It’s been a long haul from January until now, with lots of work and plenty of late nights at the office (so to speak). Spring break couldn’t have come sooner.
On Saturday morning, Carl, Alicia, and I cozied up in the lounge at Manila Airport, preparing for a week of relaxation and cherry blossoms in Japan. I was looking forward to clean air, a possible chill in the wind, and lots of picturesque strolls along quaint, tree-lined streets. I know Tokyo is more of a bright lights, big city kind of place, but a girl can hope.
We landed in Japan at 4pm, and Alicia expertly navigated us from the airport to our Air BnB, with transfers from the SkyLiner to a subway to Shibuya to another subway to Ohashi. Our adventure also involved a confused journey down four floors into an expansive, subway station grocery store. With our luggage in tow.
On our final subway journey, which was one stop long, I stood crammed against the knees of an old Japanese man, whose eyes lit up when he spotted my Bigfoot luggage tag.
“Oh! Godzilla!” he said excitedly. “You are here for the cherry blossoms? Sakura! Yes!”
Any worry I’d had about not seeing the blossoms in Tokyo dissolved. Our timing was perfect!
When we finally found the steps leading down to our Air BnB, we were thrilled. Meghan and KR, Carl and Alicia’s friends from West Virginia whom I’d met when they visited Manila a while back, were already there. They’d met Bruce, our Air BnB host, whom they described as a chatty Canadian who seemed to love projects.
As we got settled, KR and Meghan pointed to various things around the place and gave us the backstories. We never did get to meet Bruce in person, though his video tutorials on how to take out the trash (it’s more complicated than it sounds) made me feel like I knew him a little.
The five of us headed down the street for gyoza and beers.
“Regular beer? Or Mega?” asked the waitress. Mega. In Japan, on holiday, the only correct answer is MEGA.
The next morning, I Googled breakfast joints, since the baseball game we were attending didn’t begin until 2pm.
“I don’t think Tokyo does the breakfast you’re looking for,” Carl told me.
“It has to!” I protested. The closest I found was miles away, so I settled for a stroll to McDonalds with Meghan and KR to get coffees for everyone.
By noon, en route to the Tokyo Giants stadium, our bellies were grumbling. We resolved to find food before the game in the area around the stadium.
This would’ve been great, had the area not been an amusement park. We literally emerged from the subway to the sounds of a roller coaster hurtling by. The three stories of restaurants and shops were all full of tourists and locals alike. We opted for the Moomin cafe, spotted an empty table, and were suddenly intercepted by a waiter who directed us outside, where a long line of people were queueing to get in.
We found ourselves at the only empty establishment on the premises: a British pub. We ate pasties, pizza, and fish and chips, all in very small, un-American portions, but it was better than nothing.
The baseball game was my first ever in an indoor stadium.
“You’ve never been in an indoor stadium?” Alicia asked incredulously.
“You have?” I replied.
“Yeah–I lived in Minnesota.”
This was exciting to me. I didn’t need to pack sunscreen or a baseball cap. What was a bit less exciting was the game itself. The visiting team, the Eagles, scored in the first inning, and the game continued in slow motion until the bottom of the 7th when the Giants pulled 3 home runs out of nowhere. (Sitting next to Meghan helped me brush up on my baseball jargon.)
Throughout most of the game, Meghan, Alicia, and I watched a baby in front of us, who stared over her dad’s shoulder at us — or, more specifically, at my beer. This was entertaining for a while. Then we got hot dogs with special ketchup-and-mustard packets, which was also exciting.
After the game, Alicia led a cohort across the street to Don Quijote, a Japanese store I can’t quite describe because I’ve seen nothing like it before. Three floors of random, bizarre accessories, 90% of which are so odd it’s hard to tell what to do with them.
Alicia was on the hunt for Gudetama products, and I can’t blame her. Gudetama is Sanrio’s latest character creation. (You’ll be familiar with Sanrio’s other character, Hello Kitty.) But Gudetama is better than Hello Kitty. Gudetama is an egg with no motivation and a little butt. (“Gude-gude” is apparently Japanese for “dead drunk”, and “tama” comes from “tamago”, for egg. Amazing.) Alicia’s trip to Japan included mini-quests for Gudetama, and she did well in the end, stocking up on hand sanitizer, a pop-up Gudetama rubber key chain, birthday cards, the works.
I hate shopping, trinkets, and brightly-lit, crowded stores, so I holed up at the British pub with a beer and a view of the crosswalk. I people-watched and journaled on the back of a napkin until everyone came back out and we went for sushi at a dark bar that offered a sushi roulette: you get a plate of sushi and everyone chooses one, but one is filled with wasabi!
I wasn’t all that hungry and went home early, but I heard later that Carl ended up with the wasabi and took it with all the sweat and dignity the situation deserved.
All things considered, our first 24 hours in Japan were a success.