Phew! We’ve only been here a few days, but we’ve been jam-packing them with adventures! Follow along for a so-far recap.
DAYS 1-2 (FRIDAY/SATURDAY): TRAVEL
We left home around 03:30 on Friday 5/27 to get to the airport for 04:00, hoping to beat the TSA lines we’ve all been hearing about. While bringing a suitcase downstairs, I scraped my elbow on the metal gate that keeps the cat from going up. Thus blooded by the travel gods, sacrifice made, I knew we’d be in for a safe – if long – journey to Japan. We arrived as planned, only to find that the Air Canada gate doesn’t even open until 05:00. So we sat there yawning for an hour watching airport people walk by, a pastime both amusing and sometimes disturbing.
First flight was in a turbo-prop plane from Bradley International to Toronto. I’d never been on one before; it was cool, but the aircraft was subject to wind in a way larger planes are not, and we could see the ground swaying in front of us during takeoff and landing. Scary! But our pilot (a really pretty girl!) handled it beautifully and the flight went off without a hitch.
In Toronto we had to go through customs despite only being in the country to catch a connecting flight. We waited in a horrendously slow-moving line, under-staffed by surly government workers (yes, there are surly Canadians, don’t let the stereotypes fool you), and made it to our gate only about 10 minutes before boarding. Stressful! Once we got on the plane, we were seated one in front of the other instead of side-by-side, and I ended up next to this college girl, A, with short gray-and-pink hair, one of those loopy elastic “tattoo” chokers that were popular in the ’90s (make it stop), and a penchant for calling herself “ultimate weeaboo trash” like she was proud of it. She was fun to talk to, but I had to smile at her naïveté; she’d tried to learn “as many Japanese words as possible” before coming on this dream trip, but she’d focused on individual vocabulary words and not so much useful phrases like “I don’t speak Japanese; do you speak English?”, “I don’t understand,” “Excuse me,” and “Help.” Also, her pronunciations were atrocious; all that time studying Japanese and she apparently never learned that the language is largely phonetic: you say what you see. She was slurring vowels together like a dyed-in-the-wool American, which I guess isn’t unexpected since she is American, but good luck being understood and not laughed at by native speakers.
On plane #3 (which was delayed for over an hour) we popped some Ambien and slept for most of the trip. The airplane seats that had killed my back on the first two legs of the journey were replaced with something a little more comfy for the trans-Pacific journey, so my aching back got a little relief. It was great to finally land at Narita. We got our money exchanged, picked up local SIM cards for our phones, got tickets for the Keisei Skyliner into Tokyo, and even visited the Traveler’s Factory Airport store, though – shockingly – I didn’t actually buy anything. I wasn’t drawn to any of the airport-exclusive stuff, but I definitely got excited about what I’ll see at the main store when we go!
We rode the Skyliner into the city, and unlike last time we actually understood how the whole assigned seat thing worked (last time, we got kicked out of where we sat – in the right seat numbers, but the wrong car, whoops).
Travel-worn and smelly, we finally reached our room. This time, rather than staying in a hostel surrounded by other international guests, we opted for an Airbnb consisting of a small room with a loft in Kita-Ikebukuro. We have to switch to a local train to get here; this is the kind of neighborhood where people actually live. The room is cute, but clearly a bit old, and definitely an economy unit if you know what I mean. There’s an entryway where you take off your shoes, a step up to a “landing” with a tiny bathroom (the sink and the bath share a swinging faucet), and another step up into the main room which is kitchen, living room, study, and bedroom all in one. There’s also – saving grace – a ladder up to a loft area which can hold 2 extra full-size futons (beds) but which we’re using for storage so that we’re not drowning in our stuff.
There’s nowhere to store anything – no dressers, no closet – so keeping our space tidy is a huge concern for me. Frustratingly, Matt tends to get to a place and, after the sound of a small explosion, his stuff is somehow instantly everywhere, draped on every available surface, creeping into every possible corner. This is compounded by the fact that there’s no drawers or closets, so I definitely need to take deep calming breaths and just keep tidying things.
After we arrived, Matt wanted to go right back out and hit the arcades in Ikebukuro. (What?!) I begged to at least take a shower, because I was grimy and smelly and had 24 hours of air travel on me. Showered, we headed to Sunshine City (the outdoor part) and Matt played some crane games. He won two Pikachus and a KanColle ship girl.
By day’s end my feet were killing me, especially in the heel. My natural center of gravity puts my weight on my heels, so they hurt first. I try to compensate and relieve the pain by walking more on the balls of my feet (like you’re supposed to do when you run) but the unfamiliar weight distribution causes strain in my feet and legs – great for a workout, tough to sustain.
We came back and grabbed dinner (a rice ball and a vitamin C drink for me) from the 7-11 around the corner. I had trouble sleeping even after such a long day of travel (thanks to that Ambien) and only ended up sleeping about 3 hours.
DAY 3 (SUNDAY): AKIHABARA
We were up super early due to jetlag, and ended up in Akihabara two hours before anything actually opened. Oops. It was super quiet so early, though there were a bunch of otaku guys lined up for some kind of LOVE LIVE! item release at one of the SEGA arcades. After grabbing breakfast (a rice ball and fruit-and-vegetable juice for me), we sat on the sidewalk and people-watched until 10:00 when things opened. Once Akihabara came alive, we spent hours in the arcades. I tried for a few things, but mostly my day consisted of standing around waiting for Matt. I forgot how frustrating Akihabara is for me, precisely for that reason. And he gets snippy when I get restless, but annoyed if I want to go off on my own because then he doesn’t know where I am and feels he can’t move freely among the arcades. Oy.
So, another frustrating and exhausting day, punctuated by a delicious lunch at Tendon Tenya, easily our favorite place to eat.
We trudged back to the room, my feet once again protesting after hours of standing, and around dinner time the doorbell rang. I, like an idiot, answered it. Two women stood there, neither one an English speaker. We gathered, through almost an hour of broken conversation through translation apps and a phone call to a friend who “speaks English”, that they were Nichiren Buddhist pseudo-missionaries trying to get us to go to a prayer event and/or to convert to Buddhism – and to at least learn and use the mantra “nam myoho renge kyo” which is supposed to bring luck, happiness, and a better reincarnation. It was an exhausting “conversation” but a hilarious one, both sides trying so earnestly to understand each other, and the laugh I had after they left was just what I needed to dispel the tension of a long day in Akihabara.
We also got SUICA cards (like metro cards) which make train travel SO MUCH EASIER WHY DIDN’T WE DO THIS SOONER OMG.
DAY 4 (MONDAY): SUNSHINE CITY
Yesterday we finally did something I wanted to do and stopped at Tokyu Hands, a famous store here in Tokyo that has a bunch of stuff but STATIONERY. Ahem. Yes, paper goodies were the focus of my trip. I bought lots of fun things but spent under ¥10,000 ($100), so definitely held back given what I could have spent!! On this trip I’m really trying to only buy things I know I’ll actually use, rather than loading up on things that make me say “ooh, pretty!” but that will get home only to sit unused in a closet somewhere.
After that, the Pokémon Center. Fun! Everything was so cute. I ended up dropping another almost ¥10,000. SO CUTE.
We had lunch at Tendon Tenya (yes again, I’m telling you), and grabbed some Starbucks before exploring a little more of the Sunshine City indoor complex. We headed back toward the outdoor main drag after that, and my feet by this point were SCREAMING. So when Matt kept stopping at gachapon machines, I was dying. We ended up splitting up for a while so I wouldn’t have to stand around waiting for him in the arcades (it’s less painful to walk than to stand, because at least while walking the points of pressure are constantly changing). He played more crane games; I hit the beauty store and the UNIQLO. We got back together to go to the ito-ya store in the Ikebukuro station. I didn’t buy much.
We stopped off outside the busy West exit of the Ikebukuro station for dinner at a tiny noodle place (¥300 soba, I love Tokyo, delicious food is so cheap) and dessert at Mister Donut. YUM. It was a nice break for my feet, though not a very long one.
We headed after that to the huge LOFT store on the upper floors of the SEIBU department store attached to the Ikebukuro train station, but I – get this – was in so much pain that I couldn’t focus on the stationery. I picked up one thing, then put it back and told Matt we needed to go, I couldn’t do this. I was somewhere between crying and vomiting at that point, and needed the support of my umbrella (cane) to help me stand. He was annoyed that we’d spent all that time getting there only to go back home, but he relented and we headed back to the room, where I promptly and in my customary dramatic fashion sprawled on the floor and whimpered.
I took a bath, washed some clothes in the tub, and finally did some illustrated journaling of the trip so far, all of which pretty much brought us to bedtime.
This morning I got up around 5:30 and organized the room to try and keep the Matt-splosion contained. Mostly successful so far, but it’ll take constant vigilance to not drown in the toys upon toys he’ll keep bringing home from the arcades, not to mention the slow creep of his worn clothes everywhere.
Anyway. Trying to focus on all the good stuff yet to come – lots of adventures ahead! Hoping I’ll push through the pain soon and come out with better, faster, stronger feet so I don’t have to be a little bitch the whole time we’re here.
Wish me luck!