Monday, December 22, 2014

The SSEAYP Diaries: Japan, Land of the Anime (Day 2),

With the experience of such a long flight, in addition to a late night after going around the area, we had an early morning. Mornings are not my cup of tea since I am a self-proclaimed night owl, but I was greeted with such an incredible sight as I opened the blinds in my room.

It was as if I had walked straight into a Japanese garden, and right in my own backyard. The trees were so lush and green with hints of orange and red signifying the change of season. The sunlight seemed to hit the scenery in all the right places. I was in awe.

Even the view of the Tokyo skyline left me speechless despite it being so faint in the distance. The view beat the breakfast buffet I had hands-down. I was only able to enjoy the gorgeousness of the view for a short while, and then all of us had to suit-up and run down for the inauguration of the program and then we had to wait for the refreshment ceremony. You heard me right. Ceremony for refreshments.

With the long hours of standing, I felt like court shoes should never have existed. I had my first stand-up cocktail lunch, and I realized that Singaporeans are really not as kiasu as we seem to be. Or maybe it’s just me, because I didn’t manage to inch my way through the crowd toward the food. On a positive side note, we managed to exchange our namecards with other youth and mingle a little with them while waiting. In addition to that, we had a somewhat successful attempt at a massive group selfie.

Obviously, more selfies were taken because "standing ceremonial lunch". 

We had yet another photo-taking session before the refreshments, and then the gift exchange. Thankfully it was a seemingly quick session before we had free time. Regardless, the standing around did give us a chance to interact more with others though we stuck more with each other.

Thankfully free time came around, and we were all amped up to tour Japan. The Japanese youth had already made plans to show us around Japan, and they gave us options so that we could pick which areas we were more interested in visiting. Some of us wanted to get lost in translation so we didn’t take up the tour offer, but I did, and I chose to go to Akihabara.

Akihabara is named after a former local shrine; Akiba, as I soon found out. One other aspect that it’s well-known for is all it’s electronics and it’s vast anime and manga culture.

All of us were told to bundle up warmly, and the hotel even allowed us to rent winter coats for the duration of the entire program which I felt was really thoughtful.

It was about 5pm, or early evening, and yet the sun was already setting leaving a pink blush across the evening sky.

I managed to survive without a winter coat (I refused to loan the ones the hotel was providing), and all I had was my leather jacket and thermal wear.

Let's just say I wore that leather jacket to death.

The walk to Yotsuya Station wasn’t far from the hotel and we had to buy tickets which I found the most fascinating. With it being my first trip to Japan, the currency is literally foreign to me. Thankfully one of the Japanese youth helped me with buying my ticket before I got myself lost. If you’ve ever seen a Japanese train station’s map, you’d feel as if you’re looking at a maze thicker than the one in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s worse when you don’t reach Japanese or Kanji.

The gantries use the little ticket things (see above), and for entry, you're supposed to insert it, and collect it after you enter the turnstile. Dinni had no idea, and then the mad rush to retrieve the missing ticket happened. 

In the subway, it’s mostly similar to Singapore – crazy overcrowded with the reserved seats. However, people don’t talk loudly on the trains, and I definitely did not see a potential flash mob happening any time soon. You’re not allowed to use your phone or speak at the top of your voice if you’re near the reserved seat section either. I think the whole group of us were being judged by the entire subway carriage, because we were probably excessively loud.

It didn’t take us long to reach Akihabara station.

It was seemingly crowded, and cold when we went out of the exit. The first thing that greeted me were the tall buildings all lighted up. Of course we saw the infamous AKB48 Cafe and Shop, and the Gundam Cafe. Both cafes are equally as popular, especially AKB48 since it’s is a well-known idol group.

Apparently the cafe serves food inspired by the idols of the group and even has a theatre where the cast actually hold scheduled performances daily.

I think the one thing that a few of us (okay maybe just me and one other person) wanted to do was to play gacha. Gacha machines are really popular around Japan and is actually one of the top contributor of income. Probably because so many people are avid gamers and gacha is not only available as a machine, but in popular online games as well. After our attempts at the gacha machine (I actually got something!), we took a walk down to the SEGA Building.

The Japanese youth then took us to a quaint cafe downtown. 

The Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi commercial complex resides in what used to be the former Maseibashi station. It is located between Ochanomizu and Kanda stations and it’s a short four minute walk away from Akihabara station. This commercial facility is home to retailers and cafes, and the view from this complex is amazing. We took the elevator up to the top floor after walking through all the shops located inside this complex. Had amazingly rich hot chocolate while watching the trains pass us by.

Imagine being able to sit by the large windowsill with a good book while the trains go by. It's like something out of Enid Blyton, or the St Clares series.

The post is getting slightly too long, so I'll be back with a separate one. My lively dining experience awaits!

Watch my vlog here: 

The SSEAYP Diaries: Japan, Tokyo (Day 1)

The arrival in the Land of the Rising Sun greeted me with a cold shock; literally. Pretty sure the temperature at the time was a little below comfort level for me. My first regret was not bringing my winter jacket, really. Dumping it on the top of my wardrobe before leaving made me reflect on my priorities. Thank you Japan Airlines for a smooth flight. I’m proud to say, my first flight in my entire life without turbulence issues. 

Basically, with no ounce of sleep the night before, I conked out during the flight and drifted in and out of the six movies I decided to watch. And out of the six movies, I really only managed to complete one movie. Exhaustion prevails! Touchdown at Narita International Airport around 4pm Tokyo time. The long walk to the immigration was surprisingly serene, and I really appreciated the huge viewing window next to the escalator. 

Despite it being 4pm in the afternoon, the sun was setting and it outlined the airport and the planes with a gorgeous orange and yellow hue. Immigration was seemingly smooth, and finally, we made it to the free Wifi area. Yes, well, without question, most if not all of us whipped our phones out. Hello again social media. I’m sorry we’re such Singaporeans.

With bag tagging done and out of the way, my nose froze as I made my way through the blistering cold weather (well, at least to me it felt blisteringly cold) to the chartered bus. I swear I tried to listen to the guide, I swear on all the sweets I ate during the journey, but I fell asleep during the two hour ride to the hotel. Guilty as charged! Of course, not before attempting to take videos of the sights around. 

What I saw going down the highway was lights everywhere. The one thing that I remember the most vividly was the view of the lake at night, reflecting the gorgeously lit Tokyo skyline with boats dotting the surface of the clear as day lake. No, I did not want to try pressing my face against the window to get a closer look, because that window conducts freezing cold weather.

Hotel New Otani is a grand towering building. The night sky enveloped it’s true beauty, so I appreciated the sights when morning came around. Escaping the comfort and warmth of the bus, we piled into the doorway of the hotel. Glistening chandeliers and the marble counters greeted our tired and weary selves. 

Too exhausted to really pay any attention, all we wanted to do was to find solace in our own rooms. Settled down with a bento set, that was quite, well, you could say traditional in both packaging and content. The sudden image of do-it-yourself bento sets on Youtube suddenly found it’s way into my mind. I would have appreciated a Pikachu face in my bento, but you know what they say? If you want something, get it yourself.

Thankful for the borrowed gloves, we made our way through the maze of the hotel corridors and finally found our way out into the cold open air. I would say that we were aimless. We had no idea where we were, and everything looked the same. Our one goal was to find the nearest road.

The few of us finally found our way through to a small alleyway just behind the hotel. We were bouncing around everywhere, full of exhilaration and innocence. All our minds were open, all the slates were clean. I was inspired. Despite the quite roads outside, this alley was just bustling with life. I passed by sake bars and sushi bars packed full of people – mostly still clad in their suits and ties. Huge convenience stores lined each side of the alleyway. People were walking everywhere, and standing everywhere regardless of the traffic that was still passing through. Engrossed as I was in the sights, I’m never one to refuse a selfie. Especially if it’s an open invitation from people that I don’t know. We met other participating youths from Vietnam, and all of us got overly-excited. So much so, phones were falling and we had no idea if the angles were even right. All we knew was that, we were one, even though we had no idea who anyone else was. The moment was priceless.

My general perception of Japan has always been that it was all about tradition. Where we walked that night gave me a taste of the other side of Japan. What I saw was traditional amongst modern – vending machines next to sake bars, and even a Macdonalds in the middle of the street lined with noodle restaurants.

So we conquered the convenience stores, grabbing anything matcha related, because why not? Just two rounds around the convenience store and we were out, arms full of snacks, cup noodles (which they sold in jumbo size by the way) and this amazing lipton mixed fruit tea that I got completely addicted to over the period I stayed in Japan. We were all back in time for curfew, and all of us stayed in one room hogging the free Wifi, and contacting friends and family while devouring our stash. I remember going to bed feeling completely thankful that this opportunity happened. I was inching closer to becoming ready to conquer whatever was going to come at me.

I’m not sure how long my fighting spirit lasted though. Or was it more like nervousness.

I’ll never find out.