Monday, December 22, 2014

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.

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