The Return (お帰り)

I distinctly remember the rain on my last day in Japan, May 13th, 2013. After a few weeks of lounging around Kris’ spacious Kamigaya apartment, it was time to finally say a sad farewell. It wasn’t all terrible; I was Malaysia bound, with 8 weeks of travel ahead of me. Nonetheless, I will never forget saying “Goodbye” for the last time at Haneda airport.

In June of 2016 I finally returned. After years of dreaming I would someday return and practicing my Japanese, I made it back.

The moment I’m on the train from Haneda, it all comes rushing back. I’m shocked by the familiarity of everything and it feels as though I’ve never left. Instantly, I’m transported back to another time in place. As the memories wash over me, I remember all the reasons I fell in love with Japan – And all the reasons I left. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single minute spent in Japan and I haven’t forgotten the ways in which it opened my eyes to other ways of thinking. For better and for worse. Reeled by the alien nature of this remarkable place, I daresay I will never stop bobbing on the waves of culture shock in this country, so far from home.

Back to my sleepy, first morning in Tokyo.

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I had 8 days to kill and kind friends willing to let me crash on their couch (Thank you Carolyn and Jason!). My goals were simple: Go to my favorite haunts and visit a few places I didn’t get around to visiting when I lived in Japan.

First stop: Harajuku for some Western-style breakfast. No, the irony is not lost on me. Carolyn (after a happy reunion) confessed that she desperately wanted to try their eggs benedict, as it was one of the only places in Tokyo to serve such fare. I stumbled through Japanese and somehow managed to order pancakes with whipped cream up to my shoulders. (See gallery)

We had a full day ahead of us. First stop – A summer festival. Always a good go-to activity in the middle of summer, as there is inevitably one nearby. Carolyn’s coworker tipped her off that it might be worth a visit, so we thought we would check it out. Nestled in one of Tokyo’s busy neighborhoods was a shrine atop the tallest hill around, packed to the brim with festival-goers. We slowly walked around, watching the tides of visitors ebb and flow; Absorbing the smells, sights, and sounds around us.

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Our next stop was of paramount importance: The Sailor Moon exhibit in Roppongi Hills. Both Carolyn and I were positively giddy as we waited in line for what would surely be a powerful stroll down memory lane. As we ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the lovely art work, we exchanged stories of how Sailor Moon influenced us as young ladies. For me it’s a Chicken-or-the-Egg situation where I can’t remember if Sailor Moon first sparked my interest in Japan or if Japan sparked my interest in Sailor Moon. Either way, I was obsessed with the show and to this day shamelessly collect Sailor Moon bits and bobs.

Now, you’ll have to forgive me as I’m going to rush through the rest of week. Not because I didn’t do a lot but simply because if you’ve been a longtime reader, you already know most of what I got up to. Naturally, plenty of time was spent in Koga with Yukari-san at Roomz, visiting Ocha-Nova, seeing Netsu-sensei, and more.

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On the Tokyo side of things, I visited my favorite cafe – The Starbucks on top of the Tokyu Hands Plaza in Harajuku. Don’t let the fact that it’s a Starbucks detract, it’s easily one of the most fantastic rooftop cafes I’ve ever been to (I actually spent several days here working). And what’s a visit to Tokyo without stopping at Tsutaya in Shinjuku and Daikonyama (the latter is a famous piece of architecture). Also on the agenda was meeting up with friends, spending time in Yoyogi park, eating at an izakaya in Shinjuku, karaoke, Golden Gai bars, a Mario-themed bar, and more.

Aside from seeing friends and feeling incredibly nostalgic, I managed to strike two other places off my bucket list: The Tsukiji fish market and the Square Enix cafe!

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I actually had to go to Tsukiji two days in a row as the first day I arrived too late (around 1pm). The second day I showed up much earlier, at around 9am. Of course, in the world of fish markets, this is nearly closing time, but I still got a sense for the hustle and bustle. It is truly remarkable, both in sight and smell (Truthfully, if you hate the smell of fish, I do not recommend). The inner market was filled with all kinds of carts, food, people, animals. I constantly felt stressed about being in the way but tried to get as many good snaps as I could. The outer market was much more relaxed while still having that hawker-stall feel with a lot of yelling and negotiating. After aimlessly wandering the compound, I grabbed some sashimi and ticked the “Tsukiji” box off my list.

The Square Enix cafe was really just a personal goal but if you’re a fan I recommend. It’s very pricey but the decor is top-notch. And the collectables on display are kind of amazing.

A week later my jaunt back to Tokyo came to a close. Time seems to move in double time there. I just can’t stuff all the things I want to do into the time I have. Thankfully, I know that I’ll be back soon. If I’ve made it back this many times, I can do it forever more.

To everyone that was hospitable during my visit, thank you so much!

 

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