Today I sleep in and get some beauty rest after all the mountaineering and walking of Hachijojima. I’m amused to learn there’s a Denny’s down the street from my hotel, so have to check it out. Could it be out here in Tokyo you can get the same “Grand Slam” breakfast with bacon eggs and pancakes?
Not quite! But hey, it’s still a great breakfast. The mostly raw egg spread over the bowl of rice reminds me a lot of grits. That grainy breakfasty flavor. Good times.
I make Akibahara my primary destination today (Tokyo’s nerdy anime district). I actually spend a lot more time there than I expected, but it was fun. It has similar shops to what I found in Den Den Town in Osaka, only amped up one more notch. There’s a lottery machine? for figurines I spot outside one shop, and I decide to give it a shot.
What do you know, 1/10 chance of winning, and I win!
The “C” prize ends up being a Hatsune Miku Nendroid (small cutesy figurine), and it sets the tone for the rest of the day. I’ve got lady luck on my side!
The stores here have everything an anime nerd could want. Video games, Blu-rays, CDs, collectibles, and even certain “select” Japanese comics for discerning clientele. There’s even whole floor dedicated to said select comics targeted towards women as well. Then again, there’s also whole floors devoted to solely Star Wars merchandise, so who am I to judge the system? It’s working perfectly for me.
In any case, I end up finding a pile of Vocaloid CDs in one store and I snatch up a number of them. The prices on some of these are insanely good. Couple bucks each for things that are usually $20 something bucks plus international shipping if I wanted to get my hands on them in the states. Score! Won’t be able to listen to them till I get home, but this should tide me over for a good long while.
It isn’t long before the chimes of the arcades draw me in with their siren songs, and that’s when the trouble begins.
So you see, there’s these crane games right? UFO catchers as they’re called here. They have a lot of exclusive merch you can only get from said crane games, and I kind of discovered I’m pretty good at them. You can’t just go “boop, I caught it. I win” It’s impossible for the crane to lift the products out. But, by using the crane the right way, to can kind of “nudge” and maneuver the product towards the goal. If you’re good, you can end up spending less than $10 to get some merch that may be worth 2 or 3 times as much if it were being sold on the shelf.
It’s easy, all you do is nudge the box into the hole.
Japan doesn’t have legalized gambling, but this feels like the closest thing there is. I, uh, kind of got a lot of figurines to bring home to the states.
(help me please)
My thirst for an inordinate number of souvenirs temporarily sated, I travel to the Shinjuku district, which is sort of the official “downtown” to tokyo. There I get dinner at some tiny hole-in-the-wall “meat on a stick place” run by some chinese ladies and hidden down some alleyway that is easy to miss. Tonight’s meal featured what I think was: peppers, chicken wings, chicken hearts, (chicken?) livers and beef niblets. Good eats, my friend.
We’re all crowded in at the counter, only inches from the wall, at first I sit next to a pile of London bros / blokes and start to talk to them, but they’re on their way out and leave to make way for more waiting patrons, these ones Chinese, looking to get out of the rain and find some hot food.
It was a fun day, and I’ll definitely not be coming home empty handed except for the memories.
I take the train north out of Tokyo to meet up with an old college friend: Yu Ohashi. She studied at Embry-Riddle same time as I did, and we were in the Tae Kwon Do Club together for a few years. It’s been nearly 10 years since I saw her last, so I’m looking forward to meeting up.
She’s a new mother herself, just giving birth to a baby girl, Sakura, on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t actually sure before this trip if she would be available to meet, but there she was, at the train station waiting to pick me up as I pulled into Utsonomiya.
She takes me around sightseeing for a while, Sakura-chan in tow. We visit a shrine that lies along a historical pilgrim trail for people visiting the Shogun’s tomb up in Nikko. And Yu teaches me the proper ritual for leaving an offering and making a prayer (would have been useful to know in Kyoto). I pray for an old co-worker of mine, who texted me today saying he’s been diagnosed with cancer. A sad and sobering thought to dwell on.
Yu also show me around her home and we trade gifts. I hand her a nice new book to read, and she hands me a goodie bag of awesome Japanese snacks, including “official” Subaru cookies. If I can’t find a way to fit them into my luggage, my breakfast tomorrow might be cookies…
We grab a late lunch at a small restaurant just down the block from her place, and it’s delightful. A little bit of everything for lunch today, and I enjoy the atmosphere and the food while reconnecting with a long lost friend. Few things better in the world than good food and good conversation.
I’ve met so many great people on this trip, being able to re-connect with an old friend was the perfect way to spend my final full day in Japan. Thanks for everything Yu! If you’re ever in Midland, TX you know how to find me.
Another train back to Tokyo leaves me just enough time for a power nap to recarge my batteries and my phone batteries before venturing out for one final Tokyo evening. Following the advice of another old friend who we all affectionately know as “Harlock”, I take the aboveground train out to Odaiba Seaside park just as the sun is setting out behind the western skyline.
Here at the water’s edge, sand beneath my boots, I feel entirely at ease. Calmly looking out at the end of the day, and the end of this short trip, I have nothing but great memories to carry forward even after I return. I’m hardly the veteran globetrotter, but I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin, having come this far. The lights of the city take on more vibrancy as the sun finally fades away, leaving behind the silhouette of a fisherman in front of the Rainbow bridge, each one of us enjoying the vista we share.
I’m down to my last few thousand yen, so I keep it simple and eat an egg sandwich I bought from a nearby convenience store. Somehow, with this scenery and these reflections, it tastes just as delicious as a gourmet meal.
Tomorrow I get up early to head all the way out to Narita airport to fly back the other direction. There are plenty of things still to see and do here in Tokyo, or elsewhere in Japan for that matter, but I’m sure this won’t be the last time I set foot in this remarkable country.
I’d like to dedicate this final blog post to the memory of Aleta Jackson. She was an avid lover of Japanese culture, and one of my biggest supporters all through my career. Her passion for this country was one of the big reasons I wanted to come here too, and I’m sorry she’s not around today for me to share my stories with. She deserves to be remembered, so I’ll share with you a short story to conclude this Japanese adventure.
I remember asking Aleta a question one day, as I passed by her desk from going to the printer. It was one I had on my mind for years, and somehow felt compelled to ask her at that moment. “Aleta, why did you end up hiring me? I did good in the interviews but not great. I did good in college but not great. I’m sure you had a lot of people who wanted the position. So why me?”
She glances up at me, her eyes peeking up over the rims of her oversized glasses. She has this look on her face and this tone in her voice like she’s explaining something obvious that I should already know.
“Geo, I just saw something special in you.”
I won’t ever forget those words for the rest of the days I live.