The past month’s adventures: rich, beautiful, and totemo isogashii for blogging!

Wow… I really fell off the boat, didn’t I?

I could bore you all with a wordy explanation of just how isogashii (busy!) I have been over the past month and a half, but instead please allow me to:

1. Apologize. Truly, I hoped this blog could serve as an active account of my time here in Tokyo, both to share with my friends and family back home, and to provide insight to anyone curious about Japan, but alas… I consistently let it fall to the bottom of my to-do list, behind adventures, school, work, and general life planning. To my family with whom I do not often get to speak, especially those who are not on Facebook (really, I’m behind on that, too), but also to my few dedicated readers: I am sorry.

2. Show you what I have been up to. Since¬†the content in my last post…

Rocking a Godzilla-esque rental gear ensemble, I conquered the Hakuba bunny slopes in Japan’s beautiful Nagano region!

My friend Junko was such an awesome bunny slope buddy!

My friend Junko was such an awesome bunny slope buddy!

There was SO MUCH SNOW - that's our rental house hiding behind us! - that even the Shinkansen stopped running!

There was SO MUCH SNOW – that’s our rental house hiding behind us! – that even the Shinkansen stopped running!

Truly, the mountains here are stunningly beautiful, and although famous - so many Australians and other foreigners came all the way to Hakuba to ski - were so delightfully uncrowded.

Truly, the mountains here are stunningly beautiful, covered in powder, and although famous – so many Australians and other foreigners came all the way to Hakuba to ski – were so delightfully uncrowded.

A sake sommelier came to my school and treated the group to an exquisite sake tasting!

The sommelier is in the back, to my right. What a happy day :)

The sommelier is in the back, to my right. What a happy day ūüôā

Our Japanese language professor took us on a field trip to the beautiful area around Mt. Oyama, a historical pilgrimage for monks. 

Oyama is famous for tops, handmade by artisans on the mountain.

Oyama is famous for tops, handmade by artisans on the mountain.

We took the cable car up the mountain...

We took the cable car up the mountain…

...to visit this beautiful temple situated at the top. There, we received fortunes, which our sensei was kind enough as to translate for us. Mine had a beautiful haiku about the plum blossoms signifying that the harsh winter was over... this was actually meaningful for me, as last fall and winter brought some stress and hardship in my life, and this semester has been an amazing series of adventures!

…to visit this beautiful temple situated at the top. There, we received fortunes, which our sensei was kind enough as to translate for us. Mine had a beautiful haiku about the plum blossoms signifying that the harsh winter was over… this was actually meaningful for me, as last fall and winter brought some stress and hardship in my life, and this semester has been an amazing series of adventures!

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We then enjoyed a seven-course tofu kaseiki meal on the historical “tofu road.” Tofu is the food of choice in this area because, for hundreds of years, vegetarian Buddhist monks have trekked to sacred Mt. Oyama and enjoyed food and rest at the ryokans along the road.

Our wonderful group with Takano-sensei! I miss having Japanese class.

Our wonderful group with Takano-sensei! I miss having Japanese class.

Bassy-san and I enjoyed an adventure-filled “honeymoon” in Okinawa!¬†

Shuri castle! (Well, the reconstructed version, at least, as the real castle was annihilated in the Battle of Okinawa... still very cool to visit.)

Shuri castle! (Well, the reconstructed version, at least, as the real castle was annihilated in the Battle of Okinawa… still very cool to visit.)

Having tea and cookies inside the castle. Tasty fun for just 300 yen!

Having tea and cookies inside the castle. Tasty fun for just 300 yen!

I love love LOVE orchids, and I was in orchid-heaven in Okinawa.

I love love LOVE orchids, and I was in orchid-heaven in Okinawa.

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The Okinawa Churaumi has WHALE SHARKS!

The Okinawa Churaumi has WHALE SHARKS!

Manatees are my favorite animal, and I very much appreciate Bassy-san's patience with the manatee room at the aquarium! I also purchased a little manatee plushie, and he will be joining me for many adventures to come.

Manatees are my favorite animal, and I very much appreciate Bassy-san’s patience with the manatee room at the aquarium! I also purchased a little manatee plushie, and he will be joining me for many adventures to come.

We drove in a pineapple car at the Nago Pineapple Park, a trippy, bizarre, hilarious, DELICIOUS experience.

We drove in a pineapple car at the Nago Pineapple Park, a trippy, bizarre, hilarious, DELICIOUS experience.

My soul got some soothing and I got in some snorkeling at Miibaru, a local's beach.

My soul got some soothing and I got in some snorkeling at Miibaru, a local’s beach.

Pineapple wine on our last day... Okitai is all about it.

Pineapple wine on our last day… Okitai is all about it.

I have SO much fun with this girl! Other than the $15/night lodging (which was actually super convenient and great in its own way), my "real" honeymoon will someday have much to compete with!

I have SO much fun with this girl! Other than the $15/night lodging (which was actually super convenient and great in its own way), my “real” honeymoon will someday have much to compete with!

My man, Boyd, came to Japan for my spring break, and we had some sweet adventures!

His visit made for a perfect excuse to return to the Ghibli museum... such a happy, magical place.

His visit made for a perfect excuse to return to the Ghibli museum… such a happy, magical place.

We¬†took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, and did some exploring… IMG_4139 IMG_4206 IMG_4160 …stayed in a Buddhist temple…

Our digs at lovely Chishaku-in were very lovely, comfortable, and (save the TV) pretty authentic-feeling.  We were kind of amused by the 10pm curfew...

Our digs at lovely Chishaku-in were very lovely, comfortable, and (save the TV) pretty authentic-feeling. We were kind of amused by the 10pm curfew…

...but it actually made sense because we were woken at 6am to watch the monks' morning prayer ceremony. Having been in Japan for a while, I have visited many temples now, but to see the monks chant and actively perform ceremonies (one of which involved a lot of fire!) was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. I could not take any photographs during, unfortunately, so here is an early morning shot of one of the beautiful temple structures.

…but it actually made sense because we were woken at 6am to watch the monks’ morning prayer ceremony. Having been in Japan for a while, I have visited many temples now, but to see the monks chant and actively perform ceremonies (one of which involved a lot of fire!) was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. I could not take any photographs during, unfortunately, so here is an early morning shot of one of the beautiful temple structures.

…and spent a day exploring with two amazing friends!

Dawson is one of my oldest, best friends, and I am still so thrilled that he and his SO, Johnny, came to Japan for two weeks! Boyd and I met up with them in Kyoto and spent a full, happy day of sightseeing with them.

Dawson is one of my oldest, best friends, and I am still so thrilled that he and his SO, Johnny, came to Japan for two weeks! Boyd and I met up with them in Kyoto and spent a full, happy day of sightseeing with them.

We explored the Nijo Castle compound…IMG_4286 IMG_4338 IMG_4354

I have so many pictures of Boyd taking pictures :)

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…worked me through my fear of monkeys at the Arashiyama Monkey Park…

It's an amazing view of Kyoto, too.

It’s an amazing view of Kyoto, too.

My kind of "animal attraction"... put the HUMANS inside the cage!

My kind of “animal attraction”… put the HUMANS inside the cage!

Guh, I actually really enjoyed feeding these greedy little buddies.

Guh, I actually really enjoyed feeding these chubby little buddies.

One of my favorite photos, ever.

My man and a baby monkey: one of my favorite photos, ever.

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Macaque monkeys – these guys – are cute, but they’ll attack if you prolong eye contact with them. Admittedly, I’m still a little afraid of them…

…and explored the famous Inari shrine with its many Tori gates!

Inari, the fox god/dess.

Inari, the fox god/dess.

IMG_4709 IMG_4788 The next day, Boyd and I explored Nara: a beautiful town full of sacred deer with the perpetual munchies. 

They really were all about those biscuits...! I was cornered.

They really were all about those biscuits…! I was cornered.

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In Nara, we also got to see the Fire Matsuri (festival), during which priests would run up the stairs of the temple with giant torches set aflame, run across the front of the temple, and sprinkle sparks upon the spectators below.

In Nara, we also got to see the Fire Matsuri (festival), during which priests would run up the stairs of the temple with giant torches set aflame, run across the front of the temple, and sprinkle sparks upon the spectators below.

After Nara, we jetted down to Okinawa, where rather than just look at whale sharks… we scuba dove with them!¬† IMGP5464 IMGP5476 IMGP5488

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As our guides explained to us, these whale sharks are young and have been injured by fishing equipment, and are thus kept in a large net off of Cape Zanpa to be fed and rehabilitated before they are transferred to the Churaumi Aquarium. I’m a big animal lover and environmentalist, and I hope that incidents such as these will serve as an illustration of why fishing practices desperately need reform. To answer the questions of any prospective tourist doing research on whale shark diving in Okinawa (as I did, extensively): having actually swum with these sharks, I am confident that they are well cared-for (note that the net is so large that it is not visible in any of my photographs), and I am grateful that they have a facility like Churaumi to be transferred to. Sadly, this is not the case for many animals harmed by fishing practices.

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We got SO CLOSE! I can now check “pet a whale shark” off of my bucket list… not bad for my very first dive! I want to get certified now!

I was very¬†sad when Boyd left, but¬†Dawson and Johnny’s weeklong Tokyo stay¬†kept me busy and happy.¬†

We're the three best friends that anyone could have.

We’re the three best friends that anyone could have.

I took them to Shinjuku Gyoen to see some of the first sakura!

I took them to Shinjuku Gyoen to see some of the first sakura!

Dawson and I have always taken such great couple pictures that our family has long mistaken us for a "real" couple...

Dawson and I have always taken such great couple pictures that our family has long mistaken us for a “real” couple…

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I took them to the Meiji Shrine, one of my favorite placesd.

I took them to the Meiji Shrine, one of my favorite placesd.

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I just love how they will actually land on your hand!

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Feeding the darling little birds in Empress Shokan’s garden.

We shared the best meal of my life from Itosho: a Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant. 

We had our own private tatami room.

We had our own private tatami room.

The food was exquisitely delicate, perfectly balanced and deep in flavor, and absolutely the most delicious I've ever tasted.

The food was exquisitely delicate, perfectly balanced and deep in flavor, and absolutely the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

Chef Ito in the New York Times!

Chef Ito in the New York Times!

My favorite course.

My favorite course.

The best piece of fruit of my life. I had no idea melons could taste so juicy and delicate. I no longer judge the $60+ I see in shops.

The best piece of fruit of my life. I had no idea melons could taste so juicy and delicate. I no longer judge the $60+ I see in shops.

Dreadfully unflattering photo of me, but here is Dawson, me, and Chef Ito! He is so kind and friendly.

Dreadfully unflattering photo of me with my hair blowing in the wind, but here is Dawson, me, and Chef Ito! He is so kind and friendly.

The day after Dawson and Johnny left, my sweet family flew in for a visit! 

My sweet parents. Best people I know.

My sweet parents. Best people I know.

My mom, dad, and brother in... hm, can't remember the name of this garden, but it was lovely!

My mom, dad, and brother in… hm, can’t remember the name of this garden, but it was lovely!

Mum feeding a Meiji bird! (Clearly, this is one of my favorite Tokyo activities...)

Mum feeding a Meiji bird! (Clearly, this is one of my favorite Tokyo activities…)

One incredible view from their hotel.

One incredible view from their hotel.

Another incredible view from their hotel.

Another incredible view from their hotel.

While my family was in town, we made a day trip to Kamakura Рa place I had been very excited to see. 

The second biggest Buddha in Japan! (the first is in Nara)

The second biggest Buddha in Japan! (the first is in Nara)

I love my sweet family!

I love my sweet family!

Mum and sakura... I am so happy here!

Mum and sakura… I am so happy here!

Brother!

Brother!

A charming town with sakura, a giant Buddha, and a beach? I would live here in a heartbeat.

A charming town with sakura, a giant Buddha, and a beach? I would live here in a heartbeat.

My friend Ki’ara and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea, and had a fabulous time¬†(despite the¬†massive queues!)

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Making friends, as usual.

Making friends, as usual.

Ariel: "So what have you been doing today?" Ki'ara: "Waiting in line to see you!" At least she didn't have a four hour wait like the non-fastpass Indiana Jones!

Ariel: “So what have you been doing today?”
Ki’ara: “Waiting in line to see you!”
At least she didn’t have a four hour wait like the non-fastpass Indiana Jones line!

 

Now, over the past couple of weeks, the sakura have been blooming in full force… which means: o-hanami!

O-hanami is a Japanese word that means, at least by my understanding, "to view the cherry blossoms." Here I am at my first o-hanami in Yoyogi Park!

O-hanami is a Japanese word that means, at least by my understanding, “to view the cherry blossoms.” Here I am at my first o-hanami in Yoyogi Park!

This is a BIG national pasttime, and in big parks like Yoyogi, sakura season draws a big crowd!

This is a BIG national pasttime, and in big parks like Yoyogi, sakura season draws a big crowd!

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O-hanami is beautiful at night, too!

Last Tuesday, my darling friend Mutsumi invied my friends and I to join her friends for a nighttime o-hanami back at Yoyogi Park, and we happily accepted!

Last Tuesday, my darling friend Mutsumi invied my friends and I to join her friends for a nighttime o-hanami back at Yoyogi Park, and we happily accepted!

We enjoyed such a lovely picnic and get together under the moonlit blossoms.

We enjoyed such a lovely picnic and get together under the moonlit blossoms.

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What an awesome group of people. I couldn't stop smiling the whole night.

What an awesome group of people. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole night.

I love sakura so much that I planned my visit¬†to Nagoya around the blossoms’ forecasted peak!¬†

This past weekend, I visited my darling friend from undergrad, Leann, in Nagoya, where she has lived for the past three years. I am going to give this trip its own post (really!) because there were too many beautiful photos and too much silliness to summarize in this mega-post... but this photograph, with the sakura blossoms at the forefront, symbolizes my priorities in vacation planning!

This past weekend, I visited my darling friend from undergrad, Leann, in Nagoya, where she has lived for the past three years. I am going to give this trip its own post (really!) because there were too many beautiful photos and too much awesome silliness to summarize in this mega-post… but this photograph, with the sakura blossoms at the forefront, symbolizes my priorities in vacation planning!

Darling friends, I’m sorry to have left you all hanging for so long, but¬†for my own selfish purposes, it’s probably a good thing that my life has been too full of adventures¬†(and school, three jobs, journal responsibilities, a wonderful parade of visitors, getting logistics sorted¬†for the bar exam, planning a three-week backpacking trip for after finals, and trying to keep everything together as an adult…)¬†to write regularly. Unless fate’s breezy will brings me back here, this may be the only time I ever live in Japan, and I have been trying to live every day¬†fully and be as present in the moment as possible.¬†

Like sakura season, life’s adventures are often brief, beautiful, and commanding of your full attention: savor them. I know I will never forget my adventures¬†here.

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Ghibli Museum and Fuchu Prison

Konbanwa, Sekai; remember me?

Yeah. Between adventures, my internship, enjoying my new Tokyo friends, and that little thing called school, these past two weeks have been incredibly busy, but also incredibly rich and memorable. I haven’t found much time to catch my breath, let alone sit, think, and write… but I have a little drop now, so here I go!

Ghibli Museum

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Admittedly, out of all of Tokyo’s attractions, the¬†Ghibli Museum¬†might be the one I’ve been the most excited to experience. Tucked away in a cozy yellow house in Mitaka, The Museum is a surreal shrine to the imaginative animated films pioneered by¬†Studio Ghibli, such as “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” “Spirited Away,” and my personal favorite (and probably my favorite movie in general), “Princess Mononoke.” I had a feeling that a place dedicated to such whimsical films would be wonderful… and it was. My boyfriend gets here in one week (so happy!), and I cannot wait to share this enchanted place with him.

When I arrived, I was greeted by none other than Totoro: my favorite flying forest spirit.

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I mostly visited the Museum alone for the sheer fact that I like to enjoy museums alone; enjoying them with friends is almost always wonderful, of course (and I would have welcomed anyone to accompany me on a random Tuesday), but I very much like to take my time, linger, and amble, and, when appropriate, take lots and lots of photos. For my Ghibli adventure, my personal photo expedition plan was thwarted when, upon entry, I was informed by an attendant that photography and cell phones are very strictly prohibited inside the museum. Initially, I admit I was a little disappointed, especially as the whimsically beautiful ceiling-mural overhead seemed to beg me to photograph it.

However, the gift shop made a good 100 yen or so off of me with this postcard of the aforementioned mural.
However, the gift shop made a good 100 yen or so off of me with this postcard of the aforementioned mural.

Once inside, I realized that the “no photo” rule is actually a very good rule there, for a few reasons. Firstly, the admission structure for the Ghibli Museum is somewhat unique in that it admits guests in discrete bunches (with tickets pre-purchased from a Lawson’s convenience store) every two hours. Accordingly, all of us with ¬†noon admissions entered at roughly the same time, and as the museum is a bit small, some of the rooms – especially the neat permanent exhibit room in the front, full of trompe l’oeil displays and the other Miyazaki whimsy – could be a tad crowded. Had everyone been glued to their phones and cameras, peace-sign posing and taking selfies with Totoro, the unmoving crowd-congestion would have been unbearable. More importantly, however, not being preoccupied with taking photos to share allowed me and the other museum-goers to really observe and enjoy the exhibits. I say this as a person who takes pleasure in life’s experiences and does not find this pleasure, or my sense of being present, diminished by taking photographs, generally speaking. While I would have loved to have taken some photographs of the concept art used in¬†Nausicaa¬†to share with you all, it was quite tranquil (indeed, somewhat spiritual, in a whimsical way) to simply stroll and enjoy the beautiful and silly Ghibli spirit.

…Okay. I confess: I broke the rule once. I am American, after all – (as a culture, we don’t do so well with rules, so it’s probably surprising that I broke the rule only once) – but I could not resist taking a quick shot of this gorgeous stained glass featuring the Deer God and the Kodama (little forest spirits) from “Princess Mononoke.”

I mean, it was on the exit door, away from the crowds, and irresistibly beautiful...
I mean, it was on the exit door, away from the crowds, and irresistibly beautiful…

Some other highlights of the museum included: peeking into the “Cat Bus” room (occupied by a life-size Cat Bus from “My Neighbor Totoro” that children can play inside), watching a short animated film about sumo wrestling mice, exploring the wooded grounds, and raiding the gift shop for silly presents to send back to my friends (assuming I can part with them).

I couldn't resist buying myself a little watermelon-holding, flower-skirt-wearing Totoro charm. He gets along quite well with my Tony Tony Chopper charm, courtesy of my friend Greg, in honor of my bike!
I couldn’t resist buying myself a little watermelon-holding, flower-skirt-wearing Totoro charm. He gets along quite well with my Tony Tony Chopper charm, courtesy of my friend Greg, in honor of my bike!

The next day, however, while interesting, was quite a bit more serious.

Fuchu Prison

Like the Ghibli museum, the Fuchu Prison was (understandably) a no-photos-allowed affair... Here is a picture of the front that I managed to snap before going inside.
Like the Ghibli museum, the Fuchu Prison was (understandably) a no-photos-allowed affair… Here is a picture of the front that I managed to snap before going inside.

In the interest of teaching us about the Japanese criminal justice system, my school program organized a field trip to the Fuchu Prison. As described by the US Embassy website:

“Fuchu Prison is the largest prison in Japan and contains both Japanese and foreign prisoners. The Japanese prisoners are male offenders 26 years old or over with prison terms of less than 8 years, who have past prison records, lack the desire for rehabilitation, and are difficult to treat. Many of the inmates are members of criminal organizations, substance abusers or vagrants. They are often more repeat offenders rather than truly dangerous criminals.”

After walking through a neighborhood swarming with children playing with balls and riding bicycles (so close to the prison…?), our group entered the facility, and were escorted through a visitation room eerily reminiscent of an empty nursing home waiting room, populated with a few chairs and glass cases featuring handiwork by the prisoners for sale. We were escorted into a room where we watched a presentation about the history of the prison and, more interestingly, its current demographics. Some facts I was struck by included:

-Foreigners convicted of crimes serve out their sentences in Fuchu and are subsequently deported (I thought this strange, as my logic would have me think that government money could be saved by simply deporting criminals, rather than having taxpayers pay to incarcerate them beforehand).

-About a third of the inmates are foreigners, and about a third of them are Chinese.

-A large portion of the crimes committed by foreigners are drug-related (usually importation).

-Severe traffic violations (drunk driving, hit-and-runs) can land you in Fuchu.

-As with the Japanese population, generally, many of the inmates are senior citizens, with the oldest inmate being 88 years old.

-A large focus of the prison is rehabilitation, and the prison requires that inmates with mental health and/or substance abuse problems undergo group counseling.

-The guards do not carry weapons; this is both a cultural choice and, as highlighted by¬†the US Embassy’s summary¬†a result of the strict, disciplined, military-like environment of the prison, which renders weapons largely unnecessary to maintain order.

One truth of life I’ve gleaned is this: it is one thing to hear about a place and very much another to see it firsthand. Such was the case with the inside of Fuchu. With these various prison “fun facts” in our pockets, we were handed surgical masks (allegedly to prevent the spread of disease – as is a common practice in Japan – but also, I believe, to conceal our identities… not that it would ever work with my curly lion’s mane), and proceeded in a double-line, women “sandwiched” between the men for safety, first through the cells, which were empty as the inmates were all at work. Cynically, my mind admittedly wandered over to wondering how much these tiny, empty, bare rooms would fetch in the painful San Francisco rental market (the Craigslist ads would go something like, “0/1 BR Efficiency Studio/Open Air Toilet/Furnished with Twin Bed and Desk Upon Request”).¬†Though some may argue that prison is “more than criminals deserve,” as inmates are served three (paltry) meals a day and given skills training, I truly do not mean to make light of their conditions. ¬†Testimonials from former inmates highlight the very real, physical pain suffered by the conditions at Fuchu, which include incredibly long, difficult work, rare bathing, and cases of frostbite from living in facilities with no climate control or insulation. However, as an American – to be sure – I feel that I should be careful in criticizing conditions in another country’s prisons, seeing as¬†the ones in our country are not exactly the Ritz Carlton.

Once we entered the workrooms to see the prisoners themselves, I sobered completely. Heads bowed down, faces both Japanese and foreign deliberately not making eye contact as they worked diligently on various handmade goods, the inmates wore a look of exhausted submission that – despite knowing that they had to have committed a crime to be in their situation – was hard for me to stomach. Even more affecting to me, a group of grey-haired senior citizen inmates trotted through military exercises ¬†before a guard shouting orders, wearing nothing but their cotton uniforms outside on that freezing day. Though I am aware that many are in there for committing an act (or series thereof) that harmed society, it was painful for me to see men as old as my grandfathers living their lives away from family and freedom. Every aspect of criminal justice is complicated, but personally seeing the faces of the inmates in Japan’s largest prison caused me to think critically about the theories of criminal justice – in particular, to question whether incarceration is truly effective in making society safer through rehabilitation and “locking up criminals.”

Darling readers, I am so sorry that post was so long and so uneven in subject matter. I have so much more to write about: skiing in Hakuba, tasting sake from a sommelier, negotiating with Japanese¬†bengoshi¬†(lawyers), exploring the beautiful mountain town of Oyama, and the adventure I am currently on… Okinawa! It will take me some time, but I will do my best to catch up soon!

Snow, Small Victories, and Awesome Karaoke Photos

This week started out with my friend, Brimman, introducing me to two Tokyo things that I very much enjoy…

1. Yakitori places… Or at least, this nice one near Meguro Station. Yakitori (grilled things – usually meat – on sticks) may seem like a strange thing for a vegetarian to love, but I had so many good little dishes, and I forgot to photograph most of them: the freshest shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers, and…

...Japanese boiled peanuts! My family is from the American South, and while these were not quite as salty as the briney, hot goodness that sustained me through many childhood road trips, their texture was quite nice. With a little soy sauce, I devoured the whole bowl!

…Japanese boiled peanuts! My family is from the American South, and while these were not quite as salty as the briney, hot goodness that sustained me through many childhood road trips, their texture was quite nice. With a little soy sauce, I devoured the whole bowl!

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…and…

2. KARAOKE!

I have done karaoke many times in the states and around the world; however, last Sunday night was my very first time to do it in Tokyo. I find this shocking as I had been in the country for nearly a month, and karaoke is a famously classic Tokyo activity! Also, awkward as this may sound, I really enjoy karaoke… indeed, it’s possible that I get WAY too into it. But, how could I not? With the right group, I find it’s an absolute blast to belt out Disney songs and classics from the 90’s, and be silly your own comfy little room!

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The quintessential karaoke song, made even better with a bizarre video brought to life by awkward actors.

The quintessential karaoke song, made even better with a bizarre video brought to life by awkward actors.

I peppered the rest of my week with the small victories and amusing failures that come with living in this enchanted city. Some of my successes included purchasing Hello Kitty toilet paper (because this is Japan, and Kitty-chan toilet paper is an option), sampling some special Japanese Haagen-Dazs flavors, and – most excitedly – beginning my internship! For security reasons, I will not write the precise organization I am working for on here, but I will say that it is an international human rights group that does honorable work.

It's strawberry scented...

It’s strawberry scented…

These were all delicious, and so unique! The Sakura was my favorite; sweet and floral, with a blossom-flavored jam on top and vanilla ice cream swirled with cherry underneath! Both the green tea and the murasaki imo (Japanese purple sweet potato) were delicious, too, but not quite as sweet as I am accustomed to having my ice cream.

These were all delicious, and so unique! The sakura was my favorite; sweet and floral, with a blossom-flavored jam on top and vanilla ice cream swirled with cherry underneath! Both the green tea and the murasaki imo (Japanese purple sweet potato) were delicious, too, but not quite as sweet as sugary-sweet as the ice cream in the United States. In particular, I was surprised that the green tea¬†really tastes like green tea! We have some green tea flavored sweets in the US, but they’re usually so sweetened that the flavor gets lost… I like this better, I think.

My beautiful commute to work.

My beautiful commute to work.

Another victory: after a long group interview that felt quite a bit like speed dating (“talk for ten minutes and then switch partners”) I was hired to help some Japanese lawyers practice their English, and I am very excited to start! I love teaching, and every lawyer I spoke to was incredibly nice.

However, I would say that the biggest victory of my week came on Friday, when I realized that I have learned enough kanji and katakana to understand an advertisement for chocolate, and I have retained enough spoken Japanese to direct a taxi driver from my neighborhood to the immigration office. Some things are indeed sticking in my brain after class!

Unfortunately, once I reached the immigration office, I realized that I had the poor judgment to be the very last person to submit my paperwork on the very last day of the week. I brought a good book, which is always a “win,” but sitting in a waiting room for over four hours generally constitutes a planning failure, in my opinion.

A more amusing failure: I’m still trying to figure out how to properly work the buttons on machines used to order ramen. I thought I had just ordered one egg and one side of greens, but this happened:

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At least my iron and protein were taken care of for the day.

On Tuesday night, Tokyo was greeted by a light sprinkling of snow. It melted before it hit the ground, but still made for a lovely afternoon of drinking tea and studying.

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I thought this was snow… until yesterday, when Tokyo experienced its heaviest snowfall in twenty years!

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Same view, different level of yuki!

I noticed that, compared to ever-so-wintry Colorado, my neighbors were not terribly prepared for the snow (and why should they be, if this only happens every twenty years or so?). I saw shopkeepers using brooms and dust pans to clear snow away from the sidewalks, and people walking down the street in soft tennis shoes and high heels, many of them using umbrellas to attempt to shield themselves from the sideways-blowing snowfall. However, I was extremely impressed when I saw one man in particular, cycling atop a thick layer of snow, holding an umbrella with one hand, and steering his bicycle with grocery bars dangling on the handlebars, with the other.

My apartment hallway, blanketed by snow.

My apartment hallway, blanketed by snow.

So many umbrellas...

So many umbrellas…

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Due to this crazy weather, I enjoyed a truly lovely, cozy afternoon surrounded by wonderful new friends (met through my school friend, Aaron) full of tacos, nachos, champagne, and card games.

Those nachos were so good, and every person in this photo is awesome!

Those nachos were so good, and every person in this photo is awesome!

Later, we explored in the snow, threw a few snowballs, continued our champagne odyssey, and eventually thawed out through the joyful absurdity that is karaoke! I especially liked this bar because the room came equipped with tambourines and maracas!

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Remember this awesome piece of art? Miss Scandalous Mermaid still looks fabulous in the snow!

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Champagne Supernova.

Champagne Supernova

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My friend Aki wearing her fabulous heels despite the snowfall!

My friend Aki wearing her fabulous heels despite the snowfall!

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Glad the server at the champagne bar could join us!

Glad the server at the champagne bar could join us!

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Such fun! So many maracas!

Such fun! So many maracas!

Yesterday was a blast, and consequently, I spent most of today tending to actual responsibilities. However, this evening was lovely, spent with Bassy at Sushi Zanmai in Tsukiji (near the famous fish market). Our first Japanese teacher recommended Sushi Zanmai to us as a place to try some fun and unique sushi rolls, and neither of us were disappointed. Bassy seemed to really enjoy her barracuda, and I loved my cucumber, ume (pickled plum), and pickled radish hand rolls. The little tamago (omelet) bite was delicious, too!

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I experienced a couple of moments of shock when, twice, the sushi chefs reached into the fish tank behind the sushi bar, caught a fish, and then proceeded to turn the fish into sushi. My little vegetarian eyes could not watch, but this is Japan, land of the very freshest sushi. As much as Americans like to eat fish and meat, I’ve observed that most do not really like to think about where it comes from; I cannot fathom such dinnertime showmanship going over well in a California-Roll-filled American sushi joint.

This upcoming week promises to be full of adventures, from the Studio Ghibli Museum to… prison. I look forward to sharing them with you all!

Cycling to the Supreme Court with a bag on my head, lucky Kit Kat in my belly, and little fishies kissing my feet.

If I combined the past week into one silly activity… the title would be it! Ohayo gozaimasu, watashi no tomodachi! Since I last posted, here is the day-by-day breakdown of this week’s Tokyo adventures.

A cool sky from my balcony... I believe this was last Sunday evening?

A cool sky from my balcony… I believe this was last Sunday evening?

(I apologize that you are getting all of these in one mega-post; usually, I try to blog in shorter, more digestible posts, but this week, the balance of living life versus recording it tipped in favor of this format…)

SUNDAY:

Along with Bassy and Ki’ara, I visited the famous Kit Kat shop in Ikebukuro! However, unless we had the wrong place despite our diligent Googling (very possible), the Kit Kat shop turned out to be just a corner in the basement of a department store with an hour-long queue out front. (Aside: When I lived in London, I observed a cultural love of queuing, and I’m beginning to notice a similar phenomenon here in Tokyo.) Kit Kats are a fairly big deal in Tokyo because their name sounds very similar to kitto katsu which means “good luck!” As such, according to Yoshida Sensei (Bassy’s and my “Survival Japanese” teacher), Kit Kats are often given as gifts before exams and other big tests. (This sounds like the perfect excuse to consume loads of them before the bar exam.) Here in Japan, there are famously many flavors of Kit Kat, and many of them are seasonal or rare. We arrived at the Kit Kat store a bit before noon on this random Sunday, expecting to try a variety of flavors, but because Kit Kats are such a big deal here, two of the currently available five flavors had already sold out… intense!¬†

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A display featuring many of the Kit Kat flavors. The green ones are the “green tea” Kit Kats, which are pretty famous Japan-only treats.

Holding up our bags! ...oh wait, you can't really see them. Beggars can't really be choosers when asking strangers to take your photo in the middle of a crowded department store.

Holding up our bags! …oh wait, you can’t really see them. Beggars can’t really be choosers when asking strangers to take your photo in the middle of a crowded department store.

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Looking behind this “history of the Kit Kat” display, you can get a sense of the massive queue out front.

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Here are the three flavors we managed to get: Chili-Chocolate Kit Kat (awesome; creamy chocolate with a subtle, fiery aftertaste), “Miwa” Kit Kat (plain milk Chocolate in a fancy box with a happy lady playing the guitar… the joys of not being able to read, in other words), and Green Tea Kit Kat. This is probably blasphemy coming from an American lover of Japanese things, but I really did not care for the Green Tea flavor; it was cloyingly sweet – far too sweet – and I could barely detect any green tea taste. However, I also generally dislike white chocolate because it’s too sickly-sweet for my taste buds, so that’s probably why… who wants my extras?

After, we worked on a group project in a vaguely Island-Themed cafe featuring a disco ball and delicious pancakes (because Kit Kats alone were not enough treat for us).

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I photographed this statue in Ikebukuro because it reminds me of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZ2Sh5-XuM

I photographed this statue in Ikebukuro because it reminds me of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZ2Sh5-XuM

MONDAY: 

This is another story for another day, but basically, I packed the wrong skirt to go with my suit for interviews, work, and official functions, and as suits are not optional in the land of lawyer things, I needed to obtain a stand-in suit skirt. This mission brought me to Shibuya, where I first noticed the famous crosswalk (photographed poorly from inside the station):

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A truly massive Muji store… my brother would be in heaven here.

Shibuya is an interesting area; famous for its shopping, it is a mixed batch of massive stores (like the one above) and little, hidden boutiques. I tried a few little shops before eventually finding what I needed in the five-story Shibuya Zara. However, in doing so, I observed a couple of fun things about trying on clothes in Tokyo:

1) In most shops (especially smaller ones), it is customary to remove your shoes before entering the dressing room. I do not know why I did not expect this, as many places (izkayas, some cafes, apartment buildings) require shoe removal, but I amused many Shibuya shop-workers with the bright green Super Mario 1-Up Mushroom socks that I had chosen to wear that day.

2) In order to prevent makeup stains from getting on clothing, shoppers are given “face covers” to put over their heads while trying on clothes. Accordingly, as I shopped, I looked like this…

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Goofy as this looks, I find it to be extremely considerate, and I wish the US would adopt this practice! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to try something on in America but have been totally grossed out by some biddy’s pancake makeup smeared on the item… I’ll happily wear a bag on my head to prevent this!

TUESDAY: 

The highlights of my day were purchasing a Hello Kitty day planner (I had to; it came with stickers and a tiny metro map!) and finding a grocery store that sells peanut butter for ¥100 cheaper than the one by my house. This is still more than I would pay for a miniature jar of Skippy in the US, but in Tokyo? Okay, take my yen.

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WEDNESDAY:

Bassy-San and I graduated from Survival Japanese! We can officially survive in Japan! Not to sound self-important or anything, but I think there is a chance that we were Yoshida-Sensei’s most nigayaka gakusei to date…

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THURSDAY:

A truly rare and amazing opportunity, my law school group visited the Supreme Court of Japan and had the privilege of meeting one of the Japanese Supreme Court Justices. Justice Ohashi began our meet-and-greet by cold-call quizzing us on different facets of the US Supreme Court (thankfully, all of our answers were correct), and then later, took our questions about the functioning of the Japanese judicial system. I asked him whether, like in the US, the Justices will interrupt attorneys during oral argument to ask difficult questions (for those unfamiliar with this aspect of the US judicial system, our convention of interruption makes our Supreme Court oral arguments very intense but also entertaining to listen to). According to Justice Ohashi, here in Japan, almost all of the arguing is done through briefs, and justices almost never speak – let alone interrupt to ask questions – when attorneys are presenting their arguments. This presents such a striking difference when compared to litigation in the US; the dramatic, adversarial style of oral argument (extreme in itself, but often further exaggerated by movies and television) is considered by laypeople to be a fundamental aspect of the profession, and serves to perpetuate stereotypes of lawyers as aggressive, bullish, unduly argumentative people. Frankly, this is one area (like face covers in changing rooms) where I feel the US could stand to learn something from Japan… But that’s just me, of course.

There are restrictions on which photos from inside the Supreme Court I can post on the internet, so for now, here is a photo of our ridiculously good-looking group on the Supreme Court steps!

There are restrictions on which photos from inside the Supreme Court I can post on the internet, so for now, here is a photo of our ridiculously good-looking group on the Supreme Court steps!

This one is for you, Dad! After our field trip and our night class, a herd of us went to a nearby izakaya (pub) for drinks and snacks... including corn!

This one is for you, Dad! After our field trip and the following night class, a herd of us went to a nearby izakaya (pub) for drinks and snacks… including delicious corn!

FRIDAY:

On Friday, I began my next level of Japanese language course (“Beginning” rather than “Survival” Japanese). Rather than having class for 90 minutes five days per week, I will be taking three consecutive hours of Japanese three times per week. When I first heard of the schedule, it sounded like a long time to spend in a language course, but in actuality, the class felt as though it breezed by. I’m especially excited about this class because we are, at last, going to learn some reading and writing – hiragana and katakana. Considering that my handwriting is barely legible when I write in English, this will be a major challenge for me, but I so badly want to learn to read at least a little, I am determined to give it my best effort.

After class, however, something very exciting happened… I got a bicycle!

I feel like I just obtained a certain number of Pokemon gym badges, because I can now zip around Kanto with fantastic swiftness!

I feel like I just obtained a certain number of Pokemon gym badges, because I can now fly around Kanto like a Zubat out of hell!

My friend Aaron purchased this bike when he first got here, later found a manlier one on Craigslist, and in turn sold it to me for just ¥4000 (about $40)! Thanks for the great deal, Aaron! I do not cycle in most cities because I enjoy walking and, frankly, the thought of cycling in city streets with aggressive city drivers terrifies me (okay, Boulderites, go ahead and laugh); however, here in Tokyo, cycling on sidewalks is permitted, people on bikes are extremely common, and pedestrians, cars, and fellow cyclists alike simply seem willing to acknowledge your presence. Accordingly, I am already having so much fun exploring the city on my little, pink Tony Tony Chopper bike!

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The design on my seat: a pirate skull with sakura petals… perfect for this Japan-loving girl from the Caribbean!

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The silly-looking but effective rubber light.

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Such a little beauty!

In getting my bike registered and set up, however, I was once again blown away by how polite, kind, and considerate Japanese people can be. Here, one must comply with a number of regulations in order to ride a bike without getting in trouble without the police. The first of these is to register the bike in a database (which can be done in a bicycle shop), so that if you get stopped by police by riding it, you can prove that you own the bike. On Friday afternoon, Aaron walked me over to the nearest jitensha-ya to register the bike; it only costs ¬•500 ($5), and with the help of Aaron’s Japanese fluency, took virtually no time at all. Another regulation dictates that, to ride at night, one must have a working light on the bike. The little plastic light that came with the bike was not working, so assuming that the batteries were dead, the shopkeeper unscrewed the cover to identify the battery type, which I then ran next door to the¬†konbini (convenience store) to obtain. When I returned and replaced the batteries, the light still did not work. Accordingly, I bought a new light from the shop, which cost about¬†¬•1300, and the shopkeeper was kind enough to open it and begin to set it up for me. However, when Aaron removed the stand for the plastic light, we discovered another light – that silly, rubbery light pictured above – underneath. The rubbery light worked well, to my delight as well as the shopkeepers’. What surprised me so much was that, without my asking, pleading, or otherwise, the shopkeeper immediately ran to the register and gave me back the money I had spent on the new light, even though it had already been removed from the packaging! It seems like a little thing, but in the states, at most shops, once you have opened a product, the time for a refund is over. I fear I will grow spoiled by little acts of civility such as this that I experience frequently here in Japan.

SATURDAY:

Yesterday began¬†with a fun lunch in Shibuya with new Japanese friends Kaho, Chihiro, and Momoko (I met them at the sumo tournament) and my school friends Aaron and Roseanne. The food at the L’Occitane cafe was so yummy, and the conversation was very happy and hilarious! I have traveled to many cultures where being a vegetarian is outside of the social norm, but their shocked reactions to my explanation as to why I do not eat McDonalds hamburgers were by far the most animated I have ever experienced. Above all else, however, the lunch was very enjoyable, and I hope to do it again soon (and hopefully, my Japanese will improve before next time)!

French onion soup and orange tea... delicious!

French onion soup and orange tea… delicious!

Pretty girls!

Pretty girls!

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^__^

^__^

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Former Prime Minister Koizumi was making a speech while we made our way back to the station... it was packed!

Former Prime Minister Koizumi was making a speech while we made our way back to the station… it was packed!

It was so packed thanks to Koizumi that I could not get a picture of the famous Hachiko statue, so here is a photo of the mural

It was so packed thanks to Koizumi that I could not get a picture of the famous Hachiko statue, so here is a photo of the mural

Crazy, lovely Shibuya

Crazy, lovely Shibuya.

After lunch, my darling school friend Eliza met me by the Hachiko mural, and we set off to explore the lovely bayside town of Yokohama! Our adventures there began by checking out the Strawberry Festival that was going on and browsing in some shops.

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No strawberry festival is complete without a massive, plastic strawberry (clearly).

No strawberry festival is complete without a massive, plastic strawberry (clearly).

A little snow shrine photo-cave...

A little snow shrine photo-cave…

Please note the strawberry helmet and the inescapable happiness in this photo.

Please note the strawberry helmet.

Guh, hullo, basset hound friend.

Guh, hullo, basset hound friend.

I was actually pretty tempted by these strawberry helmets, but I didn't want to steal thunder from the bungee-children outside.

I was actually pretty tempted by these strawberry helmets, but I didn’t want to steal thunder from the bungee-children outside.

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Super-cool Yokohama pup...

Super-cool Yokohama pup…

...and his partner in coolness.

…and his partner in coolness.

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The Yokohama skyline.

The Yokohama skyline.

We then walked over to Yokohama’s Chinatown, which is the biggest in Japan. There, we explored some more shops (full of panda things!) and got “fish kiss pedicures,” in which your feet and hands become remarkably smooth and soft by having rough skin nibbled away by adorable, tiny fish. Lore has it that Cleopatra was a big fan of fishy pedicures, hence giving her famously smooth skin. I’ve always wanted to try it, and it tickles so much, but my feet feel like butter now… Cleopatra was onto something; I’m hooked!¬†

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It works, I'm telling you! Such tickly fun!

It works, I’m telling you! Such tickly fun!

After our lovely mermaid spa treatment, we walked over to the local Buddhist temple to soak in the Chinese New Year decorations. I agree with Eliza that this temple is one of the most unique I’ve seen in Tokyo; the ornate, colorful carvings on the temple combined with the glowing lanterns made for a truly breathtaking aesthetic.

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Ringing the gong!

Ringing the gong!

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We heard some music, and wandered out onto the back balcony to witness some festive Chinese New Year entertainment, including a very multi-talented hula hoop goddess, a juggler, and – the only act I could manage to photograph from where we stood, but the best one by far – a sparkly, pink dragon with acrobats inside, dancing to live drummers.

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Followed by solid girl talk over a delicious dinner of¬†saut√©ed¬†bok choy, rice, and the most deliciously seasoned ma po tofu my taste buds I’ve ever known, and a bit more shop-browsing, yesterday truly was a lovely Yokohama adventure.

Now, I’m off to ride my bike, get some fresh air, and perhaps study katakana over some coffee shop pancakes!

Two things that Tokyo seems to love

This is just a quick mobile post to note my observation that Tokyo seems to love…

1. Desserts shaped like cute animals:

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…and…

2. Disco balls:

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A disco ball in a Hawaiian-themed cafe…

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…you probably remember this fountain disco ball from Odaiba…

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…and the disco-tastic Enya light show…

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…and – the great motherlode of disco balls – the Village bar in Azabu Juban!

Just an observation. That is all.

The importance of stopping to look around.

Tokyo is full of little delights; however, to notice some of them, I’ve found it necessary to cultivate a curious awareness of the city around me. Most of these little delights have taken the form of something kawaii, silly, beautiful, or delicious, such as a giraffe mural randomly posted on the side of an apartment building (with a pet shop on the ground floor, to be fair, but I’m pretty sure they don’t sell giraffes), an unexpected reflection of Tokyo Tower in a backstreet, a bulldog in a stroller, a kitsune (fox!) statute in a Shinto shrine tucked away amongst skyscrapers, or a delicious bowl of kitsune (tofu) soba for just 330¬•. With most of these delights, had I allowed my head to drift into the clouds, I would have missed them.

What's that on that building?

What’s that on that building?

...yep. It's definitely a giraffe.

…yep. It’s definitely a giraffe.

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As with the previously observed "happy fruits, happy nuts" store in my neighborhood, the little dogs bundled up and riding in strollers are a decent indication that my neighborhood is at least marginally posh.

As with the previously observed “happy fruits, happy nuts” store in my neighborhood, the little dogs bundled up and riding in strollers are a decent indication that my neighborhood is at least marginally posh.

Oishikatta desu! Soshite, yasukatta desu! (Rough translation: This was delicious, and cheap, too!)

Oishikatta desu! Soshite, yasukatta desu! (Rough translation: This was delicious, and cheap, too!)

A couple of weeks ago, on my way to take care of some business at the Minato City Ward, I noticed some curious little bonnet-wearing statues on the side of the path I was walking. I stopped, snapped a quick photo on my phone, and, observing the beautiful temple structures behind them, vowed to return to explore and figure out what they symbolize.

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One morning this past week, I returned, and I discovered that the cluster of buildings is a Buddhist temple called Zojo-ji. It has occupied this place since its founding in 1393; however, the original temple was destroyed when Tokyo was firebombed in 1945, so the current structures are what have been since rebuilt. I explored slowly, taking my time to really observe the beauty of the buildings, the proud serenity of the large, intricately carved black and gold Buddha statues within (I did not take pictures of these, both in the interest of respecting the several people there to pray, as well as in my own interest in not being yelled at), and to allow myself to be affected by the heavy, profoundly spiritual atmosphere. I am not Buddhist, but as my friend Bassy (also not Buddhist) has mused on her blog, these temples feel very holy, despite having been erected in the name of a faith other than my own.

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More prayer cards, like those on the tree at Meiji Jingu.

A mausoleum housing the tombs of six Tokugawa Shoguns.

A mausoleum housing the tombs of six Tokugawa Shoguns.

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That incense smelled so heady and beautiful.

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Ankokuden; this building housed a beautiful, black Buddha statue.

Ankokuden; this building housed a beautiful, black Buddha statue.

Zojo-ji is located right by Tokyo Tower.

Zojo-ji is located right by Tokyo Tower.

Dainden: the main hall.

Dainden: the main hall.

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That massive tree by the gate is so beautiful and so green for January!

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After asking a few people working in the temple (and later confirming on the internet, as their answers ranged from “child graves” to “personal belongings,” and they are still better than any description for these that I could convey in Japanese), I learned the purpose of the curious little statutes. The statues in the Zojo-ji garden are memorials to the unborn children of Japan, including those that are miscarried, aborted, or stillborn. Affected parents can choose a statue from the garden and decorate it with clothing and small toys – from what I observed, usually windmills and cloth flowers. They can also accompany the statue with a gift for the guardian of unborn children to ensure that they make it to the afterlife.

Slowly wandering through the garden, examining the statues closely, and making sure to give lots of space to the few families I saw that seemed to be visiting particular statues, I could sense the feelings of grief and gentleness that likely went into dressing the statues, but I also sensed peace and healing. I cannot think of any place I’ve seen like this back in the States or the Virgin Islands… or anywhere I’ve been in the world, rather.

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Some of the statues' bonnets and bibs were brand new, and some - like this one - seemed to have been on long enough to take on characteristics of the garden's natural environment.

Some of the statues’ bonnets and bibs were brand new, and some – like this one – seemed to have been on long enough to take on characteristics of the garden’s natural environment.

The heavily spiritual, emotional atmosphere of Zojo-ji, and the memorial garden in particular, left me feeling completely drained and a bit spacey as I drifted through my afternoon and night classes, but extremely lucky nonetheless. As a traveling barbarian, I feel so privileged that I am allowed to lumber into these sacred places at no cost, speaking very minimal Japanese, and toting my giant camera as my massive, curly, distinctly non-Japanese hair draws stares from old men and befuddled-looking Japanese babies. I love that, living here, I can spend a weekday morning a place as unique, historical, and spiritual as Zojo-ji.

Tokyo, thank you for instilling in me the importance of stopping to look around. I look forward to the future adventures that this lesson will bring.

Odaiba: a day spent in the future!

Tucked away in my neighborhood of massive skyscrapers, charming patisseries, noodle-shop-laden backstreets, I sometimes forget that Tokyo sits by the ocean.

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After spending Sunday playing on Odaiba – a manmade island in Tokyo Bay¬†– I remembered, and I also found myself in awe of how truly futuristic the place feels. Odaiba was built in the Edo period as a defense against seaborne attacks against Japan (specifically as a defense against the likes of Commodore Perry), but it now houses a massive shopping and entertainment district. Ki’ara, Bassy, and I took Sunday to explore the area, and we had a ridiculously happy day of it.

We started the day at Shinbashi station to purchase all-day monorail passes for easy transport around the island…

What kind of animal do you think this is? I said seagull, but it could just as easily be a strange-looking dog...

What kind of animal do you think this is? I said seagull, but it could just as easily be a strange-looking dog…

We took the monorail across the Rainbow Bridge (what a lovely name), and started the day by exploring the “Aqua City” and “Decks” complexes near Odaiba Beach. The area is primarily populated by shops, but the Decks complex also houses a massive Sega arcade, Legoland, and right outside of Aqua City stands a fairly impressive replica of the Statue of Liberty. One thing that I really love about Japan is that nobody looks at you strangely for wandering about and taking lots of silly photos. We took full advantage of this cultural perk.

Legoland! So exciting!

Legoland! So exciting!

The Fuji TV building behind Aqua City!

The Fuji TV building behind Aqua City!

Lady Liberty!

Lady Liberty!

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Ghost spray? We just have mosquito spray back in the states... way to step it up, Japan.

Ghost spray? We just have mosquito spray back in the states… way to step it up, Japan.

I love the Lady Liberty Hello Kitty pen.

I love the Lady Liberty Hello Kitty pen.

That Purin phone case was so adorable! (I would have bought it, if I didn't just get a new Pokemon phone case...)

That Purin phone case was so adorable! (I would have bought it, if I didn’t just get a new Pokemon phone case…)

I have been so impressed with the quality of video game swag here, and these adorable Animal Crossing plushies are some of the best I've seen here!

I have been so impressed with the quality of video game swag here, and these adorable Animal Crossing plushies are some of the best I’ve seen here!

Coke machine of the future.

Coke machine of the future.

More awesome video game swag.

More awesome video game swag.

Are these what I think they are...?

Are these what I think they are…?

See those polar bears in the background? Despite being at the "beach," it was quite chilly outside!

See those polar bears in the background? Despite being at the “beach,” it was quite chilly outside!

The lovely Rainbow Bridge!

The lovely Rainbow Bridge!

I suppose it's still Christmastime in Tokyo... totally appropriate to have a Christmas tree up.

I suppose it’s still Christmastime in Tokyo… totally appropriate to have a Christmas tree up.

Beautiful roommates!

Beautiful roommates!

(Sorry for the blurry photo.) I loved these lovely silver mermaid pendants so much, but at $84, they were just a little too expensive for a random Sunday...

(Sorry for the blurry photo.) I loved these lovely silver mermaid pendants so much, but at $84, they were just a little too expensive for a random Sunday…

A shop called "Mermaid Jewelry."

A shop called “Mermaid Jewelry.”

The taste sensation of the future... is that green tea jello?

The taste sensation of the future… is that green tea jello?

Being usagis with a Lego man in an usagi kigurumi!

Being usagis with a Lego man in an usagi kigurumi!

Hooray Legoland!

Hooray Legoland!

One thing I have observed about Tokyo is that this city seems to love its theme parks. Tokyo Disney and Sanrio Puroland are two bigger ones, but I have spotted numerous ferris wheels and the like from train windows. Having spent much of my life in the Orlando area, I feel a sense of affection for theme park culture, and accordingly, was affectionately amused by the area in which we had lunch… to me, it felt quite a bit like the “France” area at Epcot.

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After a lovely lunch of Italian food in faux-France, we explored the area a bit more, and then hopped back onto the monorail to check out an area called “Palette¬†Town.” As a longtime Pokemon fan, I was very excited by the name of the area.

It's a real place! I knew it!!!

It’s a real place! I knew it!!!

While here, we explored the Toyota showcase area, which housed some very futuristic cars (and segways…), rode the ferris wheel, and enjoy the fantastic, futuristic weirdness that was an arcade populated with teenagers in full, cosplay-esque Tokyo fashion.

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A hydrogen-powered Toyota!

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A view from the ferris wheel; can you spot Tokyo Tower?

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Truly, though, this looks like the future to me…

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Fancy segways. We thought about trying these, but it required a more intense commitment than we were prepared to make.

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Fuji-san, off in the distance!

Fuji-san, off in the distance!

Happiest picture of the day, if not ever.

Happiest picture of the day, if not ever.

Some youths in awesome wigs. I wish my Japanese was better so I could have asked them what they were dressed (or rather, groomed) to be...

Some youths in awesome wigs. I wish my Japanese was better so I could have asked them what they were dressed (or rather, groomed) to be…

A shot from inside the arcade: this guy was SO amazingly skilled!

A shot from inside the arcade: this guy was SO amazingly skilled at this dancing game!

I really did feel like I was in "The Jetsons."

I really did feel like I was in “The Jetsons.”

A peek at the rest of the ferris wheel

A peek at the rest of the ferris wheel

View from the top.

View from the top.

There was a "hell house" (haunted house) inside the arcade. We didn't go in, but I promise it was not because we failed any of these requirements...!

There was a “hell house” (haunted house) inside the arcade. We didn’t go in, but I promise it was not because we failed any of these requirements…!

The magical arcade of the future.

The magical arcade of the future.

it's not fair.

Funniest caption I have ever seen on a photo booth.

After loads of walking, we relocated to the “Venus Fort” to seek out a place to sit and have a cup of coffee. Reminiscent of the “Forum Shop” area in Las Vegas, the Venus Fort is a shopping area designed to look like an ancient Roman shopping area. The result is equal parts surreal, ridiculous, and fantastically kitschy. We snagged a seat by a fountain complete with a disco ball, and witnessed a light show performed to the soothing sounds of Enya as we sipped our coffee and nibbled pastries…

Caramel cream puffs. I stand by my earlier statement that "getting fat in Tokyo" would have been a much better name for this blog.

Caramel cream puffs. I stand by my earlier statement that “getting fat in Tokyo” would have been a much better name for this blog.

Our Enya light show. No words.

Our Enya light show. No words.

The fountain, as viewed from our cafe seats.

The fountain, as viewed from our cafe seats.

As our final adventure of the day, Bassy-San and I decided to visit another onsen, though unlike the natural serenity of Hakone, the Oedo Onsen felt more like a miniature onsen theme park… An awesome, feudal-Tokyo-style theme park! We were given yukata – casual, cotton kimono-style robes – to wear in the communal area, which featured a “watch tower,” several sushi and noodle restaurants, and decor reminiscent of feudal Japan (down to a robotic Shiba Inu, which I deeply regret not photographing).

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To be clear: I promise I was NOT sitting on the toilet when I took this picture!

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We had such a wonderful time, soaking and chatting in the onsen itself, exploring, and feasting on oishii sushi!

I love living in this city for so many reasons, but most of all, I love that every day presents so many adventures to be had: silly, futuristic, serene, quirky, and otherwise. If, as we joked all day, Odaiba really is what the future is going to look like, between the crazy arcades, shining city buildings, awesomely creative fashions, nice people, and quirky, silly kitch… I’m not upset about it, as long as there are toilet shoes and Animal Crossing swag.