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?
(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…)
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!
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.
Looking behind this “history of the Kit Kat” display, you can get a sense of the massive queue out front.
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).
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):
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…
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!
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.
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…
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!
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!
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 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!
The design on my seat: a pirate skull with sakura petals… perfect for this Japan-loving girl from the Caribbean!
The silly-looking but effective rubber light.
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.
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!
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
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.
No strawberry festival is complete without a massive, plastic strawberry (clearly).
A little snow shrine photo-cave…
Please note the strawberry helmet.
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.
Super-cool Yokohama pup…
…and his partner in coolness.
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!
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.
Ringing the gong!
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.
Followed by solid girl talk over a delicious dinner of sautéed 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!