In the days leading up to departure..take 2, I was nervous about going out on the road again incase I got sick. It had really freaked me out. I had made myself a promise though to keep as close to first world and western countries as possible in case of a relapse. First stop was Tokyo, Japan or as I like to call it, Adult Disney. I was so excited about all the weird shit I would see and experience and it didn’t disappoint. I did see some weird stuff!
Even though it is only a 60 minute time difference between Tokyo and Perth, I was so knacked when I arrived. I had left Perth on the midnight horror to Singapore and then onto Tokyo, arriving in the afternoon. The first thing I did when I got off the plane to head straight to the bathroom to experience a Japanese toilet with all it’s bells and whistles. It played music while you pooped, it then washed your back bum and then your front bum for the ladies as well as dried it. I am not going to lie, I loved this toilet!
I had done my research and accomplished catching the train from the airport to my hostel. I had though committed my first faux pas as soon as I arrived. I completely forgot about the “shoes off inside” custom and was standing around the common area and check in desk in my sneakers. I was shown the shoe locker room where we must leave our shoes when we come into the hostel. Can you imagine what this room smelt like? Hot feet, that’s what! It was gross, but then again my feet stank so at least I didn’t have to keep the stinky shoes in my room. After getting settled, I went straight out for a walk to the neighbourhood to find some dinner. I started to get a little concerned as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to order anything. I don’t need an English menu, I am more than happy to point at pictures and being an avid cook, I can identify things quite easy as what I think they might taste like. I did locate a McDonalds, but I kept that for a last resort. I was determined to nail this. I was walking the back alleys and came across this small little Yakitori place and spotted not only pictures of meat on sticks but they also had a menu in English!! Jackpot baby. So I sat down, ordered an ice-cold beer and started picking out weird and wonderful char grilled meats and vegetables such as pork head, chicken tail and cheese stuffed peppers. I was so proud of myself I had overcome my first hurdle and I couldn’t wait for a good nights sleep and off to explore tomorrow.
My first stop was Harajuku. All I really knew about the area is that it is the hangout spot for the fashionable weird Japanese teens and that Gwen Stefani referenced it in one of her songs. Navigating the Tokyo subway like a boss, I surfaced in the neighbourhood and I had taken a few steps from the station, and I came across my first “cafe”….a hedgehog cafe! I wanted to do as many as these unique cafe’s as I discovered and I jumped right in. I went up a lift to the third floor of this building. I was shown to my seat and in front of me were 2 little spiky balls. I was shown how to hold them and I was left to my own devices. I must admit this is a weird activity to do on your own. It is hard to take photos and after the first 5 minutes its like “right, I have a hedgehog in my hands, now what?”. It is not like you can have a meaningful cuddle! But it was a unique experience and I left feeling like I was on my way to achieving my ‘Only in Tokyo’ goals.
I had stumbled into the super busy ally ways filled with wacky shops. I was so drawn to the unicorn lycra cat shirts and leggings. I showed great restraint not to purchase one! Next thing I saw was a crowd forming, there was a photo shoot and the two star were Picacu. Could we get anymore Japanese right now?! We were told not to take any photos, but I still snuck a few, how could I resist such an opportunity? I also went into a store that sold anime costumes, wigs and accessories. I am not going to lie, if I were skinnier, I would have happily walk out dressed as Sailor Moon. I remember watching the cartoon in the morning before school as a kid. Next was the infamous cat cafe. I wasn’t expecting much, but I had a lovely time. So many kitties and if you had the foods, you had the cats. Made me miss my little rascal so much.
I finished off my sightseeing day by heading into the parklands across from the station where Meiji Shrine was. It was a lovely walk through a forest area. I learnt how to cleanse your hands and mouth before approaching the shrine. It was a nice centring visit. If I already wasn’t trired enough, I dragged my butt to Shibuya to witness the infsamous crossing.
I decided for dinner to have a crack at another restaurant in my area. I chose a noodle place where you have to order from a vending machine and then give the ticket in. I managed to do alright. Whilst I was eating my dinner, a strange alarm sound came from the tv. As I looked up, there was a box in the right hand corner of the screen that popped up with a map of Japan and an area near Tokyo lit up. Simultaneously we started to shake. By we I mean the ground, the small restaurant and us. It was an earthquake, I believe it hit a 6.5 on the magnitude scale . I knew straight away what it was as I had experienced 3 of them in Chile. I looked at the chef, he was watching the screen and then turned back to what he was doing. He wasn’t concerned, so I didn’t become concerned. The other 3 tourists though looked worried and I tried to reassure them everything was ok.
Day two I headed for more shrines. It was a hot Saturday afternoon. I was letting myself sleep in and doing half day sightseeing because my leg was still sore and swollen. I went out to Sensoji Temple. There were rows and rows of street stalls selling pretty much the same stuff, tourist trinkets, tea and food. When I reached the shrine, I was very excited to get my ‘fortune’. You pick up a silver canister and give it three shakes as you think of your wish/fortune question and tip it upside down to retrieve a stick that slides out. The stick will have a number on it that you match to the many draws in front of you. You open the corresponding draw and take out your fortune and place the stick back in the canister. If you don’t like your fortune, you are supposed to tie it to this railing and select another, and apparently some can be pretty harsh! I was delighted with mine, it was actually a spot on answer for what I had asked! I can’t reveal what it was, I am not sure of the rules, and don’t want to jinx it not coming true!!
I was getting peckish and had to decide what to have for lunch. I came across sushi train. Well that’s easy enough, I know how that works. The first thing I pick up was these little raw squid looking things that get caught in my throat and I wanted to throw up! I have some other bits and pieces but I am not feeling awesome. To be honest, this was the worst sushi I had ever tasted in my life! Maybe it’s more of a western thing? I continued on my journey. I was just walking and taking in my surroundings. I saw in the distance streamers lining the streets and headed towards it. The Tanabata Festival was on today. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month each year. It goes back to a story of two star crossed lovers who were separated by the Milky Way and can only see each other on this day each year. There were street food stalls lining the streets as well as plenty of beer and other bar drinks. It was a lovely atmosphere. I watched little kids fish for yabbies. I am not sure if they were to become pets or dinner! I partook in a beer during my walks. I saw some funny sights, like a dog wearing sunglasses and my first Geisha. I don’t know if she was a legit one, or just a dressed up lady. I snuck a photo anyway.I then headed back to the hostel for a relax where I indulged in some Japanese snacks and watched Sumo wrestling on tv. That evening I ventured out again to place down from the hostel and pointed to pictures on the menu. I was happy with my noodles that I ordered, however didn’t know they were served cold. Ah well, just roll with it!
Day three was all about the technology. I headed to the science and technology museum. I had a backpacker win because today was a free entrance day. I was really impressed by the robots. They had a very life-like robot that you could control and one that came out and did a demonstration, like run and kick a ball as well as dance. I actually learnt a thing or two as well about DNA and climate change.
On my walk between the museum and my next stop, I encountered a giant transformer. It did a few moves and made noise. I don’t know what I was expecting, like a full on show. I found a nice scenic spot and enjoyed a drink whilst looking out over the harbour to Rainbow bridge.
My next stop was Joypolis. I LOVED this place and actually decided to come here instead of going to Disney. It is an indoor virtual reality theme park. You can either pay per attraction or get an all-inclusive pass, which I got. They had an indoor roller coaster, 4D attractions, a car racing video game where you actually sit in a full size normal car! I was in a WRX. There was a half-pipe and you are strapped in skating it. My favourite was the VR shooting game. You are in team of two playing against another couple. You strap on VR goggles and headphones and in the VR world, you are high up on these platforms trying to shoot each other. You find yourself crouching behind “pillars”. It feels so real. I can see how in the future, this can be addictive!
Day four was what I really came to Tokyo for, a bucket list item if you will. Mario Cart on the streets! You dress up as Mario characters and drive street legal go karts around Tokyo. It almost didn’t happen as I got terribly lost trying to get to the shop. First I couldn’t find the exit out of Shinjuku station and then I was walking around the neighbourhood for half an hour in the heat. I was about to give up, defeated and deflated at the thought I was not going to get do this amazing activity I had been dreaming about, when down a side street I saw the little red cart. I had missed my group but the guys said I could wait for the next one, which was longer and included the Rainbow bridge. I was ecstatic they were going to let me still go that I didn’t care that it costed extra. I selected my costume. Normally people are in the character onesies but I knew I was going to cook in that for 3 hours, so I chose the mushroom hat (Toad) and vest. It was cool but still very festive looking. Next thing I prayed that I could reach the pedals. I had an incident in Perth where I went go karting with a group of friends. I put my helmet on and knew I was in trouble, I felt my peripheral vision was impaired. Then my feet weren’t touching the pedals so they put hard cushion block behind my back. I may have been fine but I had a little freak out and got out and refused to go. Please don’t let that be the case today. The good news was that there were no helmets (Sorry Mum and Dad). The seats were adjustable and I just reached. The gut didn’t help with the steering wheel sitting on it. Thank god it didn’t need a massive turning circle!
Off we went and I was loving it. I felt safe with a guide in the back. We were cruising around but the couple I was with were giving me heart attacks as they were from the USA and were drifting really close to the centre line and onto on coming traffic. Next thing I know we are heading up the on ramp for the bridge and we are now doing 70km an hour amongst trucks and buses. I thought to myself “What the actual fk am I doing, dressed as a bloody mushroom, on the Tokyo Rainbow Bridge in a bloody go-kart!!!!”. I fricken loved it though. Holding on to that little wheel for dear life, praying my mushroom hat wouldn’t come off as it was creating some drag. As we came off the bridge we were all smiles that we survived, but that was short-lived as myself and the American dude nearly got cleaned up by an ambulance running the intersection. We had ended up to were I was the day before for some photos and a drink. On the way back, after our second bridge run, one of the carts had been having trouble and the next thing I know, we had lost our rear guide. It was now just me at the back. Right, now I have the fear of the cars not giving me space and running over the top of me. The worst moment was when we merged, the 3 carts at the front had plenty of room but mine cut it close. Please sing this next part as Alanis Morrisette “I’ve got one hand on my steering wheel and the other giving a make way sign!”. The funniest moment was when we crossed Shibuya crossing with hundreds of people waving and taking photos of us. The other American was dressed as the princess and she royal waved the shit out of it to the people. The tour was 3 hours long and it was the best 3 hours ever.
That evening I headed to the Akihabara district. It was the anime area and I wish I knew more than Sailor Moon to appreciate it. I was sucked in to the satellite machines. They were like poker machines for me and I didn’t hesitate to drop $20 on them. I tore myself away and went to my last crazy cafe…. A Maid Cafe.
Now the concept of these is that your waitress is dressed as a maid and does little tricks and stuff for you. I am sure there must be ones for tourists and ones more for like men ya know?
It was an experience I tell you that. They talk in this weird high pitch voice and make you do little songs with actions. You feel like an idiot, especially when they put bunny ears on you as you make little fists say “moi moi something something ….”. I ordered a chocolate bear ice cream and it was cute. I then took to watching the tourist guys come in and have to do the same “cutsey” routine. The table next to me had two guys, one left to go collect their friend and I laughed at the other guy as he didn’t want to come and now he was left alone there. We got chatting and laughed together which made it fun. I was pulled away to get a picture with one of the maids. The group of guys asked how come I could take pictures with them as earlier they were refused, to which I replied “I purchased the package”. Yes my friend I was tourist trapped. $40 got me a ice-cream sundae, a drink, a key chain and a polaroid…..
On my last day I headed back to Harajuku for lunch at the Kawaii Monster cafe. The theme is that you dine inside the monsters belly. It is a crazy brightly coloured place. For lunch I had rainbow pasta with an assortment of different sauces and fries with dipping sauces as well. The food wasn’t bad and they put on a little show. Again, not the cheapest lunch and it came with a $5 cover charge just to go in like the Maid cafe.
By now I am weirded out. My icing on the cake though are the little dispenser machines that you normal get toys from that offer hats…..for cats. They make me really giggle out loud every time I see them. I also take a photo of each one I see to send to Michael for shits and giggles and no explanation. He thinks I have gone mad, and I probably have, but I never bought one. Maybe my life long regret!!
Next stop, Mt Fuji!!