The hardest part of each trip01 March, 2013 by Chad
Fine weather today, which was great since it’d be my last day in Japan after nearly a month. The reality of things had already started to settle in last night while I was packing my luggage but still urged myself to make the best of the last day here.
Checked out of my room in the morning and proceeded to make my way downstairs to ask the building manager if I could leave my luggage in his custody. The flight back wasn’t until nearly midnight so I still had a full day ahead. Even just carrying the luggage downstairs, I could see how they’d be quite the problem. The two luggage bags were completely filled and then there was still a duffel bag and posters on hand.
Since I didn’t expect to return back till late in the evening and the building’s offices closed early, the elderly manager was really nice in offering to let me use the room for today at no extra charge so that I could store my things safely. Instead, I would help assist him in some manual labour, replacing one of the faulty wall mounted laundry dryers, which I gladly did. After that slight bit of delay and bringing my luggage back upstairs, I headed to the nearby Asakusa Station where I would meet up with Chisaki again this morning.
The itinerary this morning was to get our fill of whatever Japanesey food and snacks, and what better place to do that than Asakusa. We arrived at Asakusa in the morning, when it’s at its busiest, taking the side streets toward the far end. Chisaki wanted to introduce one of the snack shops she knew here which sold some giant melon-pan that she was raving about. We found it at the end of the lane, just to the right of Sensoji.
The shop was a quaint one. A traditional soba shop, though it seems to have found greater success with its melon buns. According to her, if we had arrived any later they might had been sold out. We ordered one giant melon-pan each and proceeded to sit inside the shop. The furniture was really tiny inside, as if made for hobbits. The melon-pan turned out to be nice. It was really airy, so wasn’t too satiating despite its size.
We spent some time after breakfast looking around the other snack shops around Asakusa but for the most part didn’t get much else to eat, since the melon-pan itself was quite enough.
Chisaki wanted to get some senbei crackers though. Amusingly she visited this shop thinking that it sold some, but came back with ningyo-yaki instead. We did find some interestingly flavored senbei at another shop though and she ended up purchasing quite a bit from there.
The company was keen on trying some of the fantastic omurice that I recounted at Asakusa, so we planned on getting some later. It was still too early for lunch though so we spent the next hour or so walking around the extended area. While doing so, we coincidentally came across the grand opening for the Asakusa EKIMISE department store. Despite being its first day, it wasn’t too crowded, so we decided to take a look inside.
The Asakusa EKIMISE was sort of a rebranding of the Asakusa Matsuya that sits on top of the Tobu Asakusa station. While still primarily targeted towards housewives and older shoppers (there’s a giant crafts section and an entire floor dedicated to household appliances), the department store has incorporated a number of cheaper labels that ought to be popular with tourists. We found an ABC Mart inside as well as a clothing store selling gaudy Sukajan and dragon prints. Hardly your typical Japanese department store.
After a bit of window shopping, Chisaki ended up picking up a couple of bags one of which from a pretty nice outdoor style local label. They had some nice stuff there but didn’t pick up anything myself, even though it was really affordable. While she had only just begun her shopping, I had already spent way too much by now.
Eventually, we headed back to the Nakamise shopping street to get a still early lunch. The omurice at Asakusa Nobu is good enough to eat everyday.
Our next stop was to head over to Harajuku where Chisaki could do some clothing shopping, so we grabbed the metro over to Omotesando which was just a short distance away. There we passed by some fangirls going crazy over a boy band billboard, which was so popular there was a queue up to take a photo of it.
It was real peaceful walking around Harajuku on a weekday afternoon, while most of their customers were still in school. Leisurely walked around Harajuku Street and Takeshita Dori, where we did quite a bit of window shopping, and some actual shopping in the case of my company.
The architecture there gets quite interesting when you get to Harajuku Street proper, where all the unique local labels are kept. Perhaps it was the lack of space (the area is shared with many residences), or just the usual Japanese shenanigans, but there were buildings built on buildings even. While not much of a fan of Harajuku fashion, it makes for an interesting place to live at.
Was pulled along to the official Johnny’s Entertainment shop here which our companion insisted was interesting. I guess it kind of was. It was a fairly large store, bigger than AKB48’s in fact. But sales of the goods here follow a more similar format to Hello! Project stores, you have to jot down the number for products you wish to buy and take it to the counter.
There wasn’t much for sale though, mostly just photo prints. Found lots of lone women inside browsing through the different sample photos of their products for sale. Unlike the AKB48 shop, which sees both male and female customers, one would definitely feel quite out of place here without female company or distinctly a tourist.
Didn’t grab any crepes as originally planned since we were still quite full from lunch, but did eventually settle down for a break at the Choco Cro cafe. Throughout, we had a grade school girl beside us who was busy unboxing her loot from the nearby AKB48 shop. She first opened her packs of trading card game cards, then brought out her collection of photographs, while casually discussing AKB48 matters with her mother.
There was still a few hours left, so decided to head over to Shibuya, where we had better chances of getting something to eat later. Along the way we noticed that quite a number of people had gathered at Yoyogi Stadium for some sort of event. On closer look we would learn that Korean band Infinite was holding a concert here. Even though there were many stalls selling the same goods there were some pretty insane queues for merchandise.
Not far off at the Marui shopping mall, we came across yet another event. It was mini-live to promote the second single release of the band Shikuramen.
We’d visit Midori Sushi one last time, coincidentally Chisaki had yet to have any sushi yet and the queue there this afternoon was negligible. Owing to the many meals we already had today though, didn’t eat too much. Midori is known for having rather large servings. Instead just split a set and a few pieces.
Even though there was still quite a bit of time before the flight, decided to play it safe and leave early. So I bid farewell to today’s company and caught a train back to Suitengumae. Since I still had access to the apartment room, could stop to catch my breath before setting off.
The T-CAT terminal where I would catch a coach to Haneda Airport was really just a few blocks away. The difficult portion was in getting my luggage across the bridge. Thankfully it had wheelchair/bicycle friendly ramps. It was kind of steep and not particularly easy, but managed to get my luggage across.
There it was just a matter of purchasing a ticket for the next bus from a machine (800 yen) and then waiting it out. When the bus did finally arrive, there weren’t too many other passengers this weekday evening, just a couple of businessmen and one family. The trip there was smooth and took less than half an hour. Traveling by Haneda is indeed a lot more convenient than Narita.
Learned the hard way last trip to get to the airport early. This time, I was a little too early, with a couple of hours to kill even after completing all the procedures. Thankfully there were desks and power outlets provided at the departure lounge so one could catch up on some internet use before the scheduled flight back.
The flight back was for the most part, uneventful. Though I did get a message on my screen at the start of the flight saying that I had won something. It turned out to be just a deck of playing cards. Annoyingly, while I had expected the seat beside myself to be empty (since Eri had forfeited her ticket), the airline staff had shifted someone else to her place at the last minute. So much for getting a window view.
Sharing a cramped corner of the plane with a random stranger for hours is hardly enjoyable. I find it difficult to sleep on flights, so tried watching some of the in-flight movies but there wasn’t anything particularly interesting. For all its action and effects, the new version of Total Recall turned out to be a major disappointment, since it ended with the hero actually dooming everyone instead of saving them.
Since it was a midnight flight, I’d only reach Singapore at about 6 AM the next morning. It’s a good thing I had taken the day off to unwind, and catch up on some much needed sleep.
Oddly, I wouldn’t have any trouble re-adapting to the normal everyday life back in Singapore. Perhaps it’d take a while before reality would set in, or more likely I had already been accustomed to the disappointment in returning back. Even at time I writing, there wasn’t any one time since where things would suddenly hit me. Instead the trouble of flying back was probably the least fun part. Hopefully with a little work, there might come a time where I can visit Japan, without having to experience the pain of a return flight back.
Guess a part of me was glad to return to routine comforts in Singapore, after nearly a month of adventuring. And adventures we did have. The past 27 days have been a mixture of excitement and disappointments, though thankfully there ended up being more of the former. Part of the wonder of a large, culturally rich country like Japan is that regardless of how many times you visit, there’s always new things to discover. We’ve had many new and novel experiences in the past month, without neglecting old faves of course.
Something I realized during this stay in Japan, is that while, I live a pretty simple, content life in Singapore free of wants, I find myself always desiring many things while in Japan. Here, I actively want to visit new places, try out new foods and then there are all manner of interesting things to buy. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing.