Chiyoda, Harajuku and Shibuya

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.

21688601_1683282518362534_8011711588845223936_n

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.

21820184_345443512567860_5664131513378144256_n

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.

21690405_1441341402602070_9152204222601625600_n

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!

21820360_169679786921124_5840830080003080192_n

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. 

21689963_276601986180579_6741079508989771776_n

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?

India at fourteen

‘The Voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in finding new eyes’ – Marcel Proust.

Day one. 29/04/2006

It was just two days after my fourteenth birthday, and I had somehow found myself in amazing India. I was seeking my independence, and although for months I had planned the trip I recall waking up and 5.00am the night before my journey and running in to my mother’s bedroom and telling her I loved her, and holding her not wishing to let go. The next stage of my journey I recall is arriving at New Delhi airport, the mass crowds calling to the visitors gave me such a shock I turned around to see whether there was a celebrity behind me, and that’s when I saw my hosts Ajay and Vikramaditya Singh. They beckoned for me to go towards them, I had never met Ajay’s son Vikramaditya, and had not seen age since I was a mere eleven years old – when my passion for India begun.

The first thing one notices when leaving the airport in India is the overwhelming, horrible but beautiful smell, it’s the smell of cow dung, with aromatic spices, the smell of adventure. The second sense activated is the intense noise, the constant beeping of horns for the traffic to pass through, (Although they have road rules in India it is rare to find one abide by them). On the car journey to the place I would know as home I recall saying “It’s a cow on the road!” The other passengers merely laughed, and seemed rather puzzled, little did I know I was to find thousands of cows flooding the streets on a daily basis, along with donkeys, dogs, and the rare monkey!

They made me a glass of cold coffee and a sandwhich and I was told to rest, however, I was so estastic I ending up staying up for four hours talking.

The travel duration time from Australia to India was roughly eleven hours.

Day two. 30/04/2006

It was Ajays wife Ritus birthday, I was woken up at 6.00am and went for a morning walk until 7.00am with Ajay. It was this day that I met Ajays sister Kieran, fondly known as Baby Boohah (boo-ah). I also met Nani and Nano, the parents of Ajay. That night I had the first and only meat for my entire journey, goat. Another dish I had was known as Pullav which consists of rice, vegetables and spices. The evening was spent with Ritu, Vikramaditya, Golu (Vikramadityas brother) Ajay, Taroona, Raj and Joyti (Neighbours of Ajay, and beloved friends). I remember the shock in finding their ice-cream had spices!

That night Chilli read my palm, unfortuantly I do not recall what was said!

Day three. 01/05/06

Once again I woke up at six and went for a morning walk, this became my dreaded routine, seven hours sleep for a fourteen year old is rather tiring! I also had the routine of Yoga on the roof with Ajay and Ritu’s autistic son Chinu, of whom is one year older than I. That day I helped him with his special education, and in the evening I went to the nice market with Joyti, Taroona and Raj.

Day four. 02/05/06

Went for my usual morning walk, and stopped to vist Nani & Nanu. Tinku a good friend of Vikramadityas visited, I plaited his soft hair, and that night Vikramaditya taught me how to blow smoke rings. It was a good day in that I felt I had found my independence and my freedom, I went on a ride through the streets of faridabad with Golu, and then Taroona, Raj, Joyti, Golu and I went to get pizza at the Crown Plaza.

Earlier in the day, I experienced an Indian school for autism. This is where Chinu attends. It is called ‘Action for Autism’ and is situate in New Delhi. Upon our return Chinu, Ritu and I visited Visual Mega Mart, which is like an upper class market.

Day five. 3/05/2006

This was a great day of disappointment, I had recently been growing my hair, and it had finally gotton to shoulder length. Ajay strongly disliked it because it was always in my eyes, so he convinced me to go to the hair dresser, I agreed as I was allowed to die it black! a great thing for a fourteen year old like myself. To my dismay the black rapidly turned brown and I was stuck with dreaded boy short hair for months!

Despite this, I went with a morning walk with Ajay and Taroona, and read the newspaper for Ajay, as well as visiting his concrete factory for the first time – he knows my father through business. At the factory he had taken in three street dogs, he name them Billu, Tillu, and Pillu.

That morning I experienced first hand the chores I would experience whilst staying there, in the morning I brushed Chinu’s teeth – he was not able.

Day six. 4/05/2006

I did not go for a morning walk this morning, as I had blisters on my feets, although it was a quite day I went to Huda market up the road and bought two rings.

Day seven. 05/05/2006

This day was a memorable one, and the experiences are ones I will hold in my heart forever. I went to Jaipur which is situate in the district of Rajasthan, in my eyes the most beautiful place in the world! It was four hours drive from Ajays home in Faridabad, Haryana. This is where I really experienced true ancient Indian culture, it was here I road an Elephant and a Camel, I also had my hands painted with Henna, and smoked for a hooker!

Day eight. 06/05/2006

My second day at Jaipur, I rode the camel and Elephant again! and I watched to most amazing belly-dancing performance. In the belly-dancing performance the women were dancing on broken glass with three clay pots on their heads! the last one contained a burning fire!

The beautiful woman requested that I dance with them, I politely declined, however now I would be ever so willing as I take belly-dancing classes.

Day nine. 7/05/2006

I woke up early on this morning, and to my delight there were hundred of Squirells running around, unfortunatly we left that morning. When we arrived at the home Taroona had fallen ill and had a terrible fever of 103.3 F, Vikramaditya nursed her.

Day ten. 08/05/2006

A quite day, Taroona had lunch with the family.

Day eleven. 09/05/2006

Another quite day, looking after Taroona. She joined us for lunch again.

Day twelve. 10/05/2006

I read the newspaper to Ajay again this morning, and thought of the idea S.A.C.O (Street animal care organisation). The idea was dismissed however, and did not progress further. Taroona joined us for lunch once more.

Day thirteen. 11/05/2006

Once again Taroona came for lunch accompanied by Joyti. I went to the markets in New Delhi with Joyti from 2.00pm – 6.00pm where she bought me a delicious mango ice cream. At the market I bought numerous items including a Zippo lighter, a wallet and clothing item gifts for Vikramaditya and Golu.

It was at these markets I truely experianced the haggling culture for the first time. To my dismay I found when I got home that I was ripped off on most of the items I had purchased, despite my haggling efforts.

Day fifteen. 13/05/2006

I went to Chinus school (Action for Autism) in New Delhi for the second time with Chinu and Ritu. As it was summer school was not on but they had arranged a summer camp. We asked about the possibility of me volunteering there.

Day sixteen. 14/05/2006

This morning I helped make the breakfast for the family and prepare Chinu for school. I went to school with Chinu and Baby Booah (Kieran) and for the first time did some volunteer work there. I was taken to a room where the age group ranged from 6 – 10 years. I was working with seven students. During the day we took the students to the music room, the play room and the pool. The pool was very shallow for safety reasons.

Day seventeen. 15/05/2006

Today was a similar routine to the day before. It consisted of helping to prepare the meals, preparing Chinu for school and volunteering at ‘Action for Autism’.

From watching the teachers I learnt a valuable lesson that to teach you must first show how it is done.

That night I went out to dinner at the Crown Plaza with Chinu, Ritu and Baby Booah. The food was one of the most memorable I have ever had.

Day eighteen. 16/05/2006

I went to school with Chinu and Baby Booah again and upon our return we went to Ritu’s brothers house for dinner.

Day nineteen. 17/05/2006

In the morning there was no room in the car so I didnt go to ‘Action for Autism’. Instead I decided to go to Joyti’s house. At this time Joyti had clear signs of depression and was very un-motivated. This caused strain for her sister as she was newly wed and felt obliged to accomodate and feed her. That morning I coaxed Joyti into bathing and eating breakfast which she did rarely and gave her an energy drink as she was rather lethargic on most days.

I did some house work for Taroona then we went to pick up Vikramaditya from College and then we went to Baby Booah’s in the evening.

Day twenty. 18/05/2006

I went to Taroona’s and helped with the house work again. I speciafically recall washing her outside walls and it was a great shock to discover they were actually blue rather than a sandy colour. It made me wonder what the colour of all the houses in the street actually were. The dirt of the streets and the dirt carried in the wind clearly after some time changed the colour of the walls. House work in India is a very tedious task as dust is consistently entering the house, hence the reason why people of most castes employ maids to do the house work. The maids are of a very low cast so therefore very cheap to employ.

Day twenty one. 19/05/2006

I woke up in the morning and prepared Chinu for his day, and cleaned the house, this was the first time I had ever experienced cleaning a toilet! After my chores I visited Taruna’s house and Baby Booahs house.

Day twenty two. 20/05/2006

I went to Tarunas house and Joyti and I made breakfast for the rest of the family, after this Joyti, Joytis friend (Ushar) and I went to the SRS (Shopping complex), we went by ricture.

Day twenty three. 21/05/2006

Joyti, Ajay and I went for a morning walk, upon my return I prepared Chinu for school, and then I joined him at school for the day. Baby Booah was ill and could not accompany. After school I visited Taruna.

I noticed a real improvement in Joyti, she is participating in more family activities, eating more, showering daily, not sleeping so much and even cooking!

Day twenty four. 21/05/2006

My brother and mother were to come to India this day, so in the morning I went to Joytis, and then purchased my mother flowers, we picked them up from the airport.

Day twenty five. 22/05/2006

This day was spent catching up with my family of whom I had not seen in 5 weeks! as a fourteen year old this is a difficult taks.

Day twenty six. 23/05/2006

Today I visited the Janpath market in Dehli with Taruna, mum and J.J (brother), here I purchased a hooker and a pocket watch.

Day twenty seven. 24/05/2006

I went to visit a place called Dilli Hart (Heart of Delhi) in the centre of New Delhi (see photos). I went with Pandigi (Brahman Caste), mum and J.J.

Day twenty eight. 25/05/2006

Today I took my mother to visit Joyti, and meet my friends I have met in India.