A foreword; I spend a lot of my time making extreme preparations, covering every possibility of an event in my mind, and then when the thing that I was preparing for comes around I end up dropping all of those preparations and just going with the flow. I’m letting the universe decide things for me in Japan. I stopped using (most) social media because I wanted to dedicate my mind toward being in the present moment, to observing the world around me through my own eyes. And honestly? It’s worked. I don’t feel anxious about everything anymore. I don’t feel tied to my phone anymore. I’m loving leaving my building in the morning, taking a deep breath, and just walking.
And that’s how I’ve been making memories.
He loved getting petted by tourists
Shibuya is absolutely INSANE. It’s bustling and all over the place in how amazingly bright and tall it is. The very first thing I wanted to see was the infamous ハチ公, hachikou, statue, located just outside of Shibuya station. (Hachiko’s story – it will make you cry.) I expected to see a big crowd around the statue as it’s very famous, but I didn’t expect there to be a little kitten with a pink ribbon tied around it’s neck, taking a nap on the warmth of the statue. THAT was the loveliest surprise I could’ve had on my visit.
Shibuya was everything I expected it to be (minus far less tourists than I would’ve thought… I don’t even want to imagine how lacking 外国人 are in other cities). The famous crossing was filled with people, each building had its own amazing attraction to offer, and the department store, Shibuya 109, was totally packed with a whole bunch of different clothing stores and beauty brands.
I’ve heard great things about Japanese makeup, so I picked myself up a powder from Etude House. I don’t even want to say how much it was, but I feel like because these are my first few days in Japan I’m allowed to splash out a little before I get used to life here (right…?)
I had my first MEGA ドンキ experience (Mega Donki, also known as ドン・キホーテ or Don Quijote). I feel like it’s a good manifestation of the Japan I’ve experienced so far in the form of a shop – as in, it’s so confused as to what it wants to be. Halloween sweets and costumes as soon as you walk in. Books on another floor. Facemasks and cat food the next…
And of course, as you’d expect in any megastore, claw machine games????
I also experienced a Daiso, which is essentially Japan’s version of a 99p shop. I bought a mug and a plate for when I actually begin cooking for myself… (Correction: as of 14/09, I’ve cooked one meal. Achievement.)
Lunchtime came around, and I discovered the most amazing little show of Japan’s love of technology. 魚べい, or Oubei. You’re given a seat number, you order through a touchscreen, and the food flies to you in front of your eyes on top of a little silver shelf thing. Now THAT is fast, cheap food. (Like, SERIOUSLY, fast and cheap food. I spent 600 yen on a meal that included dessert. That’s like £5.)
I didn’t see much of Harajuku. But what I did see… was KIDDY LAND. Around 8 floors of uncensored cuteness, soft toys, and merch of cartoon characters both Japanese and foreign. Ghibli, Hello Kitty, Gudetama, Snoopy, Moomins, Pusheen, etc. I had absolutely no money and I couldn’t justify spending £200 on a massive huggable Totoro, but I did receive a cute hand towel for free by filling out a questionnaire about why I’m in Japan.
(Culture tip; in Japan, it’s uncommon to find paper towels in bathrooms. People carry around hand towels instead.)
Maybe in a few months time when I’m not over my head with trying to buy everything at once, I’ll go back and buy something big and cute. In any case, Harajuku is definitely going to be revisited, as Kiddy Land was the only place I really visited.
In the evening, I decided to let the universe take me wherever it wanted me to be as I walked around campus in the Waseda area. It decided I needed to see 穴八幡具, Anahachimangu, the shrine just next to campus. Stumbling upon it in the quiet of the night was an absolute blessing in itself. How can a city that holds ones of the busiest crossings in the world, that has such an obsession with technological advancement, also hold such a traditional kind of beauty?
Imagine a department store filled with 9 floors of just this
I think I learnt everything that I needed to about Akihabara as soon as came out of the station – people dressed as Super Mario characters in Mario Karts raced past in front of me on the road. Akihabara is, simply put, the obsession that Japan has with anime, manga, gaming, etc. but intensified 1000 times. It was so incredibly bizarre that I found myself going into basically every department store in sight and just finding myself in awe of all the figurines and DVDs (and the MASSIVE price tags on everything…)
Pachinko parlours, AKA Cute slot machine gambling parlours, were at every corner, filled with businessmen. Women dressed in very fantasy-esque outfits handed out flyers to various events. We found ourselves hungry at some point, and I stumbled upon my first actual use of the word ‘vegan’ on a menu. The place this vegan ramen was being sold? A maid café.
A maid café is, simply put, just a restaurant – but the waitresses wear Japanese-ified maid outfits and try to act as cute and aloof as possible for customers. I was intending to go to a maid café anyway at some point because this is Japan and you have to have the experience, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be one of the first days I arrived.
(blessed) tofu meat and (blessed) melon soda
We had to wear bunny ears. We couldn’t just get food – we had to choose a package that involved eating, drinking, and photos with one of the waitresses. They kept blessing the food and drink (“I’m going to say a little spell to make your food super delicious.”). We watched an amazing live performance before we realised there was an insane table charge. We were given our own pair of bunny ears to take home and we left laughing our heads off, even though we were a few thousand yen shorter.
The food was delicious, and very vegan, and it was definitely an experience. But I mean… personally, I wouldn’t go again.
The day came to an end at a beautiful park in Akihabara called 上野恩賜, Ueno Onshi. Again, an example of how paradoxical Japan is – how is it even possible that in less than 5 minutes you can go from a metropolis to massive beautiful greenery, turtles, a massive lake, and another shrine?
I already know that I’m not going to stop being surprised while I’m here. Every day brings with it absolute joy, mystery, and love for this strange island on the other side of the world.
P.S. A chain called HUB British Pub exists in Japan. Yes, it’s styled to look like a typical pub. One of the cocktails on the menu is a combination of Baileys and Matcha.