TRIP | 3 months in Japan – TOKYO
The year 2016 has been marked by many trips to Japan including a just over 3 months stay from the end of August. I’ve posted an overall recap of this journey, regarding the travel, financial and emotional aspects. Now let’s talk about the cities of the journey.
3 months in Japan – TOKYO
And we begin with the capital, a must-stop for a large part of foreign visitors. Tokyo, in all honesty, is not my city : every time I set foot there, there’s always trouble and generally speaking I don’t find the city very appealing. In other words, if there’s not one or several particular events I wish to attend, I would hardly leave the airport (as it happened during my March trip).
But this time, my friend was there. She and I share many interests regarding Japan, we traveled several times in the country (especially her) but not at the same time, we both had a WHV (Working Holiday Visa) stamped on our passports… In short, a favorable alignment of planets made it possible for us to be synchronized this time.
That’s how I found myself at the end of summer spending twenty days in the city that never sleeps.
The memorable parts
Well, there’s a lot to talk about. Though I didn’t keep a journal this time, I still have a small selection of memorable moments.
Each trip to Tokyo has to have at least one problem, otherwise it’s not normal. If there’s not a vicious flu, a credit card dysfunction or other similar event, it’s not a real trip to Tokyo.
With that said, what was in store for me this time? Well, as the title suggest, I had to deal with a bit of shadiness from my AirBnb host. This person implicitly made me understand 10 days before arrival that it wouldn’t be possible to occupy the apartment. He did it japanese style, in other words full of hints, not in a frank and straightforward manner. As I figured it out, I repeatedly asked him to cancel my booking so I could be refunded and look for something else.
We could have stopped there, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if the exchange didn’t last until I arrived at Tokyo Narita airport. Basically, the host decreed that “no, he wouldn’t cancel because he would get a financial penalty and therefore lose his coins. It was better if I did the cancellation“. Let me translate : it was better if I took the cancellation penalty and lost booking fees for a problem I wasn’t responsible for.
He wouldn’t to let go, me neither, so I spent my first hours in Japan between my laptop, my phone (AirBnb customer service) and my desperation to be on the streets just arrived. Luckily my friend who was already there offered to host me…
No Japan without food. Onigiri, melon pan, sushi, bento, katsudon, ramen are already part of the circle of regulars. However, this trip was an opportunity to test new things, including gyukatsu, tantan-men, wantan-men.
Long random walks in the city, discovering what it has to offer. This end of summer is perfect, the weather is nice, it’s hot outside, evenings are sweet. It’s also the festivals / matsuri season.
One evening in Nakameguro, we came accross an old man next to a big taiko, a woman holding a little boy who was drumming the instrument. The old man showed the rhythm to be produced with his mouth, then the boy executed. It was cute and funny, until the old man turned to us : “Wanna try?”
While our brains were in full reflection, something like “uuuuuuh….”, our mouthes, tongues and vocal cords have decided unanimously to drop a “yes”. That’s how we ended up hitting a taiko one evening, in front of passers-by…
Days later, we came accross a matsuri in the district of Ōtsuka, during another roaming session. The taiko association てこうち魁 (Tekouchi Sakigake) was performing, energetic and captivating as always. We watched, took pictures, videos, we applauded. At one point, the “chief” of the association, the padre as I like to call him, walks towards me and says “halooo” (Japanese don’t pronounce hello).
He asks me where we’re from, if we enjoy the show. I answer these questions and continue on saying “we’re big taiko fans…”. 3-4 words and a handshake later, we have a deal to play once their performance finished. And this is what happened : under the direction of the young leader, we hit a series of rhythms on the drums and end by posing arms in the air with the sticks. Afterwards, we chatted with the leader, about her experience, about learning taiko, etc…
After having spent these good times, we thank everyone, get our stuff and resume our wandering session. We pass by a group of men including the padre, who offers to carry the mikoshi – the divine palanquin – with them. Needless to say we gladly accept!
This is probably the moment I enjoyed the most, unplanned, unexpected, the fact they were easy to reach, the fact they invited us into their culture by allowing us to touch sacred objects… These moments were pleasant and touching at the same time.
Money that flies away
I barely do shopping when I’m in France. It’s always necessity purchases, like “well, all my socks have holes in them, I need to buy new ones”, rarely something else. However, when in Japan, I go from shops to shops, I enjoy window shopping and actual shopping. My fave : thrifts shops.
Thrifts shops over there are a combination of second hand clothing stores and traditionnal stores we have in France : the first one for prices, the second for the order – everything is washed, ironed, well organized… It’s a pleasure to shop in this kind of environment. Sengaya is the place I prefer, the neighborhood is pleasant, genuinely bohemian, I loved to spend long hours to hunt bargains or to chill in a small cafe.
Other shopping places : video games, anime and manga goodies stores. I consider myself lucky not to be attracted by the most marketed items such as figurines, key chains, mobile phone cases. Objects I like are either too expensive (count more than 100 dollars ; I don’t want to think about the number of ramen it represents) or rare so at the end of the day, I don’t buy too much. Not out of compulsion at least.
I was nevertheless a loyal fan of the IG Store, Production IG being my favorite animation studio, and with the release of Kuroko No Basuke movies, I treated myself with some small pleasures.
If Picard was a sect, I would probably be the vice-guru, after having climbed the ladder. Picard is probably the food chain stores I like most : it’s good, original and cheap. As I was walking along Yamate avenue in Nakameguro, I saw one of them across the street.
I froze, stopped breathing, my blood was no longer circulating. I was thinking “What? In Japan? Really?”. I checked on the internet afterwards, to understand the reason of their presence because you know, sometimes one can walk the same street again and again without noticing the existence of some shops.
But it wasn’t the case, Picard had freshly settled in Japan, to conquer a new market. The shop in front of which I passed wasn’t open yet but I was so happy. Next trip, for sure, I’ll buy a meal there.