I didn’t publicize my previous post anywhere because I felt like it was written very emotionlessly and in a detached manner but I’d posted it anyway for accurate timeline reasons and then reasoned that I’d maybe rewrite it again when I am able to be “”””poignant”””” in my writing again but it’s been a week, and I’m still in this ~floaty~ mood in which I feel everything and nothing at once and I don’t quite know how to articulate it nor put it into words.
But here I am! Here we are! Here it is! The one thing that’s been occupying every single second of my thinking time from the moment I wake up to the moment my head hits the pillow (and sometimes in between too)!
Okay! Cool! Yeah! I’m so! Terrified and sad and excited! If you ask me how I feel about university, that is the honest answer I will give you!
Honestly, the reluctance to leave home isn’t unexpected, but it’s also pretty ironic considering how I’ve been lamenting my days away since A Levels ended, and now that it’s time to finally leave the stagnant period of literally doing nothing that contributes to the productivity of self, family and country, I want to cling onto precisely the comfort and luxury of being able to go to bed at 2AM without a single worry and then wake up the next afternoon agenda-less and commitment-less. It gets so comfortable, so so blissfully cosy and why would anyone trade that for a whole new foreign environment of stressful tertiary studies, living alone in a different country and attempting friendships with people all around the world of different cultures and experiences equipped with only a horrible inaptitude of social appropriateness?
For the sake of growth and progress, you say. Ah. Okay. Well then. Nothing to argue there. Lazy as I admit myself to be, there are certain things in life that require the intake of a deep breath and a steady foot forward, no matter how uncomfortable or terrifying it may be. And for me, one of these things happen to be starting university in the UK next week.
I think the pummelling has not quite yet been delivered in its full strength yet, much like the Emotional Blockage I felt during the last few weeks of leaving Sunway, but it’s on its way. All the packing and rushing around to get everything done before flying off has managed to dull the immediate forceful effect somewhat, but I feel like I’ve been internally bawling for a good few weeks now. I mean, all of this is just mental and emotional preparation for the day itself; I want to lessen the blow of Manchester Day but perhaps nothing I conjure in my mind will beat the mockingly bright airport lights, waving heavy goodbyes to my parents while furiously wiping the tears and snot away on my sleeve.
This feels like the largest thing that has ever happened to me. And perhaps it is.
I’ve been fluctuating between being sad and reluctant to leave to being excited about meeting new people, travelling to new places and “discovering my identity” (I mean this unironically but I don’t know how to make it sound less ironically) to being afraid of having no friends there and being perpetually alone throughout my entire university life so. This. Is it. An insight to (more or less) what I’ve been thinking for the past month. I don’t know how to end this just like I don’t really know. What. To feel. I just hope I am able to cope and accept and adapt and ultimately be independent to survive on my own. And after this 3-year stunt, I know I’ll emerge a changed and improved (hopefully) person and more than anything, I look forward to embodying that Michelle in the future.
Immediately after coming back from Japan, there was hardly time to afford lazing around doing nothing as I’d been doing for the past eight months (which felt quite ironically out-of-comfort-zone-ish considering how much I’d been complaining about doing nothing). I made a day trip to KL by flight with Rumin two days after returning from Japan to get my visa done, and was it coincidence or subconsciousness we will never know, we went to places in KL that reminded us of Tokyo, albeit lesser versions: the manga/Japanese magazines section in Kinokuniya, buying more stuff in Uniqlo, Monki and H&M than in Tokyo despite the Japanese branches being larger and offering a wider variety of choices.
Then a week of writing my Japan blogposts later, I went down to Penang for two days to play volleyball with Bellyn and her friends in light of her recently getting into Haikyuu thanks to me apparently. She even got herself a Mikasa volleyball (after her Thai Molten one got carried away by river currents, literally) and it was super fun to pretend that we were on a volleyball court as Haikyuu characters even though it was just us three tossing and receiving in an open field by the road and suffering from bruises that travelled the length of both arms right after. Actually Playing Volleyball was something that wasn’t unthought of after I got into Haikyuu but because the thought of Michelle + Sports was precisely just that, a thought, it remained wishful thinking which is why I’m eternally grateful for that really fun volleyball-filled weekend at Penang with Bellyn. (ball is life thanks haikyuu)
Ok we even did a short ridiculous photoshoot thing at the lorong behind Bellyn’s house in which I dressed up as Kenma complete with the Nekoma shirt, a red parka I just bought from Queensbay, and Bellyn’s old St George’s red trackpants oh my god
The next day after coming back from Penang, I flew to KL with Rumin again for a University of Manchester pre-departure briefing which turned out to be not very informative at all but we had another sort of psuedo-Tokyo day in the city (will we ever get over Japan I don’t think so and I hope not) at Uniqlo, Parkamaya and Tokyo Street (we had udon for lunch). On the train to KLIA2 to fly back to Alor Setar, we received emails stating there was a JPA briefing in Subang in two days’ time and so it was another day of booking flight and hotel tickets and groaning in exasperation at the short notice.
It was also during this time that Bellyn’s dad messaged me on Facebook about holding a surprise farewell party for Bellyn on Wednesday night before she flies off to New York on Thursday. So instead of flying back to Alor Setar, I bought flight tickets to Penang instead after the JPA briefing.
Upon reaching Subang on Tuesday afternoon, Rumin and I visited this owl-themed café that reminded me of Fukurodani and there was even a map of the Tokyo metro station at the table we sat at. At around 2PM, I left for Grafa where I was going to meet Ellie, Mei and Atikah.
It had been about a year since I last saw Ellie and almost two years since I saw Mei and it was my first time meeting Atikah, I was so excited!! I had such a great time hanging out with them, mostly talking about our uni futures in the UK (Mei is going to UAL and Ellie is starting her second year in University of Kent) and meeting up, when Atikah visits too. Of course, we also talked about anime
I sat in Mei’s car for the first time as she dropped me off at Sunway Pyramid after hugging her and Atikah goodbye, smiling so wide and feeling that Life Is So Good So So Good
Rumin and I crashed at a small motel at SS15 that night and we were lucky enough to procure the only room left which was a family room of four without any additional cost.
The briefing started at 8.30AM the next morning and in a nutshell, we got our respective tentative flying dates. University of Manchester students were scheduled to fly off on the 14th of September.
My flight was at 4PM while Rumin’s was at 4.40PM so we chilled at a Thai café at SS15 for a while before taking a taxi to the airport.
The surprise wasn’t entirely successful because Bellyn was in the car as well when Bellyn’s dad picked me up from the airport. Regardless, the night of the farewell party was so nice as Bellyn’s friends, Janice, Yu Chia, Xin Yi and Erneetha turned up too.
I felt the spillover of the Departure Sadness a little and it was a bit ironic that Bellyn was the one to send me off at the bus station in the end on the next day when she was the one leaving that evening. I left Penang with an incredibly heavy heart, even more so because of Bellyn’s departure and also the thought that this might be my last time on this island where I’d had had so many fond memories before I fly to the UK.
And that was all that had happened, besides binge watching Masterchef USA with my parents, leading up to the approximately one week left I have in Malaysia before I’m off to the UK, to university.
(Like Japan, I am both very excited and also very scared.)
We had to check out of our airbnb by 11AM so we packed all our luggage before leaving the place, lump in my throat the entire time but I kept it under control by reminding myself to not let negative emotions ruin the last day I had in Osaka.
We visited Kuromon Market first where we had breakfast (fresh scallop and octopus aka the absolute best)
Our last sightseeing spot in Osaka was Osaka Castle, and we took the subway to Osaka Business Park which was the station nearest to the Castle.
Shortly after breakfast, my stomach started grumbling in the fashion of a stomachache, and I was left to divert my full concentration to keeping it in check throughout the entire subway journey. Hence, as soon as we reached Osaka Business Park, I dashed straight for the nearest toilet at the station.
Whenever I have to do a number two in public, the first worry that immediately jumps to mind is the availability of tissue paper and a bidet but because I remembered I was in Japan and not Malaysia, I waved the concern away as a baseless worry, having sown incredible faith in Japanese public toilets. So you can imagine my utmost shock when I discovered that the toilets in the Osaka Business Park subway station had no bidets. No array of buttons stuck to the toilet bowl that to this day, still amuse me greatly with its efficiency and, uh, precision. Not even the manual taps that some toilets in KL have in place of separate bidets. What they did have though, was a sensor on the wall that played nature sounds and the chirping of birds when they detect movement ie when you move to sit down on the toilet bowl (allegedly to cover the sound of your peeing so you don’t get embarrassed).
What an unnecessary contraption!!!!! An investment in the wrong type of infrastructure when they could’ve invested in bidets instead!!!!!! The nature sounds only served to agitate and mock the entire time I pulled on toilet paper endlessly, thinking about how bad an idea this was and how I wouldn’t wish my current predicament on my worst enemy, especially not if they were having diarrhea. (Like I was.)
Thank God when we exited the station we stumbled upon another toilet in the business building adjacent to the station and this time, I could almost cry in relief at the sight of the little buttons connected to the toilet bowl that were readily available for my needs. I was so glad and thankful that I even took a photo of their sinks that had a three-way use – soap, rinse and blow dry.
Finally liberated from the clutches of my stomachache, we headed for Osaka Castle.
And then it was finally, finally time to head back and we stopped at Dotonbori for ramen lunch at Ichiran. Throughout the trip, I’d heard Rumin’s aunt mention Ichiran a couple of times but I had no idea what it was like so when I entered the place, I was taken for a huge surprise ride.
At the entrance was one of those machines I’d seen at fuji restaurants and I thought it would be like that so I placed a 500 yen coin into it and pressed the button with the most basic ramen selection. After getting my ticket, I thought that was it. I thought it would be the same procedure wherein I give the ticket to the person behind the counter and wait for my number to be called.
So I was surprised when we went up one floor and were given a piece of paper each by a server. On the paper were several rows of food details such as “soup consistency”, “spiciness”, “hardness of noodles” etc and in different columns, choices like “concentrated/normal/diluted”, “very spicy/normal/non-spicy”, “hard/normal/soft” etc for us to circle our preferences and I was both very shocked and fascinated (it felt like a cooking game). We brought the papers with us and went up another floor where the seats were (perhaps the next part should be explained with pictures).
How neat is that!!! So very neat and the ramen was good too 10/10 would recommend and come here again
We still had time to spare before we had to head for the airport so we did some shopping at Shinsaibashi where I got some gifts and a new phone case.
And then commenced the dreaded journey to Kansai Airport where it was finally, reluctantly, time to say goodbye to Japan. 😥
We had gyudon at Sukiya at the airport and I ordered a gyudon with spring onions and egg but I had no idea the egg would come raw so for a while I was so incredibly confused to have my rice bathed in raw egg white until I found out that this was how it was supposed to be. I still didn’t finish it though, a heavy weight sitting on my stomach from the sadness and nerves.
Our flight was 2335 hours and my first step onto the plane was also my last step on Japanese soil.
For some reason, I got a Quiet Zone seat on the Osaka-KL flight which meant that there were few enough people in the entire section for me to occupy an entire three-seat row for myself. I spent the first few hours watching Hyouka on my laptop and trying to sleep (but failing miserably because 1) I have a history of never sleeping well on planes and 2) some idiotic part of my brain reasoned that since it hadn’t been cold on the KL-Tokyo flight, it wouldn’t be cold this time either! so I wore pajamas shorts and it felt like the freaking Antarctic Circle).
When it was finally announced that we would be reaching KLIA2, Japan already felt like light years away, like a wonderful dream I’d just woken up from.
This epilogue wasn’t written without reason because there is a story to tell about our domestic flight back home to Alor Setar.
We reached KLIA2 at approximately 5AM and our flight to Alor Setar was scheduled at 7AM. At this point, I was feeling as gross as I had been during the Osaka bus ride but worse because I was functioning on at most an hour of sleep and I was walking around in pajamas shorts and I just wanted to go home and sleep like a dead log for the next five million years or so. So that was all I thought of during the one-hour flight to Alor Setar.
However, after an hour, I was anticipating the pilot to announced over the system that we would be landing shortly but it never came. In fact, at one point, I felt the plane steadily ascending again and someone started retching very, very loudly and I could feel my stomach drop along with the contents in it. It didn’t help that the person next to me was also reaching for the vomit bag. As if I didn’t dislike flights enough already, I was absolutely terrified pinned to my seat, trying my hardest to focus on watching Haikyuu on my phone and not my surroundings.
And then finally, the pilot explained that we were experiencing really bad weather in Alor Setar and had been circling around in the sky so now we had to stop at Penang airport to refuel and wait for the weather condition to get better. This set my mind more at ease although not much because we had been in the air for almost two hours and my ideal location right then would be a bed, not an airplane experiencing turbulence.
At Penang airport, Rumin’s aunt opened up some packets of biscuits we’d bought from Japan for us to snack on and I was reminded that oh yeah, Japan was a place we’d just been to it didn’t even feel real anymore
Half an hour later, we got back into the air again and finally landed at the Alor Setar airport safely. I felt so tremendously relieved to be back on firm ground and even more so to see my parents waiting for me. In the car, I recounted the entire airplane experience excitably and incredulously and when I finally reached home, after taking a long cold shower and swallowing some mihun, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I greeted the morning of our fifth day in Japan with Japan’s trademark melon bun I bought from a konbini the night before.
Then it was off to Umeda to get our train tickets to Kyoto.
I was so apprehensive before stepping out of the station leading to Arashiyama because the weather was so hot and it looked like my foot would sizzle if I took a step outside. Within the first five minutes of being out in the open, my lipstick was already melting and wearing a polyester dress in this weather was slowly climbing to the number one rank of Worst Ideas I Have Ever Had. All in the name of #Aesthetics.
A bus pulled up then and we got on, bringing us into the heart of Arashiyama.
It was around lunchtime when we finished touring around Arashiyama and then we got lost for the next hour trying to find a bus that would bring us into Kyoto city. By the time we found a bus, I was literally dragging my feet and I dozed off during the 40-minute journey.
Being back in the city area reminded me of Tokyo a bit, although Kyoto was considerably less crowded and didn’t have as many tall buildings as Tokyo did. We then headed for our next stop which was Nishiki Market, where I learned to appreciate and love cold noodles (udon, in this case) as opposed to the rare few times I’d tried cold soba here in Malaysia and had been greatly let down. Maybe it was the heat or the hunger or the exhaustion from walking around in summer for so long but I’d never eaten a meal quite so quickly before which, if you know me personally, is something I’m not able to do very often.
After lunch, we took another bus to Kiyomizu Dera. We had to climb a long distance of winding slope to get to the top.
I have read many, many fics set in the summer in which the author always describes “the sounds of cicadas” and for the first time, I truly knew what that sound was like.
The entire time in Kiyomizu Dera, Rumin and I discussed and expressed ludicrousness at the fact that the local Japanese people clad in yukatas and had their hair done nicely never seemed to break into sweat or had their makeup ruined under the searing heat. It wasn’t hard to spot tourists in Japan in the summer: they (we) would be the ones drenched in sweat, face crinkled in weariness and hair all over the place in contrast with local natives who not only appeared to be unaffected by the heat but managed to look impossibly good at that too.
The sun was already starting to set by the time we left the hill, and we made our way to Fushimi Inari by subway.
It was quite deserted in Fushimi Inari because of the time and we had barely started taking photos with the Kyoto trademark red toriis before it started to get dark.
Our last stop for the day was Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. We didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of any geishas on the way to restaurants/ochayas (teahouses) because it was already nighttime, and unlike everywhere else we’d been to in Japan, certain parts of this district which were assumingly exclusively filled with teahouses providing geisha services only were completely quiet and secluded, doors and windows shut tight. It was a bit strange walking around empty streets passing by little lit shops that were so quiet it almost hinted at zero human activity.
After dinner near Fushimi Inari (we gave in to Korean noodles and Chinese fried rice), it was time to head back.
The train back to Umeda station was empty, and it was in this tranquility that I finally allowed myself to slow down and introspect, which in this case also meant mull over the fact that this was my last night in Japan and I only had less than a full day left here and oh god I wasn’t prepared for this. Sure, it had been super tiring and busy and rushed but I’d loved it, loved every second spent in this country and the thought of leaving already so soon made me really melancholic and nostalgic for a place I’d only been in for five days. Those five days felt very long and very short at the same time.
I didn’t drift off to sleep that easily that night, partially because I was feeling really sad and partially because I wanted to savour every moment I had left in Japan. Although logically, staying up until 2AM after a day of walking around wasn’t exactly going to accomplish anything but I was going through the previous days again and again, full of appreciation and gratitude until exhaustion won over and I sunk into slumber anyway.
As in the wordplay of “Dear Nara” but “deer” instead because…deer…in Nara…no?…ok
I slept rather restfully all the way to Osaka, waking up a few times in the night when the bus stopped at rest areas and Rumin got off but other than that, it was one of the better bus rides I’ve had.
It was around 8AM when the bus driver announced (over a built-in PA system not unlike that in an airplane) that we had arrived in Osaka but I couldn’t feel anything other than grogginess and grossness until the bus finally stopped at the Osaka bus terminal and we got our luggage, one-track mind focused on the desire to take a long shower and clean up before I could afford to do anything.
But first, under Rumin’s lead navigation, we had to walk a distance under the morning sun with our luggage in tow to get to our airbnb rented room.
The pretty arduously long walk was worth it though, because when we entered the room after spending a couple of minutes trying to figure out how to work the combination key code to retrieve the room key, the interior exceeded expectations and the first impression that popped into mind was that it looked as comfortable and appealing as an IKEA showroom.
It wasn’t a big space but it was just nice and it felt so homely for a home away from home and the beds just looked so inviting that it took all the willpower within myself not to flop onto it face first and sleep under the snug covers forever.
I was thinking that this was what my ideal university residence would be like.
We spent the next hour or so settling in (there were complimentary drinks and matcha kit kats and biscuits in the fridge *wipes tear*) and cleaning ourselves up, getting ready to head for Nara.
We had to pass through Shinsaibashi to get our train tickets to Nara so it was my first time seeing Osaka city in broad daylight (the walk from the bus station to our airbnb didn’t count because we took routes through narrow and secluded roads).
After reaching the station and having lunch nearby, we found a bus stop a distance away where we boarded a shuttle bus that dropped people off at Nara attraction spots. We stopped at Todaiji Temple first.
For some reason, deer are significant symbols of Nara, and the long pathway leading to the temple (lined with food and souvenir stalls on both sides) was not only full of tourists, but also free roaming deer. I was actually pretty excited to…see these deer…because one usually only sees deer at zoos in Malaysia but the novelty wore off after the first three minutes, marginal utility dropping to the negatives especially when we finally got to witness (and smell) their excretion and defecation processes live in action.
After exiting the temple, we walked a kilometer along a very nice pathway surrounded by tall trees which provided cool shade. At the entrance to Kasuga Taisha, it started raining so that was a nice reprieve from the scorching summer heat.
Then, we took the bus to Naramachi, couldn’t seem to pinpoint where Naramachi was exactly and found ourselves in a street called Shimomikado. We had udon dinner at a deer-themed restaurant (disclaimer: they didn’t serve venison [or maybe they did but we didn’t order it] but they had like edible deer-prints on the soy wrappers in our udon it was really cute).
We had seen posters advertising a sort of lamp-lighting ceremony/festival (Chugen Mantoro) not far from where we were so we decided to stay in Nara a little bit longer to witness it. Come nightfall, we noticed more and more people were clad in yukatas and getas heading for Sarusawa Lake where the ceremony was going to be held at.
And then we lurked near a pagoda temple and switched on the portable wifi provided by our airbnb hosts, waiting until the sky turned dark.
The entire place was so breathtaking and magical, it didn’t even feel like my surroundings were real anymore. I don’t even have anything to compare that night’s experience to because I’d never seen anything like it before. It was so surreal, ethereal, even.
Upon reaching Osaka, we hung around Shinsaibashi for a while and we even got to watch a water spurting performance along the Dotonbori canal.
When walking through Shinsaibashi to head back to our room, we passed by a huge SEGA arcade and I saw a signboard right outside with the Ichiban Kuji logo on it and in an instant, I’d assumed that they would be selling anime merchandise inside so I went in while Rumin, her aunt and sister headed for a pharmacy a few lots down the street.
It became apparent very quickly, once I’d scoured all four floors, that the entire place was filled with arcade and coin slots machines only and no merchandise sales anywhere. With the 500 yen I’d lost in Ikebukuro still lingering bitterly at the back of my mind, I wasn’t exactly itching to go for some rounds on the machines but I still had time to kill before our agreed rendezvous so what the hell, I searched for the Haikyuu machines and this time, they had the large figurines I’d seen sold in many shops in Akiba.
This arcade was emptier than the one in Ikebukuro, and it wasn’t difficult to guess why. The boxes in the machines were placed carefully so it would be almost impossible to get it even after a lot of tries, and they were placed on rubber rungs at that. If I’d felt hopeless in the previous arcade, I’d already given up upon first sight of this.
So in the end I just resorted to wandering around the place, watching people try their luck. I saw a guy who managed to get the box to fall halfway through the rungs but no matter how many times he tried to pick it up after that, it wouldn’t work and he left eventually.
And then at a different machine, I saw a different guy and a worker standing before it, the guy pointing at the glass screen before the worker opened it with a key, adjusted the box to the very edge of the platform and then closed it again. At this point, I was completely frozen in place, eyes riveted at what had just happened. The worker turned around and I dodged behind a machine but I definitely saw the box drop and the other guy picking it from the flap in the machine.
What was going on!!!!!!! My head was filled with question marks and I was too curious to leave the place without finding out what had just happened, so I continued walking around as inconspicuously as possible while secretly tailing the worker.
The same thing happened another two times, and with a different person at that. My mind was sifting through all sorts of possible theories: maybe these two guys worked here? Or they were actually the bosses of SEGA? Maybe they were related to the worker? Maybe this was actually common practice that wasn’t unheard of and all you had to do was ask? The last one didn’t seem very likely or there wouldn’t be a niche market for arcades but I was just so dumbfounded and mystified and hey, maybe I was desperate to get that Iwaizumi figurine too. Desperate enough that I even whipped out my phone to google “Japanese arcade cheats and tricks” but all the results that turned up offered legitimate strategies to manoeuvre the claws and not secret passcodes you could whisper into the ears of SEGA arcade workers to get them to move the box around for you.
My attempt to be inconspicuous was greatly marred by the fact that 1) I was wearing a bright turquoise T-shirt and 2) I kept on exiting and reentering the arcade a couple of times, mortified that the worker had definitely caught me staring but unwilling to leave with an unquenched curiosity about this mysterious occurrence.
It was during this moment that I vaguely remembered Bellyn telling me about her arcade experience and how she and her brother managed to get the workers to adjust the difficulty level to their favour by asking them how to move the catchers. Deciding that I didn’t have much to lose (except maybe my dignity but that had already been a lost case a very long time ago that I’d given up on keeping track), I went up to a different worker, prayed that he hadn’t seen me walking around the arcade for the past 20 minutes (I didn’t think I could invest much hope in the prayer because as I’d said, bright turquoise T-shirt) and asked him in English how to play the arcades? while I was screaming internally who would enter an arcade not knowing how to play an arcade game!!! Am I right, stranger man!!! This plan in itself was already doomed to fail because he didn’t really understand what I was saying and I think I was already ready to give up the moment the words left my mouth (plus, he looked so baffled and confused that I was uncomfortable at his discomfort) but I persevered, deducing that if I was going to embarrass myself, I might as well do it all the way. Sorry, buddy, I’d already dug this hole for us and we’re ride or die pals for now whether you like it or not
He understood what I was trying to convey eventually, and I led him to the Haikyuu machines. He instructed me to deposit a 100 yen coin. I did. He pointed at the left arrow button. I pressed it. Then he pointed at the forward arrow button. I pressed it too. The UFO catcher descended and he held out a palm, the scene unfolding before us self-explanatory. My voice was too high, too fake when I exclaimed an “Ohhhhh” and he left without a word.
I’ve always read fiction of how the characters in novels “feel their cheeks turn hot in embarrassment” but I could never relate to it but in that moment. In that moment I related to it completely one hundred percent and without flaw and if it was socially appropriate to run out of a shop, I would’ve done it but instead I surprised myself by discovering that I still had restraint left within me to merely brisk walk out of the arcade, taking care not to make eye contact with anyone lest it landed upon the eyes of the poor worker I’d just lied to. I left, and despite our rendezvous being in front of SEGA, I walked down a few lots so no one from SEGA would see my goddamn turquoise shirt and leaned against the wall breathing a sigh of relief, cheeks burning up and heart beating so fast as I laughed silently into my hand and typed out a series of rants with trembling fingers.
Rumin and the others appeared after a while and we walked back to our airbnb, my chest aching from suppressed laughter as I tried as best as I could to repress the mortification of the memory to be properly processed later in the safer confines of our room.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to undergo the painful dissection that night because like all the other nights I’d spent in Japan, I dozed off almost immediately as soon as my head made contact with the pillow.
We had peaches and grapes for breakfast and I wore my brand new ebiko sushi socks I got from Harajuku the previous day before starting the adventures of the day at Tsukiji market.
I’d heard horrifying tales (well, horrifying for me) about the working crowds in the subway at very early hours in the morning before this so when we set out pretty early that day, I was quite nervous but despite everything, I managed to quell the uneasiness and the subway journey was actually a pretty pleasant one, like all subway trips I’d had in Japan.
We had breakfast (rice with sashimi, prawns, tuna and miso soup) at this little corner stall with small wooden tables and stools while drinking free refills of tea that tasted like coffee. It was fairly early in the morning, about 9AM but I dared say there were more tourists in this area than any other place I’d been to in Tokyo, Caucasians especially.
Tsukiji boasts itself as selling the freshest Japanese seafood of a huge variety and after our breakfast, I was more than inclined to agree. The sashimi especially was so soft and sweet and the price wasn’t as daunting as ordering a plate of sashimi in Rakuzen or Sushi Zanmai.
Then we passed by this shop that was crowded with people just standing there watching and you know how infectious crowds are, so we stopped as well to witness this guy grilling the biggest scallops I’ve ever seen, complete with a blowtorch and everything. It was like a performance; everyone was taking photos (with huge DSLRs at that) and spectating intently and eventually, we gave in and bought one to try as well.
It was so good. So really, really good.
And then we turned onto a street that was filled with tiny eateries (mostly sushi and seafood as well, of course) that only had long tables and no chairs. Patrons all stood while eating their food on the tall tables.
At Tsukiji station, I got Rumin to take ootd photos of me with the pale green grid station wall as a backdrop.
We took the subway to Daimon, where we walked for about 10 minutes to get to Zojoji Temple. It was about noon on the dot when we left the station and the afternoon heat was relentless so after hastily taking photos outside of the temple, we took shelter inside the temple where there was a chanting recitation going on.
Sensouji Temple was absolutely jam-packed with tourists that I had to close my umbrella and walk as close to the shops as possible to rely on the roofs for shade to prevent my umbrella from poking someone’s eye out. The shop rows lined up on both sides mostly sold souvenirs and food but we didn’t stop to check out any of them because of the crowd and the heat. It was so hot that we rested for a while at the arches which provided shade and I got myself a Pocari from the vending machines.
Walking back to the station, we passed through some alleys that were filled with quaint red oriental structures with wooden doors, some of them hosting cafés while the others were also shops. I think Asakusa would’ve been a pretty nice place to visit was it not for the huge mass of people as well as the unrelenting heat (the heat, mostly).
And then we returned to the streets near the station in search for lunch and we weren’t too picky because it was getting late and we were all very tired and hungry so we settled for a Western food restaurant. Where we ordered pizza.
After lunch, we took the subway back to Ueno.
The only thought that kept on running through my mind the entire time I was in Ueno was how much Ueno reminded me of Hatyai. There were a lot of 100 yen shops and ABC Marts that sold shoes. Most shops were small but completely filled with products on sale (which were cheaper without international brand affiliations as opposed to higher end places in Tokyo like Ginza and Shibuya) ranging from clothes to watches to vegetables, reminiscent of the stalls in Hatyai market but bigger in size and with nicer stuff.
Then we went into a shop selling token Japanese food items and I stocked up on matcha flavoured everything.
We then had lunch at a small restaurant along one of the streets in Ueno that served unagi don. It was the best unagi don I’ve ever had.
I feel like all the food I’d eaten in Japan was tacked on with ‘the best __ I’ve ever had’ but it’s true, despite how little I ate.
And then after that we headed back to the hotel to drop off shopping stuff and freshen up a bit before heading for Akihabara. I had already started to get really excited in the unagi shop because I’d been looking forward to Akihabara since landing in Tokyo.
Akihabara was a mere 15 minutes walk from our hotel, and it wasn’t difficult to figure out when we had entered Akiba territory following the growth in number of anime shops (figurines especially), anime posters, anime music and people in cosplay costumes roaming the streets.
I left without buying anything and then I realised that Animate was just right next to it. I asked for 30 minutes from Rumin, her aunt and sister and then practically sprinted inside, to be welcomed gracefully by the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme song the moment I stepped in.
The Animate building had five floors and each floor had two sections: front and back. The first two floors were mangas/doujinshis/magazines, the third and fourth floor anime merchandises and the fifth figurines (not entirely accurate in the sense that if I remember correctly, the back section of the first floor were cards and video games and back section of the fourth floor also had figurines; I forgot to take a photo of the floor plan but trust me when I say that Animate is as comprehensive as it gets). I spent most of my time on the third floor after going through the doujinshi section, where most of the popular anime merch (Haikyuu, KNB, Tokyo Ghoul, SNK, Durarara, even Gangsta [Gangsta is gaining popularity really quickly and I’m so happy *brings hand to heart while wiping away single tear*]) were on display.
But 30 minutes were up very quickly and I didn’t get to explore the place completely before I ran down to the cashiers to pay for the stuff I bought. I wanted to try my hand at the coin slot machines again because 200 yen for a keychain wasn’t too bad so I changed 500 yen into coins and went for two rounds: one on the Haikyuu machine and the other on (Teikou-themed) KNB. I got Yamaguchi and Nijimura keychains respectively.
After I regrouped with Rumin, we walked around Akiba for a bit, taking in the ‘Otaku-Mecca-ness’ (this sounds so ridiculous but I’m not lying it is a frequently used term) of the area. Walking around for the next few minutes, it was safe to say that the biggest anime in Japan (or at least Akiba) was Love Live. There were huge signboards of Love Live on almost every high rise building and most posters stuck on the walls outside of shops were of Love Live. The music played on overhead speakers was also Love Live music. I’m sure I would’ve appreciated it more if I…actually remembered…to play the game on my phone…
I would’ve loved to spend more time in Akiba but we had a bus to catch to Osaka that night. Nevertheless, I love Akiba and had felt a kinship with the district of anime culture that evening.
It didn’t quite hit me that we were leaving Tokyo the entire time we travelled from Ueno to Yoyogi where the bus station was. I walked past the Haikyuu poster at the Ueno 7-eleven for the last time and the subway ride to Yoyogi lasted for almost an hour, during which I read Gangsta on my phone while feeling conscious of my luggage hindering the movements of the other commuters at the same time. I was exhausted and honestly, all I could think about was the next thing to do which was to get on the bus so once I did, the realisation of leaving Tokyo struck me with the force of 10 sledgehammers.
We booked tickets for the ‘ladies only’ compartment so Rumin and I were pretty excited when we found out we could pull curtains to shield us from the sight of the other bus passengers. I watched Haikyuu on my phone for a while until I got sleepy, then when I put on music to go to sleep, Tokyo by Kinoko Teikoku was first on the playlist and I suddenly felt really, really sad to be leaving Tokyo. I really loved Tokyo; loved the buildings, the streets, the culture, the people (I never really mentioned this in previous posts but Japanese people are so overwhelmingly polite I always feel like running away because I don’t know how to deal with it) and so many more. Most importantly, I had had so many great memories and experiences here and I had grown very fond of this bustling and lively city and as the bus started to pull away from the terminal and onto the highway, I sent out a silent promise that I would be back.
Despite the heavy melancholy, feeling gross and sweaty from not bathing after a whole day of walking under the sun and sitting in a cramped bus seat, I fell asleep almost straight away from the fatigue and silently smooth bus ride, en route from Tokyo to Osaka.
I woke up the next day feeling absolutely refreshed from the seven hours of sleep I managed to get the previous night. Plus, the thought that we were going to Harajuku that day added a spring to my step and I was buzzing with excitement throughout the whole subway ride.
I also decided to dress up for the occasion as best I could, which in this case meant donning on purple lipstick, my galaxy skirt and chocolate-print socks from Bellyn that were also from Japan. My black Mary Jane platforms would’ve completed the look but I figured aesthetic values weren’t worth the sacrifice of the gruelling pain I had to put my feet through and I was secretly glad that I had abode by this logic.
However, our first stop was Meiji Jingu, and funnily enough, this shrine is one of the places I’ve gotten fairly acquainted with even prior to my arrival in Tokyo purely due to the number of times I’ve watched D&P’s Japan vlog.
It was still fairly early in the morning so the weather wasn’t too hot yet. Plus, the pathway leading to the inside of the shrine was surrounded by thick shrubs and tall trees so it was rather cooling and shady.
And then after that it was time for Harajuku!
Takeshita street! Aka the busiest street in Harajuku lined with loads of shops selling ‘quirky-fashioned’ clothes and accessories alongside larger chain stores such as Monki and WEGO. This was where I separated from Rumin as she and her aunt and sister headed into the enormous Daiso building that would surely put our Malaysian Daiso branches to shame. Despite the jostling crowd, the summer heat and the shop workers yelling out promotions, I felt completely at ease, normal discomfort of being in huge crowds forced to the back of my mind as curiosity and exhilaration propelled my feet forward.
There were a lot of shops selling specially shoes/boots (which I stopped at several times merely to enter and admire because I was conscious of both my luggage weight flying from Japan back home and also from home to UK next month), socks, dresses, wacky clothes with which the only comparison I can draw from from my 20 years of life experience is the shoplots in Sungei Wang but with a wider variety and many times prettier, as well as gothic and lolita clothing. I rarely made long stops because I wanted to walk the entire street first (and also because I was in search of the allegedly closed down Haikyuu store in Harajuku) but then a store caught my eye and I couldn’t not go in.
I didn’t buy anything but I tried the coin slot machines for the first time and got a Tsukki keychain.
After that we had lunch at Hanamaru Sanuki Udon! Sanuki udon will always have a special place in my heart and I’m glad that I got to eat it in Harajuku of all places. We had to descend a flight of stairs to get into the restaurant, and there was already a queue leading all the way from the door to the stairs by the time we got there. It was predictably crowded inside but we managed to find a relatively secluded area to enjoy our meals.
After lunch, we continued walking around and tried out Harajuku’s renowned crêpes.
Takeshita street ended there and I was left feeling dissatisfied, having not fully bathed in its magnificence long enough but we were running on a tight schedule and I could only tell myself that I would be back soon.
We stopped at the Harajuku Forever 21 and H&M outlets for a while and I chanced a visit to WEGO, which appeared to be a rather large brand in Japan. When I got inside, I could see why. A lot of the accessories sold were similar to INU INU; on one hand they had the minimalistic pastel shades + grid patterns vibe going on and on the other there was stuff boasting loud vibrant colours typical of a fashion store in Harajuku. I got two pairs of socks and a row of multicoloured bobby pins (I will be making a haul video soon to show everything that I bought in Japan so there’s that).
There was still time to spare while waiting for Rumin and the rest and I didn’t want to wander too far away so I was contented with just observing people passing by. Another favourable thing about Harajuku: being surrounded by people dressed to the brilliant extremes of Harajuku street styles. It felt like being in a physical bubble of Lookbook, only better.
And then we were on our way to Shibuya!
Story of Hachiko the dog: Hachiko belonged to a certain Professor Ueno back in 1924 and he was always seen waiting for his master at the Shibuya station every evening where he greeted him at the end of the day until the professor died. Even after that, Hachiko still waited loyally at the station every evening until he also died and a monument was erected at Shibuya station to commemorate Hachiko’s trait of loyalty.
So now Hachiko is a symbol of Shibuya which is nice because Hachiko deserves to live on in everyone’s heart </3
In Shibuya, there was no way you could miss the famous Shibuya crossing where hundreds (?) of people cross the streets simultaneously in a flurry of human activity. I tried to record a video of the crossing but it was only until I reached the other end of the road did I realise that I didn’t press the record button after all.
We found one of those huge socks shops that were selling three pairs of socks for 1000 yen so I got another three pairs of socks.
I felt like I didn’t pay much attention to a lot of things while in Shibuya because at this point, I was starting to get exhausted again and everything felt very detached and distant. I could sense that everyone else felt more or less the same too, which was why after having dinner at a small sushi shop, we left Shibuya for our next stop despite only having walked around for roughly less than an hour.
Next stop: Ikebukuro.
To this day, Ikebukuro at night remains one of my favourite experiences in Japan, I’m not entirely too sure why but I could be hugely biased. I had Durarara in mind the entire time, and for some reason, as we walked along the streets headed for Sunshine City, the overhead speakers kept on playing the season 2 ED2 of KNB.
Plus, I’ve always had an inexplicable affinity for busy cities especially at night (which was one of the sole reasons why I chose Manchester over Warwick) probably because there is a wide array of things to do that one can never get bored. And at night, when vividly vibrant lights shine through the night sky (and in the case of Tokyo, long vertical dazzling signboards of every hue imaginable jutting out of towering buildings) the entire view is just really beautiful and that’s when the hordes of all sorts of people become fascinating rather than frightening. There was also the lack of an extremely sharpened sense of fear and wariness when strolling through Tokyo that usually came hand in hand whenever I walked around KL, day or night. Of course, this didn’t mean that I could completely let my guard down but it was a known fact that Japan has a very low crime rate and I’d lost count of how many times passers-by had informed me my bag was unzipped. It was also the alleviation of this anxiety that made my experiences in Tokyo all the more enjoyable.
While in Ikebukuro, I came to a few conclusions: 1) at any time anywhere in Tokyo, you can’t find less than a thronging crowd be it early in the morning or late at night. Business is always good everywhere, in clothing shops, cafés, fast food joints, toy shops etc which led to the deduction that the Japanese have really high purchasing powers but of course all of this is just a personal comparison (but judging by Japan’s strong economy, I don’t think I’m too far off). 2) Japanese city buildings are usually very narrow but incredibly tall, huddled close together, reminding me of something Rumin’s sister said about the Japanese prioritizing practicality by fully utilising every inch of space available over comfort and aesthetic values. It was easy to feel so minute when wandering the streets of cities, especially surrounded by these tall buildings and large crowds but surprisingly, I didn’t mind it that much. 3) Despite points 1 and 2, most shops in Tokyo pull down their shutters really early, 9PM being the latest majority of the shops’ opening hours are till.
Ikebukuro was also filled with arcades and what was initially just a stroll around the place out of curiosity turned into my first try at the UFO catchers when I found the Haikyuu booths.
I think I underestimated the difficulty of these arcades based on tales I’ve heard of how people have won things and of course I thought if other people can do it so can I which led to me going straight for the 500 yen for six tries option. I had no idea how to play at first so I observed the girl next to me fishing for an Oikawa figurine. She succeeded in a few tries and we all clapped and cheered for her before I steeled myself and navigated the UFO catcher with more precision and concentration than when I’d sat for my driving test, probably. Alas, I failed, 500 yen gone in the blink of an eye as I threw one last glance at the figurines separated from me by a mere thin sheet of glass before stepping out of the arcade with a heavy heart.
You either walk out of an arcade with a box in your hand and a grin on your face or shuffle down the parade of shame out of the parlour, flashing lights and cheery 8-bit music emitted from the rows of machines a mockery of your failure and succumbence to a popular marketing gimmick. I fell into the latter category.
We continued for Sunshine City but I was once again distracted when I saw the huge Animate sign down an alley at a distance, so I asked to break away from Rumin and her aunt and sister for 10 minutes while I scouted the place as quick as I could and also maybe find the Ikebukuro Animate café branch which was the only branch in the whole of Tokyo that had a Haikyuu theme going on.
There were so many people lining outside that at first glance, I thought there was an event going on but it was just people lining up for the coin slot machines. I didn’t have time to stop and shop (plus I knew there was another Animate branch at Akihabara and I would have time then to look around slowly) so I went in only with the intent of finding out where the café was. It quickly became apparent that the six storey building would take forever for me to check each floor to see if the café was there so I resorted to asking a guy behind the information counter where it was and he gave me a map and explained to me kindly how to get there and I almost left the place in a sprint after saying a grateful thank you to him.
With the map as my only guidance, I was pretty paranoid of getting lost even though it wasn’t exactly far from the agreed rendezvous with Rumin back at the spot where we had separated. Which was why when I was standing right at the place where the map said there would be a café and saw only tall office-like buildings, I started to break into a cold sweat. There were a few people holding signboards promoting their shops and I had no choice but to ask one of them where “Animato café” was and it turned out it was on the fourth floor of the office-like building I was standing right in front of. Once again, I was so thankful for the help and littered him with “thank you”s before heading for the building. I was quite literally the only person there and I couldn’t help but feel wary in the elevator but then the elevator doors opened and my doubts vanished in a wisp of smoke.
I’d found out beforehand that one could only enter the café with reservations one month prior to their visit so I didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms but I was satisfied just being able to see how the café was. It was filled with people and the speakers were playing the second ED (Leo by Tacica) and the waiters were all dressed as Haikyuu characters oh my god!!! I saw a Tsukki and a Suga and later on, an Asahi appeared to tell me that I couldn’t enter if I hadn’t made a reservation and I said I know but I just wanted to look around and they said sorry, I wasn’t allowed to take photos either but by that time I’d already taken a handful anyway so I said my apologies, stalled a little while longer to observe the place some more before pressing the button to summon the lift.
I never saw the Haikyuu themed food they served but I saw the menu online and the choices displayed were all based on the characters’ favourite food (like Kenma’s apple pie and Oikawa’s milk bread) which was so cute I wish I’d made reservations earlier so I could try them out. (I did try though back at home but they required a Japanese address and a phone number and I’d thought even if I could come up with a fake address, there would still be difficulties in communication but maybe this is all just an excuse 😦 )
Pumped up by the discovery of the café, I hurried back to our rendezvous spot and made it in time, huge idiotic smile still lingering on my face from where I’d just been to.
And then we were at Sunshine City! All four of us separated here again and agreed to regroup in half an hour’s time. Sunshine City was so huge but I managed to find J-World in the end after getting lost at the first floor for a while.
I had initially planned to only visit their shop since I don’t watch most of the anime that had attractions in the theme park other than Haikyuu and KNB and I didn’t want to fork out 800 yen only to catch a glimpse of one single Haikyuu attraction but it turned out that I still had to pay the entrance fee to get to the shop so in the end I left with only flyers in hand. I felt it was also appropriate self-punishment for the 500 yen I’d lost at the arcade but in retrospect, I made a mistake. I messed up. I’d already gone all the way to Tokyo, I should’ve just taken the plunge. Plus, after I came back, a friend of mine on Tumblr told me that they sold Haikyuu themed food at their food court so this was definitely one of the laments of regret I had after coming home from Japan.
(EDIT: it’s past midnight as I am writing this and it’s that time of the night when I remember that 800 yen is only RM20++ and I should’ve just freaking went inside)
I found the Ghibli store after that though!
Finally, we headed for our last stop of the day: Shinjuku.
Leaving Sunshine City zapped what remnants of energy I’d procured from visiting Animate out of me and once again, I was roaming the streets of Shinjuku with aching legs, sore shoulder muscles from carrying my bag around the whole day and a foggy mind in need of sleep. Shinjuku was your trademark busy city of the night, even more so than Ikebukuro, I felt. There were also more darker and dirtier alleyways in Shinjuku, and maybe it was because we were there at a pretty late hour, but I couldn’t help the shady vibe radiating from the narrow streets we walked through. There were a lot of tiny cramped eateries here, as well as brightly lit huge pachinko and slots parlours, alternating between one and the other.
And then it was finally time to head back to our hotel in Ueno.
Since it was our last night staying in Ueno First City Hotel, in spite of our weariness, Rumin and I pulled on the yukatas the hotel provided and did leg exercises to alleviate the soreness in our legs.
The thought of leaving Tokyo the next day left a heavy weighted feeling on my chest but I barely had time to dwell on it before I was fast asleep.