because of the several thousand other people who went to pay their respects, make a wish and get their fortune told!

All in all it was a jam-packed 48hrs but I have just about caught up on sleep again!

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This weekend was a blur. A very overwhelming blur! Even though I’d been told countless times that Tokyo is a very hectic place, nothing could have really prepared me for quite how crazy it is! Its like London on acid; so much bigger, buildings which touch the sky as far as the eye can see in every direction; adverts on every spare inch; people everywhere; flashing lights, television, music and sounds surrounding you wherever you walk…  Its multi-sensory overload. I’ve never felt more like a country bumpkin!

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a long entry!

We left straight after classes ended on Wednesday and took a Nozomi shinkansen which arrived a hour and 20 minutes later in Tokyo. It was my first time on a bullet train and I was incredibly impressed. They run every 10 minutes and are so fast – the same trip by coach takes over 6 hours! (They are also very comfortable; it is little wonder that they have such a good reputation.) Ironically, because we took a while to figure out where we were going on the metro, it took us almost the same amount of time from the JR Shin-Yokohama station to get to Joy’s cousins house! Luckily we got there just in time for delicious homemade Japanese curry and rice. As Noriko had had a cold, Joys aunt came over to help. It was really nice to get a glimpse of Japanese family life! Later on Joys long-time friend Chris came over and he took us for a drive around central Tokyo. I will not easily forget my first impressions of Shibuya at night – it was a Wednesday night and the streets were packed! Cruising around in a rather fast car with spoilers and listening to techno was a bit like being in the Fast and the Furious or something! Definitely the best way to see the city.

On Thursday we went shopping in Shibuya with Cynthia’s aunt, and I was really glad to have someone who knew the area show us around as the department stores are like mazes, and there seem to be amazing shops in the oddest corners where you would least expect them to be! We went for a slap up lunch – I had tempura oysters which were delicious! – and hit the shops really hard! Managed to find a really nice super long knitted wool cardigan with a real silver fox fur collar for only £30! I also got some glass gems to pimp my keitai phone, and a few gifts for people. That evening after a feast of temaki sushi we wandered around shibuya, took some purikura (sticker photos) and quite randomly got handed sweets by a salaryman.

We got one of the last trains home – the most crowded train I have ever been on! Between 6pm-12pm all the trains are packed to the brim. The marks on the platform tell you where to line up, but any sense of order ends here; once you are inside it is every man for himself! This is a photo of people being pushed onto the train by one of the white gloved conductors, something unique to Japan.

I can’t really express how squashed we were! We couldn’t move at all, backs twisted like a pretzels and feet trodden on! I don’t know how people can do this everyday. For those who miss the last train the sorry fate is a night spent on the platform, at karaoke, or sleeping in a manga cafe (a kind of Internet cafe) so most people get on these trains at all costs.

Along came Friday and a visit to Harajuku. Disappointingly didn’t see a whole lot of bizarrely clad individuals, but had a nice wander around some of the boutiques and interesting shops. As it was Halloween, the later it got, the more we saw people in costume wandering around. Before we came, about 10 of us had planned to meet up and go to AgeHa – a superclub on the industrial outskirts of Tokyo, but after we got off the bus and saw the queues of about 2000 people we realised that there was no way we were going to get in. A few of our friends had already queued for 2 hours and were still 40 minutes from the entrance! Luckily a friend from SOAS told us about another event we could go to in Shibuya which turned out to be the most amazing party! It was an invitation only club night with performances by a dozen different artists for about 200 people, on the top floor of a 12 storey building, complete with swimming pool outside, so it felt very exclusive. People dressed up in the most amazing Halloween outfits, so although it was quite surreal it was definitely one of the best nights out in Japan so far!

After the party ended at 4.30 am we headed out into Roppongi to another club. Anyone will tell you that Roppongi is Gaijin Central (foreigners = yuk) but at that time in the morning we couldn’t really be picky. We got the first train in the morning there and by the time we arrived it was light outside! Unfortunately the club we went to was of the very worst kind, and it was even worse that I had anticipated, sticky floors, perverts and vomit. So we didn’t stay long, and decided to go for breakfast ramen (noodles) instead. By the time we got home it was 9.30 am! As you might expect we slept till 3pm!

Later that evening Joys cousins family took the three of us to the Tokyo Tower where we got some fantastic views of the city at night. As far as you can see in every direction there are skyscrapers and bright lights. It makes London look like a hamlet!

After that we went to Onsen, which are like hot springs which you bathe in. The particular one they took us to is an Edo Period themed one where you can choose your favourite colour yukata, enjoy some dinner at the food court and play some old fashioned arcade games before going bathing. Its always a little embarrassing bathing with all the other naked with other people but its so relaxing that all of it slips away after the first few minutes. Obviously the main baths are single sex, but after you get out and dry off you can enjoy the outside foot baths with everyone.

So thats the general idea of my weekend! (I had to leave out most of the details otherwise it would have been ridiculously long!) I had such a fun time, and I will definitely be going back at some point because as a city it has so much to offer and I only really scratched the surface. I was really expecting to love Tokyo, as I love living in London and I’m fairly used to city life. But despite having an amazing time, I was so relieved to get back to Nagoya! The air and streets are cleaner here, people walk half a heartbeat slower, they apologise when they bump into you, there’s hardly any foreigners, the trains seem almost empty, and obviously its a lot cheaper. Nagoya is by no means perfect, but as a place to live it is everything I need in a city.

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After being held a Sing Star* hostage for an hour by two of my rather drunk friends, I decided to escape and pack for Tokyo. I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon for a 5 day mini-break with 2 of my girlfriends over the University Festival weekend. Its going to be my first time on Shinkansen and in Tokyo so I am rather like a kid a Christmas, still wide awake at 3am, except with last minute homework, and revision for a test on causative-passive verb conjugation and transitive/intransitive verbs. Obviously writing my blog is preferable to that!

The only slight problem is that all of my shoes are broken! Well not ALL of them, but all my favourite everyday ones. A rather sorry state of affairs! One might call me thrifty, skint, creative or my new favourite word: a Recessionista, but whatever word you want to use, I just saved a lot of money by repairing not one, not two but FOUR pairs of shoes with a tube of superglue. Flats, heels, boots and flip-flops. One of my pairs of trainers is being held together with yellow electrical tape and one other pair of heels is beyond repair even by the most skilled cheap-skate. Its rather pitiful but it can’t be helped.

Shoes can be very cheap in Japan, but they are also made for the doll sized feet of wannabe geisha and barbie-like Harajuku princesses. As I have feet the size of Russia, I am yet to find anything other than 100yen (50p) beige plastic unisex “massager” slipper-shoes which are even worse than they sound, and more painful than you could ever expect; if by massage they mean “cause severe numbness and de-sensitization in feet” then objective achieved!

Enough about shoes anyway.

I will write about Tokyo when I get some free time, but until then I will leave you with my (slightly blurry) photo of the day:

Mmm… Platinum Aroma…

*Karaoke style game for the PlayStation.

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