mandag den 11. juni 2018

Landing in Sakura Tokyo


I've been back from Japan for a month, but have been spending the weeks editing videos for my Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTbUUX8a-0I& 
These videos are however not in chronological order and are missing my thoughts, so I am putting down my written memories too.

I went to Japan alone, not really knowing a lot of people in Tokyo.
I had therefore set up a LINE group for travellers and posted it on LonelyPlanet's travel forum and the JapanTravel reddit group - and by the time I was in Japan the group had around 150 members, all willing to meet up.
On top of that, I had decided that couchsurfing would be a great idea, since I would meet local people through that. I ended up only spending 4 days out of the whole month not with a host!
I had also located this female travel companion app called Tourlina, where I connected with a girl from Prague, Lucie!

I arrived in Narita after not sleeping for the whole flight. I was completely worn out and spent way too long figuring out how to get to the cafe where I was keeping my bag until later that night when my first host got home.


That first day I even had a meetup with Lucie, the girl from the app. We had planned to go to Shinjuku Gardens to see the sakura before they disappeared - our arrival in Tokyo was perfectly timed to the peak time of the sakura normally, but unfortunately they started blooming a few weeks early this year. It was easy to feel disappointed once I started noticing all the cherry trees that had already lost their flowers - but Shinjuku Gyoen had a lot of beautiful late bloomers.


The signs of the earlier bloom was still present though, as seen with the browning petals in that water.


We didn't have too long in the park because it closes at 4, so we decided to go to a 2nd sakura spot: Meguro river.


Here there were not many late bloomers, so we left pretty fast.


We went up to Nakano Broadway to roam around in the Mandarake shops and I located the Gonkinjo Monogatari animation cel that I had found online! Then I found a WIFI spot (I was counting on spots the first few days before getting tired of it and purchasing a SIM from Bic) and connected with my host and went to his home, buying breakfast for the next morning along the way.


Since Shinjuku Gyoen had been full of sakura, I thought maybe Ueno Park (one of the biggest hanami spots) would also still have some blooms left. There were not a lot though, and this second spot looked so sad knowing how it looks when it is in peak.


This weeping sakura was still gorgeous though, and I had a nice walk.


Joining lots of other people promenading.


I had talked about going to Harajuku with one of the early members of the LINE group, Adam, so we met up this day. I got myself a crêpe first thing.


I wasn't as into Harajuku as I used to be in terms of shopping. It has however been 8 years since my last time in Japan, so both it and I have changed. The people in the neighbourhood were still uniquely stylish though. and the smaller shops in the back streets were very lovely.


I love these manga advertisement boards, using shoujo conventions to communicate why password safety is important. And then we stopped by an animal cafe! More specifically, a hedgehog one.


We got the babies worms, and they soon napped. One of them did seem very stressed though, so we let him sleep in his corner - a sign that the animals in the cafés could be treated better.


After shopping for many an hour, I met up with my host Ryu for dinner at a small ramen place where I got the best fish of my trip! Alongside the weirdest thing I tried on the trip - bamboo sprouts. And great noodles that you yourself dip in the soup.
Adam then asked me to join some LINE group people at an arcade in Shibuya, so I trotted over to game the night away.


The next morning I had a long-ish train ride ahead of me to get to a kimono experiece that Lucie had found on airbnb.


It turned out to be a very long day and we really got our money's worth! Ikuyo-san was even kind enough to let me wear a Furisode, which is normally a very expensive rental. She spent a long time making sure I was happy with the colour combinations and then put several layers of clothing on me, using all of her strength to make the correct folds sometimes. Ikuyo was worried that I would get too hot, as April is not the correct season for furisode - but it ended up being a slightly windy day and I was kept at a perfect temperature outside.
Mayumi did everyone's hair, and we had a nice conversation of broken English and Japanese.


We then took the train one stop to Shibamata, which is a famous Japanese actor, Tora-san's, pearl of a town. It was quiet, local and just lovely. It had an old traditional shopping street that puts Asakusa to shame and it felt ever so authentic.


We went to the shrine where there was a taiko performance happening somewhere inside, and a festival was being packed down. And we also went to a tea house called Yamamote-Tei.


Ikuyo had a very interesting story and her shop only uses donated or used kimono which is why it was so low in price. She had many stories to tell about her guests and the people in the neighbourhood - and I explained to her how Americans' fear of cultural appropriation might be why she doesn't get many US clients. Even though it seemed like business was good, to the point that her husband apparently was getting used to never eating her freshly made meals anymore!
The 4-hour tour ended up taking about 6 and we were starving by the end - so Mayumi showed us to a good izakaya on the same street. I got omuraiso and Lucie got katsudon! After dinner I went to Shibuya to an 80s dance with some people from the LINE group - and I JUST made the last train home.


The next day I slept in and asked Ryu to show me an onsen, since he mentioned he was somewhat of an expert. We had a bit of a misunderstanding due to the language barrier, since I thought we were going to his favourite but he thought it was too far. I was surprised to feel that he sometimes didn't understand what I was saying, since he works with English clients at work every day (I would otherwise think it pretty normal).


We did get to the onsen though, and we grabbed lunch before heading in. I had asked if this onsen was okay with tattoos, and Ryu thought it would be fine since I was gaijin, but I was ultimately asked to leave (as I was putting on my clothes after bathing). 


After that bit of tumbling around, I met up with Lea from the LINE group for a drink with a view! And then we got sushi for dinner afterwards - so we flipped the ordinary chronology there, but we wanted to watch as the sun set. 
Night turned to day and I headed to Meguro river once again, since I had noticed a larger bloom while driving past in the train. I didn't know exactly where on the river it was though, so I just started walking.


I listened to The Adventure Zone, so time went by quickly and there it was! The two clusters of late blooms on either side of a blue bridge.


This location was all of my sakura dreams. The winds was blowing, the sun shining and the people passing by made for a great sense of community.


I had spent a few hours by the river when Adam and I started texting and I ended up telling him to come join.


We grabbed a bite at a restaurant with sakura view and then we walked around a little together. He had been sad about missing the peak too, and this lifted his spirits so much. We then went to the actual destination of the day - the Anata No Warehouse in Kawasaki (I was flabbergasted at the fact that that is not just a shoe brand).


It was the amusement park of arcades, fantasticly themed and full of all the games you could ask for! I also lived out a dream of mine - actually dancing DDR while in Japan!


We then started talking about going to karaoke and got a group together with some guys I ended up not couchsurfing at and a few from the LINE group. We went to the location that is in Lost in Translation.


Since finding out how cheap flight tickets to Osaka actually was, I had decided to go there to meet up with Rika from UCLA. So I had a morning in Tokyo before heading west for a little trip. I left my first couch and met up with Kyle from the LINE group for breakfast - he had allowed me to keep my stuff at his place during my trip, so I didnt't have to haul it with me. And then I went by Shinjuku Gyoen again, bought my little 200Y ticket and entered blooming wonderland again.


The weather was so much better that day and I had bought some sakura season dango and other candies so I had a nice little hanami alongside the other park guests and a few LINE people who stopped by.


I took in the last few views and then went to Tokyo station to get lost before actually finding the bus transfer to Narita - I ended up taking the bus back and forward all 4 times because I couldn't find it in myself to splurge when I had to go more than the usual two times.

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