Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’


Connie: Visual kei, cross-dressers and digimon

August 18, 2011

My first day in Tokyo was spent doing my favorite thing to do in Tokyo – browse around the street fashion shops in Harajuku. Any store that looked like a band I might listen to was explored. One shop was playing my all-time favorite album, Vidoll’s V.I.D., so they ended up luring me in and getting my business. Body Line was full of bratty kids who stood around begging their parents for money for clothes they would scarcely be able to wear in a normal social setting. One shop tucked away in a basement had an outfit worn by a rather popular band on display – unfortunately photos were not allowed.

My personal favorite was a rather expensive shop run by an eccentric older woman. When I came in she immediately engaged me in English conversation. “You know Japanese musicians? Dir en Grey came here. X Japan too. Gazette, Sid… You know them? I make all these clothes. Look, this one is nice. Look, Dir en Grey wore this. Look at Shinya. You like lolita? How about this?”

She proceeded to try her very best to get me to buy something, but I just didn’t have the money – everything she had was custom made and around 10,000 yen. Her being a rather pushy lady, I had to find an excuse to leave. That came in the form of a young man who strolled in. Apparently he knew the woman, though I couldn’t tell whether they knew each other through the shop or through something else. The woman started bantering with the kid right away. “Did you go to school today? What are you now, a middle schooler? You started a band!? Who would listen to you?” While I found their conversation quite amusing, I knew that was my only opening. I strolled back out onto the hot streets and concluded my browsing.

After Harajuku, there was one thing I wanted to do during my final trip to Tokyo. There was a cafe called Edelstein which was in the same vein as maid cafes. Rather than maids, however, it was staffed by young men dressed in private school uniforms. Unfortunately I came to find out that the place had closed down earlier this year.

When sharing my woes about this on facebook one of my friends suggested a special maid cafe. Called New Type, it is staffed entirely by men. Yes, I said maid cafe – no, I don’t mean butler cafe. Everyone working there was lovely, and some of them were rather convincing as women. Compared to maids, however, I found these guys to be more friendly and genuine. Instead of wearing a false smile the entire time, they would joke around with each other and customers, engage people in random conversation, simply doing things that seemed less robotic than the typical service worker in Akihabara. I suppose that’s part of the draw to this place – the number of men and women in the place was equal – maybe it’s because these kinds of maids had a different feel than all the others.

When the maids asked me why I was there I told them a friend had suggested it to me. “She wanted to come, but couldn’t. So I came instead.”

The response one of them gave me was, “Tell her this is a great place! And, of course, say, ‘They were all men!’”

After a while I started talking with the businessman sitting next to me. He says he goes to the place every week, Thursday, though that week he went on Wednesday. He is an accountant originally from Osaka, now living in Tokyo. I wanted to ask him what drew him to New Type, but I figured that might be rude. Instead I asked him what I should do for my last day. At a loss, he asked one of the maids. He gave it quite a bit of thought before finally suggesting I go visit Odaiba.

So that’s what I did. The last time I was in Tokyo, I remember wanting to go to Odaiba but not getting the chance.

Odaiba is a man-made island sitting out in Tokyo Bay. Everything on the place has a futuristic feel to it. The most famous landmark is the Fuji Television building, with a giant sphere sitting in the middle of it for no apparent reason. Today it was jam-packed with tourists, almost all Japanese, sitting on the shade of the massive staircase in hopes of warding off the heat as they ate vendor food.

While wandering about the area around Fuji Television I remembered something. In the story arc in which the children returned back to Earth, the kids from Digimon spent their entire time in Odaiba. It was where their apartment was, it was where Greymon destroyed a bridge, and Fuji Television was where one of the most epic battles in the series took place.

With that one, nerdy realization I felt like I was reliving my childhood. If it weren’t for the heat I might have explored the area more, but it was too much for me. Watching that sphere atop Fuji Television as I walked away, I made my way back to mainland Tokyo.

These were my last few days in Japan. Tomorrow afternoon I board a plane back to America. I’ve come to terms with my departure, but I still am wondering:

What will it be like to be back in the country where I was born?


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.


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…

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Connie: 出発

December 28, 2010

Christmas was spent at izakaya, pestering John Lennon apparent look-alikes to stop writing their reports, going karaoke to sing songs like Burnin’ Christmas, eating French Toast and then eating Chinese food ala A Christmas Story. It snowed occasionally. Though it was a strange Christmas, it was a good one. If you can’t be with your family, you can at least make one! The snow from Christmas has turned into ugly rain. I’m going to leave this unpleasant weather soon. Tonight I’m hopping a night bus and going to Tokyo! I don’t know what I’ll do there, but get ready Tokyo!


Kelsey: Been too long

May 16, 2010

Besides being busy with an awesome Golden Week (post on that later, I swear!) and getting a wake up call from my first Japanese exam grade, my computer has had a virus for the past couple of weeks!! I FINALLY got it figured out and now it’s back to normal, so there’s no excuse for not posting, right??

This week was mostly uneventful, but it went extremely fast! Each day led up to my second Japanese exam on Friday, and I think I did pretty okay on it.

Last night I went out with my friends to see a Beatles cover band in Roppongi. It was so fun!! The band played half-hour sets with about 20 minutes of break in between. There were request cards at each table, and all of the drinks were named after Beatles songs. I had a “Yellow Submarine,” my friends had “Strawberry Fields” and “Here Comes the Sun.” The only downside was that it was reeeeeeally expensive. Drinks were about $10 each, admission was $17, and there was a 10% service charge (service charges are kind of rare, and you never have to tip in Japan, in case you didn’t know).

I think I mentioned before my disdain for the Metro closing down around midnight. Why can’t there just be one train an hour all night? I don’t get it. We left the club at 11:30, what seemed like plenty of time to get back. After deciding on the way to go (or so I thought) we (or at least the other girls and me) booked it down to the platform, and got on one of the last, extremely crowded trains. Unfortunately, all of the guys in our group took their sweet time and ended up way behind us and got on a different car. Long story short: the guys all made it back to Heiwadai, no problem. We girls, however, made it only to Ikebukuro—about five stops short of Heiwadai. So we found ourselves in Ikebukuro at 1 a.m., with the choice of walking or finding a 24 hour karaoke bar, in uncomfortable shoes (because we’re girls), and really hungry (because we’re girls, haha). Also not helping were our friends who made it back, who were gloating because they made it and we didn’t, even though we followed their directions and didn’t even offer to help. Typical “gentlemen.”

After starting to walk the wrong way, Kate said that we should just take a taxi. I agreed immediately. I’ve been terrified that taxis in the city would be suuuuuper expensive, and they are, but we had some advantages:
1. There were three of us to split the cost.
2. We had already made it to Ikebukuro, so it wasn’t far away.
So we hailed a taxi and spared a long night of trying to find our way back. It only ended up being about $10 per person, which really isn’t that bad. But it definitely made for an expensive night!!


Kelsey: さくら さくら のやま も さと も (Sakura, sakura, noyama mo sato mo)

April 8, 2010

The title of this post is from a Japanese folk song about the start of spring, sakura being the cherry blossoms that are blooming everywhere right now. Consequently, I could not get it out of my head today. The last time I was in Japan with Measure 5 (my orchestra from high school), we played an arrangement of it.

Today I walked around the entire Imperial Palace area of Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is the imperial palace, the residence of the Emperor and his family. It is smack dab in the middle of Tokyo and is just a huge wooded/garden area with moats and castles and museums. It is also about a mile from my school. When I first saw the area map of the Yotsuya area (where Sophia is) I was in awe of how there could be such a huge area of green in the middle of the city. I’m glad I got to see it today, but unfortunately the palace grounds and museums were closed by the time I got there. It will definitely be worth going back another time.

I will soon find out the results of my placement test and we have an advising appointment. I’ve picked out my classes and I am very excited to start learning more about Japanese society in a classroom setting.

I feel like I always have really good things to write about when I’m out, but as soon as I get home I can’t think of anything to put here. I would like to have theme-like posts about certain aspects of Japanese society instead of full synopses of my days here, so I’ll have to start taking notes throughout the day so I can write something interesting later. I get home after hours of being out and walking around everywhere and I just want to sit, so it’s hard to do anything worthwhile except mindless things like upload pictures on Facebook.


Kelsey: Ikebukuro/Nerima adventures

April 6, 2010

Today was great! I got a lot accomplished, and at the same time saw a lot of sites and new places. I think I only need to get lost walking back to Azalea House a few more times before I know the entire Heiwadai area like the back of my hand.

At 8:30 a.m., Priscilla, Anna, Claudia and I left for Nerima City Hall to get our Alien Registration Cards. Nerima is one of the 23 wards of the Tokyo metropolitan area, and Heiwadai, where I live, is one of the neighborhoods of Nerima. It’s kind of like Nerima is the county and Heiwadai is a town within it. At the City Hall, we had to submit a form and our passport to get registered. Then Priscilla and I went to the post office, where I mailed a note to my grandparents and exchanged some money. It was exciting to do everything on my own and in Japanese!

Next we took the train to Ikebukuro, where Priscilla had open a savings account at CitiBank (“Shitty Bank” in Japanese, no joke). We wandered around the building, which had 10 stories of different stores like HMV and Claire’s, then ate at “Maku” (McDonald’s). The place was packed, but an elderly gentleman got up to give us his seat, and said “Have a nice time.” as he was leaving. It was very sweet.

After some more wandering in Ikebukuro, we decided to go back to the train station to get our student commuter passes. At the Tokyo Metro ticket office, after a little bit of confusion from my broken Japanese, I got my pass! It cost 12270 yen, which is about $130, for 3 months. The way the passes work is I pick a route from Heiwadai to Sophia, and with the pass I can go anywhere in between that route for free. The station clerk told me I picked a bad route because I go through Shinjuku station, but it is worth the extra time to get to school because Shinjuku is within a really good area for sightseeing, nightlife, shopping, etc.

At this point, we decided to head back to Heiwadai. We first went to a store called Life, which is pretty much like Walmart only so, so much better. The food section of the store was amazing. All the produce was pristine and very tasty looking. I bought a 6 pack of ramen noodles and some bananas for under 400 yen, and then some stuff for my room in the other sections of the store.

We were on our way back to Azalea when we ran into some people who were going to Donkihote, so we decided to suck it up and go with them. This store was INSANE and we’re going back tomorrow. It was like as if someone had crammed a Super Walmart, Spencers, toy store, and arcade into 6 floors. I can’t describe it any better than that… but I took a lot of pictures.

Priscilla and I left and headed back to Azalea, when genious me said, “Hey! I know how to get back from the Heiwadai library. It’s a shortcut!” We got fairly far back to Azalea, and to be fair, it was a pretty good shortcut, but then I second-guessed myself and decided to ask for directions. We stopped at a little tobacco/convenience store and talked to the owners in Japanese about where we were going. They were so very nice and helpful and just super adorable. I’m glad we stopped. I bought some Pocky as a thank you to them, and Puri-chan and I finally made it back!

I feel like I’ve walked a million miles since I arrived here, and the rest of the week sounds like it will be just as much!


Kelsey: Arrival in Tokyo

April 5, 2010

My plan was to sleep on the plane in order to get used to the time change, but you probably know how that went. I ended up watching some movies and TV shows on the screen at my seat. I also played Tetris, because the touch screen came with a little remote/game controller. Haha! After 13 hours, we were on the ground in Tokyo!!

After going through immigration, getting our luggage, and customs inspections, Seth, the other student studying at Sophia University, and I finally made it through the overly dramatic door to the arrival gate to meet the students Sophia brought to pick us up. Yuki was my guide, a 2nd year student majoring in English. Consequently, her English was much better than my Japanese, so we defaulted to that for the trip to my apartment. So begins the really bad day of arrival…

First, we dropped off my suitcases at the “baggage drop-off service” Sophia had suggested in the pre-departure notes. Since it wasn’t specified, I thought it meant Sophia would have someone drive our bags to our living arrangements for us. Instead, it meant that I would pay about $40 to have my suitcases arrive… the next day. Now this wouldn’t have been that bad if we didn’t have to bring our own bedding, but my pillow, blanket, towels, etc. were in those suitcases. I spent the 2 hour train ride to my apartment angry that I hadn’t insisted on bringing at least one of my bags with. The train stations were really busy, though, so I suppose it wouldn’t have worked very well.

After 4 trains and a 20 minute walk in Heiwadai trying to find my apartment, we arrived at the Azalea House. my home for the next four months. I checked in at the office and found out, surprise! that I had underpaid my rent when I sent the bank transfer from TCF (TCF was horrible when I tried to do this, they couldn’t tell me an exchange rate and I had to just estimate what it would be when the money was transferred. Ugh.). Also, as I was warned, it would take about 2 weeks to get internet set up in our rooms, and it is super expensive. Bummer.

Yuki left after taking me to my room, and since I had nothing to unpack I immediately grabbed my laptop and went to the lounge where everyone else was taking advantage of the wifi. I sent out an email telling everyone I had arrived and then went to “sleep.” Even though I put the heater on full blast and I was wearing a sweatshirt with my pajamas, I was FREEZING!!! I tried to use my coat as a blanket, but laying on a mattress with no pillow while shivering like a mad woman made it impossible to sleep. I dozed for a couple of hours, than sat awake for 20 minutes before watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s at 2 in the morning. I dozed for a little longer, but at 5 a.m. I decided it was time to get up.

Day 1, and holy smokes, what a day it was!
I took a shower and got dressed, then went to the lounge again where another girl was already on her laptop. It turns out nobody else could sleep because they were freezing too and their luggage hadn’t arrived either. It made me feel a little better knowing I wasn’t the only one in that predicament.

At 8:30 a group of us left for Sophia, as we had orientation and our placement test. At orientation we received a bag with a huge stack of papers and information books, and a laundry list of paperwork we as exchange students had to complete, as well as information about registering for classes. A guy came in late and sat down next to me, and it turns out he is from St. Thomas University in St. Paul! How coincidental! After orientation, we were split into groups and take to go eat lunch. Yuki was the guide for my group, so that was nice to see her again. She took us to the cafeteria for lunch, and I bought a yummmmy bowl of the special donburi, a dish that is a meat and sauce over rice.

We were getting ready to leave from lunch, and the thing that I had been dreading the most since March 5 happened: I felt my ring and the middle diamond had fallen out. I looked around on the floor and was absolutely heartbroken, as the cafeteria was super crowded and we were leaving and I just couldn’t see it anywhere. It was absolutely horrible!! Read the rest of this entry ?


Kelsey: 九日!!

March 23, 2010

I leave in NINE days!! I have all of my paperwork in, I’ve received my visa, and I (hopefully) have saved enough money so I don’t starve. Right now is just an awkward period where I’m seeing friends, coworkers, and family for the last time and I just don’t know what to think.

Although it has been nearly 18 months since I decided to study abroad in Japan and began the application process, the preparations seemed to drag on. In order to help out future Sophia Bilateral Exchange students, I’ll start from the very beginning.

The way the Bilateral Exchange Program works is you switch places with a student at the school you want to study at for a semester or year. It is the cheapest way to study abroad, as the program fee is simply your regular tuition charge that you pay to your home university. If you are willing to plan all of the details of your trip on your own, you will save a lot of cash.

Because the Bilateral Exchange is so cheap, it is also extremely competitive. An applicant must first be nominated by their home university, then be accepted to the university you will be going to. All of this planning began way back in the Fall of 2008. I decided to try to be nominated to go to Hiroshima University, so I gathered recommendation letters and transcripts, filled out the application, and wrote my personal statement. I submitted my application in December, then began the first of many agonizing waits.

At the end of February I received a phone call that I had been nominated to go to Sophia University in Tokyo. I was a little upset that I didn’t get to go to Hiroshima, but I was happy to be nominated for anything at that point! I scrambled to submit all of my confirmation materials, do an online orientation, and come up with $500 for the deposit, all of which was due less than two weeks from being told I was accepted.

After that I heard nothing until the middle of April, when the orientation for all of the students nominated for exchanges at Japanese universities occurred. This was not very helpful, since it was an entire year before I would be going and I still didn’t know anything for certain. Nevertheless, I got to meet the nominated students (less than 10 total for 3 different schools!) and received some advice about the trip. When I expressed my fear that I wouldn’t get accepted to the school, I was told that they had never nominated a student who didn’t get accepted, but there was always a chance it wouldn’t happen. Read the rest of this entry ?

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