Monday, 20 May 2013

Day 1: Airport, Shinjuku and Sanja Matsuri (or so I thought...)

(Please forgive the lack of pictures, the internet here is having trouble uploading them. I will update them when I get the chance!)

This has been a big trip already, and it’s only the first day! I dozed on and off for the flight to Narita, finally giving up on sleeping properly when they started serving breakfast. Surprisingly the breakfast was not one the usual fare of pieces of scrap meat in sauce or “special” omelette (with surprising seafood pieces) kind of meals like last time. There was an option for plain cheese omelette with sausage and some of the most delicious strawberry yoghurt I’ve had in a while. This certainly lifted my drowsy spirits. Not long after that we began the turning circle over Tokyo and it was amazing. Watching the dawn sun over the clouds, then having them slowly disperse to reveal the city as we descended was breathtaking.

The airport, as usual, was very Japanese. Incredibly sparse, with only things that are necessary and some occasional displays to introduce tourists to Japanese art forms and building techniques. I followed the crowd onto the train and through customs smoothly. It turns out I stillremember by heart things like where the toilets are in the arrival hall or how to get to the train counters. Station layouts as well it seems. The funny part however is that my Japan memory has occasionally been a little off, for example not remembering a whole block between two buildings of note, as the block had nothing memorable in it. It has been amusing to be certain these two buildings have always been next to each other only to realise I’ve been remembering it wrong for three years!

I hit my first slight stumble of the trip when I confidently bought a ticket for the train I needed, found my way to the platform number on my ticket, only to be encountered by a train going TO the airport, not from. I was entirely confused, with only about a minute until my train departure. Luckily in my frantic looking around I managed to spot a doorway in the wall behind me – revealing the other side of what I had until then assumed was a one sided platform! Luckily I do a good last second train jump when I need to ;) Crisis over, I enjoyed the train to the city immensely. I love how it passes both old-style Japanese houses with their rice and vegetable farms as well as big ugly shopping outlet buildings and wayward looking telephone wires and towers. It’s awesomely jarring to see these two sides of Japan juxtaposed. 

Thanks to my research obsession I had committed the route I needed to get to my hotel to memory and I didn’t even need to consult the map I brought (which was good, as it was buried in my carry on). I dropped my bags and headed for Shinjuku Takashimaya to buy my Disneyland tickets for in two days time. The lady at the counter was very helpful and I had no problems with the tickets, only problems getting myself out of the store without buying anything! I managed to stay strong though, as the less I buy there, the more park merchandise I can allow myself. I then decided to take an initial look at Shinjuku Closet Child, a second hand shop specialising in big Japanese Gothic and Lolita brand names. I had decided I would be very selective in my EGA/EGL buying this trip, which would mean having a good look around. I saw a couple of coats that I was really tempted by (those who know me will know more coats are the very last thing my wardrobe needs) but I decided to truly make a decision I would need to see what the other Closet Child branches, as well as actual outlets had to offer. 

This led me to Harajuku, and from there I lost control a little. I wandered wide-eyed from store to store amazed at the fun things on offer this season. I must have tried on 15 outfits at least, and stared at countless accessories. Luckily my frugal-mindedness still appeared to exist when it came to actual buying. I decided I would only focus on EGL clothing today, and ended up buying one fairly low priced second hand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright dress, one decora bracelet, one Angelic Pretty necklace (also second hand), and a few shirts and accessories that Closet Child amazingly had on a ¥600 ($6ish) and under rack!!! For me, this is a pretty good effort at not buying much when faced with Tokyo stores. I still feel I need one more dress in a particular style for my EGL shopping, but I know what’s out there now so it can wait until I’m sure and know my remaining budget. Meanwhile tomorrow I am planning to go to Shibuya and then Harajuku again, this time focusing on gyaru and street fashion. I highly suspect that quirky Harajuku street fashion will be my biggest buying temptation this trip, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

After taking my purchases back to the hotel and settling in, I ventured out again to see one of my favourite Japanese festivals: the Sanja Matsuri. The Sanja Matsuri celebrates the time when in 628 AD when two Japanese fishermen found a huge statuette of the Bodhisattva Kannon (often known to non-Buddhists as enlightened or skinny Buddha) in the Sumida River. A local Buddhist heard of this and taught the men the religion surrounding the statue. The three created a small temple for the statue which is now Senso-ji, Tokyo’s most popular temple. Sanja Matsuri was formed around celebrating this event. In 1649 Togugawa Iemitsu commissioned Asukusa-jinja, a Shinto shrine just behind Senso-ji, in honour of the spirits of these three men, solidifying the importance of the festival and the ability of the Japanese to allow these two religions to exist in harmony. In its current form, Sanja-Matsuri lasts for 3 days, and today was the day that large groups of people spent all day carrying giant portable shrines around the 44 districts of Asakusa, paying their respects, before returning to large crowds and fanfare in the evening. 

Well, large crowds was an understatement. I was lucky enough to get within a few rows of the front of the crowd, but we were constantly being crushed, pushed around, and generally maimed by the huge amount of people crammed into a small space. I chose to find this an interesting experience rather than a pain, and once I started giggling about it I got the woman next to me doing it too. It turns out she spoke English, and we kept each other in good conversation until the festival finished and the crowd dispersed. It was great seeing the performers, and to see the mostly local crowds cheering so hard for both their performers in the festival and their district.

After this I stopped into an Asakusa restaurant for some ‘meat spaghetti’, a Japanese attempt at spaghetti bolognese with far less tomato than it generally requires. It wasn’t too bad, and I got throught the entire ordering/eating/paying experience in Japanese. I then headed for the hotel, as I don’t want to stay out too late on my own, and today has been a very long one with a lot of trains and a lot of walking. Hopefully I can get a good sleep on my futon and be strong of mind for tomorrow, a day of street fashion shopping temptations. Wish me luck!

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