Up at 4am. Officially in the land of the rising sun. There, I’ve seen in.
Eggs on toast with tomato and powdered coffee stuff, then off to the tourist center to chat with people back home for a spell before meeting Ryann at work. We walk together to the Morioka train station where we hang out in the waiting room and I call home because I’m excited to have access to wifi. We board the Shinkansen, and arrive at Tokyo station about two very smooth hours worth of mostly green, semi-inhabited countryside later. We throw our bags in lockers inside the station, and check a Google map on Ryann’s phone to see what there is to see in the local area. We decide on a green patch that looks like a park, and start walking.
Turns out that nice little park was the Imperial Palace grounds. Pretty beautiful, and very well kept. Many of the plants and trees are labeled in Japanese and English, which apparently fascinates me. Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work, because plants occasionally capture my attention the way coloring does. I find a stick of sufficient size and do happogiri with it, minus the ei-ya-to’s to spare Ryann the humiliation of filming a screaming, stick-wielding travel partner, who she’s stuck with for another two days while we visit Tokyo. Kaiso will still be pleased, I think.
We jump on the subway and head to Asakusa temple, a fantastic building with giant deity statues on either side of the gate (behind screens, sadly) and monstrously large sandals for the gods to wear, which is the best thing I’ve seen or heard since my arrival in Japan. We meet Annie, a British woman and friend of Ryann’s, who is also teaching English in Morioka. She is very relaxed in what still feels like a very foreign environment for me. We move at a clipped pace past loads of vendors I’d love to waste the day staring at. We eat ramen, visit the temple, and watch a monkey show nearby for a moment to rest and collect ourselves.
We stop into a knife shop at my request, and I’m very disappointed to find the planes all exorbitantly expensive, but at least they have air conditioning. One teacup shop and a subway ride later, we’ve arrived in Yoyogi Park where we meander around what feels like a vast forest surrounding the Meiji Shrine (Honderi Shrine). I catch my first glimpse of priestesses like I’ve seen in anime (most memorably Inuyasha: fucking Kagome!) dressed in brilliant white against vibrant orange-red hakama, and intricate stiff wiring tied into their hair.
Getting off the subway I spot two girls in full Asian squat with bright pink hair and dark tan skin. I take my favorite photo of the locals to date, and speed after Ryann, who walks at a clipped, tour guide pace (and in fact she has been a tour guide). One girl passes us decked out in lovely gothic lolita, and I am too startled to take a photo.
Back at the Tokyo station we struggle to find our bags. We need to take them with us to our next destination, the area where we’re staying for the next two nights. We refer to the photo of the map I took before we left (“You are here” doesn’t help when you can’t figure out how to get “here”), and eventually realize we’ve very cleverly locked our bags in the Shinkansen area of the station. We would have to buy a useless Shinkansen ticket, or else explain our predicament to someone in order to gain access to the area where our bags are being held hostage by the highly efficient Japanese transit system. We get in line at a JR ticket station to ask for advice, and are given curt and friendly directions by a startlingly alert Japanese man in a hilarious hat to the Shinkansen area where we are not allowed access. He doesn’t get it. We’re left with no option than to sneak into the area, grab our bags grab a train, and sneak out at our destination where we meet the person whose apartment we’re crashing, a native Japanese man and friend of Ryann’s named Kenta.
Mischief managed, we are picked up by Kenta in a company car, and whisked away to Japan’s largest Chinatown, where we insist on paying for dinner thusly:
“No no, Kenta, we’re paying.”
“Oh, are you sure?”
“Yes, you’re not paying.”
“Oh, ok. Thank you. I’m going outside to smoke.”
We settle into his apartment where he does work in seiza on a laptop on a low table in front of a TV, which is set to a summer concert with what seems like several hundred acts, most of which are off-key and seem totally over the top (the costumes, the facial expressions, the gesturing, the dancing, the makeup… none of it appeals to me). We settle in to sleep, and I take advantage of Kenta’s wifi to call home.