I’ve luckily got enough time to be writing a post like this because there’s actually a typhoon going on outside (welcome to Japan), and the nearest Onsen (hot spring) is 30 minutes away. I’m more than happy to stay in the warmth of my dorm, blog a little, and catch up on scrapbooking all the things I’ve piled into one corner of my room.
The first few days when I arrived were absolutely jam packed, but I feel like now I’ve definitely settled into Tokyo a little more. Obviously there’s a thousand more things to explore, and I haven’t been to the imperial palace gardens yet, but the weird you-have-to-do-as-much-as-possible-time-is-running-out feeling has started to fade and the realisation that this isn’t just some holiday has finally arrived.
Today is my tenth day here in Japan, but I already feel like I’ve been settled for a month. The weirdest thing is that I don’t even feel out of place. I suppose I was told a lot that I’d stick out like a sore thumb, but in terms of treatment I’m pretty sure there’s nothing special going on with the way most people here interact with me, and for the most part I’m treated the exact same way that I am in England. That’s exactly what I was hoping for and I’m just so happy that that’s the way it is.
(Not including small children who very much like to stare, and a very special mention to the baby who kept trying to grab my hair on the train.)
Monday – Thursday
11th – 14th September
I finally ended up seeing Waseda campus on Monday! Which is massive, beautiful (how many times have I used that word so far?), filled with greenery & everything I was hoping it would be. UEA, my home university, is actually very small, so coming here and seeing so many people bustling around is a really pleasant and welcome change to the status quo.
I could’ve ordered vegetables to cook but I didn’t fancy meat juice getting on them
It was a very calm day – I went to Haneda airport in the morning (I was actually sent to the wrong terminal [oops] but luckily they offer a free bus service to the other one), then I checked out campus and finally finished the day with dinner at a yakiniku (fried meat) restaurant. Thankfully they had a few vegetarian options (the sesame noodles were fantastic), and watching everyone cook their own meat on the little grill in the middle of the table was actually pretty amazing.
(I’m unfortunately taking multivitamins at the moment because I’m pretty sure I’m not getting the nutrients I need… hopefully I’ll know soon where I can shop for groceries on the cheap and properly understand how to maintain my lifestyle here. Seriously, grapes are like £7 here.)
The beginning of this week, actually, I spent a lot of time on campus as we had our orientation on Tuesday. It lasted 5 hours and mainly involved speakers just repeating all the written information they’d given us… not that it wasn’t all insanely useful, but I would’ve liked more than a 15 minute lunch break especially when searching for food here that I can actually eat is a bit difficult. That evening, I returned to Shibuya and went to another branch of that super-high-tech sliding plate place, which remained delicious and surprising, even if I had to scrape the butter off my fried aubergines which really had no reason to be there.
Shibuya at night is a completely different story. I wrote about my first time going to Shibuya and how there were less tourists than I thought there’d be, but I guess I was completely wrong. I just went at a weird time, maybe, because this version of Shibuya was not only full of tourists but just people in general.
Wednesday morning involved going to Shinjuku city office to sign up for health insurance and to get my address registered (standard boring immigration stuff), but the real star of the day was going to my first fully vegan restaurant in Japan!!
Japan has a habit of putting guacamole on ‘western’ things, like hot dogs. I’m not complaining
In Tokyo, there is a vegan chain called AIN SOPH., and they have four restaurants all relatively near me. I visited AIN SOPH.Journey , which is located near the city office in Shinjuku (next to another vegan burger place which I’ll definitely visit in the future). EVERYTHING is vegan in AIN SOPH., including desserts, and it honestly made me so happy!! I tried the cheese burger (トマトなしで – I’m working on enjoying raw tomatoes, but I honestly have never been able to stand them) and it was unbelievably delicious. My mistake was leaving without asking where I could purchase vegan cheese out in Tokyo or meat substitute products in general, but I’m sure I’ll discover them myself in due time.
If you’re vegan heading to Tokyo, DEFINITELY check out AIN SOPH.. Unfortunately, they’re not coeliac friendly as they use wheat in their meat, cheese and sauce substitutes, but if you’re lucky enough to not have that sensitivity I highly recommend them.
Almost like a painting
Wednesday night was karaoke in Golden Gai, Shinjuku. Golden Gai is a famous road full of Izakayas (little bars that serve snacks), and we happened to find a bar that offers karaoke too. Of course, we all took turns singing our lungs out to Madonna’s Like A Prayer. What wasn’t too fun was drinking enough to make Thursday a write off, but I feel like it wouldn’t have been right if I didn’t go a bit overboard on my first proper night out in my new city.
The good thing about Thursday being a write off though was that I managed to cook my very first meal in Japan! Soba noodles, fried with aubergines and Maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms, in a bit of soy and sesame sauce topped with bamboo shoots. I mean, the presentation wasn’t fantastic, and I thought the shoots were pre-pickled (they weren’t and I feel they detracted from the dish a little), but either way as my first attempt at cooking a meal in Japan it was fantastic. (I also just found out the sesame sauce I’ve been using has egg yolk in it, so sadly it wasn’t vegan…)
Friday – Sunday
15th – 17th September
Friday marked the resumption of the jam-packed day, beginning with a visit to 池袋, Ikebukuro. To be honest, I didn’t really know too much about Ikebukuro as a ward, but I knew it held a Pokémon centre, an aquarium, and a very tall building full of anime/gaming goods, the likes of which exist extensively in Akihabara.
One thing I definitely didn’t know was that I’d actually end up finding the love of my life in Ikebukuro – this fat, soft Shiba Inu toy.
I’m returning for the fat brown Shiba, because my pillow is a bit uncomfortable and also I actually can’t stay away from adorable things. And ordering him online adds another 500 yen to his price. I don’t care how difficult it’ll be to put him in my suitcase.
Lunch involved going to CoCo Ichibanya, which is Japan’s largest curry chain, and they actually have a totally vegan curry in their bigger shops!! The more I’m here, the more places I’m discovering that I can eat inexpensively at.
Finally, in the evening, I headed to Tokyo Skytree. It’s the tallest tower in the world – I can see it from my flat even though its around 40 minutes away. And going up there at night? The view, looking into the distance with all the lights of Tokyo in front of my eyes…
All I could really think of was that I’ve got so much to explore and only 10 and a half months to do it as a student.
(Also, of course there’s another Pokémon Centre in Tokyo Skytree. I didn’t actually mean to go to two in one day, but that’s Tokyo for you. And just as a reminder that in the beauty of Tokyo there is also a lot of craziness, people in Mario Karts raced past again as soon as we left the building.)
Ikebukuro pikachu is tamer
Skytree pikachu is more intense
Saturday we went to 下北沢, Shimokitazawa, a trendy section of the 世田谷, Setagaya, ward. It was filled with many shops that sell second-hand clothing and retro goods and STUNNING earrings, but I had to stop myself from buying a pair fashioned to look like chocolate-covered pretzels as I really needed to eat lunch that day. It’s tough being a student here.
Also, Purikura (a kind of photo booth popular with girls) is genuinely very scary in how much it morphs your face to fit the Japanese beauty standard (big eyes, triangle jaw, tiny nose, small lips, pale skin). Imagine a Snapchat filter but intensified 5000 times. Obviously, we had a bit too much fun with it – also, guess which one was taken when we didn’t actually know it was on a timer. (Hint: It’s not the bottom right)
Shimokitazawa could be described as hipster Tokyo
Tonight, the plan is to stay in and have a dinner party with a film, and just after I finish writing this I’m going to go explore more shops in my area (fingers crossed I don’t get swept away by the typhoon). I can’t decide whether or not I love the days being more packed or more relaxed.
As long as we keep discovering something new every day and saying YES to opportunities, I think everything will be just fine.