On our first non-show day, I woke before everyone and got myself some breakfast before heading to my favorite little coffee shop to edit photos and enjoy some quiet time. My reverie was interrupted by the subtle quivering of my couch and low rumble emanating from outside, which I first mistook for a train going by but remembered there weren’t any train tracks near the building. The lamp across from me was gently rocking back and forth and I quickly realized I was experiencing my first Japanese earthquake. I knew earthquakes were common here so I chilled and waited for it to stop, which eventually it did.
Back at the house, plans were being made for the day’s activities. Those band members with wives or girlfriends split off on their own, and I joined Levy and Hein for a foray into a huge shopping district to find some gifts to bring home. We spent the day wandering from little shop to little shop, just tripping out on the bizarre variety of things for sale, including a shop devoted entirely to 8 x 12 glossy photos of what I presumed to be boy bands and pop stars, cartoonish hip-hop fashion, designer sneakers, and shit tons of other things that I can’t even really begin to describe.
We wandered into this little underground store that was painted all white and had about half a dozen little curtained kiosks with young women and teen girls wandering in and out of them. We had no idea what was going on in there, but as soon as we saw a dude walking around we figured it was OK for us to go in. We discovered little enclosed workstations where you can take photos with your friend, then use various software tools to turn yourself into a ultra-feminized Anime character. So strange. Observe the results:
Just by chance we ran into Mathieu on one of the streets, and it kinda blew our minds how we could just randomly run into each other in such a huge place having had no plans to connect at all. He’d taken the bus to the airport and back early this morning to see his girlfriend off, and happened to decide to go where we ended up going.
Spent the rest of the day eating, shopping, wandering around and marveling at the strange wonder of Tokyo. As it got dark, the dudes wanted to stop for a beer. We managed to find, of all things, a Portland-themed bar called the Portland Taphouse. It had only Portland microbrews, had photos and posters of Portland covering the walls, and a rack full of traveler’s brochures about Portland and Oregon on a wall facing the bar. So bizarre.
I decided that no trip to Japan would be complete without some authentic Japanese Sushi, so we checked Yelp for a recommendation and grabbed a cab to head 20 minutes across town. I can say with absolute confidence that this was the best sushi I’ve ever had. And it was the 6th highest ranking sushi place on Yelp, so imagine how good the top-rated one is.
We slowly wandered back into some upper-scale shops, then residential neighborhoods, then hopped on a train back to the house where others were trickling back in after their daily adventures. Most of us got to bed early tonight, for a change.
My final day in Japan eventually arrived, and we’d made plans to go as a group to some temples to take some photos and do a little sight seeing. We took the 30-minute train ride to the Senso-ji temple, a Shinto temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy in the Taito district of Tokyo. It’s one of the most famous temples in Japan and was swarming with tourists of all nationalities. It was incredibly impressive and awe-inspiring, and after craning our necks to marvel at the gorgeous interiors, buying some charms from the temple store, and saying some prayers over giant urns of incense, we huddled up for a few group photos.
Having finished with the temples, we wandered the nearby streets looking at some amazing stalls with gorgeous handmade and vintage Japanese weapons and statues, wondering what stories those objects could tell. After finding a spot for lunch, I had to say my goodbyes to everyone and strike off on my own for the long-ass journey back to the house and to the airport. I admit I was nervous about having to coordinate lots of variables, but gave myself plenty of time for the multiple train and bus rides required to arrive at my final destination. First was a 20-minute walk to the train station, a 30-minute train ride back to Shinjuku, a short walk back to the house to pack up my 50lbs of stuff and hoist it on my shoulders, then back onto the train for 10 minutes to the bus station. I got totally lost in the Shinjuku city center trying to find the bus depot (even though I thought I knew where it was) and just barely made it to my bus on time. Finally, the 1.5 hour ride to the airport.
The bus escaped the confines of the big city and we eventually found ourselves passing through the countryside, which I was happy to get a glimpse of on this trip. If I come back, I want to spend all my time visiting the mountains, rivers and villages outside the big cities.
My trip ended with one of the longest days of my life. With the 17-hour time difference, I left the airport at 7 PM on Tuesday and arrived back in SF at 4:30 that same Tuesday. Weird. But having woken at 7 AM Tokyo time, then getting back to Megan’s house in Oakland to sleep, I’d been awake 31 hours.
Huge thanks to the stellar individuals in the band and crew of Amenra, Kimi for taking care of us in Tokyo, and especially Colin for inviting me along on this fantastic adventure I won’t soon forget.