My Cherry Blossom’d Birthday
Two days after leaving China, I arrived in Kobe, Japan with a backpack, my passport and knowing one word of Japanese – Konichiwa (hello). There was only one thing I really wanted to do on my birthday, see the cherry blossom festival Kyoto and I was determined. Thankfully, Japan was very easy to navigate, and we didn’t have much trouble at all understanding the transportation system with the frequent reassurance of employees—testing them by pointing to the dot on the subway map, pointing to the line we were standing in and waiting for a thumbs up. We also tried our best to distinguish the authentic geishas in the crowds, but with so many silk kimonos surrounding us, it was quite the challenge.
The cherry blossom season is the most popular time of year in Japan and I was more than ecstatic to be spending my birthday there. We bought a day pass for the bus and headed straight for the Philosopher’s Path. I was in a state of complete bliss; I must have been glowing because these flowers were the most delightful things I have ever laid my eyes on. The pink and white flowers seemed to be igniting into the sky and the delicious smell was floating around everywhere. Zen masters are known for saying that you can’t see your reflection in running water, only still water. The pure natural beauty of the surrounding gardens and the energy from the cherry blossoms made everyone seem at ease with themselves and just so happy. Maybe it’s a little much to call it flower power, but regardless, it brought a whole new meaning to happy birthday.
Since Kyoto was overflowing with tourists, we decided to spend the night about 45 minutes away in Osaka, known as “Japan’s best place to eat, drink and party.”
As a last-minute college girl on a budget there is no better place to stay in Japan than a capsule hotel. At $12 a night these “hotels of the future” are the greatest. Although the pods are often described to be coffin-like, they are not at all scary and come equipped with a personal T.V., screen shutter, and just enough space to keep one from feeling claustrophobic.
Despite the rain, Osaka was where my birthday celebration really began – I’m assuming it ha something to do with it being the first time we were able to put down our backpacks. At first, we walked into a restaurant that seemed to be a hit from the pictures outside (what we refer to when we can’t speak or read one word of the pictorial language), but had a rough time getting passed water when the entire menu offered was pasta and pork—and a kosher Passover to you too! After drawing a picture of rice, we finally stumbled on a much better find. The friendly waiting staff were willing to work with our #languagebarrier problems and somehow explain what was in the pictures we pointed at without getting too fed up. I wish I could illustrate the way we order when no one speaks English—from the slow speaking to the hand motions and the pointing and smiling in reassurance, the whole show is the best material I have ever had for an SNL skit.
Eshley bought us all Sake … in a jar. Whatever, it was time to start the night.
Lost in Translation … in Tokyo
After another breathtaking day in Kyoto and a very, very long and uncomfortable overnight bus I arrived in Tokyo around 7 a.m. to meet my roommate Chelcie and some other friends at the Cerulean Tower Tokyou. After a quick shower and a much-needed coffee, the streets of Tokyo were ours. First stop: the Harajuku district. I was in my very own, real life, Gwen Stefani music video. The whole area looks is as if Hot Topic and Sanario had a baby, I kid you not. From the gothic clothing to the Hello Kitty accessories, this place had a culture of its own. It may be a bit wacky, but you can’t help but love it.
If you thought Tokyo couldn’t get any wackier, Japanese baseball brought it too a whole new level. I’ve been to plenty of stadiums across the U.S. (thanks dad) and the Tokyo Dome was very impressive, but there was something so off about it – it really was a whole other ballpark’. Hotdogs were replaced with bento boxes, instead of the usual old creepy guy selling Cracker Jacks there are tiny Japanese women dressed in highlighter outfits with flowers in their hair selling squid and the cheerleaders – well, let’s just say they were pretty reserved in comparison to the Miami Marlins. Regardless of their bizarre baseball customs, Chelcie and I cheered on the Tokyo Giants as they crushed the Chunichi Dragons.
One of my favorite experiences in Tokyo and definitely a favorite from my entire trip was at a Starbucks, I know – how cliché. After a full day of touring I decided to wander the streets alone for a bit. Of course, just my luck it started raining. So me, along with my brand new clear umbrella, stumbled upon the Shibuya crossing – the largest intersection in the world. I was drawn to this organized chaos of pedestrians, but there are only so many times one can walk back and forth to take in the energy. I walked up to the second floor of the nearby quiet Starbucks, bought myself a hot chocolate and sat down right in front of a window with a perfect panoramic view of the unfolding scene below me. As soon as one light turns red, the other few follow and mass amounts of people cross this junction. I sat there fascinated by this and watched it repeat until 1 in the morning. I really can’t explain why I was so intrigued by this crosswalk. Maybe it was my curiosity about the people – where they came from and where they were heading. I’m really not sure, but I’m positive I have never enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate more.
From the cutsey culture to high tech wonders to the conservative mannerisms, Tokyo is a true blend of the past, present and future. I met sumo wrestlers, visited traditional shrines, went to the Sega Club, tried to understand anime (fail), went to Tsukiji Fish Market (the busiest one in the world) at 7 a.m. and ate tuna right after it was sliced off the fish, walked in the park through cherry blossoms – all in two days.
のての実 – It’s been real Japan.