The Japan Trip, Part 2

Breakfast behind us, we headed back to the car and Okamura-san drove us toward our next destination. Before entering the car, the producers instructed me to ask Okamura-san about a couple of…colorful subjects on the ride over for laughs. (Apparently, it was going to be a late-night show.) I will say judging by the laughs from the staff in the van in front of us, they went over quite well. As this is not a late-night blog, I’ll leave the actual subject matter to those that actually manage to view the program. Again, good luck.

I’m not exactly sure what district of Tokyo we went to next, but by our proximity to the Tokyo Skytree, I assume it was in or near Asakusa. Again, as soon as we headed toward our destination, another group of children followed us. This time, the production assistants did a better job of keeping them back. So no flag-swatting from Okamura-san this time. We stopped at this nice shop, where inside we did calligraphy on large pieces of paper that we made into lanterns. The old school Japanese calligraphy, with the brush and ink. This was actually my first time using a brush to write Japanese characters, but I think I did okay.

Next was the most surprising leg of the trip(more than the still-breathing fish). Okamura-san then took us to a sentou, or bath-house. A Japanese public bath. This was a bit much for me, but again I had resolved myself early that day to roll with whatever came my way. So on I rolled. We later found out that this was the part of the day that the staff was most worried about. There was concern that we wouldn’t go through with it. Actually one of us didn’t. (I think he was a little shy.) The German guy(Joey) and myself decided to forge ahead. In spite of the shock value, looking back the entire experience was rather cool. At the time, I was so simultaneous blown away and embarrassed I was shooting daggers at the camera and director the entire time. I was not pleased.

So we removed our shoes and then our clothes, and put on towels. I had to politely request another towel as the one they had provided was a bit small. As much as these type places are built on ambiance and atmosphere, I have to admit that a little was lost with a dozen people(camera crew, director, translator, assistants, etc…) in there with our nearly-naked selves. They way a sentou works is that there are about a dozen or so floor level faucets in the front of the room. And the actual hot water bath in the back. (And that water is HOT…but more on that later.)  You take some of the hot water from the bath, rinse yourself off, and then enter the bathtub for a moment. You then exit the bathtub sit on these small stools in front of the floor faucets, and wash yourself off properly with soap and water, and rinse. Once clean, you then get into the bath and soak. A bit much for the uninitiated.

So we rinse, and then sit down to wash, the 3 of us in a line. Myself, Joey, and Okamura-san. Between the look on my face, and the general absurdity of the situation, most everyone is fighting back giggles and snickers. I can understand a couple of jokes being thrown around, then the suggestion is made that we should wash each others backs. So we all turn to the right, and I wash Joey’s back, then we all turn to the left and Joey washes my back. Apparently this was the funniest thing ever.

Now that we’re all good and washed, we get into the actual bath. A thing to note about Japanese baths, that water is freaking hot. Like super hot. I think they have perfected the temperature just below scalding human flesh. Immediately when I step into the bath, the hotness of the water is impressed upon me. So of course I start cursing profusely.  “S***! This water is hot!” Repeat about 6 times. The production crew got a pretty good kick out of that one as well. So after I normalize somewhat, I have to admit that the experience was pretty cool. Also, my body felt fantastic after. Our translator remarked that he had never been to a sentou. Actually, looking back on the experiences of that day, I am extremely grateful. A lot of those experiences would have been difficult to do on my own and to do all of that in one day was an amazing experience.

A trope which just about anyone who’s watched a decent amount of anime is familiar with, is what happens after characters(usually women) go to a bath or a hot spring. After exiting the bath area, we return to the changing area, where Okamura-san points out a small refrigerator with various juices and fruity milk drinks. So with our towels still on, we choose a drink(Joey and I both opted for the strawberry milk), place one hand on our hip, and with the other down the drink in (almost) one gulp. I’ve seen a similar scene in about 3 animes I can think of off the top of my head, so even I was laughing at this point. Dried off and on to the next(and last) locale.

The last place we went was a small traditional restaurant, where we made okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish that I would describe as a cross between a pancake and an omelet. At some restaurants, the ingredients are provided and you cook it yourself, which is how the restaurant we visited worked. It is also at this establishment that the relative smallness of locales in Tokyo was again impressed upon me. I banged my head pretty hard on the entryway, which I’m pretty sure they caught on camera. (Ouch.) My pride thoroughly shattered, we entered the restaurant. It was cramped to say the least, but still very nice.

They brought the ingredients for the okonomiyaki(and beer), and Okamura-san proceeded to teach us how to prepare the meal. The tables we sat at had a heated plate(flat griddle, I guess?) in the middle, so all we had to do was mix the ingredients together well and pour it on the plate. Not terribly complicated, but it was still pretty cool. There was a definite charm to it. Of all the things I ate in Japan(admittedly most of it was konbini food), this was definitely my favorite. Okamura-san was still ribbing us through the meal, making sure to give Antonio(the Italian guy) grief for not going into the bath. Comments were made about the speed at which I was drinking the beer. I was pretty thirsty, in my defense.

Once we finished the meal, we were informed that there was one more thing Okamura-san wanted to show us. However, due to it being rainy and overcast in Tokyo that day, we wouldn’t be able to see it. Apparently, there is this phenomenon in Tokyo that only happens in Tokyo twice a year. When the sun sets, it looks like it is going directly into Mount Fuji.  He was visibly distraught at this, but he was kind enough to bring along a picture of it. It was at this point that we presented Okamura-san with souvenirs from our home countries that we had been asked to bring. I gave him a miniature trolley car, because of my proximity to San Francisco, wrapped in the paper I had requested the day before.

We wrapped up the show by giving remarks on our thoughts of the day. It was absolutely a positive experience, through they threw quite a few curveballs at us. As I said before, as the day went on, even with all the jokes I really had to appreciate the opportunities and the experiences from that day.  It would have taken a lot off effort(and money) to replicate the day on my own, so I was(and still am) extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Shooting finished early, so we had a decent amount of time left. We(the four of us foreigners) immediately persuaded our translator to guide us to Akihabara. Akihabara is the anime/manga/video game/tech district in Tokyo. Those that know me know that such a place, for me, might as well be holy ground.  The four of us were all into anime and video games in some regard, and Akihabara was number one on all of our destination lists. At the first opportunity we were going there, and that opportunity had just presented itself.

Akihabara was amazing, a sensory overload. Very cramped as well, but at this point I really didn’t care. Shops with all sorts of miniature models and games, multi-floor game centers, it was all cooler than I had imagined. I’m a real big fan of video game arcades, but you see them less and less in the US these days. I suppose the culture has shifted. However, they are still very much active in Japan, and some of the best are in Akihabara. It goes without saying that every remaining day I spent in Japan I went to Akihabara for some part of the day.

That evening was pretty pedestrian, the four of us ended up walking around Akasaka a bit, but as it turns out there weren’t too many places open at night that district. As I found out later, the place to go late night in Japan is either Ginza or Roppongi, but again, more on that later. The Italian girl was flying out the next day as she had to be be back for school stuff, so we all decided to hang out that night. The remaining three of us were sticking around until Sunday.