Tachikawa

Ashi no Yu

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Steph Suzuki

A happier day.

Last night I had so many life changing revelations, and intense feelings of certainty in my future. The horrible sick feelings that I had all day yesterday still pop up in waves, but they are in no way as intense and crippling as before.

I spent the morning organising my check out inspection and transportation for Thursday, as well as finding a place to stay Thursday night. There’s going to be a brilliant and possibly hilarious blog entry about a capsule hotel for you all to read Friday morning. I did a load of washing, so that it would have a day to dry, and hung it all up in random places in the apartment. My kitchen and living area now looks like a forest of clothing. I also looked at a possible ‘mini journey’ I could do in the four days where I have no accommodating or activities booked. But I’m not sharing it yet incase I change my mind. Plus, I haven’t worked out if it’s logistically possible yet.

Around midday, I trekked to Shinjuku station (i can do this with my eyes closed now) and switched to the Chuo rapid train for Tachikawa. I was going to meet my ‘sister’ Chihiro there, to spend the afternoon together and have dinner with her parents. Chihiro is a special friend, who I see as family. I’ve stayed in her house and attended classes at her school, and she’s done the same as my place in Australia. We’ve known each other a long time.

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I arrived at Tachikawa half an hour early, because I wanted to purchase something called jyuu hachi kippu, or “18 ticket.” This ticket is only available during school break, and costs ¥11,500. It is basically a set of 5 tickets, each one giving you unlimited travel on JR local trains for 24 hours. You don’t need to use them consecutively, and you can share each ‘part’ as you wish. So for example, I could use 2 of the five parts and give the other 3 to someone else. We can do this while traveling together too. The only catch is you can only use local trains. So no express or rapid or shinkansen. It ends up being about $23 per day, which is incredible value. Just going from Tokyo to Kyoto would cost me well over $100, so its going to be so useful to me. I think travelling only on small local trains and making a billion transfers will also be fun.

I met Chihiro and we went to a store underneath the station to engage in a favourite activity amongst Japanese girls – purikura. This is that thing where you go inside a photo booth and take photos with your friends, and then decorate them. They are then dispensed as a sticker sheet, for you to admire or stick on anything you please. I hadn’t done purikura since last time I came to Japan, and I noticed that the appearance of the machines had changed. They were a lot more sleek and mature looking, and most featured Western people rather than Japanese (on the advertisements.) They also sped up the shooting time and heavily reduced the decorating time. In any case, it was fun, but we were hopeless at poses!

Next we walked around a department store whilst we waited for one of our other friends, Rodney, to arrive. Rodney and Chihiro go to school together, and I’d met him last time I came to Japan. Chihiro had told me that Rodney had been in hospital, and that he had just gotten out this morning. I knew that he’d had surgery, but until I saw him, I didn’t know how serious it was. His arm was in a sling and was covered in bruises and scars. He’d ripped the nerves out of their sockets, and could no longer move his right arm. And he may never do so again because of the severity of the damage. Rod described the damage and the accident, and it made me feel nauseas thinking about it. I had to sit down twice because my vision turned white, and I felt like I would faint. I never feel like fainting. I felt terrible and rude, because poor Rodney had been through so much, and was so accepting and cool about it, and here I was fainting like a wimp just from talking about it. What a sissy.

We visited an ATM, then tried to find a karaoke place, but they were all full (probably with students, as it is currently spring break.) So instead, we went to Gusto- a family restaurant. Chihiro had a bowl of pasta and Rodney ate a collection of things because he hadn’t had lunch. I still felt squeamish, and I knew if I ate anything, it was going to make a second appearance. I felt dizzy again when I went to the bathroom.

We just chatted for ages, which was so good. Even though we hadn’t seen each other for years, it felt like no time had passed, and nothing was awkward at all. That’s what I love about true friends, no matter how long it has been, you can still talk like you saw each other the week before. After Rodney and Chihiro had finished eating, we walked over to the other side of the station to do some shopping. I needed to pick up a few things at Daiso, and Chihiro wanted to look for a new camera at Bic Camera (the Harvey Norman of Japan, only 6 times bigger.) We spent a while looking at all the compact cameras, and there was this really tiny one that we all thought was cool, and which Chihiro ended up buying. It was smaller than an iPhone, but had a huge screen and took really good pictures. I thought that it would be kind of crummy, as those kind of small cameras usually are, but the resolution was high, and the colour reproduction was great! And it was less than 6000 yen. That’s under $60. Also, you could take the front off it and change the pattern on the camera body by replacing the paper inside. Not a necessity when buying a camera, but still pretty cool. I kind of wanted one too, but I really don’t need another addition to my camera family just yet. After Chihiro made her purchase, we went to a nearby Starbucks to wait for her parents to arrive, because we would all have dinner together. Chihiro tested out her new camera on Rodney and I, who did our best to act casual and pretend like we didn’t know we were being photographed.

Around 7, Chihiro’s parents arrived by bicycle, and we all went to a nearby izakaya for dinner. It had been four years since I saw Chihiro’s mum and dad, and stayed at their house, so I was really glad to see them. Chihiro said they were really excited to see me too, and had been talking about it since they learned I was in Japan.

Earlier, Rodney and I had made up this elaborate plan to pretend we didn’t speak Japanese at all, because Chihiro had told her mum that we did. We were going to do things like only say konnichiwa, and pretend to feel awkward, and just point at things on the menu. Also, we planned to look at Chihiro’s parents when they talked to us, then pause for a second before looking at Chihiro, as if looking for a translation. It would have been hilarious, had we not blown our cover within seconds of meeting them. We both couldn’t help responding to their Japanese greetings, in Japanese, hence spoiling the illusion of inability. Chihiro was relieved.

We went up to the third floor of a nearby building, to a cozy izakaya that was full of people enjoying themselves. I think izakaya are one of the few places in Japan where people get loud! We sat down and ordered drinks, as well as a range of little tidbits from the touch screen menu. We started with raw cabbage in some kind of crazy-good dressing, which seems to be the norm at most izakaya (I think its complimentary, because they always bring it out soon after you sit down.)

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Chihiro was in charge of the ordering, with interjected suggestions from both parents. We had a lot of little things, which all together was a lot of food. We had 3 kinds of yakitori, salmon and onion, tamagoyaki, edamame, deep-fried asparagus, a beef and tofu dish, mini Okonomiyaki, and some deep-fried spaghetti with spices, which sounds weird but was very moorish. I talked to Chihiro’s mum for the whole time, which was so nice. She showed us a purikura of Chihiro, my sister, and myself, which was taken almost 10 years ago. We looked to weird! She has carried it around in her passcase (something you hold your train smart card in) ever since we took it. I felt touched.

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After dinner, we walked back to the station together, and I gave Chihiro’s parents the gift I had brought for them. I was so glad that I could see them again. They are so kind and generous, ans I think of them as kind of my parents in Japan. They rode their bikes back home, and Chihiro, Rodney and I took the train. Chihiro and I caught the train back to Shinjuku together, because she was staying at her boyfriend’s house for the night. She had work at Disney Sea really early the next morning, and staying at her boyfriend’s house meant she could wake up at 5:30 instead of 3:30am.

When I got back to Tabata, I had a weird craving for ice cream (ok, I should probably know by now that that’s normal.) So I stopped at Lawson and got a Haagen Das ice-cream crepe. It’s a new product, and I’d seen it advertised on the train this morning. I got one filled with green tea and wagashi, traditional Japanese flavours. It was ok, but nowhere near as good (or as cheap) as my best friends- the ice cream daifuku.

Here are some more pictures from today.

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Ramen Square

No earthquakes last night, but I still managed to get a terrible sleep thanks to the dramas of cancelling my credit card. Today I had planned to meet a good friend, Saki, for ramen in Tachikawa (which is about an hour away from me by train.) This called for emergency coffee breakfast. I had a Dotour soy latte stashed in the fridge, which really just tasted like soy milk and had zero waking up effects whatsoever. I had eaten dinner late last night, and was in for a huge and early lunch, so I decided not to eat breakfast. Bad, yes, but I really wasn’t hungry. I also realized I will be leaving Tokyo NEXT WEEK, so decided I’d better start looking for places to stay on the nights I hadn’t yet booked. I sent out a few inquiries, which had to be written in Japanese. So I am very thankful for the online romanji to kana converter. I’m not talking about google translate, which can come up with some very strange interpretations of sentences. I mean there is a site where you type Japanese words using the English alphabet, and the program changes the sound combinations into Japanese characters. This will probably only make sense to people who’ve studied a tiny bit of Japanese.

Anyway, after gathering all my stuff, including presents for Saki’s family, I raced to Tabata because I thought I was going to miss the train I needed to catch. But there was no train. There were a lot more people on the Yamanote platform than usual, and then an announcement came on saying there were delays on the line in both directions. So I just had to wait. Luckily I only had to wait 10 minutes for the train to arrive. On the Yamanote trains, there are two TV screens above every door. One displays video commercials and news on loop, and the other shows train information, such as what the next station is, exit maps of the station you’re arriving at, and little pictures telling you which side the doors will open on. It also shows ‘train news,’ which contains information on delays and disrupted services on all lines. I’ve seen delays caused by wind, signal problems and snow, but today’s report said that the Yamanote line delay was caused by ‘person entry.’ I’m not really sure what that means. Should I be worried about masked attacks or someone entering the station illegally. Or did it specifically give an indirect description to avoid saying that someone jumped in front of a train? Apparently that isn’t a rare occurrence in Tokyo. I didn’t want to think about it.

At Shinjuku, I switched to a rapid train, which took me to Tachikawa. It didn’t seem that rapid, because it wasn’t moving very fast, but it did only stop at a few stations along the way. Two business men sat on either side of me, and one of them had really bad onion breath, which assaulted my nostrils at random and without warning for the entire journey. I couldn’t work out which guy it was coming from.

I met Saki outside a convenience store, and we ran a few errands before heading to a ramen shop for lunch. I was really excited about eating this ramen, because Saki loves the store and raved about it. But when we got there, we found that they only serve tonkatsu ramen, which is made with a pork based soup. So I couldn’t eat anything there. We decided to find another ramen shop, and accidentally stumbled upon ‘Ramen Square,’ which was a whole collection of different ramen restaurants under one roof. Each store specialized in a different type of ramen.

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I like miso ramen, and Saki likes shoyu ramen, so we picked a place that served both, and ordered our lunches from a vending machine at the front of the store. I ordered Hokkaido miso ramen, with extra bamboo shoots on top. I expected the ramen to be overly huge, like I’ve always seen it, but this bowl didn’t look too intimidating. Too much food for me, yes, but so monstrous that I felt physically afraid of it, no.

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I had bean sprouts, spring onion, cabbage, carrot and bamboo shoots on top of golden-yellow noodles that still had a bit of bite to them. Perfectly cooked, in other words. It was really tasty, but would have been better with a raw egg inside (I’ve developed a love for raw egg on things.) Nevertheless, it was delicious. So good that I actually ate the entire thing. I’ve never finished a whole bowl of noodles in my life, and I don’t know how I managed to eat so much today. I did feel a bit sick afterwards from eating too much, but it was worth it.

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After lunch, Saki and I wondered around Tachikawa and went shopping. We looked mostly at clothes, stationary and bento stuff, as well as stores selling a whole bunch of quirky things. I managed to resist buying a lot of things (but only barely), but my willpower waved in Daiso, where I got a few little items. They were all for presents though, so they don’t really count.

I definitely think this hat suited me…

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5:30 came around way too quickly, and then Saki had to go home. So I gave her a bag of presents for herself and her family, and planned to meet up again next week. There will be a public holiday, so Saki and ger family will be free. I’m really glad that I’ll get to see them all again.

Then we entered the train station and went to our separate platforms. On the platform for Tokyo, a white train pulled up which looked really different from the one I travelled out on this morning. It looked special and fast, and I didn’t dare get on it because I thought it might cost me a fortune to use it. So I waited for the next train to come along, which was local and therefore stopped at every station back to Shinjuku.

I was still full at dinnertime, so I just picked at some fruits and a bit of salad.Tomorrow I will do two sets of volunteering. Should be fun!