The highs, the lows, the loss of sunglasses. It’s been quite the trip. I’ve blabbed enough about the place, but it’s been fun. Kimi & Daichi saw us off and gave us a nice parting gift. Talked about when I’ll be back & I’m considering a solo return trip for the future & already thinking about what I’ll do. Kimi suggested a bus tour & I’d like to visit the deer of Nara too. Until then, stay groovy Japan. I’ve got a bunch of security checks, baggage junk, a long flight, & a long layover to make it through before getting back to the US. Last meal before departing: A cardinal dog & iced chai latte from Cardinal Cafe. I bought some of the goofier manga after all and fought the urge to grab the 18+ stuff as a gag… yeah.. a gag, that’s it..!
As the trip is winding down we’re taking it a bit easier and reflecting a bit. Whenever I ride the trains and look out of the window, I’m usually thinking about all of the people out there living their lives. Going places, meeting up, doing things, maybe staring at my passing shuttle and thinking about who’s inside & wondering about their life. Or maybe in too much of a hurry to consider things like that because they have their own matters to attention to after all. A lot of conversations I had with my friends are about how things in America are the same as they are in Japan. People are still trying to live as best they can, trying to make sure their kids & families are ok, talking about salaries, working, taxes, retirement, not going out as much as they used to, health, growing older, kids these days, & a number of other mundane topics that aren’t featured in your favorite anime. Between all of the happenings, I would read articles about things going on back home and felt a bit of detachment. I was half a world away physically & emotionally and that can be a good thing when I think about the layers of my life. I live in Detroit, but it’s not always what comes to mind when people conjure images of the city and I’m also privileged enough to be a home owner a bit outside of the city, in a quiet neighborhood that mostly keeps to myself & avoids a lot of things thanks to that. I also have the grander narrative of the African-American in that country which adds another complex layer to it. Even if I’m lucky enough to not have to deal with the brunt of the worse of society, there’s still others that look like me that are dealing with it. But, all of the social issues that are happening, concerns of the day, & other worries didn’t linger in my mind as a tourist. Not that they weren’t still a factor to some extent, but the sense of it all is dulled. I don’t have that feeling of constantly being watched in stores, uneasiness around police, no chance of the eeriness of going down a neighborhood with a lot of Trump/Pence signs on the lawn, no microaggressions, no overzealous acts to prove their down-ness, & no confederate flags. I may be judged totally differently here than I would be elsewhere. Context matters. Some could be thinking (but not saying) that maybe I’m from an African country, I could be a business person, engineer, or in entertainment while abroad, and those separate groups could be looked at in a different way than an American would be. They could simply see me as a non-Japanese foreigner. Nobody’s checking for my AncestryDNA results. Whereas in America, identity doesn’t factor as much in some eyes “black is black”. Sometimes brown may as well be black. Either way, it’s not always the warmest of welcomes even if you’re from there. I just happen to be the kind of black with a passport and in a position where I can see whichever parts of the world that I like. Japan just so happens to be the place that I like. The people are lovely, the cities are nice, & to some extent I feel a bit fewer to simply be than when I’m at home. I feel more sincere and don’t have to have my guard up as much. I can be silly, I can make mistakes, I can fumble through conversations in a blend of terrible Japanese and English. I’m sure if I lived here there would be some problems, but I also feel like I can adapt & blend with this society a bit. Maybe it’s my personality? Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a bit of familiarity? When I was younger, it would’ve been because of anime, toys, and video games that made me want to come to Japan, but now that I’m largely in a different state of mind, I come back to reconnect with those I’m close to, soak in the atmosphere, & escape from my American anxieties. Ok and some anime, toys, and video games...! Again, it’s not perfect here. No society is, but there’s enough good here that keeps me coming back for repeat stays. Ok, now that I’ve rambled & possibly burst a few bubbles about the ‘cool Japan’, ‘Nippon is so wacky!’ myths I can get back to the travel notes:
Spent the day on the bullet train and taking taxi rides
As I always do I’m going to miss things when I get home like the easy access to things with a quick stroll down the street or discovering something new tucked away in an alley, vending machines every few feet, shops everywhere, cute mascots on everything, walking after a tasty meal (ok, I can actually do this one at home), snacks that I can only get here, the atmosphere, fashionable people, etc.
Japanese tv is a special thing.
Ate at a place called Golden Olive Chicken. It was pretty darn good!
Paying for stuff with Suica is pretty convenient.
This is the most walking & outdoor activity that I’ve had in a long time.
For ‘reasons’ we didn’t go to Universal Studios, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing because dealing with the heat and the crowds would’ve been a nightmare. So, instead - we ate hotel breakfast and took in more of the scenery for a bit. Stopped in a pachinko parlor, hit a few more shops like Dotonburi Don Quijote, & found a couple of arcades too. I was kinda disappointed by the arcades this go ‘round to be honest. There were some fighting games, lots of UFO catchers & rhythm games, but that was about it. I saw a couple Puyo Puyo machines, but sadly no shooters in the first couple Game Center’s. We passed by Super Potato, but they weren’t open at the time. Besides, all of the retro games that I want to add to my collection these days are extra expensive PlayStation & Saturn imports. On my last few visits, I would grab a couple of the manga magazines or something silly like that, but there wasn’t anything that caught my eye and there seemed to be more 18+ books than I remember seeing before on the racks. For Melissa’s first bit of travel in years and her first trip overseas in even longer, Japan took a toll on her so we spent the afternoon napping in the hotel until we met up with my friend, Miki for dinner. We had a good time and did even more sightseeing. Melissa can’t get enough melon pan so she grabbed another. We had some taiyaki before that so, we definitely got our fill of street snacks. Vacation is mostly over and we’re checking out tomorrow and will be heading back to Tokyo for a fraction of a day & night then flying home on Sunday. I’m kinda sad to see this all come to an end.
As one of the few American weirdos that actively chooses not to drive. I never bought into that car = freedom idea. I love walking, taxi rides, Uber, trains, buses, & other forms of public transportation and ride sharing. I leave the driving to the experts & I enjoy the ride. It gives me time to absorb the world around me and observe things, maybe chat with the driver or have a chance to zone out before I arrive at my destination. Whenever I get a chance for something like that it feels like I’m getting a guided tour. Since Japan is a more walkable, bike-friendly, and public transportation focused place I like it. I would love it if only I had more time to really learn the train system. Even with stuff like Google & Apple Maps navigating can be tricky. Glad I have friends around to help us out. If I ever have an extended stay (a month or longer) then I’ll get the hang of it. I’ll get better at speaking Japanese too since I’d use it more often. Anyhow, today, we went to Kaiyukan Aquarium. So much to see! So many people! Still even with all the crowd, I loved it. We hit a few shops and wandered around a bit more too. Suffered one tragedy today... the loss of my sunglasses. When I get back to the states I’ll get some new ones if I don’t find some here. I kinda liked ‘em too. Ah well.
We left our temporary home in Kichijoji and headed to the train station. After a quick trip, we were at Tokyo station getting our shinkansen tickets and Osaka-bound. We spent a good chunk of the day traveling and once we were checked in, we dropped off our things, caught our breath, & started exploring. I visited this area a few years back and it was busy, but since it’s Golden Week, it’s extra busy. There’s a wave of people & umbrellas out there. The streets are filled with natives & visitors alike. It’s a very lively scene with shops, food stalls, & everything in between. My wife doesn’t speak any Japanese but, after this afternoon she should understand the shouts of 「いらっじやいませ！」coming from every direction. I kinda love it though since it's a departure from my hometown where the only things open during the nights are fast food joints, strip clubs, club-clubs, corner stores, & things of that nature. During the exploration portion of the day, we found a Round 1 filled with UFO catchers, a shop full of gashapon, a few interesting areas, Daiso, & a duty free shop near Bic Camera. We’ll be heading back to some of them while we’re here for the next few days. There’s still a couple other places we need to hit before we pack up on the 4th & prep for getting back home to see our fur-babies that miss us dearly. Bonus notes: We ate at Sukiya & Melissa ate her first meal ever entirely with chopsticks and she discovered her love of melon pan with ice cream in it.
Today we didn’t have much on the agenda & it was a pretty rainy day so, the wife & I just kicked it around town a bit. Every time I come back to Japan, part of me thinks that I’d like to stay, but visiting & goofing off and actually having a life somewhere are two different things. Not sure if my wife would like it or adjust to living here very well though. Maybe in some alternate timeline a version of myself did leave America & settled down elsewhere. Anyhow, we went back to Original Pancake House since she liked it so much yesterday and from there spent a bunch of time at Yodobashi. I think she had fun since she likes shopping and going to malls & stores back home. Me, not so much but since we’re on vacation - I went along with it. It wasn’t all bad since we got to spend some time together and I did get a few things out of it: a few things from the capsule toy machines, a Tatsu Yamashita CD, & a new t-shirt and a light jacket from GU. Strolled around the neighborhood then kicked it around the hotel room for the rest of the day except when we grabbed a bite to eat at Freshness Burger & she took some snacks back to the room. We need downtime every now & again. It is vacation after all. Tomorrow afternoon is check out and we’ll start the second leg of our trip.
I woke up super-early like an excited kid on Christmas. We went full tourist mode today. Watched a bunch of silly children’s/educational shows, some goofy informercials, & a bit of an Anpan-Man episode before leaving the hotel then had pancakes, visited Ghibli Museum (“Coro no Daisanpo” was the film for the day.), rode paddle boats, ate ramen, dropped into a cat cafe, went record shopping, munched on yakitori, & wrapped the night up in a music bar. It was definitely one I want down on the books.
After a 13-14+ hour flight, I’ve made my way back to Japan with a wife to boot. We’ve really gotta get that teleportation technology figured out, people! On the first night back I enjoyed one of my favorite foods (okonomiyaki) with some of my favorite people.