Tokyo: Reminiscence

November 16, 2019

8 min

1987 words

Journal

I move to another hostel today. Punctually at 10 AM. Here, the checkout time is 2 hours earlier than normal hotel in Indonesia. My next hostel location is still in Taito district Asakusa, closed to Ueno park, around 3.4 km from my current place. I stop by at Lawson on Keiyo-doro Ave to buy breakfast – salmon onigiri, and orange juice. Along the way, I see a salaryman carrying a bag walk in a rush, neatly lined concrete building, a cafe named ‘clock cafe’ in a junction, and some stores in Japanese. I don’t know where it comes but I can smell the fragrance of fresh flowers a few times. Mini-mart (konbini) like 7eleven and Family Mart seems like an endless rivalry between Alfamart and Indomaret in Indonesia; Lawson and Circle-K merely as the cheerleader to keep the game up. Half-way to my destination I can’t recall how many times I’ve stopped by the traffic light – but anyway, I love every time it turns green and echoing the euphony of birds chirping.

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A mosaic of “PIZZERIA” on top of the hostel clearly caught my attention, in a moment it feels like in the middle of a Mediterranean village in Italy, a pizza and pasta advertisement laid out on the corner, and the wall adorned with a colorful abstract graffiti. When I enter the hostel, an African-American man shows me the way to the third floor. The receptionist is still empty, apparently the check-in time starts at 4 PM, it’s still 11 AM so I put my belongings at luggage storage right behind the receptionist room. I change my t-shirt because it’s completely wet. A western-looking woman looks waiting for the receptionist when I come out of the toilet, I tell her about the check-in time attached on the wall. She says that she just arrived from Kyoto by a night bus. I tell her if I’m about to explore the nearest places while waiting for the check-in time, she decided to join me since she still doesn’t have a plan.

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In Senso-ji temple, I can’t help giggling silently and astonished when I hear a Japanese guide speaks Spanish fluently, somehow I find it incongruous when Asian speaks Latin or an African/Caucasian speaks Mandarin or Japanese. It feels like there are some aesthetical aspects that don’t fit my current social framework. The nature of habit fixation perhaps.

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Our first destination – Senso-ji – is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The wave of tourist swamp in every inch of the street — I wonder of how many locals are actually among this crowd. The shopping street surrounding the complex of the temple filled with food merchants and various souvenirs. The smoke of incense sticks plugged inside a big pot in front of the temple bathing visitors. It reminds me of Buddhist rituals during my junior high school year, the incense’s smoke always made my eyes sore every time I was in the middle of the morning ritual on the temple inside the school.

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Accidentally come across several cigarette vending machines near around. There are also porn stuff vending machines, which is ridiculous. I imagine if the last machine is placed in a shady corner of Jakarta today — it then becomes a trending topic on Twitter — ended up with confiscation by civil service officers or religion apologists who then become the main connoisseurs. Or, suppose it’s legalized — people might be too reluctant or will not blatantly buy it, just take a look at how many people felling daunt, shy, or uncomfortable to buy a contraceptive at a minimart.

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Around Tokyo Sky Tree – the tallest building in Japan – we rest for a while beside Yokojikken river while eating snacks and drink grape juice. Kim, my new friend, tells her stories roaming around Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. About a year ago she left her job as a junior contractor of a marketing agency in German and begin her journey with her best friend. From Australi, interspersed with volunteer jobs in Tasmania for a few months, then New Zealand, Bali, crawling from the bottom to the top of Asia before continue her journey alone.

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At 4 we are back to the hostel, completing the check-in process. Kim asks me to join meeting her friends at 5 to attend an ancient ritual in a Buddhist temple. We clean ourselves for a while before moving toward Iriya Station, take a JR Hibiya Line to Monzen-nakacho station, then continue by walk to Naritasan Fukagawa Fudodo, our destination. After Kim’s friends arrive, we immediately enter the temple from the side entrance. In a small gate to the main hall, we’re asked to remove the shoes and put them on a plastic bag. A gatekeeper gives us a flyer that explains the brief history of the temple and the ritual. We pass through a hallway with thousands of miniature statues dedicated to a deity named Fudomoyo. The temple began in the 18th century during the Edo period, severely devastated during the second world war. The ritual called ‘Goma-kiso Fire Purification’ – it’s usually held five times a day. Completely free, but photography is prohibited inside. As the ritual begins I get goosebumps, a monk starts the ritual with a hard blow to a big drum like being possessed, followed by a group of monks chanting the spells wrapped with a fire acrobatic moves which shake the whole room and makes me tremble. In a moment I close my eyes, I feel like my soul dismantle from my physical body and peregrinates to a long distant past.

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We wander around the temple area. There are some street food vendors in front of the Monzen-nakacho station. We buy okonomiyaki – an egg omelet sprinkle with fish flakes. We also try a red beans dorayaki before spend the rest of the night walking and talking. On Aioi bridge we stop for a moment to enjoy the view before heading back to the hostel. The day is done.

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This morning I bring my dirty clothes from the last few days to self-service laundry on the 5th floor. There are 4 shared bathrooms, a small kitchen, and an ironing room on the same floor — the toilet and the bathroom are separated on different levels.

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On the way to Tsukiji market, I notice some Japanese middle-aged women and old ladies take care of their dress and makeup, it looks simple and delicate, hence giving the teenager’s impression.

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Last night, one of Kim’s friend told me that the old Tsukiji market — the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world — where the tuna auction usually been held in the early morning (around 3 AM) has been moved to a new location in Toyosu area – about 3 km from the previous location, we have planned to go there but I can’t summon my energy to wake up that early, so I just skip that one. We ended up at the Tsukiji for tourists on the outer part of the old area. For me, it’s just a normal day witnessing people sell and buy seafood since I grew up in a seashore town, but for the first time in my life, I see a giant oyster with the size of both of my palm. It’s 550 Yen per oyster – eaten raw with soy sauce poured into the shell – I can’t help to resist this temptation.

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From Tsukiji, we walk straight toward the Imperial Palace of Japan in Chiyoda area. We pass the biggest Kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo; stuck at the Ginza shopping area; exploring the grand Tokyo Station. There are a lot of private gates and complex around. Inside the palace, there are leftovers of the unfinished part of the castle and extensive beautiful gardens. This palace becomes the center of Japan’s government since 1868 after the capital been moved from Kyoto — from what I’ve read in an online article, the imperial’s children and their family members apparently do not live there.

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We take a rest at the Yasukuni Shrine area. On the front part, there is a giant sturdy Daiichi Torii gate. I sit on the floor and straighten my legs in the middle of the park near a big statue of Omura Masujiro, ‘the father of the Imperial Japanese Army’. My mind goes back to a sunny day during my university year vacation when I visited my maternal grandparent’s house. My grandfather – in which a big portion of his life happened during world war 2 – is a little bit difficult to be described in today’s standard profession because he worked in several different fields during his lifetime. He is simply an anthropologist because there’s where he devoted most of his man-hour writing books on anthropology and history. On that day, I happened to unload all of the old books and documents from an old cupboard in his small library. There, in one of the baskets, I found a stack of letters of his curriculum vitae which suddenly made me burst into laugh because until this day I never see someone put in their cv an experience such ‘captured and put in prison by Japanese soldiers because writing offensive articles.’ This is the thing that only kids in the ’40s will understand.

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In Shinjuku Station and wander around the Kabukicho passageways. I spot a giant Godzilla snooping behind buildings; some love hotels illuminated by dim light; a Robot Restaurant in which most tourists just glance at the price, take a picture for a while, retreat slowly then leave, it’s understandable for the overpriced ticket. The Robot Restaurant is enlivened by blinding sensory overload colorful blink of lights and fused by loud techno music – two odd robots with imbalance breast proportion and the body right beside the entrance. I don’t understand why they named it as restaurant, it looks like a discotheque for me.

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We navigate ourselves to Golden Gai, a dimly lit narrow aisle crammed with plenty of small bars, meat restaurants, and salarymen. Along the way, laughter and small whisper reverberates from the people sitting next to each other while enjoying the dishes. I spot some exhibition posters, handwritings, stickers, and strange objects stuck on the wall, pipeline, vending machine, and electrical box.

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We take a JR to Harajuku Station. Just a span from the station I spot cat cafe right beside the ‘Aujourd’hui Accessories’ — and hedgehog cafe within the few blocks ahead. We follow the line walk through various tax-free shops along the way — the tantalizing eclectic products ready to suck the pocket and trap the pedestrians with the illusions of various products lined up side by side.

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I see a group of youngsters with catchy styles and anime costumes while enjoying dinner at a small restaurant in Harajuku area. It clearly reminds me of the carnival day during my kindergarten. This is one of the oldest memory that I can still remember to this day.

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We walk aimlessly through Shibuya crossing several times back and forth just for the crowd euphoric pleasure. We hike up to a pedestrian bridge on the second floor of Shibuya Station — there we can see the Shibuya crossing with a bird’s view. The tragic mural ‘Myth of Tomorrow’ on the bridge wall immediately catch my attention since it’s part of my destination. The painting depicts the story of the atomic bomb. In 1967 Tora Okamoto – the painter – supposed to deliver the painting for a new hotel in Mexico, he finished the painting for two years but unfortunately, the owner got bankrupt before the hotel’s opening. The painting went missing and discovered in 2003 before it was brought back to Japan and restored. Sadly, Taro has no chance to see his mural displayed in this station. The mural, preserved its myth in Taro’s resting place.

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Hotel: Waqwaq Hostel, Asakusa
Hotel Environment: Italian style
Treatment:  Tea, coffee, and biscuit for free in the morning
Others: Fancy pizza cafe on the first floor, Senso-ji temple about 15 min walk
Impression: cramped but comfy