See below for a link to the photo album for this post!
Now that I am settled a bit and started working, I have found some time to sit and recount my first week in Tokyo. As I mentioned before, arriving at Narita was a familiar feeling for me and my excitement for being back held off my eventual defeat from jet lag for the first train or two. At the baggage claim I caught up with a Japanese teacher from my company from back in Rochester and her husband, who came back to Tokyo for spring break on the same flight. We exchanged phone numbers before I said goodbye and met my friend for pickup.
The fight with jet lag that night was an arduous one as I had only slept for three hours on the flight. My arrival day was a Sunday and my friend who came to pick me up couldn't get any time off that week, so it was our only available time to hang out. Back at Naoya's house, I managed to get by with a nap only to wake up after the drinking had already started. Needless to say hilarity ensued between an exhausted Rob and a drunken Tetsuro.
After Tetsuro had left and I got back to sleep, I was woken up once more around midnight when a new visitor had arrived. Hearing the voices, I recognized it as my English conversation partner for two years back in the States. We had become good friends and I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to see him in Shizuoka after my stay in Tokyo. His work schedule wouldn't give him any free time to hang out if I stopped in Shizuoka on my way to Kanazawa. It turned out that his work had made Monday a holiday, so he drove two hours to hang out with us in Tokyo!
Our first stop the next morning was Shinjuku. We climbed to the top of the government building there, the Tokyo Tocho. Supposedly we could see all the way to Mount Fuji when the weather is nice enough, but it never cleared up enough during my four-day stay. After gazing at the cityscape from the observatory, we jumped back on the trains to head across the city. In Akihabara we found a maid cafe where the all-female waitstaff dresses in French maid costumes and serve you coffee in the cutest way they can. At 5:00 there was a change of shift and the maids were replaced by cosplayers. Suddenly we went from classical music and French maids to j-pop and sailor moons. Afterward we did some shopping in Akihabara's electronics town, Harajuku's popular fashion street called Takeshita-dori, and Shibuya's much more expensive clothing shops. Back at Naoya's apartment, I ate a few bites of food before succumbing once again to jet lag.
On Tuesday my friends had to return to work while I went to meet up with another friend from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Takuya met up with me at the Shinjuku train station and after a brief reunion, we decided to make the Imperial Palace our first stop. Most of the palace buildings from the Tokugawa period burned down long ago and were never rebuilt, so our site-seeing was predominantly gardens and stone walls, but gorgeous nonetheless. Just a short walk away was the Tokyo National Modern Art Museum that contained some amazing traditional folding screen.
From the Imperial Palace, we headed towards the oldest shrine in Tokyo, located in Asakusa. The shrine is most famous for its large gate and hanging lantern at the start of the long road leading up to the shrine. The street is lined with many shops that sell traditional and characteristic souvenirs of Japan, including ninja shuriken and folding fans. It began pouring during our visit and we sought shelter under the gate in front of the shrine. While we sat there, an old drunken man approached us and started talking to us in Japanese that was so slurred, my friend couldn't even understand most of it. One thing came out clear: he liked my teeth. We quickly retreated back down the street, laughing as he shouted more random things at passerby while keeping pace with us surprisingly well.
My last full day in Tokyo was spent mostly on my own, but I got to meet up with the Japanese teacher and her husband from from the airport. We walked around Ueno park and saw a number of musical performances that included a three-stringed Japanese guitar called a shamisen, and a choir of middle-school students. My companions recommended the Tokyo-Edo Museum as my next sight-seeing stop and I complied. The museum had many exhibits from both before and after Japan came out of its isolation period, including authentic katana blades and the document of surrender from WWII. Taking a brief rest near the gift shop, an old man sitting near me struck up a conversation and it took all my concentration to try and follow what he was saying in Japanese. He knew quite a lot about current conflicts and events in the world, which I had thought I had left behind in the US. I could do little more than agree with what he was saying but he seemed content enough to just talk about recent events with a foreigner.
Finally on Thursday I hopped on a train to Nagoya, which was a whole new adventure. For a full album of photos showing the events in this post, you can follow this link and enjoy.
Hopefully in the near future I will be posting twice more--once about my time in Nagoya and once about my trip up into the the mountains of Toyama. Thanks for reading!