Friday, our first day completely on our own. Admittedly, I was a little worried about navigating the Tokyo subway system before I came to Japan. It’s complexity and the number of people that move through it are legendary. That said, with it being Japanese, it is incredibly well documented. I’ve lived in Washington DC, New York City, and spend a good deal of time in Boston, so I’m used to dealing with public transit systems. Granted, the Tokyo Metro was nothing to sneeze at, but as I mentioned before, it was INCREDIBLY well documented. Did I mention that the signs were in English as well as Japanese? As I can read a map, it wasn’t too much trouble for me. Also worth noting is the surprise the production staff expressed later when I told them I navigated the subway on my own. Needless to say, I was the navigator for our group.
We went all over Tokyo that day. We went to Ueno shrine, back to Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku. Took a lot of pictures, ate ramen, went to bookstores, manga/anime shops. In Akihabara we went to this shop called Mandarake. I thank God that I didn’t have more money when I went there otherwise I would have spent all of it. I actually didn’t buy too much while I was out there, was on a bit of a budget at the time. However, the next time I make it back it will not be pretty. Believe that.
Mandarake was cool because it was essentially an otaku shop. I don’t know if that’s what they call them over there, but that’s what I’m gonna say about it. They had everything an anime and video game nerd like myself could want. Manga, video games, anime, figures. Lots of figures. There were a couple things I wanted to buy, would have bought had I the money, but it’s probably better I didn’t. Also got to play a test cabinet for Ultra Street Fighter IV. Just talking about it makes me miss it.
That night we went out to Roppongi. My biggest regret on my trip to Japan is that I didn’t go out there sooner. Roppongi has a bit of a reputation as the place where a lot of foreigners in Japan gather, and that is well deserved. Roppongi also has a reputation for other things as well, none of which I’ll repeat here. Look it up. Roppongi was cool though, it was nice to be able to talk in English for a bit, and I met a bunch of cool people. Going back I’m definitely going to have to hit up Ginza. I wanted to this trip, but I got a little nervous because I wasn’t supremely confident in my Japanese. So I stuck to Roppongi my remaining two nights.
Saturday, I spent on my own. Looking back I kind of regret this decision. Joey and Antonio(the German and Italian guys) were really cool dudes and it would have been nice to spend that last day with them. The past couple of weeks had been an incredible emotional whirlwind for me. My grandfather had just passed, and then immediately after that I find out I’m going to Japan. A thing that I have wanted to do for the greater part of a decade. I suppose on that last day I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and kind of process everything that had happened to me and how that would impact my future from there. So I suppose I needed it, but I still feel bad for spurning Joey a bit.
Needless to say I spent most of the day in Akihabara, and the night in Roppongi. I did stop by the Meiji-jingumae, a temple not too far from my hotel. (One of the shrine maidens was nice enough to let me take her picture!) There is this weird fusion of old and new in Japan. In Tokyo at the least. You would be walking through this developed metropolitan area, multi-story building, multi-lane street, and -BAM! Temple right in the middle of it. It’s almost jarring. What’s even more jarring is that it’s not the temple that is out of place, but the buildings. I mean, the temple was there first, right? I really like that aspect of Tokyo, though. That there were this places that were set apart. That even inside this metropolitan behemoth, there were spaces that still held some semblance of…being set apart. Nice economy of space they’ve got going over there.
Sunday was breakfast and then on to the airport. One of the television station staff picked me up from the hotel and took me to the airport. We got there early so we chatted a bit before my flight. Throughout the trip they felt a bit more like handlers, which I suppose they were. However, they were really nice. When I think about it, everyone was. I suppose that’s a difficult thing about Japanese culture. Since there is so much work put into the appearance and maintaining the proper order of things, it’s is hard to tell what a Japanese person is really thinking. At least for me anyway.
Looking back, the trip was over as quickly as it began. Six days was not enough for me to be out there. However I am extremely grateful to TBS, my meetup group, the production staff, Okamura-san, my fellow “tourists”, my family, my friends, and everyone else who facilitated/supported my trip to Japan. It was an amazing, life defining experience for which I am truly grateful. I used to be angry at myself for not having gone to Japan sooner, but how that trip played out was the perfect experience for my first trip to Japan and could not have imagined a better experience.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.