Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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I was happy to see that Kanako was alive and well! Apparently her company has been working her like crazy. They interface with the headquarters in Spain, so when it is evening in Japan, the office in Spain is contacting them. So… sometimes she doesn’t get home until midnight. What a nightmare! They clearly need more manpower because it sounded like she was doing the work of three people.

Again, I am lucky to have such good friends that take time off work to see me! Kanako was able to get the morning off. After breakfast, we walked down Omotesando and back to Harajuku. We had just enough time to do purikura and karaoke for an hour before she had to go back to work. Ah, just like old times!

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FYI: “Call me maybe” is really hard to sing!

We had a fun time and she told me that she was going to come to Aomori to visit me! I am really looking forward to that.

After Kanako went back to work, I headed over to Ikebukuro to meet… Jackie and her friend Kim!

A little backstory: Jackie is my friend Sam’s roommate from college. A little complicated, but I’ve known her for a while and she is a really awesome girl. And a sense of humor like nothing else. Jackie just finished pharmacy school, so she took a trip to Japan to celebrate! Her friend Kim speaks Japanese and has a Japanese boyfriend, so they came together. Reminds me of when Sam came to visit Japan all those years back.

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So I met the two of them in Ikebukuro a little after 1pm. It is always a little surreal to meet up with people in other countries. Kind of like a “What are YOU doing here??” effect. You almost can’t believe it.

First we went to a manga store to look at doujinshi. I ended up buying one for Sam that Jackie could take back and give to her.

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After that, I forced them to do purikura with me. It was Jackie’s first time to purikura!

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I wish we could have done more, but Kim was feeling extremely under the weather and they needed to catch a train back to Chiba to have dinner with her boyfriend. When we parted ways, we hoped to be able to meet again that week before we both had to leave Tokyo.

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With the fun cut short early, I headed home. I waited for my host mom to come home, because we had a dinner date planned! When she got home, we decided to just head over to the restaurant already.

The restaurant is my favorite soba restaurant in Japan. It is called “Ohira” (おおひら) and is located in the little district of Nogata, not far from my host family’s house. My host mom and I have been going there for years now. The people who work there always remember me. One of my favorite things about this place is that they serve “soba noodle chips” (broken fried soba noodle bits with salt) as finger-food before you eat.

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And they give you soba-yu (soba water, the water they cook the soba noodles in) after your meal. The seasonal veggie tempura soba set is to die for.

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We also tried the age-dashi tofu this time and I loved it. Love love love.

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I could eat there every week.  When I left this time, they gave me an extra bag of soba chips to take home with me. The staff were so sweet! I had a lovely time.

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Pre- and post-meal

When we got home, we had dessert. My host mom had bought some omiyage for me, some cute sleeping-cat-shaped “monaka”. Monaka is basically a Japanese dessert with two rice-flour wafers sandwiching something sweet in the middle. Most of the time it is bean paste in the middle. The special thing about these monaka was that they were shaped like sleeping cats!

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Thursday, April 11

This day deserved it’s own entry. I wrote about Maiko and I going to Tokyo Disney Sea here.

Friday, April 12

I didn’t get home the previous night until nearly midnight and didn’t go to bed until a while after that, so I allowed myself to rest a while in bed the next morning.

I was meeting Justin in Asakusa at 11am, so I had a little time to kill. I decided to just take the train to Akihabara and walk from there. It was warm and sunny again, so I figured, why not?

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It turned out to be a lovely walk! On the way there, I passed by the Bandai building. I walked in the shade of the buildings so I wouldn’t overheat and have to take off my sweater. I arrived at Asakusa station just before 11am, right on time.

Justin arrived soon after and we walked to the temple, chatting and catching up on each other’s lives. Justin (who shares the same name as my little brother) was a year older than me in college and we were on the swim team together. He is an awesome swimmer, and was one of the best in the conference. He’s half-Japanese and works for an investment banking company in Tokyo. He is one of the few people I try to keep in contact with and see with any regularity from college. And since I am in Japan so often, that is relatively easy to do.

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And last, a random shot that turned out kinda cool. (I’m covering my face because I was laughing a lot.)

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The temple was crowded, so we didn’t spend much time there. I don’t mind crowds, but Justin didn’t seem to like it. So we made an impromptu decision to walk over to the newly built Tokyo Skytree.

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It replaced Tokyo Tower as Tokyo’s tallest tower and was made to relay television and radio broadcast signals. It opened to the public in May of 2012. Although it has been open for a year, it is still very crowded. I have heard of long lines on weekends and peak tourist times to get up to the top. It is also kind of expensive. For reserved tickets at a specified time, you can pay ¥2,500.

We just stood at the base of the thing and looked up.

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Pretty darn impressive. Good job, Japan. I had no idea that it was the tallest tower in the world and the second-tallest structure in the world (the tallest is the Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai). There was a fairly large mall attached to it as well.

Justin let me choose where to eat and I already had a place in mind, so we got on the train and headed for Harajuku. Or so we thought. We were just talking and talking while sitting on the train until we were both looking out the window and thinking… “This doesn’t look like Tokyo…”

Sure enough, we were in Chiba Prefecture. Whoops.

We promptly got off the train and were fortunate enough to catch another express train going back to Tokyo.

We got off at Omotesando and walked to Harajuku to eat at JamRock Café, a Jamaican restaurant near the station. It has only been open for a couple years, but I saw pictures of the food on my friend’s Facebook page. I knew that a lot of Jamaican restaurants had vegan food options, so I checked out the menu online, saw that it looked good, and planned to go! I can never get enough of ethnic food.

It was just Justin and I there for lunch, when we finally arrived. She was short-staffed, but we still had a delicious meal. Justin really liked it, so he will probably be back there again. The only thing that I would change would be the spice level of the jerk sauce. The jerk tofu was a little sweeter than I imagined.

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I wonder if she adjusted the spice levels for Japanese tastes? (Fun fact: The spiciest thing in Japanese cuisine is wasabi, which is only used in small amounts with sushi. Even Japanese curry is more savory than spicy and most of my students prefer sweet curry. My host mom makes her curry with chocolate.)

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand… Justin making a funny face:

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After lunch, we went to Pearl Lady down Takeshita Street to get some bubble tea! It’s fun having a guy friend who has a sweet tooth too! We both got the matcha-soymilk bubble tea. I got double the amount of pearls, because I love tapioca.

Then it was time for me to go and Justin to enjoy the rest of his day off. I had thought that I was going to meet Jackie and Kim around 5pm or 6pm for some karaoke, but they ended up changing their plans. They had to be on a train back to Chiba by 6pm. So I rushed to Tokyo station to meet them and we did a quick hour of karaoke near the station. It was super fun, I only wished that we had had more time!

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We walked back to the station and we sadly parted ways. But I would see them again in Austin sometime!

I went back to Shinjuku, stopped by that one store for some dinner to take home and eat, and took the Seibu-Shinjuku line back to Nogata. I ate dinner alone, since no one was home yet.

I felt sad, since my vacation was coming to an end.

Saturday, April 13

I woke up and went for my longest run that week, 8.9 km. I was gone for over an hour, just enjoying the weather and sunshine.

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I had no plans until 7pm that evening, so I just played it by ear.

My host sister Mikiko texted me around 9am and invited me to her house in Saitama for lunch. I was eager to go visit because I hadn’t seen her house yet and I wanted to see her and Sosuke before I left. My host mom was a little worried for me because I had to go there all by myself via bus (Japanese buses are pretty complicated), but I was very pleased to find out that Google Maps steered me in the right direction.

That is, until it was time to get off the bus and find the house. Japanese houses are also hard to find because they are based on districts, blocks and then house numbers. Often times the numbering system just doesn’t make sense to me. Google Maps brought me all the way to the right block, but couldn’t tell me where the house was. I used my awesome powers of navigation and Spidey-sense to figure out where this house was. No sweat!

Mikiko fed Sosuke and also made us a nice lunch that we ate once Sosuke had gone down for his nap. I hadn’t spent any 1-on-1 time with her in a long while! Too long!

One of the more interesting things we talked about was her new life as a mom and sleeping arrangements in the house. She told me that when she was a child, her grandparents lived with her and her parents and they all slept together in one room on futon pads.  Six people all in one room on futons right next to one another. I can’t even imagine! How were they all able to get a decent night’s sleep?

Baby Sosuke has his own room in Mikiko and Shinji’s house, but he doesn’t use it yet. He takes all his naps on the living room carpet (with Mikiko watching) and sleeps with Shinji and Mikiko on futons at night. I learned co-sleeping is the norm  in Japan! I surprised Mikiko when I told her that that I had my own room even when I was a little baby and that many American families spend a lot of time “getting the baby’s” room ready for when the baby comes home. She told me that Sosuke was really lucky in that he already has a room ready for him when he is ready (when he starts elementary school or so). When she was a child, she didn’t have her own room until she was much older and they remodeled the home. Now, everyone has their own room and sleeps separately: host mom, host dad (when he is home, which is not often because he lives in Kobe for work), and host brother. All separate.

She then asked me what happens when the baby cries at night and needs attention. I explained to her that a lot of families use baby monitors and such. Or they put the baby’s crib inside the parents’ room. I’m certainly not the expert on parenting, so I just told her what my family did with me and my siblings. I showed her the types of baby monitors we have in the US on Amazon and she said they were much more expensive in Japan.

It was a really interesting talk! I learned a lot. I think a lot of the differences are cultural, but I also realized the limited space in Japanese houses is also a common reason for co-sleeping.

After our meal and long talk, we woke Sosuke up from his nap and took a few pictures together. They came out really great. :)

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She walked me to the bus stop and I rode all the way back to Koenji station.

I bummed around Koenji for a bit and stopped at a few of the second-hand shops. I scored a cool, basic top for 500 yen. When I got home, I stuffed all of my things into my suitcase and backpack, then laid down for a while. It had been a long day.

Shota saved me by agreeing to drive me to the station at 6:30pm. He saved me a good deal of walking with luggage, which is never fun. I said my goodbyes and promised to meet them again before I left Japan for good in July. So it wasn’t really goodbye.

My last few precious hours in Tokyo were spent with my roommate Maiko and my freshman year (2005-2006) crew! Maiko, Yuki, and Chihiro (who had been Sarah’s roommate in the Stewart dorm with me) all met me at a popular restaurant in Shin-Okubo (Korea Town). The restaurant was my favorite Korean place in Tokyo and I’d been there many times as a student. Kimberly and I even ate there when we stopped in Tokyo for a few hours on our way back from Italy.

The most surprising news of the night was that Chihiro was pregnant! Congrats to her and her husband! Yuki had not much new to report and I already had caught up with Maiko.

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We ordered about 8,000 yen worth of awesome Korean food and drinks. Everything was delicious. We got toppogi, chapchae, chichimi, bibimbap, and kimchi chigae to split family-style. We all ate until we were quite full. I just had such a great time.

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We stayed at the restaurant until 9pm and said goodbye to Chihiro then. Maiko and Yuki stayed with me. They told me that they would take me to my bus stop and hang out with me until I had to leave. I was touched.

We three went from Shin-Okubo to shinjuku so we could find the Willer Express bus terminal waiting area. Maiko found it easily and it was actually pretty nice being the non-navigator for once. The Starbucks nearby was closed (since it was a business district), so we just went straight to the waiting room/check-in area. It was unexpectedly fancy in there.

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I was again surprised when Maiko and Yuki waited with me right up until the very last minute at 10:30pm. They even walked me to my bus. I think “acts of service” or “quality time” must be my love languages, because I nearly lost it when I had to say goodbye. I was just so grateful that they had chosen to spend their Saturday night sitting, waiting at a bus terminal with me. I was just happy for the company, that I didn’t have to be alone.

I was also sad because my vacation was drawing to a close and I had to go back to real life. That’s how life goes.

Anyways, it was sad and I had to choke back some tears. I did not manage to sleep on the bus and felt very much like a zombie after arriving back in Hirosaki.

I spent that Sunday running errands and then being lazy on my couch. I had to rest up for work the next day.

All in all, my trip was awesome. Just what I needed. It ended on such a high note too and I was so happy to have been able to go. I got to do so many of my favorite things, see many good friends, eat lots of yummy food… Dare I say, a perfect spring vacation? A lot of good memories made!

2 Comments to “Tokyo April 2014 Part 2”

  1. Looks like a fun and delicious trip! Too bad you and I never managed to meet up in Tokyo, though. It’s なつかしい reading about your trip!!

  2. T_T I wanted to be there with you and Jackie and Kim so bad! I was there in spirit at least!
    (And thank you for the present! I loved it!)

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