konnichiwa

I woke before the streetlight was extingushed on the corner, listening to the wind blow the rain around from the last night’s rainfall. The sky started to turn blue as the wind tossed a sheet of metal around somewhere nearby. A bird would cry with such regular precision, after hearing all the crazy sounds the train system made, I wondered if it was a pleasant signal for something, a time of day or an event. J says that at 6 pm a sound comes over the neigborhood’s loud speakers telling all good children to stop playing and go home and was their hands for dinner. Slightly big brother, but very community bonding at the same time.

When it got light enough for me to see the clock, a rectangular blue and white rectangle over the (what room?) depicting a map of the world (Japan in the centerpoint and almost obscured by the hands) it was 5 AM.
I rummaged through the gift basket J and M left for us and found a packet of strawberry chocolate mushroom candy, eating them in the cool morning light as sound of the wind tossed through the room.

Everyone was up by a little after 8. That’s when I realized my purse was missing. Wallet, train pass…I had my passport on my body, but I was concerned. I didn’t have many bags, I know I got it on the bus with me from the airport. J hopped on a bicycle and rode to his mother’s, where the car was. He was back within five minutes. No purse. M got on the phone with the bus company. Her Japanese became more and more excited. When she came back in the room, she smiled. They had it. Somehow in my sleep-deprived state after 11 hours on a plane I had made it all the way to Tokyo, and then left it somehow on the bus. Our morning plans changed slightly as we drove to the local business office of the busline, uniformed employees walking to the desk holding my bag as soon as we walked through the door. Everything was still there, as I had expected by this point. “Origoto!” I hugged my bag and nodded my head in a slight bow, when I felt like I should really be on the floor in supplication.
From there we drove back to a train station and M let us three out, she was off to run errands and rest her 8-months pregnant self, and we were to begin our day’s adventures with breakfast in a small bakery.

Walking in, sweet and savory baked goods were arranged on trays, and we grabbed a white tray and tongs as we walked in. A few other customers were milling about the small shop, picking up white bread sandwiches with the crusts neatly removed already before wrapping. I selected a fried piece like a donut, but filled with Japanese curry, and a dessert that looked like a brioche with custard egg on top. This was my favorite; when I bit inside, a rich, amber sweet honey oozed out of the middle. We munched on these treats while we stood on the train platform, taking us away from Oizumi to Harajuku to see the large Meiji shrine and to wander the city streets.

To get to the shrine we had to cross the famous bridge full of fruits, young girls and men dressed outrageously for the hungry lenses of tourists and other photographers. Their outfits were impeccable, but DLJ and I found ourselves desensitized and did not classify their outfits as outrageous. My years as a goth, swirling in clubs fangs and various arrayed fishnets and DLJ’s simple experience of living in San Francisco for years lessened our fascination with the fruits and more interested in all the photographers. Still, clothing itself in Japan is a wonderful thing to watch. Everyone looks stylish. If their clothes are torn and full of holes, each tear and gap is deliberate. And for those with a style of flair, accessories and makeup are well-cared for on every female face, and the men are just as attentive to their appearance. Still, amusements arise, like the large “gangbanger with slightly baggy jeans, a large pendant prominently around his neck of a giant, bejeweled and encrusted “WB” televison network logo.

We stopped in a five-story stored called kiddieland, full of Disney, Hello Kitty and all sorts of crazy stuff like a cute pink bear with claws and a bloodied lower lip, as if he’d just eaten something, or more likely, someone.

A quick trip to a convenience store refreshed us, grape soda for DLJ, milk tea for me, and we went back to the train to switch overselves over to Electric Town, where J and DLJ could marvel in the geekery. Signs, wires, computer parts, video games, robots, and otaku, the sunlight and social skills-deprived Japanese equivalent of the American computer nerd. J was on the hunt for a special light bulb for a burnt out light in his hallway, DLJ was on the eye for a new G-Shock watch to replace his many years old one he no longer wore, and I was just along for the ride. Up and down we trooped, finding a good price on the watch but waiting to see what we find elsewhere first, we can always go back.

J already is an intrinsic part of our adventures, his Japanese has been invaluable to us in terms of getting around easy, reading maps, and just plain finding things. He has local knowledge and imparts it, flavoring our trip with the feel of the everyday, the real life of Japan, along with the sights and sounds we share with all other tourists.

Lunch was in a small downstairs Italian restaurant. The milk tea had filled me, so I only had a melon soda float while the boys had two small flat crust pizzas. Climbing to the surface again, we started to make our way back to the train, after successfully finding J’s bulbs in a large lighting store our third or fourth try. He bought three to ensure never having to hunt like that again for a 13 watt bulb.

At the train we boarded for Ginza, where we spent an hour in a small cafe resting our feet, watching the ads on the giant video screen below a cafe where folks people watched and were watched from those below. M met up with us and we were off to the Imperial Hotel. Along the way in Ginza we stopped at a small model ship store, an amazing paper store filled with handmade papers of all colors, and textures, and the basement of a department store. J loves models and wanted to see what was going on in the small store, filled with tools, slats of wood, and finished boats. In the paper store they chose paper for their baby, paper representing the month he would be born, and looking at the paper for their months as well. We moved on from there to the department store, M said tradition was to buy a gift when meeting parents. They were about to meet mine, as mine are in Tokyo at the same time, exploring a few days before starting a cruise around Asia. Rough life. We went to the basement of the store where all the food was, endless counters of new textures and flavors, and on the weekends the purveyors had samples of all they were selling. M selected a small package of Japanese confections, shaped like elaborate flowers, and we were off again, walking to the hotel several blocks away.

In the lobby, my parents were nowhere to be seen. M talked to the desk and we called the room, nothing. I checked a smaller lobby, nothing. The night before I had called and talked to my father briefly, telling him we would meet them in the lobby at 7:15. At 7:30, the time of the reservation, we were standing alone in an enormous hotel lobby. They hadn’t called. I realized they must have gone to the restaurant already, it was the only explanation. We walked on, around the corner, and waaay down the narrow street I could see Dad. When I had called, he had taken a sleeping pill to get a good night’s sleep to combat jet lag. And he had complete, absolutely, utterly forgotten I had even called. “Now that you mention it,” he said, “the phone was kind of off-kilter on the base. I thought I had just knocked into it.” By the end of dinner he VERY vaguely remembered one part of our conversation. But it all ended well. My parents were traveling with friends from where I grew up in New Jersey, so all eight of us entered Tofuro, the restaurant, and were led to a sliding door where we removed our shoes and put them in cubbies, stepped up to the platform within and walked to each of our pillows around a sunken table. Sake and beer were ordered, food figured out (we had M order for us for the most part, and she chose wonderful things, both “safe” for us foreign devils of a less-adventurous nature as well as fresh fish and other seafood for those wanting more challenge. The door slid shut and we were alone in our own private room.

My parents were delighted at the experience, and I think everyone had a good time. Before we knew it it was quite late, and we stood and filed out, retrieving our shoes and going back out into the warm Tokyo night. J insisted we walk them back to the hotel, so it was there we said our goodbyes. I delivered new earrings for Mom, and we were off again, walking to the train for an hour long ride home to the other side of the city, then walking the last meters through their quiet neighborhood, and then to bed again on the floor, futons on tatami mats, heads on shaped pillows, feet tired from the journey but the mind and body very content.

We are so lucky to be staying with friends. Our trip has already been colored in ways impossible for those traveling and staying in hotels, without the benefit of local language speakers and friends with opinions. Going shopping for a lightbulb may seem banal, but with a quest new doors and experiences are opened up that never would have been otherwise. The inside of a lighting store in Japan isn’t a shrine or temple, but it has its own uniqueness, cast of characters and scents, and never would we have found them without our hosts.

Lost in Translation moment.


At the handmade paper store.


Near electric town. I loved the shapes and the woman on the cel phone is bonus goodness.


Dinner in the private room at Tofuro.

One thought on “konnichiwa

  1. I am so envious of your adventure.

    What do you do with handmade paper?

    Remember to ask about using the japanese style toilets? How??? For women, that is. I just don’t understand how to do it without getting messy.

    I worry that if I had to sit on a pillow around a sunken table, that my legs would go numb. How was that?

    You probably shouldn’t answer these questions until you get home. You need to explore. I’m living through you at the moment. Go! Explore!

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