Eat, Sleep & Sweat
Here is part two of Kellee’s adventure in Japan!
Tuesday, June 30
I spent Tuesday at work and generally recovering from a busy weekend. When I returned home Kellee greeted me at the door and fired up the stove. As I changed from a business suit to lounge wear she cooked up some grub. A short time later we sat on my balcony eating grilled ham & cheese sandwiches with an ice-cold beer. Not a bad evening.
We started Wednesday early. I had taken a personal day from work and sought to maximize my holiday time. Early in the morning we hopped a few trains to arrive at Kamakura. Kamakura is an ancient city an hour south of Tokyo. Kamakura was the capital of Japan from 1185-1333 and is now home to many of the countries finest temples. I had previously visited the city with the girls a few months prior. I was now returning only with Kellee. I was going to put my memory to the test and lead the way.
We arrived at the station without incident. I was able to get us on the right bus and promptly to our first destination; Diabutsu. This is the famous iron statue shaped like Buddha. We wandered around the grounds sticking to the shadows when possible. The temperature was hovering in the upper 90’s with 80% humidity. Like it or not, we were sweating. Everyone was.
After Diabutsu we strolled down the road to Hasa Dera, another famous temple. When I last visited here it was cherry blossom season. Now the hydrangea were in full bloom, and they were a sight not to be missed. We explored Hasa Dera and left following the signs for another temple. The signs took us to a very old cemetery with no English. The burial grounds were hidden behind a lovely garden. We were enjoying the beautiful flowers and neighborhood cats unaware of what was behind us. But with a bit more exploring we found the graves. We took a minute to walk up and down the paths looking at the ornate stone work. Because of the morbid nature of the temple, and the looks we received from many Japanese people, I assumed foreigners did not regularly visit this site. So I felt honored to have caught a glimpsed of something so authentic.
After the cemetery we walked down to the beach to take pictures of the bay. However the high noon sun baked us from above and we were thirsty. We took trains back to the main station. There we had lunch and took a train north, to Yokohama. The sun & walking had pretty well sapped Kellee of her energy. I knew the perfect remedy for this, indoor shopping!
Yokohama, which I’ve mentioned before, is a great city. It is the second largest city in the country and is directly below Tokyo. Actually it might as well be considered as part of the greater Tokyo area, because there is no discernible line between to the two cities. Anyways, Yokohama is famous as being the port that Commodore Perry used to contact the Japanese government, demanding they open to trade. It’s a cool city, with a real international feel.
In Tokyo we visited the pier and had an iced coffee. From there we caught a train to the world-famous Yokohama Landmark Tower. However we arrived too early in the day to warrant a visit to the top. Instead we did some window shopping and laid in the grass people watching. Finally the sun began to set and we took the fastest elevator in Japan to the top of the tower. Here we watched the sun set behind Mount Fuji and the lights of Yokohama come on. It was impressive to say the least. Long after the sun set we took the elevator down and set out for dinner.
Yokohama has the world’s largest Chinatown. It also has some great Chinese food. It took some wandering around, but we were able to find the main gate into the area. I found a respectable looking restaurant and got us seated. I was delighted when we walked in and I heard the waitress speaking Chinese with the cooks. “Yep,” I thought “this is the right place.” The Chinese waitress and I spoke broken Japanese back and forth during ordering. I found it funny that we could communicate in a language neither of us knew well. However the food came without problem and it was delicious. After dinner we made it back home and promptly fell asleep.
I took another personal day on Thursday. Being proactive, I had us up and out of the apartment at an early hour. First on the day’s agenda: Tsukiji. Tsukiji, as I’ve mentioned before, is a world-famous fish market. Unfortunately we arrived too late to see the actual auction, typically beginning at 5 AM, as we arrived in the late morning. However this is the perfect time to get lunch and avoid the crowds.
I ordered up some fresh sushi and watched our chef make the cuts himself. He presented the food on a traditional Japanese wooden board. I thanked him and grabbed a piece of tuna. The fresh fish and warm rice melted on my tongue. I looked over to Kellee who had a skeptical look on her face. I coaxed her in to trying it. One bite was all it took for her. She restated that she did not like fish. I sighed and let it go. No sense twisting her arm if it’s only going to break. I turned back to the food in front of me. I savored each morsel and took great satisfaction knowing my fish had been caught last night. And that the poor little guy had probably been swimming in the tank in front of me just an hour before. His loss, my gain. I ate until I was full, paid the check and we left.
Next on the day’s agenda, Akihabara. Akihabara is the famous “Electric Town.” Really I think the title sets the city up to be underwhelming. There’s a two block stretch with many arcades and retail electronic shops. That’s about it. I think in the age before Best Buy & the Internet it would have been impressive. Now it’s just another shopping area. The real joy in visiting the city was taking purikura pictures. Kellee was thrilled with the eye-opening photo booths (pun intended). We took a bunch of silly photos and caught a train out-of-town.
Our final destination was the Tokyo Dome, home to the Yoimuri Giants. The Giants are the equivalent of the Yankees in Japanese professional baseball. They’re the best team money can buy and they polarize people. Standing by the ticket box was an American that looked confused. I saw his University of Alabama baseball cap and greeted him with a “Roll Tide.” We chatted for a few and I learned he was visiting Tokyo alone for a few days. He seemed harmless so I offered him to join us at the game. I used pidgin to purchase three tickets outside the stadium. Suddenly we had a third wheel.
Attending a professional sport in Japan was great fun. It was very similar to American sports but with a few exceptions. For example, you’re allowed to bring in your own food and drink. I myself brought a can of beer to the game just to see if it was true. Inside the gates I was asked to pour the beer into a disposable cup and recycle the can. I happily obliged and took my seat with a full beer. I talked Kellee’s ear off for five straight minutes about the whole exchange. “I mean really, you can bring your own beer? This is amazing. Next time I’ll pay for the price of the ticket by bringing in a six-pack!” Kellee nodded along, humoring me the whole time.
We had good seats and enjoyed a great game for 8 innings. However things got really interesting in the bottoms of the 9th. The Giants, trailing 5-2, made three runs to send us into extra innings. However the excitement quickly ended as the game was called a tie after the 10th. Because of the energy crisis they were unable to keep the stadium operating any longer. Despite the sudden end to the game, Kellee and I left very satisfied. We crammed into a train full of sweaty fans and made it home.
Back to work! I put in a busy day at the office. After work I came home and quickly fell asleep.
Saturday was a usual day. I worked and it was very busy all day. After my shift I met with Kellee at the station. We had some dinner and drinks at Shanto. A short time later we met up with my friend, Trevor. With Trevor in town we visited another purikura booth and did an hour of karaoke. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty rowdy when we split up.
Back at my local station we visited a mom & pop ramen shop. We used a vending machine to order the cheapest ramen and took a seat at the bar. I hungrily slurped down my whole bowl and gave the chef a polite “gochisosamadesu”, a Japanese saying after meals meaning “It was delicious,” akin to our own “compliments to the chef.” The chef was delighted by such Japanese behavior, unusual for a Westerner, and gave a soft pat on the behind as we exited the store. That however, was a very unusual Japanese action. It might be a while before I revisit that joint.
Sunday was another busy day. I took Kellee on a long walking tour of the area around Harajuku. Harajuku is a popular place for cosplay artists and high school students. There is a lot of shopping and fashionable people everywhere. However on the other side of the station is a slower scene. I’m talking about Yoyogi park and Meji Jingu shrine. I’ve mentioned these places in other blogs, so I wont’ go in to depth here. However Kellee and I both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in both areas.
We took a break from walking to eat lunch at a great okonomiyaki restaurant. I had been there before with the girls and somehow managed to find it myself. As you may know, okonomiyaki is my favorite Japanese food. I think Kellee liked it too, as it is very palatable to westerners. We paid the check and set back out towards the station. By sheer chance I visited a trendy outdoor store and found a hiking backpack for 70% off. I bought the pack on the spot. I thought it would prove valuable for the upcoming climb on Mount Fuji.
A short time later we visited Shinjuku to take care of Kellee’s number one desire in Japan, a cat cafe. Let me explain. A cat cafe is a place where you pay for a cup of coffee and the time to sit with cats. This particular business had over 60 cats in the building, with 20 on rotation at a given time. Cat cafes are a novelty in Japan, but popular enough to stay in business. This cafe was very legitimate. The cats had ample room to be comfortable. They looked well fed and taken care of. The only sad part was how over stimulated with humans they were. Many cats slept on perches too high for humans. But there they slept undisturbed.
Here Kellee and I drank a coffee and bought a small amount of chicken to feed to the cats. As soon as we opened the tupperware they swarmed on us. We passed the food out and they quickly ate. A few of the cats even liked us enough to sit on our laps for a short time after.
Satisfied with our drinks and the cats, we left the cafe after an hour. We both agreed it was a very strange experience. We were happy to have tried it and never wanted to do it again.
After the cats we visited a skyscraper in Shinjuku to see the city’s night lights. Then we grabbed some yakitori at a local hole-in-the-wall and took a romance car home. We each took a cold shower and went to bed. What a day!
The Fourth of July! I woke up with patriotic tunes in my head. Sadly this was to be Kellee’s last day in Japan. Yet we were going to make the best of it. She took the morning to pack her bags and gear up. When she was ready we rolled her luggage with us to the train station. We took a local train to Hon-Atsugi to see my buddy, Trevor. Trevor had put together some plans to celebrate the holiday. We were going to have an American barbecue by the river complete with ice-cold beer and fireworks. Kellee and I stashed her bags in lockers at the station and met up with Trevor to help him out before.
Back at Trevor’s apartment we loaded up all of the gear into bags and a cooler and set out. We swung by the station to pick up a group of 15 people and started our walk to the river. Down by the river we quickly set up shop. We each grabbed a cold one and toasted to America. Then we set to work on the grill. Before long we had grilled burgers and hot dogs. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing frisbee and enjoying good conversation. We had a healthy mixture of foreigners and Japanese people. A major delight.
After the sun was down we started the fireworks. In unison we all lit our sparklers and roman candles and ran around like maniacs. The Japanese people were amused by everything. The Americans, for a moment, felt like they were back home. Soon the clock struck nine and we had to leave the party. We returned to the station, grabbed Kellee’s luggage and began the hour commute to the airport.
Kellee’s plane was set to leave at 7 AM. The first trains of the day start running at 5 AM. This meant we would have to stay overnight in the airport to make sure Kellee could catch her flight. At the airport we ate konbini noodles for dinner and let the smell of our sweat and gunpowder fill the room. I was certainly nervous smelling like sulfur & gunpowder in an airport but that soon gave way to sleep. I drifted off in my chair for four hours before waking.
At the counter we checked Kellee and her luggage in. We had some time to kill before she needed to clear security so we visited a cafe for a morning coffee. Although we were both groggy we managed to enjoy our last minutes together. I returned my cup to the counter and walked Kellee to security. Despite having accomplished eight months worth of activities in 10 days, it felt like my friend had just arrived. I gave her a long goodbye hug and stayed behind the rope until she was out of sight.
With Kellee gone I turned my back on the airport and went home. I took the train out of Tokyo with the morning traffic and walked into my apartment at 8 AM. After a quick shower I drew the blinds and crawled into bed to catch up on what little sleep I could. Kellee’s visit had been a complete and total success. Now my body would have to foot the bill.
One thing I really hate about Tokyo is how people drive. Here I’m referring to how they accelerate and brake. Whether I’m in some one’s car, in a bus, or simply watching taxis on the street, they all drive the same way; and that’s with a lead foot.
When the light turn green, drivers will mash the pedal to the metal to get off the line. Then they’ll hold it there until they’re 10 kph over the speed limit. It doesn’t matter the time of day or if they’re driving next to a school. These drivers only have one speed: go.
Naturally if you’re holding the accelerator down you’re going to use the brake in the same manner. Whenever a driver is forced to stop they slam on the brakes. Again it doesn’t matter where the cars around them are, when the driver wants to stop, they’re going to stop. I’ve seen the wheels on a car fully locked as the driver slid to a stop. Just terrifying.
The combination of maximum acceleration and rapid stopping makes the streets of Tokyo a very dangerous place. I never fail to get queasy if I’m riding in a vehicle. And I still clinch with fear when I see children anywhere near streets. It makes me want to get behind the wheel to show these yahoos how to drive. Actually it’s enough to make me miss Lincoln drivers. Now that is a bold statement.