Friday, November 2, 2007

Tokyo Drift - Season Finale

DAY #6
25th Nov 06

Ohiogozaimaze! Wake-up!

Ahh…a new day in Tokyo. I still can’t believe that I am here. I rubbed my eyes and jumped out of bed. Today is the day where Su and I will be in an Explore-race. Packed with nothing and zero knowledge in Japanese language, we are still going to roam Tokyo. We met some of our tour buddies for breakfast. They have plans to visit Shinjuku-the city of shopping galore. However, Su & I have other plans in mind.

The only fear we had was the subways in Tokyo. Unlike KL, the subways in Tokyo are so complicated. One glance at the map of the subways and the interchange will make your eyes go all goofy. We followed our tour buddies to the Tokyo subway terminal and got the day pass. With the day pass, we can go anywhere without limit as long as we stay within the closely knit subway systems. Before we managed to say good-bye, the rest of the tour buddies just sped off as soon as they got hold of the day pass ticket. Su & I started to panic. We could not read a word from the ticket machine and don’t even know where to put in the coins. We just flagged down a nice looking lady. Luckily she understood what we want despite our desperate attempt to sort of like speak in Japanese. Before we even managed to thank her, she just sped off again. Hmm…wonder why everyone behave that way in subways?

We hold onto the small little pass and looked up the colourful looking signs. Shinjuku line, Hanzomon line, Ginza line, Hibiya line….the sign goes on an on. People are walking in all directions. Their steps are steady and fast. All looking focused and have the look as if they are rushing back home as they forgot to turn off the gas.

Amidst the crowd, stood two lost souls from Malaysia. Armed with only a complicated map to guide their way. After awhile, we figured out it should be all right. All we need to do is to know where we are and the next destination we wanted to go. With that, we made imaginary connection lines on the map and find the closest route to take.

Off we go to take our first train to Harajuku. Yeah, you heard me right! Harajuku, the town where the hippiest Japanese citizens gathered. The town where you can see Gwen Stefani singing on her fashion icons.

We thought we were OK but then, trouble had just begun. The question is, which side of the platform we should be at? Slightly panicking, we were on a lookout for people we can ask. Strange thing is, people seemed to sense our vibe and decided to keep at least 1 feet away. Are they afraid that we might ask them questions? or do we look like aliens to them? Who knows? But all we wanted is to get to the right train. We spotted a young gentleman waiting for the train. We slowly crept up to him (not sure why we were creeping?) and presented our most important question.

“Eek-ack-eek-Ook” (Talking with each other in different language, hands pointing to various directions, nodding as if we understood each other but literally we don’t have a clue what the other person says)

As three of us were engaged in an “Eek-ack-eek-Ook” type of conversation, the train arrived. The gentleman pointed that this would be the train we should be in. So we followed him. As the train moved on, we passed the Shin-ochanomizu station. I checked the map again. This doesn’t seem right? How come we are heading to the opposite direction? Before I could alert Su, the gentleman came back again.

“Eek-ack-eek-Ook” and pointed for us to get out on the next platform. Well, I guess “Eek-ack-eek-Ook” is not a good start to get us the right train.

After much efforts and asking the subway officers, we finally got to the right train. All the way to Harajuku.

Harajuku- the town bustling with all the sound and energy of Japan’s younger generation. Guys and girls wearing Gothic make up and garbed in black flowing outfits. Guys with spunky bleached blond hair and multiple piercing in places you could not imagine. Girls impersonating Anime characters. Everyone does not seem to be deterred by other people dressing as if it’s Halloween.

Su and I walked along the packed and narrow Harajuku street. I bet this is the place where new fashion is born and probably you can only wear the clothes sold here in Harajuku without getting strange looks from people. This place just gave anybody the sense of freedom. The place where you can live out your childhood dream and proudly flaunt it!

Time for our lunch. We checked our Japan’s McD as it is a safe bet to be a Halal eatery. I ordered Ebi burger. Yummy shrimp burger that you can probably only find it in Japan. This Shrimp burger was introduced in Japan to lure more Japanese consumers who have a knack for seafood. It was so delicious and I wondered why they did not bring it here to Malaysia. Mmmm… thinking of the taste made my mouth water. I am definitely ordering more of Ebi burger if I had a chance to go back Japan.

After our lunch, we continued to shop in Harajuku. The things here are more affordable compared to those places that the tour brought us to. We did some shopping here and I bought a little something for my family and friends. It is also a double bonus as the stuff here are unique and they carry Harajuku's fashion. We stumbled upon a huge shoe shop. It has 2 storey and sells nothing but shoes!

It is almost 1pm and we wanted to visit the Meiji shrine. Meiji Shrine is located not far away from the Harajuku streets and it is one of the oldest Shinto (Sun) temple in Japan. While we walked, there was a bunch of people gathering right in front of the Harajuku station. There were hip hop dancers and girls holding up banners. They were all dancing with loud music in the background. Hmmm.. dancing in the streets? Are they drunk or is this some kind of riot? We crossed the streets to see what's up. Then only realized they were actually promoting Exile’s new album. Exile- one of Japan’s underground hip hop scene. Hey, their songs are not bad! Su was totally into the song. If you like Exile, you should listen to this track “Won’t be long” featuring Koda Kumi.

After swaying a bit with the song, we continued our journey to the Meiji Shrine. Along the way, we came across another interesting spot. This pathway was filled with the Harajuku-est of all the Harajuku people in Harajuku. They were dressed in the most outrageous costumes.
What were they doing? Well, they just stand there and wait for people to take pictures with them-all without any charge or any hidden charges. It seems like they are enjoying the attention and they will gladly pose with anybody who wants to take pictures with them. So what’s the deal? There must be some intention out of this. Well if you are wondering, stardom IS the answer. Apparently, they are just waiting for their pictures to reach the hands of people who can turn them into stars. Better still if a talent scout will scoot them to Hollywood just like the 4 little Harajuku girls where Gwen Stefani had them in her videos and brought them wherever she goes. Hmmm…such hopeful people they are!

Not far away, a man and a woman were holding up signs “Free Hugs!” I am like…what the? Then I see people went up to them and get hugs. Well, apparently the girl gets more hugs compared to the guy. The guy looked scary with beard and long hair. He could be a molester! Su and I went up to the girl and said we wanted to take pictures with her. 1-2-3 Cheese! We thanked her and instead of shaking hands, she extended her arms ready to give us a hug. Oh well…it’s just a hug with a girl.

OK! Now we were just a few steps away from the Meiji Shrine. Apart from the bustling and happening vibes in Harajuku, the moment you step foot into the shrine’s ground, all the noise stops. It is as though after you passed the huge Torii (wooden gate), you were transported to a different era. Sure enough, after I Googled more about Tori gates, this is what I’ve found. “The Gate marks the gateway between the physical and spiritual worlds, and is often the only indication that one is entering a shrine”

It is a long walk to the Meiji Shrine. I liked the crunching sound as we walked along the white pebbled pathway. It seems like we were walking forever in this mystic garden. The weather is cooling and the place appeared to look like haven. Everyone walking towards the heavenly gate. There were ladies wearing kimono with wooden slippers. I wondered how they can go through the ordeal of walking with those rigid wooden slippers along the stony paths. It is not a short walk mind you. Even we who wear comfortable sneakers were getting pretty tired and wondered where this never ending path leads us.

As we walked, we saw huge lantern-looking things hanging at one corner of the walkway. They were colorful but we have no idea what were they. Later on, we found out that they were actually barrels of Sake (Japanese Liquor) offered to the Gods.

Finally, we reached the central sanctuary of the shrine. Over in this area, we saw families dressed in traditional clothes and their little kids garbed in colorful Kimonos. They looked extremely cute!

Suddenly, we saw a bunch of people wearing all black and white lining up on one side of the shrine. Ah! I can’t believe our luck as we were about to see the spectacle of the Shinto wedding.
Two priests led the way followed by two maidens. Following behind were the bride and the room. The bride was dressed in white and the entire outfit looked like a mourning costume. Her head hung low and she is not smiling. So was the bridegroom. He looked serious. Behind them was a small congregation of family members. Their faces solemn and not a single sound was made. They walked slowly and steadily across the shrine. It was a quiet affair. For once, people may have thought this is a funeral instead of a wedding. Come on! Make some noise! But I guess not. The group of people were now sitting down and ready to take a family picture. After the brief picture session, the wedding ceremony was over. Hm…fast and simple.

We were still overly excited experiencing all the different cultures in Japan. Su and I walked around and suddenly, a Japanese officer stopped us from walking and escorted us away. What’s happening? Eek-Ook-Eek-Ack…as if we understand what he said. Only then we realized another Shinto wedding is about to take place and we were walking along the pathway of the wedding. We saw about half a dozen of such weddings. There were times where 2 weddings were held together and they almost ran among each other. Hopefully the brides wont be exchanged at the end of the ceremony!

We were a bit tired and found a spot to sit down. Suddenly, this old grandpa who sat nearby started to talk to us. He knows a bit of English and started talking to us. It was pretty entertaining though we can’t really understand what he said. He offered to take pictures for us. So we handed him the camera. He took the camera and started walking somewhere else. Ermm..this grandpa wouldn’t want to steal our camera right? We followed him and then he pointed at the beautiful flowers near the gate. He asked us to stand there so we can take some pictures with those flowers. Wow…he is a very nice grandpa. We thanked him and left. As we were walking out, Su said he felt sorry for the grandpa and wanted to give him something to remember. Su went back to find the uncle while I waited. I went to sit on the side of the building. Not far away, another Shinto wedding is about to start. Suddenly, this officer started walking towards me. Oh no! What have I done wrong this time? He told me that I could not simply sit there and that I must only sit on places with chairs. I quickly stood up and apologized. Hmmm…I guess I must be more alert about the customs here.

Su finally came back and told me. “Havana, I just experienced the funniest
x thing”, she giggled. On the other hand, I can’t wait to tell her that I’ve been warned by another officer again. Su told me she offered the old grandpa Malaysian’s 50 cent! I mean 50 sen??
But the grandpa keep saying, “No, No, No”. Su told him it is as a souvenier and insisted he take it. But the grandpa could not understand and rejected her offer “No money, No money”. I guess the grandpa must have thought Su tried to give him money as though he is a beggar. We laughed ourselves silly over our own silliness.

It was almost 3pm. Earlier on during breakfast, we made up some plans to meet 3 of our tour mates in Shinjuku. We got ourselves to the trains again and headed to Shinjuku. As we arrived there, the sky has turned pretty dark. There were hordes of people everywhere. We walked out from the building into the open air outside. There were shopping complexes everywhere. Some were a dozen storey high. They were all shouting with loud lights – some blinking, some neon, etc. Further down, there were streets lining up with more multi storey shops. Su and I just stood there in a daze. Which should we go? There are so many to choose from.

We decided to head where our legs brought us. As we were drowned in the shopping frenzy, our stomach started to scream for food. We went inside a small eatery. I ordered a rice set with raw meat. I was too hungry and gobbled up everything even though I am not sure what are those things. After dinner we headed down to some blitzy, kinda glamorous shopping walkway. We shopped quickly as the weather is getting colder as the night gets a little bit older.
It was around 9pm. Kinda afraid that the train may stop operating for the day, we decided to head back to our hotel. We took the reverse route back keeping our fingers crossed that we reach back our hotel without getting lost.

We walked out from the subway to check if we were at the right place. Hmm…this place looked deserted. Su & I played with the idea if we were really lost, we will head straight to the police station and get ourselves back in a police car.

This should be the correct stop. Across the street, we saw a small police station. However, this little police station was so small the police man only has bicycle as their mode of transportation.
As the night gets colder, feeling of panic and anxiety creeps up. We almost crossed the street to the police station when Su and I saw a couple of blocks away …something familiar. We rubbed our eyes and there, standing proud and tall was the Grand Palace Hotel!!!

Su and I was jumping up & down, laughing hysterically. We cant believe that we found ourselves back to our hotel. We couldn’t imagine the looks in the police’s face if we told them we were lost. And then we got a ride back with the police’s bicycle to our hotel just a couple of buildings away. We were so proud of ourselves that we started singing “Negaraku” all the way back to our hotel.
An our later, we were all bathed and got all our things packed. We still got some coins to spare. Seeing that this is our last night in Tokyo, we gathered all our coins and check out 7-11 nearby. Inside we found loads of Japanese tid-bits galore. Better still, they are pretty cheap. You can get a nice packet of cookies for less than RM5. We still have some left over cash which still can afford us a nice supper. We checked into a local coffee house nearby. Grabbing our coffee and hot dogs, we headed upstairs to chill. As we peered outside the window to the streets of Tokyo, we reminiscence the amazing 4 days we had in Japan. We wrote down a list of silly things we did in Japan and counted who did the most silly and embarrassing things in Japan. Guess I am the champ for this. Not sure if it is something to be proud off.

Oyasu Minasai Tokyo. Sayonara Japan. Penang I m coming home!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice write out of your Japan trip. For the moment, I can only dream of going but Im already saving up and will soon be able to afford the trip. - :P x4884