東京で元日 – New Year’s in Tokyo!

For New Year’s Sandy and I went to Tokyo, to travel and to partake in the culture of it all.  Though, due to some confusion with dates, we started our trip with a detour to Osaka first…

To get to Osaka, we rode the Jumbo Ferry, which is the large boat from my city to Kobe that I’ve ridden in the past.  Close to Osaka, we hopped a train to enjoy just a little bit of sightseeing before we had to reach the station for the overnight bus to Tokyo.  With our time, we went to the Osaka Castle, and walked around those grounds.  We also ate dinner at an Okonomiyaki restaurant, which is basically a meat and cabbage pancake – delicious – and then we relaxed in a coffee shop till it was time to go.

Us with the Castle…

Upon arrival in Shinjuku, Tokyo it was 5:30 am, so we decided to go to a McDonald’s and await the day.  It was a pretty interesting assortment of people there.  People will often use McDonald’s as a place to be when other places aren’t available.  Homeless were sleeping, very well dressed were prepping for work, and others just hanging out after a late night of partying.  We just ate our meals and spent 3 hours relaxing and chatting.  It was a really good time.  When we finally emerged, the light of day was upon us.  I just start by saying tha tI have no idea the exact order of places that we went each day, so I’ll just try to include a picture of each important event, though don’t expect chronological.

The day we arrived was New Year’s Day, the first part of the day was to walk around a few parts of the vast city before reaching meeting up with Ryan and Kei for the night time activities.  Although, the first place we went was my host family’s house for dinner.  This was something I was really excited about, as I hadn’t seen them for over a year.  But I could never forget how to get home, after living there and walking those streets.  On the way, I bought a nice bottle of Sake to give them, as well as some oranges.  When we arrived, they had Nabe waiting for us.  This is a traditional Japanese winter dish that involves a massive crock of soup that everyone takes from.  It was delicious.  The time was also filled with chatting, playing with the dog, and a quick tour of my old bedroom.  It was really nice, and a little surreal to be home.  After we said our goodbyes, it was back to the city for what was to be a good night.

(Akira, Vick, Sandy, Hiroe, Justin)

The original plan was to go to the Meiji shrine and stay there for the toll of midnight.  Well, that idea somehow fell out of favor so we relocated near Tokyo tower with minutes to spare.  Those minutes weren’t enough, so we experienced one of the most anticlimactic countdowns ever, from a distance.  I took video, but can’t find it.  Anyway, just picture Tokyo Tower lighting up with 2011 on it.  Whatever you imagine was probably cooler than what we actually saw.  Now, had we been anywhere near the tower, it would have been wonderful.  But whatever, from there we made our way to a club where we would spend the rest of the night.  This club was in Roppongi, which is an area of Tokyo with a lot of foreigners.  This was annoying, these people were loud and foreign.  The club itself was really nice, and involved dancing on a few different floors.  But given that I only had a few hours of sleep on the bus the night before, and my uncanny ability to sleep anywhere this was going to be a problem…  I remember nothing from the hours of 3-4am.  Why you might ask?  Well, I was in fact asleep, while standing, and apparently swaying for that period of time.  Wow…  After this, it was time to go, so we caught a train home and then checked into our Internet cafe.

A picture proves it…

Our accommodations while in Tokyo consisted of Internet Cafes.  These are basically cubicles that people can use to sleep on the cheap.  People who are between abodes can use this space for about 12 dollars a night, which is fantastic.  They also provide basic amenities and even free slushies, sodas, DVDs and comic books.  One top of the cheap rate, the real appeal is that they are basically everywhere.  Since we had no place we had to get to at night, we didn’t have to worry about last trains, and instead could take the night at our leisure.

Cozy for sure.  Especially with two people.

The rest of the time in Tokyo consisted of random cities and a little cultural time as well.

We spent a bit of time in Ueno, which is not traditionally a tourist location, but it did offer good shopping from small stands and shops.  It was an interesting place to walk around a bit,  One piece of it that memorable was and arcade that we went to.  There, we played this game that no description will do justice.  Instead, I implore you to watch the video below…  Other time was spent at the Starbucks, as we would chat and meet people there.  Another amusing thing that happened here was when I bought some ice cream.  It was black sesame flavor, which was a little strange, but instead of ordering it as “黒ごま”(Kurogoma), I said “黒ゴミ” (Kurogomi).  While only slightly different, that subtly meant me ordering black garbage ice cream.  We had a nice little laugh after I explained the shopkeep’s odd look.

Another place we romped around was in the Harajuku/Omotesando area.  There is a lot of interesting shopping here, very upscale and very street.  We poked our noses into Prada, Louis Vuitton, and the like, but also enjoyed walking down the infamous Takeshita Dori, where there are all sorts of little shops.  This area is also famous for crepes, so of course we had to get Sandy one.   Also around here is a Shakey’s Pizza, which offers a pizza buffet for 12 dollars.  This is an exceptional price in Japan, and involved us eating a lot of really good stuff, including some wonderful dessert pizzas.  One of the best was the Banana, Oreo, Strawberry, and Marshmallow ones.  This is overall one of the nicest areas of town, very upscale and beautiful.  Seeing cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis are the norm as well, just genuinely a fun place to be.

Picture of us in the area at night.  About a mile’s worth of trees had been merrily decked

The background does a little to show off the type of street Harajuku’s Takeshita Dore is.  Also, the crepe was chocolate strawberry cheesecake.  Yum.

In this area too was the Meiji Shrine, which is one of the larger shrines in all of Tokyo.  We went there just after the New Year where people were amassing to offer their blessing for the year and to hope for a good fortune.  It was really interesting to see, and the extreme number of people making the pilgrimage was impressive as well.  About every minute, at least 200 people flowed past to wait in line.  We joined in the line and made our way to the front after waiting about 40 minutes. People go to shrines on a regular basis to perform these same routines, though the fortune associated with the New Year is applied to the entire year’s outlook, so it is really important.  As an added bonus, it is the year of the Rabbit, which is me.

Picture of people waiting.  there are at least as many people behind us as well.

While there, on a couple nights we met up with friends as well for the usual events, karaoke and drinks.  Ryan had a number of people he knew from there that we met with.  We went to a place call HUB, which tries to be an English pub.  It was pretty cool, and their are known for offering beer in 1000mL flasks, which makes almost no sense to me.  After some time here, it was off to karaoke where we did some singing, laughing and the like.  We took off for our internet cafe at the end of the night and that was the end of another good night.

Sandy doin’ work on one

One last thing worth mentioning was us retracing my steps from study abroad.  In addition to making it to my host family, I was able to go to the hostel I stayed in for my May Term as well as the school I studied at during the semester I was there.  This was really cool to see again.  One thing that was a little eerie about the school was that it was still winter vacation.  Because the school mostly located in a business sector, they too were absent from the scene, transforming the area into a ghost town. It was really odd, and almost unsettling to linger there.  Still, very good memories were made in these places, so getting back felt just as good.

Later that night it was back on the bus to enjoy the the many hour ride to home.  We would be arriving around 7:30am, with me needing to be to work at 8:30, wonderful.  Overall, the trip was fantastic and I really enjoyed having Sandy around for all of it.  I could tell that she really enjoyed seeing the largest city in the world (35 million), and especially because it was a big part of my life that she was previously completely unable to relate to.

Good times.

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