We were back in Japan for a 12 hour rendezvous in the wild, wonderful, bombastic metropolis of Tokyo. While we passed through quickly on a train on our first day in Asia, dumbstruck by all of the stereotypical school girls with Hello Kitty backpacks and pigtails, we were going to dive down the rabbit hole this time - getting lost in the streets of Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. Tokyo is everything I ever imagined and more - music seems to echo down the streets providing a soundtrack to the larger than life cartoon characters and competing signs, sights and sounds at every angle, inch, and scale of the buildings.
Imagine Times Square in New York, multiply the lights, signs, people, and size by 10, and bring in all the buildings tightly around you so that the sky is a narrow sliver above you between the neon and Kanji. Unlike other bright, active cities like New York and Las Vegas - where wide boulevards separate the sidewalks and cars are king- there are endless walking streets here. Every alley has a surprise hidden down it.
The crowds line up and squeeze into the packed trains in perfect time to a musical jingle that plays to let you know when the doors are going to close. At the end of the jovial tune, the doors close. It brings a friendly atmosphere to the hustle of getting onto the train before the doors close, musical chairs in real life action. There is an efficiency and order to the whole ordeal despite the mass of people, an order that makes me extremely aware of how ungraceful, clumsy, and american I am. Leagues of people are standing on the train, one hand on the ceiling rail, one hand texting on a phone, maintaining a seemingly superhero ability to sway smoothly without brushing, pushing, or hitting the person standing an inch away from them. We clunkily make our way out at the Shibuya stop, home of the world's busiest crosswalk.
The most dapper of crosswalk sign men
Nobody is as polite about being sick as the Japanese. They don't wear the masks to prevent getting sick from others, they wear them when they are sick so they don't spread their germs. I saw this a wee bit in Thailand, but you see so many more people in Japan wearing masks, going about their daily activities, dressed up, hanging out with friends, and shopping, that you get used to it.
The busiest crosswalk in the world. People build up on the edges before they fill the streets- the REMARKABLY, Disneyland levels of clean, streets. Seriously, look at that street. Flawless.
Ryan, trying to mimic how happy all of the people in the ads look. Let's just say, "look natural" is probably not in the advertising director's vocabulary. Look at this guy holding the puppies in the picture below. So happy to be holding puppies. Well, to his credit, we should all be happy if we were holding puppies.
As you can see, there is no English anywhere (quite different than Thailand). Nobody really tries to talk to you in english, and may even start talking to you in Japanese at dizzying lengths and speeds. I love this, it's one of the feelings I love about travel - being completely out of my element. What sauce did I put on my chicken? Who knows. It was good. Thai people were much more urgent to accommodate English speakers. While this can be helpful, I think it is good to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
The beginning of our gastronomic adventures. We ate so much food.
Pickle servin' Pig? So strange. I love strange.
Karaoke, of course
Plastic food in every restaurant window.
Why not put cute stuffed animals in your dash?
We meandered into a claw machine arcade filled wall to wall with various claw machines, photo-booths, and this strange drum arcade game. It was a clash of sounds, lights, and bright colors. Only after watching Lost in Translation after we got home (we were going through Asia withdrawals) did we realize this was the same claw machine arcade they go into in the movie. It was the same surreal experience.
The claw is so comically small compared to the stuffed bunny head.
The cutest crumb sweeper you have ever seen
Tiny boxed food filled with tiny pasta and rice
Size For Men. I especially like the dude twirling his wig with a goatee.
It says for Ladies on top, but I think they are cool with men wearing this too.
I'm not sure if this is supposed to be for your head or your chest.
Remember my favorite, bloated, strange, teletubby-esque, peach candy character from my first day in Japan? Well, apparently there are more disturbing characters to go along with him, and they are kind of a big thing. they have a children's book. The most terrifying of children's books. What is happening here?
Safari Animal Butt Magnets, Oh Japan.
Store my Ducks
My favorite Peach candy character has headphones. As bloated as ever. I would love to know what that piece of paper taped on says.
They have toys too!
And pens! I bought one. I needed to remember the peach man.
And, my god, a giant pillow! Look how angry the little green man on the paper right below the pillow is.
Keychains, bandaids, puzzles... I can't take it. My mind is blown. This is so bizarre.
Peach man 3d jigsaw puzzle. My heart grows 3 sizes.
Strange, terrifying Rice ball tupperware.
As the sun starts to set, we are traversing between the bizarre cartoonish streets of Harajuku to the slightly darker, seedier alleys of Shinjuku. I say seedy because there are giggling girls beckoning you into "maid experience" bars and nightclubs, themed sex hotels, and strip bars speckled in between pachinko casinos, cat cafes, and amazing restaurants - but this is still the cleanest and most friendly red light tinged district I have ever seen.
Piss Alley, a row of closet sized restaurants serving 5-10 patrons the most delicious plates of sizzling food.
In the hustle of the smells and lights, Ry and I were ushered into an elevator for a restaurant that displayed the yummiest of pictures on the sidewalk. We were packed into an elevator and whisked 7 stories up to a restaurant overlooking Shinjuku. Of course we would find ourselves in a restaurant that had a menu with minimal pictures, entirely in Kanji. Being too ashamed to turn around after stepping inside and making the elevator trek with the smiling hostess, we sat down and proceeded to play a game of charades with the waitress. It appeared to be a Tepan restaurant where the food was cooked in front of us. This could be cool.
After a hilarious attempt to order 1 chicken Okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory omelet- imagine a lot of arm waving, head bobbing, and egg cracking miming), the waitress came by and dropped off two bowls of raw fish, egg, and vegetable before leaving us to our own devices. This is the point where we realized we were supposed to be making this dish on our own. Seeing as how I have never had it before, I was clueless. The hostess, laughing ever so politely at our demise, came over and insisted on cooking the whole meal for us in between seating customers. She was amazing. We had some hilarious moments in broken japanese and english (and more charades, of course). I accidentally said Good Afternoon instead of thank you, which gave her the extreme giggles. My poor japanese was a point of great joy to her.
The Hostess with the mostest.
Regrettably, by the time our omelet was almost done, the abundance of food we had eaten over the course of the day had started to settle in. We were practically full. We were not intending to order two, and there is no "doggy bag" in Japan, so we stuffed ourselves with as much Okonomiyaki as we possibly could to save us of the shame we got ourselves into. The hostess put so much effort into making these marvels that we couldn't leave them behind untouched.
Japan is expensive. We spent more in one day on food than we did in a week in Thailand. After buying our train tickets back to the airport, we had 102 yen to spare. One 100 yen bottle of water later and we departed asia with 2 yen left (about 2 cents). A miracle in foreign cash rationing.
And then it was over. We slept through the entire trip back home, giving the strange impression that we really hadn't flown very far - when in fact we were halfway across the world. I still have this lingering sensation that if I wanted to go back, and I so desperately do, I could take a short boat ride and be there in the blink of an eye.
We had an absolutely amazing trip. We jumped down rabbit hole and made it back out. I've been back home for a month and a half now, the memories are still so fresh that I feel like I was there last week eating curry and running from monkeys.
I've already begun my next adventure. I started EATM, the Exotic Animal Training and Management program I have been waiting years for, last week. They are currently revising their social media policy, so in the meantime I can't actually write anything about the experiences I am having in a public forum. Once I find out what I can and can't post, if anything, I will. Until then, I may start blogging about my experiences in Costa Rica that I never wrote about. I have ten pages of notes and scribbles saved back from 2008 when we went. We shall see.
Life is a good ride if you make the choices to make it so. The whole reason I went on the Thailand trip was because last year I did not get into the EATM program. It was out of my hands, a random lottery, but I needed to do something that was in my control that would make my year of waiting worth it. It was worth it. I cannot imagine having missed out on the experiences I had this summer. I would not change a thing about how it all turned out.