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Connie: A Tokyo New Year’s

January 6, 2011

My New Years was spent in Tokyo. It was very different from last year’s New Year. No invisible chairs or card games, no watching the heavy snow, no sleeping the holidays away. Instead it was exploring the place I’ve heard so much about but had no idea what to expect of.

Departure

I went to Tokyo by night bus. It was the cheapest option. With all of my luggage in hand I strolled down to the bus stop and prepared myself for a 13 hour ride. I wasn’t able to ride with my other two friends headed Tokyo-way, since they’d booked more comfortable seats than I. Apparently the only difference was a pillow, but I doubt that would have transformed my ride in any positive way. I will affectionately call this bus the sleepless bus, especially since I was stuck in an aisle seat next to the one other not-Asian foreigner on the bus. It still wasn’t so bad. My first night bus ride made me think of the night bus scenes from Kafka on the Shore. I’m no Sakura though—no kid’s shoulder for me to sleep on.

Day 1

The night bus left me quite exhausted. I took a cab from Shinjuku to where my hotel was, near the Minami Senju Station. Minami Senju has got to be about the least interesting part of Tokyo, but it’s filled with cheap hotels, a 7-11 and the metro transit system in Tokyo is so nice that it doesn’t much matter.

Staring at the Tokyo subway maps, I decided I would make my way to Akihabara station since it was directly on my line and some place I’d heard a fair amount about. With absolutely no idea where I was going I ended up walking the wrong way and ending up in Kanda.

This day was more about seeing what the big city was like than anything else. I didn’t do much shopping, and for dinner I stopped in a kaitenzushi place (spending way too much due to a liking for the crab-leg sushi). Being full and satisfied, and with my tiredness catching up to me, I managed to find my way back to the hotel.

Day 2

On this day I went back into Akihabara, this time with one of my friends. It took us a good while to find each other in the station. We went into the large electronics shop near the station. My goal was Tower Records, so up through the crowds and escalators we traveled.

I managed to pass on all kinds of Japanese DS games. I passed on cutesy My Melody iPod cases. But then I found a live DVD I’ve been after since high school, sitting there at the top of the tower, waiting for me to buy it. Fatima’s To Exit DVD.

There was talk between my friend and I of going to a maid cafe, but we were tired after our venture into Akihabara. We split ways and went back to our respective hotels. This was the night I had the worst headache I think I’ve ever had in my life, so I went to bed around 6pm. Luckily it was gone in the morning.

Day 3

The next day the plan was to go into Shibuya! After navigating my way through the subway, I came out to view for myself one of the most famous places in Tokyo. I’d seen it on movies so many times, but there I was, seeing it with my own eyes. What an amazing feeling!

I met up with two friends there and we did some wandering, shopping, eating. Since this day was New Year’s Eve, the two of them had big plans for the night. Izakaya, followed by a club.

I opted out of these plans. As I mentioned before, I was (partially) in Tokyo on a quest: to see Panic☆ch. With my two very patient friends, a very poor map and some determination, we headed out into the streets of Shibuya to find the venue the band would be performing at.

At long last we found it. The concert was actually a countdown to New Years with several artists performing. The split between those there to see Panikku and those who came to see the other artists was plain as day and night. The Panic☆ch fans were cutesy girls in lolita dresses who had bags full of stuffed animals for god knows what reason, and one male fan who looked eerily like Panikku’s vocalist. The rest were hardcore otaku, since the people performing after Panikku were cutesy girly singers.

While I was waiting in the hallway to go downstairs several roadies walked by—and then the drummer. Of course by the time my head processed, “Is that Kyo~ya?” it was too late for me to say hi.

The venue was small. When the band started playing I was right up in front. If I’d reached out I probably could have touched the bassist—who happens to be my favorite member. The energy was high and they even got some of the otaku who’d never heard of Panikku before jumping. I’m fairly sure at one interlude Meguru (the vocalist) made a comment about there being an American in the audience. Unfortunately I didn’t catch all of what he said, so I’m not sure whether it was a good or bad thing…

After their set, the band had to hurry off to another live in Shinjuku. If I knew anything about Shinjuku’s geography I might have been tempted to go to that show too. The one in Shibuya was so short that it only left me wanting more. All of the girls left with the band, and suddenly I was the only female in the room (apart from the next singer). I stayed through the second girl’s performance, but as I’m not a fan of cutesy female J-pop, and I could feel the sexual frustration of all the otaku in the room, I opted to leave after she finished. I got back to the hotel fairly early, so I was able to watch Kohaku instead—a yearly music show where famous Japanese male and females singers split into two teams and compete against one another.

Day 4

I have wanted to go to Harajuku for the longest time. New Year’s day was finally my day to go there. The streets were crowded with people out shopping and eating at the random food stands. There were people in lolita dresses wandering around, and so many fashionable people.

I love Harajuku.

I went with the same friend who wandered around Akihabara and Shibuya with me. We met up with one other friend who lives in Tokyo. Our Tokyo resident friend showed us to Takeshita Street, which is basically everything I could ever have wanted in a street. Weird Tokyo street fashion all over. Visual Kei shops all over. The largest 100 yen shop I’ve ever seen. Japanese people whispered, “Gaijin like this kind of thing?” about us as we went into a lolita shop.

I love Takeshita Street. I jokingly said I want to live there, but my Tokyo resident friend responded with, “There are no grocery stores here.” There goes my dream.

Best moment: a guy decked out in leather, sunglasses, spiky hair, piercings and pretty much every other stereotypical punk accessory you can imagine cuddling the cutest little chihuahua. I wish I could have gotten a picture.

The first day of the new year: spent in my strange paradise.

Day 5

Day 5 was my last day in Tokyo. The check-out time at my hotel was 10:00, so naturally I was the first person who had traveled to Tokyo awake. I decided to make a second trip to Harajuku before everyone else was up—but this time rather than shopping and seeing cosplayers, I went to see Meiji Jingu, the major shrine in the area.

The place was literally packed with people even on the 2nd. The crowd flowed like a river. I ended up flowing along with it, just as if it were real water. It was interesting to see the city seem to fade away into trees and traditional buildings. It was like a whole different place, aside from the crowds. There were souvenir on the outskirts, tourists taking pictures, but then there were people praying and there were things like omikuji. I should perhaps have looked around a bit more but the crowds made it feel a bit strange. I headed back toward the city, but only after buying myself takoyaki for breakfast. I really love takoyaki.

By the time I got back to Harajuku and did another pass through Takeshita street my friend was up and ready. We ended up wandering into a very deserted Aoyama where we found a much more peaceful shrine tucked among the buildings. Wandering down a bit further we were treated to a free sake sample from an expensive-looking restaurant. We ended up in a Subway (because who eats Japanese food in Tokyo?) before deciding Aoyama on January 2nd just wasn’t very hopping.

We headed down to Shinjuku to do some last-minute exploring before my bus came. The buildings in Shinjuku are the prettiest. I got to see the sun fall down behind them before I had to get on the bus.

Once again, the sleepless bus.

Saijo

After staying in Tokyo for a few days, I’ve come to realize that I probably couldn’t live there. When compared to Saijo, the people just seem less friendly, and the pace is so much faster. It seems like it would be harder to get into the Japanese crowd, as if it isn’t hard enough already as a foreigner. I suppose that’s the way it is in most big cities. People are out for themselves.

I can say this place is boring all I like, and I can say I love Tokyo plenty of times. But in the end I think I made the right choice. Though I would like to visit Tokyo again to see the places I missed out on. That, and I’d like to see Panic☆ch just one more time.

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