It was already evening when my friend Kelly and I arrived in Japan so we stayed close to the hotel and explored the immediate area of Hatagaya. I loaded up on Japanese snacks at the 7-11 and even got an anime toy and then we went for Ramen, but settled on pizza. It was actually quite incredible.
For my first morning my friend and I headed to Nakano and the Sun Mall for a little shopping and arcade action. I loved the train station – wide open and gorgeous. After we finished several hours of shopping we headed to Akihabara and to the owl cafe. Nothing will ever compare. Like 20 kinds of owls and we got to pet and hold them and everyone there was so nice.
The Akihabara stop is also amazing. Soon after 5 it clears out quite a bit and I was able to stand on the skywalk alone to relax and take pictures. This area is also filled with arcades and anime stores and I went a little nuts.
We finished a little early and went to the famed scramble crossing in Shibuya. It is the most people I have ever been around in my life, but I never felt overwhelmed or crowded in. No one bumped into me and I didn’t feel in the way. It was being part of one, huge being. We liked it so much we crossed 3 times.
The following day we went to a traditional Kabuki performance based on One Piece, the anime we both love. Words cannot even begin to describe it. The costumes, the story, the energy in the room, the effects. Glorious. I cried more than I have in years.
Honest to goodness huge Buddhist temples on the following day. A huge incense pit smokes in your face as you receive blessings. You throw a hundred yen coin into these grates in front of the caged golden statues and ask for more blessings. I asked for one for my friend I was with and one for my love, Jeff. I felt diZzy both times so I think it worked!
Also went back to scramble crossing to meet Maiko and she took us to lunch. She was so nice and wonderful and I fell in love. Kelly and I stopped into the Mugiwara store to stock up on some much needed One Piece merch. Kelly did anyway. I mostly just ogled the ridiculously hot Zoro statue.
I saw a man pushing a cart full of Persian cats and some of the coolest clothes ever.And also had Thanksgiving at this place, Pompompurin – this cartoon dog cafe that is yellow. Like, yellow everywhere and all the food is cute. It’s cool that you can be a grown man eating there and no one cares.
Though I am such a nature freak I did not want really want to leave the city. I mean, it’s clean and orderly and doesn’t feel at all as crowded as it is and it is filled with kind people, anime toys and videos playing on huge screens, so why leave? But Kelly insisted we do my nature thing, so we took a 2 hour bullet train to Nikko. The train went through farm lands and snow covered mountains began to come into view an hour into the trip. I had no idea that we would be heading into those very mountains. After a quick transfer to a much more rustic train we arrived in Nikko. We boarded a bus and were told to get off at the 26th stop. After stop 19 the bus climbed straight up the mountain and Kelly became pretty ill and nervous. The switchbacks were no joke. She likened the road to cooked spaghetti. Waterfalls and snow covered peaks surrounded us. After 45 minutes of torture for her, excitement for me we were dropped off at snowy, icy Lake Chūzenji. We were there in search of an ancient temple with a huge carving of Kannon inside. The wind was blowing icy snow into our faces with such force that it felt like hundreds of needles jabbing our skin. We found the temple after a half an hour, in frozen pain, but laughing the whole time. We were the only ones there and were treated to an amazing tour of the enormous space and the statute – it had been carved out of an ancient tree all the way into the root system. The trees there are all connected and considered divine so people rub them and pray to them. The temple sits right on the shore of the glorious alpine lake and the winds were whipping the waves 20 feet onto the shore. (I got to witness a group of Chinese tourists drenched with a rogue wave just as we were leaving) The walk back to the bus was far more pleasant as the wind was at our backs. At the bus stop an Australian man had touched the bus schedule to his lips and it froze there and ripped off a huge chunk of his lower lip so we smiled and tried to not act disgusted. There was a lot of blood.
We got off the bus a little early and explored more temples, one of which is the oldest in the country. It was closed early that day, but is under construction anyway, so we didn’t feel we missed out. I made Kelly walk all the way back to the train station because it seemed close. It was miles.
We were not able to take a bullet train home so the train ride was closer to 3 and a half hours, but I found these consummé punch potato chips, so those made me so happy that I barely noticed the time as I ate them slowly. I didn’t actually eat them slowly, I inhaled them and Kelly yelled at me for not buying more.
Somehow when we returned after a long day of travel we still had the energy to go out to an arcade and I won a toy that I have wanted for months on the 2nd try in one of those UFO catcher machines because, you know – I haven’t purchased enough toys already.
Yesterday we got up and explored Yoyogi Park, next to Harajuku. Inside is the Meji Shrine and we got to see a beautiful wedding processional.
Afterwards we ate a “70s themed American diner” with Japanese food and hamburgers. I ate curry rice wih chicken, what I almost always crave. Everyone was Japanese though and chain smoking. 80s music was playing. Harajuku is strange and wonderful. Also in Harajuku they have shirts with American expressions but they are off just a bit. One had a bulldog on a skateboard and it said “must be learning skateboard to be cool” Another said “after midnight party” and was woven into a sweater. They’re all so wonderful. I bought a shirt with lots of images of Ariel the little mermaid and Alice, but with goth style and tatted up and it says “lov bitch, I lov e”
I found it so strange that though it’s MORE crowded than New York, it is also so much cleaner and more organized and no one ever bumps into you. Ever. I think it’s because people are generally less self-involved, but more self aware than we Americans are.
After that awesome morning in the park and Harajuku we set out for the neighborhood with all the anime museums and toys and arcades. I bought Kelly a toy that is normally $250 for $20 because she had been lusting after it days before. And then we just happened to run into this anime toy expo where they were unveiling next years toys! My friend and I both had small panic attacks due to the glory, the awesomeness.
Our penultimate day there was spent in Odaiba where we enjoyed time with friends, dinner at the Baratie and a ride on one of the world’s largest Ferris Wheels, Daikanrasha. At the top we could see Mt Fuji in the distance. Such a magical feeling seeing the enormous, gorgeous city with the majestic mountain in the distance. The top of the Ferris wheel was also a little painful for me because of a heart breaking moment in Plastic Memories, one of my favorite shows. I cried a little.
And I cried much more a day and a half later when I boarded the bus to the airport to leave Japan. In fact most of the plane ride home was tear-filled. There is good news though, there is hope. My friend and I are returning for a much, much longer visit in late July through mid August.