Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Capital Excursion

My first tourist trip to Tokyo. A retrospective post.

First of all, I meant to write this entry back when I first wrote about that horse. The whole REASON I dragged that poor horse into this blog was because I was thinking about it a lot on my Tokyo trip. Things seemed to flip from bad to good and back again fairly rapidly, that weekend.

I’ve noticed that this tends to happen pretty frequently when I don’t bother to plan ahead. That will go on record under ‘my own damn fault.’

We went to Tokyo on the three-day weekend of March 20th. My personal goals included visiting Hakone, possibly visiting Kamakura, and otherwise, just following along with what the group wanted to do.

On our first day, though, it became apparent that what the group wanted to do was go shopping. I like shopping, I promise. Only, I’m not used to going shopping very often, and I’m not used to paying boutique prices, and I’m really not used to the kind of shopping that requires me to either shuffle in a snaking line through a store or deck someone in the face in order to reach the bit of clothing I want to inspect. Tokyo was incredibly crowded because it was a three-day weekend and the weather was amazing. For the first time in months, we wished we were wearing shorts.

SINCE the weather was amazing, Harajuku was okay, because it was kind of an outdoor street area with lots of funky little shops, but once we started hitting the department stores, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad for abandoning the group, but I had to escape. I grabbed a cool drink and made my way up across the bridge (apparently, cosplayers hang out there, but mostly on Sundays, and I was there on Saturday) and into Meiji Shrine, and I instantly could not have been in a more different place. I was glad I’d decided to get out, even by myself, and enjoy this parklike setting for our first 75 degree day a bit.

I got a call, though, not too far into my exploration, from The Other Georgian, who had been called back to Shiso for work the following day (this is lame, because shinkansen tickets to Tokyo cost like 300 bucks round trip, and she had gone on this three-day-weekend under the assumption that she would, you know, get to stay for more than one afternoon). The girls were rallying at a local pub and asked me to join them. I hurried back into the city streets, but not before I spotted at least one (maybe two?) weddings going on in the shrine.

We had a pissed-off-happy-hour bitching about how no one has our backs at work enough to give us a damn heads up about anything, not even “oh hey, yeah.. we’re gonna hafta ask you to work on Sundaay..” sometimes. And then The Other Georgian left and we went to Ginza to check out the new Abercrombie flagship store with CatJET’s friend, who works there.

Okay. I had never actually been in an Abercrombie store in my life (with one possible exception.. I might have taken a few steps into one in my local mall many years ago), much less a flagship, much less their latest pride-and-joy flagship in the middle of the most expensive shopping district in, like, Asia, or something.

When we walked in, I wasn’t convinced that we hadn’t accidentally stepped into a nightclub instead by mistake. There was a half naked male model on the first floor with whom we were encouraged/forced to pose while the door staff took a polaroid for each of us. There was nothing else on the first floor but the beginning of what we would soon learn is an eleven-story mural of mostly-nude muscular-but-preppy-looking white guys engaging in various kinds of sport activities.

We were ushered into an elevator, and assured that we need not reach for anything we wanted to look at, because that’s what the attendants were for. There must have been a model dancing on like every floor. Which was suitable only because the lighting was so low and the music was quite clublike. It was insanity. We browsed this luxury stack a bit, and I even snagged a little video (although, strictly speaking, photos are not allowed.. CatJET’s friend had my back.. check out this page for the photos from this weekend, and the video too).

We thought about going out that night, but actually since most of us had gotten up at like 4 to get the earliest train we could, we were pretty beat and ended up just going back to our guest house to crash after a quick and painful dinner at Yoshinoya (think like Waffle House style, only Japanese beef-bowl foods).

The following day was the day Heke and I were going to Hakone, to seek out the big fancy Yunessun resort onsen, where you can apparently bathe in things like tea, wine, or coffee, as well as your classic hot-spring facilities. Hakone is famous for its hot springs, so we figured we’d head out and do that. We decided to spend the morning at the Hakone open-air museum, which is like a big sculpture garden, before checking out the onsen. The others were headed for Kamakura to see the big Buddha.

The train, other train, and then switchback train to the place took approximately two forevers longer than we anticipated, but sitting on trains is kinda relaxing, plus there was nice scenery and good company, so it was no big deal. Except for the part where the switchback train was so packed we had to stand in separate doorways just to ride it.

The open-air museum was pretty freaking awesome, actually, but when we got to Yunessun, the line was unbelievable, and the place seemed full of kids. We gawked for a second, then decided it was going to be impossible to relax here, not to mention we would never, never be back in time to meet the crew for dinner. We figured, this is Hakone, there have to be hot springs everywhere, let’s find one.

So we set off. And we kind of just wandered, and that didn’t work out as well as we might have hoped. There’s that horse again… but lo, we found an awesome souvenir shop next to a Lawson’s where we asked directions (and received an awesome homemade-looking map of the area). We wandered some more, in the direction of what we hoped was an onsen.. the first place was just a public bath-house, but the at the next place, we hit the jackpot. It was a damn good thing, too, because by then we were getting chilly and sick of wasting time.

Tenoyu was awesome and decently priced, and so Heke and I were able to soak in all kinds of sweet tubs (aside from the large and oft-seen rocky pools, there were tubs made of wood, metal, and stone) in a classy outdoor garden area. The water seemed to be piped right out of the hillside and spilled into the pools super hot. If you’re ever lost in Hakone and need an onsen, I recommend it. Overall, it was much quieter than the other place, and seemed much more the classic style of open-air hot springs bath. We didn’t get to bathe in wine, but this might have been better (there’s that horse again…).

We took a bus back to the switchback train, which was blessedly a lot emptier. When we got to the main Hakone station, we had like five minutes before the “Romancecar” direct train to Shinjuku was going to leave. It was supposed to be a little cheaper (and a lot more direct) than our way in of shinkansen to other train to other train, so we got in line to buy tickets. The people in front of us were slow, and Heke and I were basically breathing down some old lady’s neck silently yelling to each other all the while, oh my lord, it’s not that hard to buy tickets from a machine, we have like two minutes and the next train isn’t for another 45, hurry the eff up…! I still giggle when I remember the look on the face of the poor old lady in front of us.. she glanced back to see if one of her companions could help her out, I guess, and she saw these two manic gaijin about to pounce. With a terrified look in her eyes, she insisted that we go ahead of her in line.

To our chagrin, the machine was really hard to figure out. But it also only charged us like 7 bucks or something, about 20 dollars less than we ‘should’ have paid for the 1.5 hours and distance we were going (if we were taking the shink, etc.).. but it said the name of our station, and we didn’t have time to argue with that, so we fled into the train and sat down just in time. Then we got to nap on our direct express train, once we finished hoping that the bar we’d seen on board was open (it wasn’t) and that the lady would come by offering food (she didn’t).

When we got to the station, there was some kind of problem with our tickets.. the station guy was kind of a douche to us. I guess that’s the other side of that 7-dollar horse..

Our Romancecar still got us back too late to eat dinner with the rest of the group, so we grabbed some fast food and munched it really fast while we got dressed to go out. We ended up going out to a gay club with someone’s friends, and it was really fun. Gay clubs are pretty sweet in that the music is almost always great, and there are far fewer sketchy dudes trying to sleaze their way into your pants.

The next morning, after a quick combini breakfast, we rolled into Shibuya for some shopping, and I went off to meet a college friend who now lives and works in Tokyo. After lunch, we made our way back to the crowded Tokyo station to buy our shink tickets for much later than we’d hoped. We camped out in the station for a while, got on the train, and tried to sleep our way home. When we got there, it was really late, we all had work the next day, and we wanted food. So we searched Himeji for a Yoshinoya, to no avail (although I later found it on the Himeji bike ride). Which is probably better for our health, anyway.

Finally, we trundled home, broke, exhausted, but with plenty of memories and new life lessons.

1 comment:

  1. I had so much fun!! That onsen was the shit, seriously. Best onsen and most relaxation evarrrr. Even in spite of the shopping, we win Tokyo. Or at least, Hakone.