Originally, I intended on going to Japan in February of next year, but without going into too much detail I have been going through some pretty hectic stuff in my work and personal life and it all became a bit much. I was assaulted a few times, and lost a few lives of people close to me, not to mention issues in my circle of drug and alcohol abuse. Normally I am pretty good at staying cool, calm and collected but I was becoming increasingly anxious. Anyway, when work suggested I take a few days leave I decided to take them up on the offer, except instead of taking a few days,I will be taking an entire month and spending it in Japan – they did tell me to be as elaborate as I wanted.
The flight was at 6.10am so I aimed to get to the airport by 4.00am. I was tossing up between sleeping and not sleeping but decided to get some shut eye. After tossing and turning for a few hours I managed to eventually get to sleep. I was awoken at 4.30am to Joel screaming at me to get up. We jumped into the car and Joel sped to the airport at the speed of lightning while I frantically tried to check-in online – it failed. I called Qantas and they told me I was too late, with a sinking heart I raced to the counter bag-less, irrespective of the news. My hair was matted, my shirt inside out, makeup was smeared all-over my face and I was running on 2 hours sleep, but I made it. I made it! Thank you, Joel.
Once on the flight I figured out that my registration for a vegan meal was never accounted for. They checked my booking and took ownership of the mistake. They managed to find some spare business class meals so it worked out well in the end! I got to eat with a ‘proper’ plate, knife and fork while the people around me ate from aluminium trays.
Once I arrived in the airport I asked a taxi driver the fare to my hotel. They very honestly told me that it would cost approximately $250 US dollars and that it was very expensive – I was better off getting a train. I was highly appreciative of their consideration and set off to do just that. I managed to get off at the wrong stop approximately 3 times and on the last stop I decided to holla a taxi for the last leg of the journey. As the automated back door opened I lugged up my luggage and threw it on the seat! “No”! the taxi driver screamed. It seemed I had placed by ‘dirty’ luggage on his precious white seats. He assisted me to put the luggage in the boot and then we were off. I noticed upon closer inspection that practically his entire taxi was covered in white and his hands donned pure white gloves. Interesting.
I arrived at my hotel and then went for a stroll to the local convenience store whereI was thoroughly impressed by my ability to seek out soy milk within the first few hours of arrival.
The next day I went to a nearby vegan café ‘loving hut’ to eat. Super-excited I sat around for around an hour before realising they were not open on Sundays. Excellent. With my trusty ‘Happy-Cow’ app I found a place called ‘Kyushu Jangara Ramen Akihabara’ about 20 minutes’ walk away that specialised in ramen. I was so pleased to find this place. It was this tiny gorgeous little traditional ramen place that only seated approximately 10 people all in a row. The interior was all wood and decorated with little hand-made ‘kawaii’ pottery statues.
After my breakfast/lunch I head to the famous Takeshita street in Harajuku. Really, it was all the name lived up to be. First, I walked up and down the street to take in my surroundings. Practically anything that you could want or need was available there. They had Lolita and gothic fashion and an abundance of kawaii goods. It was a paradise for alternative culture enthusiasts. A ‘metal’ shop was my first choice of entrance (obviously). The long-haired band-shirt wearing metal-enthusiast salesperson and fashion designer was ecstatic about showing me all his designs (and selling them to me). One after the other he would hold them up and ask, “how about this”? One after the other I had to decline for practically everything in the shop had the word ‘fuck’ on it. I explained to him that I work with children and if I cannot wear it at work there is no point owning it especially considering I work essentially every-day. He laughed, “anyone would think I did not want customers in my shop, everything says fuck off or fuck you”! Eventually I found an awesome ripped sleeveless hoodie which I purchased and he gave me a teddy bear with an eye-patch with ‘fuck you’ written on it as a gift.
After looking in the metalheads shop, I was standing in the rain evidently looking puzzled for some time when a kind gentleman held his umbrella over me. We had a short conversation and he told me there was a typhoon, “rain” I responded. I assumed it was a language communication barrier (the next day I found out that it was a typhoon not just horrendous non-stop torrential rain).
After this I wandered the street a little bit more taking it all in when I was stopped by a man who had lived in Tokyo for the past 10 years and was originally from Ghana. He wanted to show me his shop. I was aware of course of the impending tourist trap but took him up on the offer anyway because of ‘politeness’. He showed me his store but it was not really ‘my style’. I thanked him graciously. He was kind enough to donate to me his umbrella, we exchanged Instagram details and I was on my way. I was shocked. People in Japan, generally, are so nice!
The next shop I peered into was called ‘yellow house’ and wow was the owner pushy! “see him” she said as she pointed at her staff, “he is a musician”, “do you like musicians”? “Marilyn Manson shops here, see” she said as she pointed to his signed picture. She quickly dressed me in a fabulous black cardigan and showed me all the features but gave me little opportunity to see it on myself and determine whether I in fact ‘loved’ it. No matter how much I love Marilyn Manson, the amount of pushy in this situation was undesirable. I moved on.
The next store I went too was an entire shop of Japanese bomber jackets, Justin Bieber, Kayne West and members of Tame Impala all had signed photographs on the wall along with pictures of them wearing the clothing they had purchased. In contrast to the last store it took be approximately 5 minutes to seek out a jacket that I fell in love with and I quickly handed over nearly $500 for it. It may have taken a sizable chunk out of my savings, and been the most expensive item of clothing I had ever purchased, but love is love – and it is part of the Harajuku cultural experience, right?
I was becoming tired so head back to the hotel for the night to rest up for the next day’s adventure. So, the next day I waited around (and did some homework) for a few hours to go eat at ‘loving hut’ (round two). I once again sat outside the shop for around an hour as I was over-eager only to finally establish that they were not open and were not going to open because it was ‘Respect for the Aged Day’. Starving at this point I jumped in the first taxi I saw to take me to a ‘raw vegan’ café in Ginza. I found the place, and the door was opened, but the café was closed – apparently it was moving destinations. I was visibly distressed but the person on site directed me to a ‘health-food restaurant’ next door to eat.
When I arrived at this place, called ‘Noka no Daidokoro’ I was asked to make a reservation for 45 minutes later! I was convinced at this point that I was going to starve in Japan. Anyway, I had waited all day so I am sure I could wait a little longer! The restaurant was buffet style with an open kitchen. I ate a few plates of raw vegetables and rice and a bowl of vegan soup because I was unsure of the content in the other cooked items. Eventually, after seeking guidance from the waiters they directed me to the vegan options, and then to my surprise I was delivered a beautifully presented meal made especially for me! Amazing! People here really go out of their way to accommodate you. The plate was essentially fried vegetables (they probably thought I was strange eating them raw as I was the only one in the restaurant that was doing it – even though I prefer them this way) but they were the best fried vegetables I had ever tasted! I mean, who would have thought to fry pumpkin! Shortly afterwards they presented me a personal dessert plate which was described to me as ‘Japanese pear’ and tomatoes. I am not big on tomatoes, and maybe it was because I was starving but they were the best tomatoes I have ever eaten!
After lunch, I decided to head to the Sky tree tower – apparently the tallest building in the world. But rapidly changed my mind and decided to go to the scramble crossing in Shibuya, mostly because the subway there seemed easier to navigate. The scramble crossing was easy to identify. As I looked out the window of the subway station and saw an intersection with thousands of people waiting at the traffic lights I knew that it was ‘it’. I head downstairs and spend minutes just observing and taking in the sheer mass of people that were there. Then, I decided to cross myself. There was so much going on in this place, streets and stories of shops and food outlets, bright lights, people, more people. It was hectic. This was the Japan I had been seeking, the Japan that I knew of. I took it all in and then thought to get myself some dinner because finding vegan food in my area was proving difficult. I went to a ramen place called ‘Kamukura’. The ramen was fabulous (I mean when is ramen ever not?) but it could not compare to the ramen I had at ‘Kyushu Jangara Ramen Akihabara’ the day before.
After dinner I took the easy route back and caught and taxi. I then spent the remainder of the evening catching up on university lectures and writing this blog – taking it easy because who knows what tomorrow will bring, right?