Juggling Japan – Day 1

When I said “childhood”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sitting in the sand box and building sand castles? Running around the jungle gym while screaming bloody Mary? Or playing house with your imaginary friends, along with your adorable stuffed animals?

The most vivid memory I can conjure when it comes to childhood is me sitting in front of the telly, watching Japanese cartoons (anime) on a peaceful Sunday morning. No fuss whatsoever, I would sit with my sippy cup, hair all messy and tangled, and watch the hours went by by staring at an animated robot cat named Doraemon. That is my earliest memory of being exposed to a tiny piece of Japanese culture, and since then my fascination towards the country grew and grew. So you could only imagine what I was feeling sixteen years later, as I was standing on a wooden balcony on a clear day, staring at the majestic Mount Fuji, the epitome of Japanese culture. God knows the struggle I went through to hold back the urge to scream, “BLOODY HELL, I AM IN JAPAN!!!!!”

My seven-day Japan-vaganza started on Sunday, November 18th, 2012. My friend and I intentionally chose November so we could see the beauty of Japanese autumn first hand. We could just picture the breathtaking scenery: rows and rows of yellow leaves, mixing together with reds and orange, along with the hypnotizing smell of freshly brewed green tea (ocha). Aaaah… the hard life 🙂

Unfortunately we had to wait a little longer because the plane landed in Haneda Airport at approximately 10:30 PM. With the long (yet very effective and efficient) line at the immigration and baggage claims, it was already past 11PM when we were finally free. Unfortunately the last train heading to downtown Tokyo was around 12 at night, and it would be a huge gamble to go straight from the airport without knowing any directions whatsoever. We didn’t want to take the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere on a cold night, so we decided to crash at the airport and start fresh the next morning. I was worried the airport officers were going to throw us out, shoo-ing us for sleeping on the hard-cold benches, but alas! we weren’t the only crashers! Slowly but surely people started to claim spots on the benches, stretching their legs and using their long coats as blankets. The airport officer just stood and watch like a lifeguard, which actually made me feel safe. I’m telling you, you could might as well be carrying a golden Buddha statue in a Seven-Eleven plastic bag and you wouldn’t be worried about having anything stolen from you! There’s just something about Japanese’s discipline culture that reassured you.

The next morning, we woke up in high spirits. After some time in the toilet doing some washing and tooth brushing, we carried our bags to brace the Tokyo’s autumn air. Oh! Speaking of toilets.. I saw in many Hollywood movies how complicated Japanese toilet seats can be. To be honest, I was quite intimidated by the fancy buttons when i first entered the loo. There was a button for bidet, a button for spray, buttons to modify the water pressure for the bidet, a button for fan to dry your, ehm, area, after you’re done and even a button for sound effects! It was like trying to figure out the best fighting combo on your Mortal Combat game!

Japanese toilets

Thankfully the buttons were also written in English – at least the toilets in the airport, anyway – so it was actually not as complicated as it would seem in the movies. AND it actually makes everything a lot better. I felt – for lack of a better word – cleaner. The bidet sprayed things that needed to be sprayed, and the fan dried things that needed to be dried. Coming out of the toilet, I felt… sanitized. This, therefore, got me thinking. If the Japanese toilets are considered complicated and too tech-savvy for the Westerns, I wonder how clean they actually are after a session in the loo. You know, without the bidet and the fan and the… well, you get the picture!

Anyhow!

From Haneda airport, we took the Keikyu express train to Shinjuku station, which is the epitome of downtown Tokyo. Shinjuku station is the world’s busiest train station according to Wikipedia, so you could imagine how scary it was for us two tiny Asian girls, trying to find our way around without getting trampled on. First thing’s first, we rented a large locker inside the station to store both my backpack and my friend’s suitcase. It cost 500 Yen for 24 hours, which is a real bargain because we could split the fee.

With heavy burdens now out of our way, we strolled casually out of the station to our first destination: Icho Namiki, a famous street in Tokyo. What’s so special about Icho Namiki is the pedestrian walk in both sides of the street, which is decorated with rows and rows of stunning ginkgo trees. Standing in the middle of the pavement, we feast our eyes upon the gorgeous yellow leaves. At that moment, a sudden realization hit me. I’m actually here, in Tokyo, staring at ginkgo trees.

Tokyo, Nov 19th 2012

It was an out-of-body experience, and it lasted for a few seconds until a creepy black crow suddenly came swooping down and scared the hell out of me. Yes, you heard me. A crow. A huge, horrific crow that made me scream at the top of my lungs as it made its way towards me and my tuna-filled onigiri. It wasn’t my fault, okay! My stomach was screaming for some food, so I just had to pull out from my carry-on bag a couple of onigiris for breakfast. How was I supposed to know that the beautiful pedestrian walk was occupied by crows??I couldn’t help but imagine its huge beak destroying my already-flat nose and turning me into Voldemort in a matter of seconds. Did I mention that it was also trying to steal my water bottle AND gloves?? Stupid winged creatures, ruining my morning! Further on I discovered that there are actually A LOT of crows in Japan. I saw them every-friggin-where, not just in Tokyo. Some countries have pidgeons, others have strayed cats. Japan has crows. Creeping crows…

Despite the traumatic interruption, in a true asian-touristy style, my friend and I didn’t miss the chance to take some pictures. We took turns taking pictures of each other, and just when we were trying to figure out how to get both of us in a single frame, two kind lady approached us and offered to take our pictures. There was no catch whatsoever! These two ladies were enjoying their morning walk and just like that, they decided to help us capture our Icho Namiki moment. How lovely!

From Icho Namiki, we went to our second destination: Kawasaki. Kawasaki is a little bit outside Tokyo and can be reached from Shinjuku station using the Odakyu Odawara express Line for approximately 30 minutes. Kawasaki is the home of Japan’s most beloved comic (manga) artist: Fujiko F. Fujio. Remember the robot cat anime I mentioned earlier? Mr. Fujiko is the creator. Doraemon (the robot cat) is arguably the most lovable Japanese cartoon characters ever existed. It is impossible to find a Japanese kid who doesn’t know who Doraemon is. As a kid growing up watching Doraemon, it would be a sin for me to come to Japan and not visit this museum.

“Door-to-anywhere”

at the rooftop playground

It cost 1,000 yen to enter, and you have to purchase the ticket in advance. But the trouble is well worth it once you’re inside. I got to learn the life of Mr. Fujiko and the story behind the creation of Doraemon and his other famous works. I felt like a kid again when I stepped into the rooftop playground, which was decorated with various Doraemon characters. I’m telling you, this trip is one not to be missed for the kid in you. However, please bear in mind the weather when you’re there because a lot of the spots that are picture-worthy are mostly outdoors. It had just stopped drizzling when I arrived, and boy, was it cold !!! I lost count how many times my teeth were chattering! Well, I guess this is what you get when you’ve lived in a tropical country for 22 years *sigh

picture taken from flickr.com

After a huge portion of lunch at a nearby station (this is not a sponsored blog post, but I will say this: Yoshinoya restaurant saved our lives more than once), we went back to Tokyo to meet my Japanese friend, Yuya. I know Yuya through AIESEC –an international student organization – and I helped him during his two-month internship in Jakarta. Yuya and his family had kindly offered to be our host family for two nights, something we could never be able to thank them enough for. Yuya had agreed to meet us at Shibuya, at the famous Hachiko statue, because he wanted to go sightseeing with us. The three of us went to Ramen Museum in Yokohama, then to Roppongi and Ebisu Place Garden, both in Tokyo.

I could go on and on about the places my friend and I have visited on our first day in Tokyo (and I may as well already have!), but there is nothing that I want to share more than the generosity shown by our friend Kishimoto Yuya and his family.

It was already around 21:30 by the time we left Ebisu Place Garden and the three of us were exhausted. After getting our backpack and suitcase from the locker, we went straight to Tsutsujigaoka, the train station located near Yuya’s house. My friend and I were cold and honestly starving by the time we were on the train, but none of us said a word because we didn’t want to make Yuya more tired than he already was. But alas! The second we stepped out of the Tsutsujigaoka station, Yuya invited us to have dinner in his favorite sushi restaurant, and he told us that his mum was going to treat us! At that exact moment, I could see Yuya and his mum with wings of an angel, heaven-sent to save this poor, low-budgeted travelers. Yuya took us to a unique sushi restaurant where the customers could order sushi from a touch screen menu and the food would be delivered to you through a mini conveyor belt in minutes time. Well, at least it was unique for us. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing new for Yuya and the rest of the Japanese citizens. Yuya taught us how to order from the screen and recommended us some of the most amazing sushi I have ever tasted. It was such an experience!

Having filled our stomach with delicious feast, we went straight to Yuya’s house. On our way, I kept imagining different scenarios about how our first encounter with Yuya’s parents were going to be like. One thing was for sure, guilt came over me as I realized how late it was by the time we arrived. It was near 23:00 when we finally got there, and the last thing we wanted was to wake Yuya’s family up. But again, I was touched by everyone’s friendliness and generosity. We were greeted with such warmth as if we were old friends. They even allowed us to rest under their kotatsu (a low, wooden table covered by a thick blanket with a heat source underneath. Source: wikipedia), which was extremely comfortable. I swear, after a looong day of shivering cold, I could live under that lovely table and became a human cocoon.

Now you’d think allowing the guests to rest under the kotatsu is enough for winning the host family of the year award. But nooo…. Yuya’s family went above and beyond by providing us with, wait for it, toiletries! Words can’t express how touched my friend and I were as Yuya’s mum began to explain the stuffs she had prepared for each of us: towels (a small one for drying our face, and a large one for our body), a toothbrush, a shower cap, a plastic mug for gargling, and a loofah to wash our back. Did I mention that she bought everything in double quantities, one for each of us??

After a few minutes of small talks while sitting under the kotatsu and watching TV, it was finally bed time. Yes, each of us got our own bedroom because Yuya has two older brothers who already had a place of their own.

with Yuya-san at Roppongi

It was only our first night at Yuya’s house, and I was already almost in tears because I was so overwhelmed by his family’s kindness. When Yuya asked what the highlight of the day was, both of us said Ramen Museum and Ebisu Garden Place because those places were unique and beautiful. But when my friend and I chatted for a bit as we got ready bed, we both agreed that Yuya’s family was the highlight of the day.

****

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ruth
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 15:50:02

    So jealous! I’ve never been to Japan but glad to see you’re having a blast there Wulan!

    Reply

    • wulanastari
      Nov 29, 2012 @ 16:01:17

      Yeah, it was a blast! I got back to Jakarta last Monday, and I was extremely tired up to the point where I could barely stand! But it was all worth it. You should really visit Japan one day, Ruth. Especially during Spring or Autumn. The view is stunning!

      Reply

  2. nadhilaaz
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 17:59:40

    Kyaaa~ XD
    Really enjoyed reading your story! But…I demand for more pictures! xp
    Hwaa~ so jealous~ hope I can set foot there too one day~ <– never gone abroad -__-

    Reply

    • wulanastari
      Dec 02, 2012 @ 01:19:03

      Ahahaha… I yap too much, didn’t I? I agree about the picture thing. I hadn’t resized the pictures at the time, so it took quite a while to upload even a single photo! But now that I’ve resized them all, I’ll be showing more pics, definitely! 🙂

      Maybe when you get the chance to go abroad, I can tag along? 😉

      Reply

      • nadhilaaz
        Dec 02, 2012 @ 16:40:31

        Nah, it’s so fun to read.. I can totally feel your excitement 😀 You’ve always been such a great storyteller. 😀

        Sure! Unless it’s work-related… but I guess you’re still gonna tag along anyway, hahaha :p

      • wulanastari
        Dec 03, 2012 @ 16:59:34

        Aaaw… thank you for that.
        And yes, I’m going to tag along whether you like it or not!!! >:)

  3. danniehill
    Dec 04, 2012 @ 01:50:21

    You make me want to go back. Great, great story, Wulan!

    Reply

    • wulanastari
      Dec 05, 2012 @ 17:19:49

      Thank you, Dannie. Words can’t express how much I want to go back to Japan. I’m in love with that country so much!

      ________________________________

      Reply

  4. Novroz
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 12:09:22

    Lovely story!! I can clearly see you were having a blast!
    Although the eagerness to go to Japan has lessen a bit now that I have seen Laruku…but Japan is still the country I want to visit the most.

    I enjoy reading your story…and man that toilet button is crazy!! 😉

    Reply

    • wulanastari
      Dec 05, 2012 @ 17:18:59

      When you’re planning your trip to Japan, please let me know! Maybe I can tag along and introduce you to Yuya 🙂

      And the toilet buttons aren’t that crazy once you get the hang of it. It is quite daunting at first, though..

      ________________________________

      Reply

  5. ajia nadia (@ajianadia)
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 08:07:51

    Wulan, is it possible for me to get the tickets for both doraemon & ghibli a day before the trip? Our plan is to go on Oct 7th, can we buy it on 5/ 6th ?
    I now that there’s online booking but all are in Japanese ( -.-)a

    Reply

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