To describe Fi and my arrival in Tokyo as awkward would be a giant understatement. Arriving at Tokyo Central after our Shinkansen experience (bullet train… Was slower than we expected) we were unable to contact my friend Shigeki who I met walking the Routeburn in January. Thankfully we had directions to his home station so we sent him an email and steered ourselves in that direction. Arriving at his local station again we lacked any signs of Shigeki… He had not replied to my email nor appeared at the station. Thinking that this was odd, but determined to find him nonetheless, Fi and I used his email signature to find his address and walk to his house/dental practice (on one site). We made it to his dental practice with no incidences and walked up to the front desk… Shigeki came running out from the patient he was seeing to explain that he had misread my email and thought we were coming in January… Not June. FUCK!
Ever the gracious Japanese host, Shigeki quickly raced us through to his house, gave us a map of the local area and keys to two bikes and said he finished work at 6pm so we would see him then. All seemed well. Fi and I sat down on the floor of the guest room (that is directly opposite the front door) and hatched a plan for our afternoon. About 2 minutes later Shigeki’s 20 year old son walked into the house… To accurately articulate how awkward this was, imagine walking into your own house to find either 2 Japanese boys or girls (alternate depending on your own gender) sitting on your guest room floor!!! Again… Less than ideal! The awkwardness was then compounded by his limited English and our non-existent Japanese (other than the much used sumimasen… Sorry/excuse me). After showing the son a picture of me with his father in NZ some of the awkwardness was alleviated (that may just be wishful thinking on my part) but Fi and I decided to bolt from the situation anyway. Grabbing the bike keys we headed out the door to go to a local outdoor architectural museum in a park near Shigeki’s house. Phew, we thought… We had escaped the son.
The moment of relief was short lived. Sure enough pulling into the drive as we were leaving was Shigeki’s wife. (Again imagine coming home to two Japanese girls/boys with keys to your bikes insisting they know your husband). Yet again with her limited English and our absent Japanese we fumbled our way through an explanation of our presence and possession of bike keys. Noriko, Shigeki’s wife did not seem so sure about this situation… While not being hostile towards us she was certainly tense about us being around. We did eventually manage to explain that we were the Kiwis who were meant to be coming in January but that did little to relieve us from the overwhelming sense of being a very unwelcome surprise. Jumping on the bikes to escape Fi and I departed for the architecture museum with no intention of returning until Shigeki was finished work!
Walking around the architecture museum Fi and I were exceptionally distracted and didn’t really appreciate much of what we were seeing instead we swayed between hilarity over how absurd the situation was and mild panic due to our desire not to be an imposition of Shigeki and his wife. We discovered the museum had free wifi and basically spent our time looking at hostels close to Shigeki’s side of town that we could go stay in if we needed to! Before returning to Shigeki’s we went and purchased a presento for him and his wife as a sort of “sorry we probably scared the shit out of you” gift.
When we returned to Shigeki’s the mood had notably improved… His wife understood who we were and despite our offers to go to a hostel/hotel we were told we were very welcome in their house! That night we had a traditional home cooked Japanese dinner of Japanese curry… Apart from being notably less spicy than an Indian curry and not being eaten with your hands, Japanese curry shares many similarities with Indian curry and therefore felt like a dish that I was very well versed with! We ended up having a very enjoyable evening with Shigeki (whose English is phenomenal) and Noriko, with a lot of later about us being a surprise and the fact they were anticipating us in January (a lot of that was connected to the fact they could not understand why the hell we had been in Sakata, which is not a tourist area other than the fact it has good skiing in the winter).
Shigeki was very disappointed to have to work in our second day in Tokyo as he had hoped to take us on adventures himself. Fi and I were however slightly relieved to be less of a hassle and happily caught the train and took ourselves into Tokyo! Shinjuku was the outing of the day. Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in Tokyo which serves 2 million people per day!! Arriving there well after peak time Fi and I both commented on the fact that it was still pretty busy… At peak time they have people standing by the carriage doors to push people into the train so the doors can close. We walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and took the free lift to the 45th floor observatory… Seeing Tokyo from that height basically confirmed to me that we were in a MASSIVE city… Like enormous… As far as the eye could see Tokyo kept going… Where the high rises of central Tokyo stopped they were replaced with endless housing/schools…
After the Tokyo tower Fi and I spent the day walking around Shinjuku and the shops… Shopping in Japan isn’t like shopping in NZ, there is such an endless variety of items that you would never see at home that are generally absolute hilarious!
Through Shinjuku we went into some amazing second hand shops, again the Japanese take such good care of their belongings it all looks brand new, we went into a massive department store called Isetan, that had such an overwhelming food court Fi and I both had to purchase snacks just to the be able to make a decision about what we actually wanted to eat!
Amazingly, time disappeared on us and much faster than we hoped we had to be back on the train to Shigeki’s as we had a dinner reservation at a Japanese hamburger meat restaurant (I didn’t have the heart to tell Shigeki I only eat fish). The restaurant we went to was 100% not just a hamburger meat restaurant… It turned out we were sitting down for a degustation meal with 9 courses (one of which I forgot to take a photo of)!! The food was AMAZING, undoubtedly some of the best food I have ever eaten… And while it has confirmed to me that red meat is not my favourite, even I could appreciate that this was some seriously good meat!
Our third and final day with Shigeki saw Fi and I being gifted even more food (as is Japanese custom) and being taken To see Mt Fuji and a traditional Japanese onsen. As Shigeki had to work in the morning Fi and I took the opportunity to exercise and try burn off some of the previous nights food! When he finished work we headed out to Mt Fuji… Despite the mountain being surrounded by a lot of cloud for most of the day it was pretty damn spectacular (I cannot wait to climb it in September!)
We stopped in the town for hoto noodles, these are famous in the Fuji area. They are very, very thick noodles served in a broth with vegetables etc… Ramen style! The bowl was delicious and very, very filling… By the time we were heading to the onsen I was just about ready to food coma.
The Japanese onsen was an interesting experience… They are effectively public baths where everyone roams around naked. After a while we started to relax about the idea… But it was still a little weird to be surrounded by naked Japanese women and children. A couple of the children looked genuinely alarmed when they saw us!
Returning from Fuji, we got caught in quite a lot of traffic which really slowed progress. What we didn’t realise (but Shigeki did) was that on Saturday night in Tokyo lots of restaurants close early! Missing our intial dinner reservation which was for unagi (eel… But still makes me think of Friends) we then struggled to find a restaurant to Shigeki’s taste. Finally settling on soba noodle ramen we ate and then were delivered to our hostel parting company with Shigeki who has put us under strict instruction for future visits to Tokyo and explained next time he will not get the dates muddled!