It all started way back at the beginning of the year, when I saw Rumin tweeting about going to Japan and I, who had just started delving into anime, jokingly tweeted her saying “I want to go too” and she not-so-jokingly replied that if I really wanted to, I could, and all too sudden, all the possibilities were displayed before me and I bought my flight tickets to Tokyo before I could chicken out.
And just like that, with the click of a button, I was going to Japan.
On the night after I published my previous post, I was a giant knot of both nerves and excitement as my parents fetched me to the Alor Setar airport where I met up with Rumin and her aunt. I am generally not a very big fan of flying and the thought of having to endure a seven hour flight that night left an unpleasant taste on my tongue and I was reminded all too clearly of my experience flying to UK during which I was struck by thoughts like “Why did I choose to do this when I could be sleeping at home instead” but as always, all thoughts got thrown out the window as soon as I made my first step on foreign soil.
Our flight to Narita started at KLIA2 and I spent a good few hours on the plane watching Haikyuu on my phone, drifting in and out of sleep while psyching myself up for going to Japan (I had a lot of options to choose from: 1) anime 2) all my friends who had gone to Japan weaving fantastic tales of their Japanese experiences 3) D&P 4) brand new adventures in a brand new place!!!) and reading fics when I got too restless for slumber. All too soon, sunlight started shining through the tiny oval airplane windows at 5AM and that was when I started to get really drowsy. It was also comforting to know that we only had three hours to landing; we were closer to Tokyo than home.
When they finally announced we were landing, I was quite literally squirming in my seat in excitement despite having only slept for a maximum of two hours the night before.
There were shuttle buses waiting for us at the landing field when we alighted from the plane so I had my first taste of the weather immediately – it was outrageously sweltering hot. I’ve never been to a different country in summer before, so I’ve always had this inane indoctrinated belief that summers everywhere else couldn’t possibly be as bad as the all-year-round heat of Malaysia so despite warnings from Rumin, I didn’t exactly prepare myself fully for summer so that was one hell of a welcome gift.
After going through customs, we freshened up at the toilets and then headed for the counter to buy Skyliner train tickets to Ueno.
Rumin and I got way too excited to be on the train. To be fair, everything was so clean and hi-tech and fast and quiet and comprehensive (I definitely got too enthusiastic when I found out you could turn the train seats around and there was wifi provided onboard as well as sockets. Perhaps it was the technological difference, or lack of exposure, or lingering surrealism at being in Japan or just blatant fatigue. Who knows, maybe all of them) and we even found a vending machine in the fifth carriage when we went to explore.
I tried to nap during the journey because we had a full schedule ahead of us that day and I knew my body would hate me if I had to walk around Tokyo for a day without at least trying to sneak in some sleep prior to that but I couldn’t. Many times I closed my eyes only to open them slightly out of curiosity and be distracted immediately by the scenery outside that we were passing by. Lush green fields eventually gave way to moderately tall and identically uniform buildings with signboards in kanji and that was how I knew we were approaching the city.
I listened to Kinoko Teikoku the whole way (a stellar recommendation by Bellyn) which improved the commencement of our adventures even further. It was surreal. It felt like a dream. I was in Japan, and I was so happy despite having done nothing yet.
And then we finally reached Ueno! I was educated even further about the Japanese summer as we walked along the streets of Ueno for 15 minutes to get to our hotel. I had to borrow a cap from Rumin’s aunt (like I said, zero preparations for what was in store) and my first purchase in Tokyo was funnily enough, a bottle of sunblock.
Would you also believe that my first encounter with anime in the land of anime was a Haikyuu poster stuck on the wall of a 7-eleven we passed by on the way to our hotel? Again, if there was any indication that I was still in a dream, this would be it because it was too good to be true but it wasn’t and all I could do was squeal inwardly everytime I walked past it (and we did end up walking past it a good few times during our stay in Tokyo).
We weren’t allowed to check in until 3PM and it was only about 11 in the morning so we left our luggage in the lobby in search for lunch before heading for Ginza, our first stop for the day.
Our first meal in Tokyo was at a Japanese soba fuji place (I’m not sure of its technical term but I daren’t use the word ‘restaurant’) where I was introduced to a whole different culture of the Japanese. Outside the building was a glass case display of plastic models of a variety of soba noodles and next to it was a machine with pictures of these dishes. Apparently the system works as such: you choose the dish you want (complete with price listings), slot in money, get change and a ticket in return, and then enter the place where you hand over the ticket to the kitchen counter and wait for your number to be called once your food is ready. There was a fumble for a while because the person manning the counter only spoke Japanese and I used my meagre knowledge of Japanese numbers to make sure we understood what was going on. At least we managed to get our food in the end.
We were also literally the only tourists in the small eatery; most if not all of the other patrons were middle-aged white-collar Japanese men who ate alone and in silence, looking to only fill up their stomachs as a necessity before heading back to work.
At this point after lunch, I felt like a walking zombie roaming the streets of a city I’ve never been in before, filled with people speaking a different language that I didn’t understand. It was only 1PM but it felt like a continuation of the previous day, which it technically was because I didn’t actually sleep at all, coupled with the summer heat beating down on me turning my vision dizzy and blurry. On the subway to Ginza, I felt a mixture of nausea and extreme fatigue and all I could think of at that moment was maybe I should find somewhere to crash later but as soon as we reached Ginza and got off, the sight of this district filled with tall buildings of shopping brands and just the curious wonder of a new area forced me to ignore the spinning in my head and trudge on (and by trudge on I pretty much only mean walking through aisles of clothes and occasionally visiting the fitting rooms).
We went to GU, Uniqlo, H&M to name a few, and each building of each clothing brand had a minimum of four storeys which was mindblowing compared to the puny shopping lots of Malaysia. I’d thought Lot 10 H&M was huge but that was nothing compared to the 12 storeys of Uniqlo’s building. It felt like all along I’ve been reading the scant synopsis of a book and upon coming to Ginza, I was finally opening the book and reading its actual full content.
Walking along the streets of Ginza also felt more like I was in China than Japan judging by the amount of Chinese tourists wandering around in large groups.
I bought a midi skirt and a pair of jeans from GU, a pair of wool shorts from Uniqlo and some ribbon pins from H&M. We also went to two cafes in between shopping sprees for some much-needed respite.
I started to pay more attention to the subway after that when we commuted from Ginza to the JR Tokyo Station now that my nausea and fatigue had been temporarily put on hold until further notice. Enough attention that it didn’t escape from my gaze the Attack on Titan live action movie trailers they kept on replaying on mini TVs in the subway station.
And then we reached Kitte and visited the post office where I mailed a postcard back home as per tradition.
After that, we headed for JR Tokyo Station and at this point, I was getting really excited because there was a shop in JR Tokyo Station that I wanted to visit in particular.
We didn’t really know how to navigate our way after that because it was a rather confusing place but Rumin was the one who successfully led us to Character Street, announcing that we were definitely here because the first shop that appeared before us was a Pokémon shop.
I informed Rumin before separating and wandering around, suddenly energized. The first shop I ran up to had an entire Kuroken shrine displayed in their glass case but I restrained myself because there was bigger fish to catch so I marched on some more and with a right turn – I found myself staring straight into the depths of Jump Shop.
I had to remind myself to breathe because a quarter of the shop was literally Haikyuu merchandise and I wanted to scream look at all of my children existing in physical objects some of them such silly things like towels and bolsters and I wanted them all anyway.
It was all just so ridiculous but amazingly so because I couldn’t stop grinning the entire time and touching everything (and retracting my hand after seeing the price tag) and pacing back and forth the Haikyuu aisle because I just couldn’t get enough. I had to absorb that I was actually there and these were actual things laid out before me and I JUST REALLY LOVE HAIKYUU OKAY!!! I was there for a good hour or so up until the shop closed. I could possibly stay in there for another 30 hours maybe if they didn’t have a closing time.
I also grabbed a Nekoma strawberry (read: probably poison) flavoured drink which was all kinds of Ridiculous on the same level of a box of five milk breads with Oikawa’s face on the box selling for 2000 yen just for, well, the Ridiculousness.
And then it was time to head back because we were all half-dead on our feet (not very surprisingly, I wasn’t very much so…I had somehow acquired the energy of a million suns) and we entered our hotel room for the first time.
It was another cause for excitement because Rumin and I were sharing a tatami mat room complete with the authentic dried straw smell and sliding doors. Our toilet felt like a submarine toilet but that wasn’t even something to complain about because everything just felt so nice. Overall, the room was just spacious enough to accommodate both our futons but even then they were extra large single mattresses and the comforter was so fluffy and warm and comfortable and they even provided yukatas and a fridge and a TV (even though we didn’t use much of these facilities since we were away from the room the whole day) and it was just such a cosy arrangement that I immediately fell in love with it.
I didn’t have dinner yet (despite it already being almost 10PM) so Rumin, her sister, Rujia and I went down to the konbini just a 3-minute walk away from our hotel, where I bought cup ramen for dinner.
As I drifted to sleep that night, muscles aching from voyaging Tokyo the entire day on the bare minimum amount of sleep, tucked under the snug kake futon, 5000km away from home, I could only marvel at how right this felt, and how happy I was to be here in Tokyo.