Thursday, 19 May 2016

Graduation Celebration in Japan: Days 1 and 2

Day Zero / One

I wasn't sure whether to call this days 1 and 2 or just day 1, because in some ways it felt like 2 short days, and in others it was like 1 really long day. Eventually I just settled on calling it 2 days of time, but only 1 day of trip.

A 2:30am start to any day is the height of stupidity, especially if you're accustomed to staying awake beyond then on a fairly regular basis. I would not recommend it under any circumstances if it can be avoided. Nevertheless, that's exactly what I ended up doing. Stupid 6:15am flight. Even worse is the fact that it was delayed until 7:30am, so it turned out that I didn't need to wake up that early after all! Not that they knew ahead of time, or even at the time of the flight. They delayed it once, then undelayed it, and then redelayed it! Apparently they thought they'd have to wait on a plane to get in, but then decided to use one that had been waiting there overnight, but didn't tell the crew, so saved no time in the long run. Kind of frustrating. Thankfully my layover was long enough that I was in no danger of missing fly connection, but it was still a pain.

I was flying United, so naturally that meant problems all the way. Not only was that first flight delayed, but the entertainment system for the LAX->NRT leg was broken, so half the time I couldn't watch any movies without them being rendered unwatchable by the constant freezing and skipping ahead. I did get about 2 hours of smooth video across the whole 11 hour flight, but most of that was spent rewatching parts that I had missed due to the skipping before. I realise it's kind of unreasonable to blame United for a computer error like that, and they are giving some compensation (in the form of a voucher for money off another flight), but that's just the sort of thing that I expect to happen when flying United.

Wait, what's that I hear from you? You want to know what movies I tried to watch? Well, first I filled in the hole in my Pixar repertoire with Cars 2. Not as bad as I had heard, and pretty good for an airplane actually. Now all I need to watch are last year's Pixar movies (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur) and I'll be all caught up. The other movie I watched was Orange, a Japanese language film. It's an adaption of the manga of the same name (available on Crunchyroll, but not in Japan, so I can't check that link), and pretty much brand new. As in, it came out in December. I had read the manga as it was being published, so when I saw a chance to watch the movie legally with English subs, I took it. It was extremely faithful to the manga; nearly shot-for-shot at times. Don't take that against it though; even with the skipping video and airplane distractions, it still managed to suck me in and deliver emotionally. It's a high school romance about a girl who gets a letter from herself 10 years in the future, telling her things to do to ultimately save the life of the boy she likes, who ended up committing suicide in the future. If you're partial to that sort of story, I'd recommend it; either the movie or the manga (I really like the art style of Ichigo Tanako, the manga's author; you can also check out the illustrations he did for the music video Chronograph from the band SKY HI) Or, if you'd rather watch an anime version of the story, there's one coming this summer.

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful. As we were landing, I realised that pretty much the only things that I could see to show I wasn't in America were the rice paddies and the solar panels. So many solar panels everywhere! I approve. After I landed and made it through customs and immigration, I got my Yen from a 7-Eleven ATM (get the best exchange rate that way) and headed to the other terminal to meet my friends. Once they arrived, we headed out on the train into Tokyo proper. We decided to head straight for our accommodations, and good thing we did, because it took us a while just to figure out how to navigate the subway system. Let me tell you, leaving Narita airport is unnecessarily confusing. Which machine do we buy from? Which platform do we wait at? Which train can we take? Which car can we sit in? Eventually we got it figured out enough to actually get there, but it took some time. By the time we got to our place, we were bushed, and called it a day after settling in. Sleep happened at around 8:30pm, after 28 hours awake (minus plane naps).

Futons sitting on the tatami mat floor.
See the tatami mats and futons? It's all so Japanese!

Day Two

I woke up after 10 hours at 6:30am, which seemed reasonable to me. After taking my time to get up, we all headed out to try and find some breakfast (and Wi-Fi) at 10am. We eventually settled on getting some "anhon", I believe it was called. It was a soft bun filled with a sweet red bean paste, and it was actually really good. I also got some peach yogurt drink from a vending machine (which really are all over the place). The place we're staying at is in Ikebukuro, so we took the train down to Shinjuku and walked to the Meji Shrine. It was a really calming place, with lots of trees and streams and nature.

Racks of dozens of wine barrels given by the French.
These barrels of wine are actually from France.
We visited the main shrine, saw the torii gates (the largest of their type), walked in the iris garden (though the irises weren't blooming yet), and looked at the treasure museum (which is only open on holidays and weekends, the opposite of every other museum ever). My favourite part was probably the garden, and visiting the spring. It was a very small spring, but it seemed super pure, which was really cool. Plus, the water itself was cool, at a constant 15 degrees (Celsius, obviously).

Me dipping my hand into the beautifully clear spring water.
Look at how beautifully clear that spring water is!
After the shrine we wandered down a bit further south to Shibuya, the famous pedestrian crossing where all the people cross at once. Also a big shopping district, and probably the biggest tourist area in the city. Unfortunately, we didn't have much of a plan for what to do when we got there, so didn't end up going into any of the stores or anything. Just stood outside and watched the crowds move.

All the people crossing at Shibuya.
That's a pretty big number of people, and this wasn't anywhere near peak hours.
We wandered around, and took some pictures before going to eat lunch at a ramen place. I went into it completely blind, having never really had authentic ramen before, and not being able to read the menu didn't help much either. Nevertheless, it worked out pretty well. I didn't actually get ramen, I had something called tsukemen, where the noodles and the sauce are separate, and you dip the noodles into the sauce. It was good stuff. Soy sauce based, maybe? Anyways, it was excellent. After lunch we headed back to our housing to wait for the final member of our group to arrive, which he did. So, the gang's all here now!

A bowl with pork and noodles, and a bowl with sauce.
Tsukemen, which is all about the dipping.
We originally thought that we'd go out again later, but never did, and instead spent time catching up, which is cool too. We still have 2 full days in Tokyo, so we'll have pleanty of time for more exploring. We still haven't fully decided on our plan for tomorrow though. Clearly we're the prepared, decisive types.

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