Somehow – and I mean, somehow – It’s become February. I only have 6 months left on this wonderful island I’ve come to call home. I genuinely love Tokyo so much in all its beauty, but due to many factors (mainly food and the way I’ve been treated), I’m not too sure if I’d ever be able to make this place a permanent home for myself. It’s obviously early days, so I’ll just have to see how I feel come August. In 5 days I’ll be departing to see Hokkaido, then Seoul, and then my own trip across the West of Japan… and that’s just February.
I’ve also FINALLY finished my first semester of exchange at Waseda University! Rather than a semester being 12 weeks like it is at UEA, I had to get through 15. It’s absolutely insane just how much my language abilities have improved in the short amount of time that I’ve been here, without me even realising. I’m nowhere near native level yet, but I’m good enough to navigate by myself with a few awkward moments here and there. Here’s to hoping that by the end of next semester I’ll be able to read this blog post and know that I’ve improved even more.
I suppose something sad about having finished my first semester is that, back when I first arrived, I got through the work knowing that the big pay off would be the spring holidays (30th January – 6th April). The second semester will instead be a countdown, knowing that as soon at it ends I’ll be shipping things home and getting ready to depart back to the UK. It’ll be nice to see what’s changed in person when I get back.
Since I finished all my classes on the 29th, I’ve been spending the last few days relaxing or sorting out stuff for the holidays – for example, collecting my bullet train ticket from Himeji to Hiroshima. In my relaxation time, I’ve managed to pick up doing fun/new things again, for example:
- Having luxury mochi (this particular one was lemon flavoured)
- Trying the new peach coca cola that everyone’s been raving about (it’s delicious, but I only really bought it to try as I don’t really drink fizzy stuff anymore)
- Went bowling (twice). I’m also really awful at bowling, but that’s natural considering the last time I went must’ve been 6 or 7 years ago when the Sutton bowling alley still existed.
Prettiest alley I’ve ever seen
Apart from luxury mochi, I also got to try some authentic home-made stuff. A little mochi making session was held in the common room (Sunday 28th January) for the exchange students and the children who go to the church next door. Being incredibly ill and not wanting to infect the mochi, I decided to not try to smash the rice with the hammers myself. I tried out the end result though – not very pretty, but delicious.
Mochi can be made in a variety of ways, apparently – I know I tried to make my own in Mauritius, but failed and instead transformed the mix into a Turkish-style pastry thing. The way the mochi was made here was by cooking standard short-grain rice and either 1) smashing it several times in the massive pot (I don’t really know the vocabulary…) or 2) popping it into a mochi-making machine, which spins the rice at a high temperature to melt it down to a ball.
On the 29th of January (Monday), I headed to my first theme café. Theme cafés are a huge thing in Japan – for example, a moomin-themed cafe with moomin themed-foods, or a Peter Rabbit themed one. The one I went to is very popular among foreigners in Japan – Alcatraz E.R.. Quoting from inside the café: “This is the prison hospital. You are a patient and also prisoner now.”
So, using the term “café” for this place is kinda farfetched, because it’s more of a bar – you sit inside a prison cage and whack the walls of the cage to get the waitresses to serve your drinks/food. Which all have a grotesque theme to them. I don’t know what they were thinking making this place, because it can’t decide whether it wants to be a prison, a torture chamber, or a medical facility.
I think the best part of the place, other than one of the drinks being served inside the head of a mannequin or my own drink being mixed with a tampon, was the “slap shots”. As we were sitting in our cage wondering why on earth there was a picture of a Native American stuck to the ceiling above us, intense celebration music started playing and a few people gathered near us. One of the people was given a shot, drank it, and then proceeded to get slapped by his friend. I genuinely have no idea why we all wanted to slap each other so much, and why we decided it was more acceptable to do it via ordering a shot of tequila, but I think we ordered 3 or 4 slap shots? (They were also 800 yen each, or £5.20)
I didn’t have any alcohol due to my tonsils still recovering from the flu, but everybody was incredibly drunk. I know at one point Tamsin asked a waitress where the toilet was, and the reply given was: “There’s another foreigner currently throwing up in there.” I don’t know why she specified foreigner, but there’s something hilarious about that.
On Tuesday (30th), I finally got to visit the Shinjuku Gyoen gardens. It costs 200 yen to enter, being national gardens, but it lives up to its reputation of being the most beautiful park in Tokyo. If you couldn’t tell from the photos, Tokyo is still under a cold spell, and the snow that fell last Monday hasn’t actually left yet. I guess that means I was lucky enough to see the gardens in the snow, something incredibly rare as far as I know, and they were truly beautiful. It’ll have a different kind of beauty in the next couple of months when it begins to warm again and the cherry blossoms bloom. I suppose that’s what’s nice about being here for a whole year – I get to see this place not only in the cold, but in the harsh heat of the summer soon to come.
(They weren’t frozen over and were happily swimming)
Many parts of the lakes were frozen completely solid – a few elderly people came to the park to bird watch, and while they were doing that I was picking up heavy rocks trying to crack the ice. To each their own.
I’ve mentioned this before, but there is quite literally nothing else I very much want to see in Tokyo, so it’s good that I’m leaving for a while to check out other parts of Japan. I can be re-find some inspiration while I’m in the bamboo forest of Kyoto, or at the ancient castle of Himeji. That’s what I love about being here in Japan – with this clean slate of a country to explore, I never know what’s coming next.
The super moon of last night (31st)