Friday, May 30, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Ni

Day two in Japan started off with - of course - a delicious, casual, onigiri breakfast. This involved waking up late, washing up in a whirlwind, messaging Evan who we were supposed to meet up with, checking out of our room because we had to move to a different suite, racing out of the hostel, getting Evan's  message that he didn't mind meeting us in Asakusa three minutes after walking out from the hostel where the free wifi is, grabbing the onigiri from the konbini and dashing to the train station to find out that we're on the wrong line, then scrambling up to the JR platform, and then waiting around at Harajuku for Even for half an hour wondering if he'll show up or not or if we were late and then finally Evan appears from the direction of a different station yaaaay!

So yeah, a very casual breakfast.

The only people waiting here were girls waiting for their girlfriends and guys waiting for their girlfriends.


We sped through Harajuku, which is an area more for women's fashion and has nothing much that would interest guys (except maybe the girls shopping there). This area, Takeshita Street, is full of African touts, and the first rule of Takeshita Street is that you don't talk about Takeshita Street. Also, you don't talk to the touts, because THEY LIE.

We walked up and down in the mid-morning sun, before settling down at a fusion pasta place for lunch. The great thing about western food in Japan is that any western cuisine is still Japanese enough so that you feel like you're not wasting your time eating western food in Japan. We had these really good chorizo sausage spaghetti dishes and free flow from the Drink Bar (non-alcoholic).

It's a good thing Evan wasn't wearing a tie.

And here's when Evan said the most hilarious thing I've heard in a few weeks. He was telling us about how he's couchsurfing these few days in Tokyo before going to Nagoya for his language programme. He told us that that night, he would be staying with this gay dude, and he'd be bringing Evan out to a concert, and to a public bath. So I tell him about the time Xi Min and I were staying in this capsule hotel, which are more for middle-aged businessmen and elderly gentlemen, so it was very awkward for us to sit in the public bath with a bunch of naked old men. So Evan replies, very innocently, "But they can hold their own, you know?" Xi Min and I pause for a beat, and I say, "You have terrible phrasing, Evan," before we both burst into laughter. "Yeah sure, they can hold their own; but they better not be holding anyone else's..."

After lunch, we turn down the Orchard Road-esque street of Omotesando, lined with flagship stores of expensive foreign fashion brands. The street is also known for its architectural diversity; there's this stretch mall called Omotesando Hills which is apparently one-quarter the length of the street, while we passed by this huge Hugo Boss building which looked like a giant rook.


Japan is famous for beautiful everything, and I thought this was a water feature until it turned out to be a drain.

Never has raw sewage looked so potable.

We sidetracked down a road because a tout was holding up a sign for Awesome Store. We broke the first rule, but I mean, c'mon, Awesome Store!


Turns out it was just a place selling bowls and kitchen knick-knacks, like an upmarket hipster Daiso-Ikea hybrid. It would have been awesome if we were middle-age Japanese housewives, but we weren't, so it wasn't.

A wall of sweet aroma stopped us in our tracks, and detoured us into this candy shop where they made that cross-sectional sweets thing; you know the type. Anyway we hung around to watch them make some of the sweets; there was this huge lump of molasses on the slab and the worker was just constantly rolling it; I'm guessing the counter-top must have been heated, to keep the molasses soft and malleable. Then he twisted one of the ends and pulled; and then the other worker just kept pulling and pulling and pulling...

"One giant squid tentacle, coming right up!"

She sliced them off with what looked to me like a paint scraper, and then set them on another section of counter-top to cool and harden. Then they line them up on metal blocks and chisel each piece off like a sweet-making machine gun.

They didn't allow video, but if you take pictures fast enough...

It's early summer now in Japan, so it's about as hot as Singapore is, but way less humid. But the Japanese are stickler for appropriate clothing. That's why we were amazed to see so many businessmen walking around in the tepid heat in full office suits and ties. Sure, Xi Min and I felt extremely under-dressed in our t-shirts and khaki shorts, but neither of us would be willing to slow-roast in a jacket in this heat, and we're from the goddam tropics.

"Pah, kids these days. In my day we wore thermals in summer, and we liked it!"

So we decided to bring Evan to Yoyogi Park, which I've been to before. We're facing Meiji Shrine, and we decided, "I think it's this way!" and turned right. We're walking down this tree-lined road, telling ourselves that "Yoyogi Park is coming up soon!" and "We must be almost there!" and "Hey Xim, I don't remember walking this far to Yoyogi Park last time..."

We met a security guard who is directing traffic at one of the entrances to Meiji Shrine, and he happily told us to keep going, it would be just ahead. Twenty minutes later, we talked to a lady outside the Treasures Museum who tells us that we've made a big round around the shrine, and if we keep walking we'll end up back at the entrance to Yoyogi Park.

I'll keep on walking / Yeah I'll keep on walking  / Till I find that old love, or that old love comes to find me

So we kept on walking, and finally found Yoyogi Park. It's emptier, this being a weekday, but it's nice and quiet and peaceful. There was a guy playing a saxophone, and a trombonist, and an African-American blasting some hip-hop, but other than that, peace and quiet. I spotted this European-looking lady in a Victorian dress and her skinny dog (from what I can tell from Google images, is a saluki) getting interviewed by a couple of reporters.

Honestly, it could just be a tall dachshund.

When we left, we headed out through the main entrance, which I remember distinctly last time because of all the buskers; and we find out that it was just exactly to the left of where we decided to turn right earlier. Taking the road less travelled might be fun, but it's also exhausting.

-spit-take- "We're HOW lost?!"

Evan had to head out to meet his couchsurfing host, so we said goodbye at Akihabara, where Xi Min and I stepped out for a bit to let him do some scouting. I also wanted to walk around a bit, see what was new, and what I still recognised. It was two years since I had been here, and wanted to see if anything had changed. Apart from the advertisements for specific anime, not much had changed, really. It was nice to see so much anime stuff again, like meeting an old friend.

An old, otaku, hikkikomori friend.

We had an early dinner and headed back to the hostel early. When we arrived we found out that our third roommate had already arrived; he introduced himself as Steve, and he told us he was British but living in Thailand. I asked him what he did, and he said he was a video game music composer. I was very intrigued, and asked him what music he did; he mentioned some old classics like Donkey Kong 64, but he also mentioned that he did the music for the X-Box avatar system. Like, wow! I mean, if you do music for a game you're famous to just the audience of the game, but this guy did music for the entire platform itself. I asked him if he felt a bit of pride every time one of his friends started up an X-Box, and he said he did. So when he left the room to make some calls, I surreptitiously went to  Google his name, and holy crap, he exists! So Steve, if you're ever reading this, hello from the guy you met for one night in a small hostel in Asakusabashi, and I hope you manage to find a place to stay for the next six months!

I also tried to take a bath tonight; the hostel had a single bath so if you wanted to use it you had to run for it. Since it was so early, I thought I'd check it out. It was this tiny thing which barely fit me even when I sat in it cross-legged. And since I couldn't be bothered to wait for the thing to fill up, I sat there in what was basically a glorified, lukewarm puddle for five minutes before deciding that it was a stupid endeavor and gave up.

I took a stroll out to the konbini that night, because I was feeling peckish. It's wonderful walking the streets at night; it's a lot more peaceful and cooler as well. There's a maze of small back alleys for every major block of streets, and I was half tempted to try finding my way though them but I was worried that I would get lost and fail to get back into the hostel (the door had a code and I think they change it everyday; I had the previous day's code). I hope my homestay family has a nice maze of streets I can get lost in, one of these nights.

Snakes on a plane, meet houses under the bridge.

No, not you, Arakawa.

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