On day three we were shown a little bit of the fun side of the Japanese people. Since the school/work week is six days for most people here, Sunday is guaranteed to be the day of play, so we took part.
A little jet lagged, Andy and I woke up a little early, so we decided to venture out on our own. We got a little lost because the roads are so narrow and windy, but eventually found our way to a store. I decided to buy some tank tops (what I brought to Japan was too hot), but the Japanese are so small, I had to buy a large (in America I wear an XS)! If you wear anything larger than an American M, Japan is not the place for you to go shopping…
For breakfast we stopped in a small shop for some onigiri, which is a rice ball covered in seaweed, and filled with fish. If you like sushi, you would like this.
Our first stop was Harajuku, which is a part of Tokyo with many cheap shops and eccentric fashions – from girls in Bo peep costumes to boys in pink leather pants. This is a typically a high tourist area, but the recent earthquake has lowered the foreign crowds. Nonetheless, it was a great time with GREAT shopping. I hope to return there before we leave. (Side note: there were a lot of Africans in this area with hip-hop couture shops. They expected little ole me to want to buy their items.) Further down this area we saw street performers, which is a common Sunday thing to see. There seemed to be an affinity for 50s Americana amongst many of the people, so we were able to watch a dance routine full of poodle skirts, denim, and hair grease.
Appropriately enough, the next stop was the Meiji Shrine. Years ago Emperor Meiji adopted an idea to keep what’s good about Japan and combine it with what’s good about the western world. Clearly that idea stuck, and in honor of him you can find barrels of European wine outside of the shrine alongside barrels of traditional Japanese sake.
We saw other sights, like the club district, television museum, and traditional Japanese cemeteries, but the most awe-inspiring thing for me was the Zojouji Temple. Shrines tend to always be dedicated to people or ideals (Shinto), but temples are places of prayer and meditation (Buddhism). I had never seen a single structure so huge! While there, we watched monks perform a ceremony; it was humbling to see another religion being taken as seriously (if not more) than your own.
For dinner we went to West Tokyo (what people see on TV – flashing lights, crowded streets, etc.) and had okonomiyaki, which is described as a Japanese savory pancake. To me, it reminded me more of an omelet. The mixture is brought to your table top grill, mixed, and cooked right in front of you, much like Korean BBQ. Washed down with a few beers (much lighter than any light American beer), we enjoyed the concoction and went back home. Sunday was a fun day.
Day two in Japan was very fun, but at the same time, very taxing. Those of us who live in cities where public transit is not optimized (like Memphis) love to complain about the situation and wish for that new monorail, but I think people don’t realize how much walking is involved without your own car. We ended up walking about 30 km total from place to place, and my dogs are definitely barking.
We started at the Imperial Palace and Gardens, which is the residence of the Emperor of Japan. Like England, Japan has both this figurehead and a Prime Minister, so it was fun to see where the “royal family” lives. It looked very old and traditional, but its beauty is one of a kind. There weren’t many tourists (probably due to the recent earthquakes), so the environment was calm, serene, and enjoyable.
Next was the Diet Building. No, it’s not filled with treadmills and wheat grass – it’s actually similar to America’s Capitol Buildings. Surrounding this structure were dozens of unarmed policemen, because guns are completely illegal here. Conservatives across the United States cringe at the idea of a gun-free society it seems, but crime is very low here, so I’d say it works. One of the most dangerous places here, I learned, is considered dangerous because there was actually a non-gun murder there…TWENTY YEARS AGO! I’d consider that food for thought.
After more walking we ended up at the Ginza shopping district, which reminded me of Soho in New York. This area felt more like typical Japan, in that the streets were very crowded. We spent a lot of time in the seven-story Sony store, which featured some 3d video technology that had me in awe. We also ate in this area at a burger joint called Freshness Burger. My “value meal” was probably a third of the size as what we’d consider fast food.
Next on the agenda was Yasukuni Jinja, which translates to “the shrine of a peaceful country”. This shrine honors those who died on Japan’s behalf during World War II, which is considered controversial by many of the Japanese. We’re all familiar with what happened at Pearl Harbor, but this shrine also honors those who went into China and Korea to kill and rape its women and children. The Japanese conservatives who support this shrine typically don’t like outsiders of any type, but thankfully we didn’t have any issues. I took part in a ritual that you’re supposed to do before entering any shrine, which consisted of washing your hands and mouth in a well: symbolically cleansing your body and spirit.
Lastly, we walked to an area of Tokyo called Shinjuku, where we hate tempura for dinner. When we rounded a corner, we saw some really tall Geisha girls. I understand that I’m halfway around the world, but I’m sorry - I know a drag queen when I see one. Sure enough, they were drag queens. A German restaurant owner (who tried to hit on me, by the way) told me in Japanese that these people are called “new half”, and that we were in the gay area of Tokyo. I’ll quote a very wise woman by saying “You. Better. Work.”
Exhausted, we strolled back to the train, up the hill, and to our rooms. あしがいたい！ (My feet hurt)
Since free Wi-Fi is a rare find here in Japan, I am writing my daily adventures in a journal to be typed and uploaded at a later date. It’s about 5 AM here right now, and (of course) I’m wide awake (my body is saying 3 PM). I think I’ll be fine, especially if the rest of my time here is as eventful as yesterday!
After a long 18-hour plane ride, our friend, Kelly, met us at the airport – it was very exciting to see her. We grabbed our bags and got on a train to her house in Yokohama. At the first stop was a bunch of schoolgirls, and they were dressed exactly like the Sailor Scouts! Looking at the Japanese countryside during the train ride was a nice distraction to the heat and near 100% humidity (it’s unbelievable how hot it is). Two and half-hours later we arrived, only to trek up a hill for another 20 minutes. It always seems to be the case that with “exotic” travel comes multiple forms of transportation to get to the final destination, and that alone helped the fact that I was on the other side of the planet sink in.
After showering and settling in to our dorm-like “apartment”, we went to a restaurant called Spring, which is a Japanese curry house. Although the menu was in Japanese, much of the décor was in English, including the “Daily Specials” board. I chose the have the special, which was some type of bird other than chicken? I didn't know that particular kanji (Japanese character), but on taste alone, my guess was turkey...
Following dinner was a trip to the grocery store. Here there is no tipping or tax, so what you see is what you pay – very convenient. When you pay, however, you always put the money on the counter and NOT in their hands. A black woman would be ready to fight if you slammed some money on the counter at the grocery store in Memphis!
Our first evening here was great, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this trip!