I slept for 9 hours last night, but woke up tired and groggy. Yesterday was hard and draining and depressing, and I didn’t want to do it again today. It was dark and gloomy and cold in the apartment, which didn’t help my motivation, but outside was sunny. I have to open the curtain and look up and kind of left to see the sky from my room. There’s a tiny patch of open sky there, which I use to read the weather. I had to give myself a mental slap in the face. I am in Japan. I am on holiday. I should be making the most out of every second here, not building a futon nest to never emerge from. Sometimes things turn shit, but we have to keep going. If we stop it is all over. We all make choices in life, some big and some small. But we need to take responsibility for those choices, and the consequences that arise from choosing them.
Sorry for being all philosophical and emotional. I’ll stick to topics related to Japan and photography now.
I packed a salad bento and walked to Tabata again. I prefer walking to this station over Nishi-Nippori for two reasons. One, it’s closer. And two, it has the best smelling bakery I’ve ever seen (smelt?) in my life. Japanese are big on bread bakeries, the kind where you go around armed with a tray and tongs, and make selections in your own sweet time. There are, of course, small loaves of white and wholemeal breads (usually very tall, and cut into 4 or 5 slices), but most of the shelf space is filled with creative sweet and savoury breads, pastries, buns, and deep-fried breads. There are fruit breads, chocolate breads, cheese, curry, cream- anything you can think of, you can get it in bread form. I’ve seen melon bread shaped like a turtle, and black sesame and red bean bread made to look like panda faces. I think you get the idea. Anyway, this particular bakery at Tabata smells incredible ALL THE TIME. I wish I could bottle the smell and bring it home with me. I’d pay good money to have that scent in an airwick dispenser in my room. I can’t even describe it. It’s sweet and warm and light, its cute somehow. In any case, I always walk slowly past the bakery to breathe in as much of the bready air as possible.
From Tabata, I took the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro, where I had to change to an express train on the Tobu line, which would take me to Kawagoe. Since I had to exit the ticket gate at Ikebukuro, I had decided that I’d get a hot coffee there, as well as an onigiri to have with my lunch. I have this growing conspiracy that when there’s something in particular that I want, I can’t find it anywhere. But when I’m not looking for it, I see it everywhere. This theory came into play at Ikebukuro. Find a convenience store and buy an onigiri? Should be no problem in Tokyo, right? I walked around for 10 minutes before I found one, and they didn’t have the type of onigiri I initially craved. Secondly, find a chain cafe for coffee (Starbucks, Excelsior, etc.) Nope, none of those either. I eventually found a Lotteria, which us a coffee and sandwich chain, and had a latte there. It was obviously made with an instant coffee machine, because the froth wasnt smooth, and had splashed over the edges a bit. Plus it didn’t really taste like anything. But it was cheap and it warmed me up, so I didn’t care.
So I went back into the station (passing two convenience stores and a Starbucks on the way- of course) and got on a train that I hoped was headed for Kawagoe. It didn’t stop at any stations for about ten minutes, and I thought I should probably ask someone if it was headed in the right direction. Luckily, it was. It got to Kawagoe really quickly.
Now, after briefly reading about it online, I expected Kawagoe to be one of those small, remote towns. The kind where the streets are lined with tiny noodle and sembei shops, run by elderly couples who’ve been using the same recipe for decades. A place where there are lots of open spaces and ancient shrines, and hardly any people around. A place kind of like Takaosan, or Hakone.
I should really know by now that nothing ever turns out how I expect it to. I exited the sizeable station, and found myself at a huge multi level bus terminal, surrounded by department stores, 7/11s, and crowds of people. I seemed to be the only foreign person around, which I kind of liked. I picked up a map of the area, then spent a little while in one of the department stores called Altrè, where I bought a ring and some super cute mini inari. I’d never seen mini inari before, and at 98 yen for 2, how could I resist? But of course, I didn’t come all the way to Kawagoe to shop.
Kawagoe is special because it still retains some of its Edo period charm. There is a whole street which houses shops with Edo-style warehouse facades, and so visitors are able to imagine what the city might have looked like ‘back in the day.’ Kawagoe is, therefore, supposedly known as ‘Little Edo.’ There is also something called Kashiya Yokochō, or ‘Candy Alley,’ which is a tiny alley lined with traditional candy stores. Some of the stores, originally from the Showa Period, still exist. As well as that, there are a handful of temples and shrines to visit.
I headed out happily towards what I thought was the main centre of town. But obviously, because its me, I was going completely the wrong way, and ended up at the freeway back to Ikebukuro. So I turned around, learned to read the map properly, and eventually came to my first stop, Kitain Temple. This was quite a large complex, and I spent a while exploring all the different areas and hidden features. It was very peaceful and very beautiful. And there were lots of different little seating areas, which would have been perfect to sit down and eat at, had it been lunch time. I really liked a tiny inari shrine, which was on a little island in the middle of a pond, and which could only be accessed by an arching red bridge. There was also a closed off section containing hundreds of little people statues. These were representative of Buddha’s disciples, and I was pretty sure you had to pay to go in, so I just took some photos through the gaps in the fence.
Next, I made my way towards a shrine near the base of Kurazukuri no Machinami (the old warehouse district.) On the map, the grounds looked big enough to have somewhere to sit down and eat lunch. As I made my way towards it, I passed a few more shrines, as well as shops selling udon and yaki-dango. There were little spurts of sakura all over the place. More and more are appearing every day. They are going to be so beautiful when they are all in bloom. I’ve never been in Japan to see the cherry blossoms, so I’m excited to finally see them! When I got to the shrine where I planned to eat, I walked around the grounds briefly, then found a bench to sit and eat at. I’d packed a cabbage and bean salad with sesame dressing, as well as the leftovers of two pre-made salads that I’ve been munching through in batches. They were the mushroom, bean and nut one, and a hijiki and edamame one with finely shredded chicken. So good! I also had the ebi-mayo handroll that I’d bought this morning, and one of the mini (bite-sized) inari that contained chestnuts. The handroll was fun, because it’s packaged in a special way so that the nori doesn’t touch the rice until you are ready to eat it. This stops it going soggy. Genius! This was also tasty, but contained a lot of mayo, and not a lot of ebi.
Whilst I was eating, I watched a little boy chase pigeons. He came right up to me, then noticed me and looked terrified. His mum, following close behind, encouraged him to say hello, but he looked to afraid. But a little girl sitting in a bike seat with her mum (obviously they all knew each other) yelled out ‘konnichiwaaaa.’ I watched them all for a while, as they walked around the shrine and the mums chatted. I worked up the courage to ask the kids to come over to where I was sitting, and then I gave them each a clip on koala. The little girl loved it, and the boy was scared of it. The girl knew what it was, ‘koara-san da yo!’ I talked to the little girl and her mum for a while, and they asked me about where I was from and what I was doing in Japan. I asked if they lived nearby, and they happened to live in a building just behind the shrine. So I got out my map and asked where the most interesting places in Kawagoe to visit were. After a few recommendations, I set off again, waving to the kids who were clutching their koalas with glee.
I walked up the main street of the old warehouse district, and was offered a sweet bean coated in some kind of dust to eat. Shops selling all kinds of flavoured beans (both sweet and savoury) are also really popular in the more ‘town like’ areas. On the next block, I was offered some taiyaki on a stick. Except this was shaped like a turtle, not a fish, and was filled with sakura and mochi. It was delicious, so I had to by some. They tasted like cinnamon. There was a window at the front of the store where you could watch them being made, and there were six different kinds you could buy. I bought a mixed box to give my friend’s family, as well as a sakura one to take home for myself.
Next, I visited the historical bell tower, which is one of the famous landmarks of the town. The tower was rebuilt in 1894, after the Great Kawagoe Fire of 1893 had destroyed the previous structure. It actually still works, and chimes 4 times a day. Nearby, there were stores selling purple sweet potato ice cream, manju, and other sweet potato products. And I found ama-zake! I tried this sweet sake in Kamakura, and have been hunting for it in supermarkets ever since. The store owner questioned of I knew what it was and actually wanted to buy it, which I thought was funny.
Next, I crossed the street and stumbles upon a temple with the most perfectly manicured garden I have seen. I tried to capture it on camera, but it just didn’t do the place justice. The plants were perfect, the raked stones were perfect, even the placement of the ornamental rocks was perfect. It was so beautiful, I spent ages just staring at it like I’d never seen a plant before. But eventually I had to leave, because there were other things to be seen. One day I would like to have a garden like that, but I would be lazy and bad at maintaining it, so it would never look as good.
I kept walking towards the end of the main street, stopping at a few shops and shrines along the way. Then I turned right and headed to Hikawa Shrine, one of the places that the mum in the park recommend. This place is known to be good for relationships and love. People go there to pray for strong love with their partner, or to make an offering in the hope of finding a girlfriend or boyfriend. I wanted to visit this shrine to pray for strength in my own relationship. Its hard being away from that person you love for such a long time. So I cleansed my hands and mouth with the water, and visited each area of the shrine. Next to the main shrine, there was a whole tunnel filled with ema (prayer plaques), which looked beautiful because it was so full. Behind that was a selection of inari shrines, about 5 in total, lined up next to each other from largest to smallest. At the main shrine, I threw money in the box, clapped, bowed and prayed. This might sound silly, but that was the most connected I’ve ever felt with religion. I’m not religious, as I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’ve been feeling very… I don’t know, something, as of late. Spiritual isn’t the right word. Connected, I guess describes it better. I can’t really explain, I just feel different. More alive and real somehow. I guess it’s a personal feeling that can’t really be expressed with words, or conveyed properly to someone other than myself.
I wanted to buy one of the lucky charms from the shrine (the word ‘charms’ makes them sound tacky, but they’re not), but I didn’t know which one to choose, as I didn’t understand the kanji that described their meanings. So I asked a mother and daughter what I should get to keep an existing relationship happy for ever. They helped me choose a charm, but for it to work, I had to buy two (one for me and one for my boyfriend.) I had them blessed by the shrine maiden selling them.
Feeling a lot better and happier than yesterday, I left the shrine and walked along a river towards the sports arena. The river looked really good on the pictorial map (hand drawn, not photographic), lined with beautiful cherry blossoms. In reality, there were trees, but they were bare, so it wasn’t as beautiful as I had expected. Again, expectations vs reality. Near the sports place, there was another small shrine, next to a park and a playground. I walked through, passing under some pink and white cherry blossoms, and past a group of labourers who were having a break, sitting on the kiddy animals in the playground. Next to that was Honmaru Goten, the only surviving building of what used to be Kawagoe Castle. The castle was originally built in 1457, but is all houses now. A little further down the road were some castle ruins, which were supposed to be old torrents. It was basically a patch of dirt and a rock at the top of some stairs.
Next, I walked back towards the warehouse district, stopping occasionally so watch the local school kids play, or to look in a shop window. I headed to the famed ‘Candy Alley,’ which I mentioned earlier, but it wasn’t all that exciting. There seemed to be more cake being sold than candy, but the tiny street was charming all the same. After that, I walked back towards the station, taking the back streets, just incase I came across anything interesting.
Just before the station, I had to wait at a railroad crossing whilst a train passed, and I saw a lady get whacked in the face by a pole and knocked off her bike. See, at the crossings, there are boom gates that come down to stop people and cars crossing if a train comes. You’re meant to stop when the bells start going, but some people decide to sprint under before they close completely. This lady was riding a bike, and almost made it under before the gate came down. But it hit her square in the face, and she pretty much did a backflip off the bike, landing on her back on the ground. So not only did she get hit right on the nose, but she landed badly on her back. She wasn’t young, either. I helped her up and another lady helped pull her bike up from the ground. We asked her if she was ok, and she said yes, but kept touching her nose, perhaps to check for blood. The fall looked really painful, and I felt sorry for her.
Near the station, I looked in a couple of department stores, and refrained myself from buying 3 pairs of shoes and another pair or pants. As well as countless things such as bags and vertical house-shaped tissue dispensers. Then I got the train back to Ikebukuro (and had to wait ten minutes for a train to arrive. That’s the longest wait in history in Tokyo!) I bought a few food supplies before heading back to the apartment, where I cooked up a quick dinner because it was already past 8, and I was really hungry. I had leftover tsukune-don, with some veggies that I cooked, and some other leftover veggies, and a miso eggplant from the department store. Then I ate the sakura turtle that I bought earlier. I was going to save it for tomorrow but didn’t have the willpower to do that.
Tomorrow is going to be good weather again, so I’m going to re-visit Takao san and do some hiking. I’m so tired right now, it really takes ages to go through all the images from the day. Luckily I know it doesn’t take long to reach the mountain, so I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.
Due to yesterday’s lack of imagery, here are some more things I saw today that I found funny, interesting, or just plain amusing. Enjoy.