My sister visited me in March and my first suggestion was to see Tokyo Disneyland. My friend lives in Chiba, and was only 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, my sister and I had to travel from Utsunomiya - about two hours with the Shinkansen. Still, a really nice ride if you're willing to spend the money.
We were both super psyched since neither of us had been to Disneyland before. After speaking with my friend, and doing a little research, we discovered that Disney Sea was the better alternative. You see, there is Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. Disneyland is the more classic theme park and features rides designed for children, while Disney Sea features more adult rides. Obviously, Disney Sea is the better alternative.
The first step in visiting Disneyland is getting there. You need to catch a train to Maihama station, and before you wonder how you'll know which stop is the right one, let me just say that you'll recognize it when you see it. That's exactly what my friend said to me and it was very true. You could see the resort sprawled out beside the station, and more importantly, elaborately decorated with Mickey Mouse. If you don't notice all of that, then you'll definitely notice the throngs of people with Disney merchandise.
Now, if you want to get to Disney Sea, that means taking the Disney train. You purchase a ticket (or use your suica card) like anywhere else. The train is adorned with Mickey's iconic silhouette. (I do indeed have more photos of things like the gate, and the train, but I'm respecting the privacy of my friend and sister.)
Disney Sea is split into 7 sections and each section is clearly delineated with a particular theme.
Lost River Delta
For full details and a cost breakdown, read on!
From far and wide,
I dared to stride,
And never did I know,
True loneliness - my life was bliss
With vending row on row.
What did I need?
A drink maybe,
for weather hot or cold.
If cold, how nice,
how about some ice?
Matcha or choco?
Ice cream is sweet,
But soup to eat
Is lovely in the snow,
And all year round
In town to town,
No matter where you go.
One of the best parts about Japan are the festivals. There are so many festivals happening year round, and most of them are specific to the local community. They are a great opportunity to observe local talent and interesting traditions. There might be a parade, ancient palanquins, or even music and elaborate costumes. One thing is for certain, there will always be delicious food, and lots of people.
The Kikusui Matsuri at Futaarayama was a beautiful collaboration of an intense cacophony of instruments, and pageantry. There were many people dressed in traditional garb, and some prepared for a purification ceremony. I wandered around, lost in a world I've never known. I found the surroundings nearly overwhelming, and deeply satisfying but some people appeared distracted. There were some stares. They don't see a lot of non-Japanese people and I felt like a moving display, open to interpretation and hushed curiosity.
I didn't mind though. I was too busy admiring the intricately decorated horen or letting the ritual sounds thunder through my heart. There was something so spiritual, so wondrous that I couldn't help but become entirely enraptured.
I visited the local shrine often, since that's where all the events seemed to take place. I missed a lot of events actually, due to work conflicts, but I feel lucky to have witnessed a few, like Oshougatsu. The New Year's Day Festival started late December 31, and became unbelievably crowded before midnight. People were out drinking and partying in the square. I couldn't believe it. I could barely maneuver through the crowd - not a normal sight in the small city. They were lined up to visit the shrine and hopefully attain good fortune for the year. What surprised me the most was everyone counted down to midnight in English! It made everything feel so surreal.
Soon after New Year's Day, there was a parade of fire fighters, performers, martial artists, and even children. At the end, a long line of fire trucks drove past slowly. In the meantime, they maintained regular traffic in all the other lanes. I was astonished. A parade of this size and importance was still not enough to shut down part of a main street. Trust the Japanese to put efficiency and politeness at the top of their priorities, wouldn't want to bother people too much with an annual parade.
I visited Ueno Park in April during the finals days of hanami. Most of the sakura (cherry blossom) petals were gone, but it was still beautiful. Ueno has a zoo, a couple national museums and even a "lake". I walked around the park, visited the museum, ate small octopus on a stick and even had the opportunity to get in a swan boat with a friend for funsies. I enjoyed it!
During Golden Week, on Kodomo no Hi, there was a concert in front of the shrine. It featured several different bands, playing varying degrees of rock. Some bands were more metal, and others were more pop. The best part about the concert was the amount of people dressed up in some form of cosplay. I loved seeing such creativity and imagination sprung to life on the people around me. Most of them were college students, taking the opportunity to celebrate. Some were middle aged men simply enjoying the spectacle of wearing a skirt out in public. I ended up buying an album and tweeting about the event - I really did enjoy the music.
I saw so many festivals. One of my favourites featured a small market in a rural town. It barely covered a block, and was dappled with tents covering handmade crafts, and unique novelties. I saw old Astro Boy manga, a gold leaf ashtray from France, jade necklaces, baskets, food vendors and even a booth to make your own pin or keychain. I bought myself a figurine of komainu - which surprised the locals. I also bought some handmade jewellry, and designed a keychain alongside a 5 year old girl. All the meanwhile, I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I listened to elderly singers strain to hit the right pitch over the speakers, while pedestrians stared relentlessly. In fact, as soon as I started browsing, a man with a camera began to follow me. He wanted to know where I was from and if he could take a picture. I told him it was fine and he took a couple. Then some of the vendors wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing there. They were surprised by the presence of a foreigner to their little town (minutes away from a major tourist destination). Everyone had to ask. I thought it was sweet and enjoyed their curiosity. Although, the man with the camera kept following me and taking photos...guess I granted him the right to be my temporary paparazzi. It was sort of funny, and I think of those moments fondly. The sun shining brightly, the wind tousling my hair, and meeting some of the nicest (and most curious) people in Japan.
Compared to larger festivals within the city - the people kept to themselves and seemed too shy to approach me. Sort of an odd juxtaposition. All-in-all, Japanese festivals are entertaining and enriching. They're an excellent chance for anyone to become involved in the culture, and take part in something bigger.
When one thinks of Japan, one might immediately think of fantastical and unbelievable things. What's more fantastical than a robot? Japan is home of the robots. Whether you're thinking of Honda's Asimo - the helpful, soccer playing robot or Softbank's Pepper - a robot capable of recognizing human emotions. Japan is on the frontier of robotics, and perhaps the most beautiful example so far lives in Shinjuku - a ward in Tokyo, Japan. Amidst the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, there is a little underground room where robots and dancers bring magic to life.
Robot Restaurant (ロボットレズトラン) can be found just a short walk from the station. A stroll down a narrow pedestrian filled street alerts you to unusual products and arcades. Then you can't help but notice the very unusually coloured letters written in English and Katakana, "Robot Restaurant". There's a small entrance on the street and there are men in black armed with clipboards.
I was a little nervous at first, I always get a little nervous before a reservation - as though something is about to go horribly wrong. I went up to him and told him the name. We had to wait in line to confirm. Luckily, we were some of the first people for that show.
Waiting in line revealed a lot of tourists. Not surprisingly, some white people. When the time finally came, the velvet rope was moved and we purchased drink tickets. No one deals with any cash inside the restaurant - only tickets. Then we were informed that we had to go across the street to wait in the lounge on the something-th floor. We made a u-turn and walked out, following a staff member leading the way.
We walked into a shiny, mirror covered corridor and waited for our turn on the elevator up. The elevator was small and could only take a couple of people at a time. When it was our turn, we got in with a few other tourists and attempted to take as many people as possible. The elevator buttons wouldn't light up. Some people stepped off - no luck. A few more - there was a moment of uncertainty, but the buttons lit up and we went up to the lounge. The elevator itself was outfitted in decorative convex pexiglass bubbles. So far, things were seeming abstract.
Then we arrived, and oh, did we arrive. I was instantly agape. Everything was a beautiful hot mess of glass, gold and swirls. It was so over the top, it was brilliant. The walls were lined with flatscreens playing odd video footage of robots and warrior women, while the provided chairs nestled between rows of glass tables were giant golden snail shells, capable of turning 360. To top this amazing lounge off (besides the alcohol) was a band of musicians dressed like robots. So great!
We ventured underground to our destination and looked at our tickets. There are 3 rows of seats on either side of the room, and the seats are packed in tight. I felt very lucky to be in the first row and right in the middle. What great seats! Soon enough, the show began. They informed us of all the safety precautions - largely that we couldn't leave our seats until the intermission, and we needed to actively duck out of the way sometimes. I really liked that part. Audience participation at its finest. Look out for your own damn safety!
The lights dimmed to black, and two giant self moving stands of taiko drummers rolled out. As if in a duel, the teams of drummers began beating the skins intensely, filling the air with beautiful vibrations that hummed through my heart.
After the amazing drumming performances, pieces of a giant palanquin maneuvered out. Dancers climbed aboard and the magical contraption unfolded to transform into one giant stage. The dancers were mere inches away, and their beautifully synchronized routine was enthralling. I was completely in love with it all.
What next? Well, they took a moment during intermission to place heavy poles and after everyone returned to their seats, they added chains in front of the audience. We mused that it may have been placed to protect us from harm. Either way, it had the intended affect of creating an atmosphere for a story to unfold. The next thing I knew, they told us of a planet and its citizens at one with nature and in complete harmony...until the robot empire invades and disrupts their peace! So the people of the peaceful planet work together with nature to defeat the robot queen (think Rita Repulsa meets Queen Beryl). It's not long before dinosaurs team up with attractive women to beat back the evil robots.
Oh, and at the end they had a giant snake and spinning robot move around the room to a touching song. Then a pretend robot fight that appeared something akin to Rock 'em, Sock 'em robots. Yep.
After it was finished, I felt completely satisfied and more than that, I wished I had booked it every night. Shinjuku's Robot Restaurant was by far one of the greatest experiences I had in Japan. If I had to recommend for anyone to see just one thing in Tokyo, it would be the Robot Restaurant. No joke! I know it may seem ridiculous but it was unbelievable! Certainly underrated. So if you're in Japan, or if you're planning a trip to Japan - go online and find tickets to the Robot Restaurant. There are a couple of travel places that sell them - so you can purchase them in English. Go, enjoy and savour the experience for the rest of your life.
During my final month in Japan, my friends kept asking, “What will you miss most?” I always struggled to come up with an answer because I wasn’t sure. I had a feeling I’d miss certain things like how polite everyone is, or having my own apartment, but I didn’t really know. I’d answer that I’d miss the food. Which is definitely true. Japanese food should be hailed as some of the most delicious food in the world. I’m not just talking about succulent sashimi or scrumptious sushi – but every single meal I had prepared by Japanese people was amazing. Maybe there’s a part of Japan that has less delicious food, but I wouldn’t believe it. I sort of wish I was exaggerating. It’s a great place for a cook - the grocery store is filled with wonderfully fresh ingredients! I miss frying up tentacles. So good!
While the food was phenomenal, I ended up missing something a little more subtle. I miss the cleanliness. Japan is fucking clean. Yes, an expletive was necessary. The only comparable place is probably Germany, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve just heard tales of its cleanliness. Which I’m sure are true, however Japan as I know it, is the cleanest place in the world. Damn. They sweep, and scrub, and wash everything daily it seems. Sometimes the streets would smell like bleach. I’m not kidding. I watched people prune trees, meticulously sweep sidewalks, and of course always remove shoes indoors. Garbage didn’t seem to exist. You can’t even find garbage cans – no joke. Ask anyone who’s lived there, you’re lucky if a convenience store has one.
Japan is beautifully, magically clean. It’s my sort of paradise. I believe in keeping things clean and organized. Apparently, they’re on board with that. When I returned to my hometown, what immediately sprung to mind was how dirty everything and everyone looked. I felt grossed out actually. I feel sort of bad about my reaction, but it was unexpected for me. I took for granted how absolutely picture-perfect everything is in Japan. People painstakingly keep their clothes tidy, and nothing ever looks out of place. Men and women in suits, children in uniforms, and even people dressed in casual attire appear freshly washed and pressed. In Canada – more specifically my blue collar hometown, people seem to wear just about anything. Ripped sweat pants and a t-shirt dappled with paint are acceptable clothes to wear in public. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I have to say I was a little spoiled. Even farmers in rural Japan didn’t appear out of place.
As an aside, the real reason Japanese people and the community at large appears so immaculate is due to their fear of offending anyone – or for that matter, bothering anyone. Seriously. They can’t even imagine intruding. It would be the worst, most horrible thing (another thing I have in common). Well, apparently my sensibilities became tailored to that environment and when I returned I…turned my nose up at it. I laugh at it now because it seems silly but it’s good to reflect in complete honesty.
So I miss the artfully clean streets of Japan, and the perfectly done up pedestrians – what else do I miss? I miss my apartment – as tiny as it was. It was my place. I ate what I wanted, came and went like I pleased, and on top of everything, had a sense of freedom and independence I’ve never known before. My family was in another country, but they might as well have been on another planet. I had no obligations outside of work. It was different. Now that I’m back home, things have more or less reverted back to the way things were.
What else do I miss? My friends, my students, the local grocery store, the 7-11 with my favourite clerk, washing and hanging clothes (oddly enough)…I miss my life there. My imaginary, brief life on another planet across the ocean. I had another identity, I was a different person. I became a person that enjoyed teaching children and adolescents. I should reiterate, I definitely miss some of my students (and others I'm all too happy it was the last time).
Thinking about how I miss everything now really makes me realize how ignorant I was before. I took the simple things for granted, and assumed I'd just be happy to be home. Which, don't get me wrong, I'm happy - but I can't help lament over the conclusion to a chapter.
I've finally returned to Canada!
One of the oddest feelings after returning from Japan has been finding a few little things that I had left behind but intended to take with me. Nothing too significant, but for some reason I immediately believe that if I had brought the thing with me – perhaps it would have rendered my entire experience more positively, and with that I feel a gripping sadness. An emotion of such proportions that in order for my ego to deal with moving, my mind imagines that it’s nothing but a faded dream. I have literally sat in silence, wondering if I had ever lived in Japan at all. A ridiculous thought that simply bewilders me to no end, but it also feels the most true.
If one day I “wake up” to find that I have been living in an asylum, and somehow had been convinced of my delusions, well I wouldn’t exactly be surprised. I might be mildly startled. “Oh? All a figment of my imagination? Some sort of strange fantasy? You think I would have imagined something better…” That’s when the psychiatrist or what-have-you would explain that when my parents visited, I pretended to be skyping them. “They went along with everything – for your sake,” the psychiatrist might say. I’d simply nod – maybe yawn, “Makes sense”.
I suppose part of the reason I could believe it’s all just a fantastical and mundane story, is that no one acknowledges that it happened. Yes, upon my return they told me I was missed, but when I tried to share some of my experiences – I found an odd thing happen. People would avert their attention and talk about something else. At first it made sense to me – if I was the other person, I might be annoyed or bored by stories of some far off land I’ve never been to – it’s a possibility. Then it just started to feel weirder. I realized that no one really wanted to hear about it. So I’ve kept to myself largely, only casually bringing up a comparison now and then. That’s when people make the obligatory “Hm!” sound, like they just heard something interesting.
Now I know that by confessing these feelings I might appear vain or self centered. One might be inclined to roll their eyes, but from my perspective I travelled to another planet and completely transformed myself. I want to share my traumas, my heartache, my discoveries, and moments of absolute delight! I want to share with the people I love and care about. Yet, I sense a wall every time I broach the topic. I generally try and avoid it altogether for that reason. All of this affirms my odd belief that it was all make believe.
Then I remembered something else. Their lives have changed too. They lived their lives while I was gone. They weren’t put on hold – stuff happened. They saw movies, celebrated events, suffered tragedies…these things happened without me. There was a literal distance between me and everyone back in Canada. In a sense, I asked for a break. “Look, it’s not you, it’s me. I know we’ve had some fun times. And I haven’t stopped loving you…but, I need some time and space. I need to grow as a person. I just think this would be better – for both of us.” Canada then nodded and swallowed hard, wanting to believe it was for the better when all it could taste was the salty tears of abandonment.
I apologize. I let myself get carried away with theatrics.
After a long time of mulling things over, I remembered that there is one place where I may vent inexhaustibly and some people might even listen. A beautiful, wonderful place – you may have heard of it before. The internet. That’s right, “the”. As in, the one and only.
From now on, I'll be updating my website daily with one story or another from my time in Japan! (Maybe other stuff too...) Look forward to it!
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