Today was my last day in Tokyo.
It’s hard to believe, because I’ve fallen into a familiarly with my apartment and my area, and even begun to refer to them as ‘my.’ It seems like the month has passed so quickly, but at the same time, it does feel like ages ago that I walked through the snow to get the key to my shoe box sized apartment.
Today was a public holiday, so I was able to spend it with Saki and her mum, as neither of them had to go to work. I met them at Haijima (their local station) at 10am, which meant not much sleep. Because it was my last day, I treated myself to a Starbucks latte (the real kind, not the 7/11 prepackaged kind.) I got an extra shot for wake up assistance. I think I’m becoming a little too dependant on coffee here. Hmm. The girl making the coffee drew a special thing on my cup. I almost didn’t want to throw it out.
It took a little over an hour to reach Haijima, and when I got there, Saki and her mum were waiting for me in their car. The station and everything was so familiar. It was very natsukashii.
Saki’s mum, Mayumi, wanted to take us to an ashi no yu (kind of like a hot public bath for your feet.) So we drove a short way to one that she knew of, but it was tiny and she was unimpressed. So we piled back in the car and drove a little further towards a lake. We were driving on the edge of two wards, and so the GPS kept getting confused and saying “now entering Tokyo, now entering Saitama.” We kept our eyes outside the car, trying to spot patches of sakura in bloom as we drove along. Before long, we pulled over in a gravel car park near the lake (which is also a reservoir for Tokyo’s drinking water.) We walked along the edge of the lake for a while, admiring the colour of the water. It was so bright, I wished I had brought sunglasses. My eyes were squinting so much in the glare. There were many sakura trees all around the lake, but they weren’t in bloom yet. One more week, perhaps. They would have looked so beautiful if they were covered in tiny pink sakura flowers.
Next, we used the public bathroom, which isn’t something I would usually mention, except the toilets flushed without water. When you flushed, all of these foamy white bubbles appeared to clean the toilet. One toilet was overflowing with white foam; I think the button was broken. But the water that the toilets lacked was made up for at the hand washing basin, where water shot out at such high pressure that it could probably knock over a small child.
Next, we drove back through Fussa to a mountainous town in Saitama. Here, we visited an ashi no yu that was so beautiful. It was on the side of a cliff, and had a gift shop and restaurant, as well as little units where you could stay for a night or two. There were a few ladies giving free samples of a vegetable cooked in some special way, which we all tried. I have no idea what it was, but it was green and looked like broccolini. Then we went over to the foot bath and took of our shoes and socks. The water was 41°C, and was a little hot at first, but then felt so nice. We sat with our feet dangling into the water, chatting and taking photos. When our legs had turned red and looked like we were wearing socks, we dried off and put our shoes back on. My feel felt so smooth and soft, like all the crap had fallen off. We visited the gift shop before leaving, and Mayumi bought us all an oyaki, which is a kind of dough filled with red bean or vegetable, then grilled. Saki ate hers straight away, but Mayumi and I saved ours.
We got back in the car and drove for about a minute, when Mayumi suddenly pulled over again. She had spotted this tiny hut on the side of the hill, which sold hand-made oyaki. One of those stand alone, super authentic places run by a single old woman. Perfect. We bought one more oyaki each, straight off the grill. We ate them immediately. They were amazing, and the anko inside was the best anko I’ve ever had. It was dark and rich in colour, and still had some parts of the azuki beans inside (not completely smooth.) It was so delicious, and I couldn’t eat it slowly, like the old lady advised. I ate fast and burnt my mouth on the hot anko. But it was so worth it.
We drove back through the town a little, and stopped at a cute Japanese restaurant on the side of the main road. It must have been popular, because we had to wait our turn for a table, which took about 20 minutes. Inside was beautifully decorated with simple Japanese decor, and this gorgeous antique wooden dresser. Saki ordered udon, and Mayumi had zaru soba. I chose something I’d never had before, which was grilled leek topped with a special kind of home-made miso. It sounds really simple, but I can’t tell you how amazing it tasted. The miso had other things mixed in, and was grilled until it was a little charred, which brought out the sweetness. Hands down the best miso I’ve ever had.
Feeling very full, we once again got back in the car and drove around pointing out big cherry blossoms. Then we ended up back at a large shopping mall near Saki’s house, which I remembered visiting last time I was in Tokyo. Mayumi wanted to buy some clothes, but Saki thought that was boring, so we split up. Saki and I went to a whole bunch of stores, and I bought a jacket, some little presents, and some postcards. Every time I go shopping with Saki I buy things. In pretty much every store too. It’s a running joke between us. But I can’t help it when we go to stores like Village Vanuguard (coolest most random store in the world? Yes.) One store that deserves a mention is one that sold a bit of everything (kitchen stuff, home stuff, kiddy stuff, etc.) It was a pretty typical store, but it also sold these little jars with sea critters inside. They were palm sized jars, and contained tiny critters like micro shrimp, little fish, and a tiny tiny pair of prawns. There was also a green ball, which was some kind of plant that’s famous in Japan. You didn’t need to feed most of these things (the bigger things did need feeding), and they had approximate lifespans of 2-9 years, depending on the creature. I thought they were incredibly interesting, but also a little cruel. Aside from the plant one; I wanted to take that home, but don’t think it would have made it through customs.
We met back at the car around 4, and Mayumi handed out iced coffee and matcha lattes that she had bought from the supermarket. I had a matcha latte, which I finished in about 1.5 minutes, because it was so good. We drove towards Tachikawa station, because I had to meet Chihiro there at 6:30 to pass her some gifts. But when we got there, it was only 5, so we parked in the department store car park and went into Lumine for shopping round 2.
Saki wanted to see if they had a ring that she wanted to buy last week when we were in Tachikawa together. It was one of those ones with your initial on it, and last week they’d run out of ‘S.’ But they still didn’t have any ‘S’ ones. So next we went into Village Vanuguard for the second time today. No complaints – we could both easily spend hours in there. I found some awesome photography magazines, which I’ve kind of been hunting for since I arrived in Tokyo, and they were all cheap! Around 500-800 yen. So I spent ages choosing which one I was going to buy, and ended up getting two. Mayumi could get 10% off if she used her Lumine card, so we gave our purchases to her to buy, whilst we went and hid. I don’t know if hiding was necessary or not, but I just followed Saki’s lead. Then we met out the front of the store and I handed Mayumi the cash for the magazines but she refused to take it and insisted they were gifts. I tried to disagree but she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I humbly accepted my new gift.
As we were looking at some more items that were attached to the front of the store, two high school girls came up behind us and asked me if they could take a photo with me. I said ok, and they nearly wet their pants with excitement. It was a bit weird. Once they snapped the shot, they took it back to their group of friends waiting in the corner and chattered away crazily about how I was apparently cute and had a small face. I wonder if they knew that I could understand them. Anyway, Saki and Mayumi thought it was hilarious.
Next, we went down to the basement food level and Mayumi bought a few things to take home for dinner. Then I got a text from Chihiro saying she had arrived at our meeting point. So I said goodbye to Saki and her mum, feeling all sad and reluctant to leave. I watched them go up the escalator until I couldn’t see them anymore.
I met Chihiro inside the ticket gate, and handed over the lamingtons that she immediately hugged to her chest. They are her favorite. Her boyfriend was there too, and he was promptly told that he would not be getting ANY of the lamingtons. Then I had to say another goodbye to my other Japanese sister. We prolonged it as much as we could, and I was even escorted to my train. We hugged a million times and then the train started playing the music that means its leaving. So I quickly jumped on and the doors shut. But then the train just sat there for a minute, taking away the grandeur of our farewell. We both pretended to be awkward. Then the train began to move, and I waved until we went into a tunnel and everything turned black.
The journey home was fast, and felt strange because I knew it was the last time I’d do it. I tried to soak in as much of Tabata as I could. When I tried to exit the station, I had to top up my Suica card, because I was 12 yen short for the journey I’d taken. The minimum you can put it is 1000 yen, so that was a bit annoying because now I can’t use that 1000 (unless Suica works in Osaka, but I’m pretty sure they have a different system.) I stopped at the grocery store to get a few little things for dinner, including my last tsukune yakitori from this one stall I always go to. The owner had a little conversation with me, probably because I’m one of her returning customers haha. I told her I was leaving tomorrow, and she told me to take care and have fun.
Back home, I cooked up the remaining vegetables and konnyaku from my fridge, and had them on top of some warm chicken rice that also needed to be eaten. Then I had the other anko oyaki that Mayumi bought me earlier, which I heated up in the microwave for authenticity.
And then I had to pack.
Holy crap I’ve bought a lot of stuff! I didn’t think it was that bad, but I’d forgotten about all the coats hanging in the cupboard, and the three bags of gifts tucked beneath them. I thought I could loosely shove everything inside my suitcase, but I soon realized that would never work, and that I’d have to use the tight rolling technique. It took me over an hour to do most of my packing, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have to throw out my old backpack a bit further down the line. As well as some other stuff, probably. I already did a small cull of paper goods (do I really need this brochure advertising an art exhibition that I never intended on visiting?) Finally I could go to bed, after writing a list of things I needed to do before checking out at 10am tomorrow.
Better set the Pokémon alarm.