Japan: Parkour and Bluegrass?

We planned on slowly making our way back to Tokyo after a morning of breakfast and exploring the Yuzawa train station, but alas. All did not go to plan.

We arrived at the station at 10:30 and headed straight for the ticket office.

“The 10:40 train goes straight to Shibuya,” the ticket officer told us. “All other trains go to Tokyo station.”

This was frustrating because, even though we weren’t lugging huge suitcases around, our backpacks were pretty large and heavy and no one likes running around train stations with lots of stuff. On the way there, KR and Carl had finagled my backpack so it was slightly more compact than it had been, but even that was a miracle.

The vote: forego breakfast/train station exploring and catch the train straight to our station? Sure.

We sprinted for the platform – everything is timely in Japan – and nipped through the doors in time to find our seats and get moving. I was hungry. I missed breakfast again. Then, the automated voice on the train began announcing stops and we realized that Shibuya was not among them. We were going to Tokyo in the end.

Frustrated and rushed and hungry, I sat staring at the countryside while Alicia, KR, and Meghan played an energetic game of Rummy behind me. The upshot was that soon, the countryside disappeared and instead I was looking at walls and train stations.

“Guess that’s why people opt for the top deck of these things,” Carl said, nodding at our double-decker train.

At Tokyo station, we all agreed we’d try to find food and then head back to our Air BnB.

“I just want coffee and a donut,” I moaned, as if I hadn’t eaten in days.

“I don’t think you’re gonna find that here,” Carl said, as we wandered the streets aimlessly.

“Should we just go back to Shibuya and get food around there?” Alicia suggested.

Back to the train station.

“If all you want is coffee, there’s a ton of coffee places down here,” KR said, and pointed at Tully’s. It saved me. A sugary donut and a coffee makes a world of difference.

Back at the Air BnB, it was nearly 2pm. We had a few beers and played some games. Alicia and I watched 11 YouTube videos of Gudetama. It was a nice, relaxing start to our evening, which really commenced at 6pm with a steak dinner at a place nearby. And what a dinner it was.

It was a wagyu place, where you cooked your own pieces of meat for about 40 seconds on a grill. One dish that KR and Carl ordered came with a bowl of egg yolk you slathered your meat in and then ate it. It was divine. Round it off with mascarpone ice cream and you have 5 happy campers.

We waddled out into the streets where Alicia suggested we hit an arcade. Meghan and I played a taiko drumming game for a while and then we all took some strange photos in a booth that whitened and airbrushed your face and gave you fuzzy ears.

Then it was time for bowling. This was another adventure in itself, as the bowling alleys encompassed 4 or 5 floors. This involved KR waiting on one level while Alicia waited at the registration in the basement and I rode the elevator up and down trying to find Carl and Meghan to send them to the right floor.

Once it was sorted, though, it was epic. We bowled for what seemed like hours. I forgot how much fun cosmic bowling is, since I haven’t done it in ages. We sauntered back after midnight, after a few trips to 711 to find corndogs. Which we didn’t.

I was supposed to meet Melanie for parkour the next morning, and it wasn’t looking likely at this point. Still, I set my alarm for 7am and somehow, miraculously, I was out the door by 8:45.

Google Maps said the walk to Hanegi Park would be about 45 minutes, and I figured I could get breakfast along the way and enjoy the sights. Of course, the map took me down some narrow backroads where I had to listen hard for cars around tight corners to ensure I didn’t get mowed down.

Still, it was a nice walk, and I found coffee and a donut at the Umegaoka station. I met Melanie and her friend Hanna at the library in the park around 10am, and we walked over to a corner where a yellow cement maze had been built. It was teeming with children, but we spent nearly 3 hours there jumping and creating lines. Other traceurs and traceuses showed up, including a girl named Anna who was pretty awesome and two guys who were also awesome. I felt very amateur, but the longer I stood on the cement walls, the (slightly) braver I felt, and I did some cool jumps toward the end.

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Hanegi Park.

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PARKOUR!

Mel and I walked back through a grocery store, where I ate 2 bananas and another Pocari Sweat. It was after 3 when I arrived at the Air BnB, where everyone else had relaxed since they’d woken up. I decided I needed a chill day like that and resolved that I’d relax the next day.

That night, we had dinner and finally – finally! – I got to see Rocky Top, the hole-in-the-wall bluegrass bar Carl had been talking about for so long. Tucked away on the third floor of a building in an alley, Rocky Top is a small joint cluttered with decorations and whiskey bottles and items you might find in your granddad’s shed. Between sets, an old television in the corner played clips from Loretta Lynn & Friends, recorded on VHS along with old commercials from the ’90s. Talk about a throwback.

Halfway through the second band’s set, a man approached our table and told us it was his 60th birthday. We ended up meeting his wife and learning from others that he is the “number 1 fiddle player in Japan”. He’s headed to West Virginia this summer with his band to open for Ricky Scaggs, so I’m willing to believe he is top notch.

I could listen to bluegrass for days, and by the time we walked out, we were all feeling pretty lively. Despite being in the sun for 3 hours and functioning on minimal sleep, I was feeling pretty fine myself. How can you not after listening to the banjo for 2 hours?

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Rocky Top.

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