Saturday, 8 May 2010

Golden Week - part 1 - Tokyo!

What is Golden Week, I hear you cry? Yes, yes I do. Of course, if you're one of my fellow gaijin in Japan, you will know - but for everyone back home, I shall tell you. Golden Week comes but once a year in Japan... when three national holidays happen to fall on three consecutive days (3rd, 4th and 5th of May) which just so happen to be after the weekend... the 28th is also a national holiday, so we had last Thursday off, worked one day on Friday, and then had 5 days off! Of course, this is a good time to do something interesting like travel or drink a lot.

I had heard that travelling during Golden Week was pure madness, so had decided to stay in Hamamatsu for the festival that happens here every Golden Week. However, on the Thursday, I met Jessica (a fellow ALT) who told me that she and some girls from training were going to Tokyo on Saturday morning. Deciding to be a little bit spontaneous, I decided to go with her to the station to buy a ticket! We would have to take the slow train, which would take nearly 5 hours... but it was half the price of the shinkansen. The night before, I booked a room at the hostel that the girls had booked in at - it cost 4200 for a "luxury bed", which was all they had left.

So, on Saturday morning I took the sloooow train with Jessica to Tokyo. It wasn't so bad - we befriended another ALT who was on his way to Tokyo, and for a while were greeted with beautiful views... of Mount Fuji!! Here are a couple of photos that I took of Fuji-san from the train:

On arrival in Tokyo (after eventually getting to the hostel) I met up with.. .Yoji! I first found Yoji online six years ago, when I was looking for a Japanese penpal. He was looking for English-speaking friends back then... we used to send each other things from our respective countries through the post. He's been my Facebook friend for a long time since, and Saturday was the first time that I got to meet him in person! It was fun - his English was a lot better than he made out it would be ! So we trekked over to Akihabara, or "otaku town" (nerd paradise), home of manga, arcades and technology. My main ambition here was to visit one of the fabled maid cafes... where cute Japanese women in maid outfits serve you.

Well, as soon as we stepped off the train (more or less), we found a ton of girls in various maid-style costumes handing out flyers for their cafes. We ventured in to one, and were seated next to an embarrassed-looking American teenage boy and his dad (rock on!). The food was expensive and blatantly from a microwave, and we were served by the one non-Japanese maid in the whole place! She had long blonde hair and was possibly Eastern European... upon presentation of the food, we were encouraged (nay, forced) to perform a little cutesy song and dance with her - this is apparently what happens in these places!! It was interesting... and apparently this particular cafe had been the ground for a recent Backstreet Boys promotional video (I had no idea those guys were still around, but apparently Backstreet's back.... ohh no!!!)... They don't let you take photos inside without paying another 500 Yen, so here is a picture of a girl outside handing out flyers:

After Akihabara we met up with the girls again and ventured to Shibuya, home of the busiest crossing in the WORLD! So, behold:

No, this wasn't taken at a gig - it's a crossing! Although I wonder how many people actually need to cross the street, and how many people just come and join the hustle for the experience! There's a kind of paradox there... it's the busiest crossing in the world because people hear that it is, and so flock to see it, thus making it busy... yeah!!

Shibuya, like Shinjuku, is what you imagine Tokyo to look like:

We walked around, we had food, it was fun. The next morning I got up super early because I wanted to pack as much into my day as possible. So, firstly I walked about Shinjuku's red light district, trying to find some pussy...cats!!! Tokyo is home to many Cat Cafes, where you literally pay to go and drink coffee in the company of our feline friends (Tokyo is too small and crowded for most people to own pets, so they get their fix like this!!) - and there was supposed to be one hidden away in the red light district (no jokes). Sadly, I couldn't find it, but I did find a couple of prostitutes trying to lure men at 9am... personally, I opted for a bowl of miso soup and a coffee.

I then ventured to Harajuku, hoping to find the mythical cosplay girls who parade around on a Sunday. Sadly, I walked around for a while and didn't find any... I later heard that the government has now outlawed this!? I don't get it... prostitutes at 9am, that's cool, but girls dressed up as anime characters hanging out, no way! One of the many strange contradictions that exist within Japan that we mere foreigners can never hope to truly understand...

After this failure, I hopped onto a train and decided to get off at Ueno and see this famous park (which of course is more of a treat for the eyes during cherry blossom season)... I walked around and ventured into a small flower garden, where I met a random Canadian man named Craig and some of his (adult aged) students! They seemed fun and friendly so I hung out with them for a while. We wandered down to the lake and found SWAN BOATS!!!! So, I went in a swan boats with this Japanese guy I'd just met while the other three chose a rowing boat. Behold - swan boats!

After this, we parted ways and I wondered through the zoo for a while. Well. I saw monkeys, which was good! Otherwise, it was just a zoo, you know... not too exciting. This particular zoo used to boast a giant panda, but it died, so now they don't have much (in fact, they sell a LOT of panda-related paraphernalia outside the zoo, accompanied by a sign saying THIS ZOO HAS NO GIANT PANDA...heh).

So - THEN I went to Asakusa and got swept up in a massive crowd trying to squeeze through two meters (width) of market stalls. At this point I started to feel hot and overwhelmed and tired, and started wishing I was in Hamamatsu!! Yes, homesickness for a place I've lived in just over a month, nice. So I made my way towards the train...

I got off at Shinagawa and decided to wander around outside for a while. Within 3 minutes (after watching some political campaigning going on through a megaphone - I caught the word "new" a lot - "a new Japan!"....) I found a TGI Friday's!.... Oh yes. I was too tired to resist the Western pull any longer... so I had Caribbean food. Heh!! Coconut chicken and prawn skewers with a peanut butter and salsa dip, panna cotta with rum, coconut, mango and strawberry (if you know me, that's pretty much EVERYTHING I love in one meal) and a rum/pineapple/coconut cocktail... good times. The train home took 4 and a half hours, with no iPod or phone (the battery died) so that was fun....!!

Coming soon - Monday-Wednesday of Golden Week!

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