So last month I went to Japan. Remember that? It’s a wonder I do, what with everything that has been going on as of late. I keep meaning to update, but always find myself distracted by one thing or another. But here I sit, showered and wide awake as the clock nears 11 p.m. The only other thing I need to do tonight is e-mail my grandmother so she doesn’t think I’ve forgotten about her. (EDIT: After typing that sentence, I decided to call her on Skype. Success! I have not been forgotten about and she was delighted to hear from me.)

Now that contacting the Solomon family matriarch has been done, I can finally, finally write all about Japan.

So the morning after my first (exhausting) day in Japan, Nadav and I headed into Tokyo to see some sights. First, we met up in Shibuya, one of the trendiest areas of Tokyo and also the location of Nadav’s university. As Wikipedia will tell you, one of the highlights of Shibuya is a gigantic intersection with six different crosswalks. Every few minutes, all the auto traffic comes to a halt and each pedestrian light turns green. Hundreds of people then have about 60 seconds to cross without getting hit (insert joke from one of my former roommates here) when the traffic signals turn green. I took a video from one of the street corners. Not the most thrilling video I’ve shot, but then again, when you’re filming crosswalks, how exciting could it get?

So that’s the crazy intersection. Also in Shibuya is a statue of a dog named Hachikō.  Hachikō’s owner was a professor at a local university and every day, the dog would greet his owner at the Shibuya Station.  One day, the professor suffered a stroke and died, never making it back to Shibuya Station.  Yet day after day, Hachikō trekked to the station to meet his owner.  Touched by the dog’s loyalness, a statute was erected in his honor.

Hachikō, up close and personal

Hachikō, up close and personal

After meeting Nadav, we headed over to Asakusa (pronounced “Ah-sock-sa”), where we wandered around the market in search of some cheap eats.  Though we didn’t find any restaurants that weren’t ripping off tourists, we did enjoy the area around the Asakusa shrine.  There were a ton of outdoor markets, similar to the Mahane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem.  It was so nice to be in such a large, public environment without the smell of fermented cabbage and the sight and sound of old men hocking and spitting every which way.

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After a ton of walking, we decided to hit up a local supermarket and pick up a relatively inexpensive lunch.  We got tuna sushi and made ourselves comfortable on a ledge outside a nearby hotel.  Could we get more hobo? I think not.  Anyway, it should be said that up until that afternoon, the only sushi I had ever had was at a Super Bowl party years earlier (and I think I spat it out).  This sushi, on the other hand, was absolutely fantastic.  I was hooked, and considering lunch cost only about five bucks, I’d say that sushi was an alright vice to have (at least while in Japan).

Sushi on the street, because I'm a hobo.

Sushi on the street, because I'm a hobo.

After our lunch, we set off to check out Sensō-ji, a Shinto shrine in Asakusa.  The shrine grounds were absolutely incredible and well-kept, despite the throngs of tourists packing the area daily.  Despite fears of my camera dying, I got a few cool shots of the shrine and surrounding area.

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After a couple hours walking around the market and shrine, we put my (well, my friend Paul’s) Lonely Planet guide to good use.  We walked to nearby Ueno to check out a big park that was supposed to be fantastic.  Yet again, I was not let down.  Of course, it’s hard to be let down when you’re constantly chugging Dr. Pepper.  I’m telling you, between inexpensive sushi and Dr. Pepper, Tokyo is Vice City.  So when we got to the park, we walked up a hill and took in the view below us.

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As the sun began to set, we walked around the park and caught up some more.  Nadav and I hadn’t seen each other for eight months, so it was nice to chat about school and mutual friends and gossip about our time in Israel the year before.  As we were walking, we came across a gorgeous pond on the outskirts of the park.  It literally took my breath away.

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As darkness fell, Nadav decided that evening would be the perfect time to visit Electric Town in Akihabara, an area of Tokyo largely frequented by anime/manga fans.  I know what you’re thinking–this is totally not up my alley.  You’re probably right.  However, you can’t hate on a neighborhood where a girl can play some SuperMario on a street corner.

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On the other hand, feel free to hate on a place that has an abundance of anime porn.

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Our bodies absolutely exhausted, we finally decided to call it a night after our jaunt through Electric Town.

The next day, we headed into Tokyo to walk around for a bit before indulging in some all-you-can-eat pizza, followed by more walking around Shibuya.  We tried to make it to the Meiji Jingu shrine, but it closed earlier than we thought, so we headed back into Shibuya.  At that point, Nadav had to go teach a class, so I did some more exploring on my own.  Flash-forward a couple hours: My stomach grumbling and my feet aching, I decided that I needed to find someplace to sit and rest my weary legs and get some nourishment.  Only one problem-I speak absolutely no Japanese.  Somehow, I found a quaint little noodle shop that served decently-priced food.  Here’s how it goes: You walk in, insert money into a vending machine, then press the button with the picture of the food that you want.  You get a receipt and hand it to the cook, who gives you a bowl full of whatever you ordered within minutes.  It’s all very futuristic, if you ask me.  Finally my bowl came, and despite my hunger, I could only eat half of the contents.  Apparently noodles and broth are incredibly filling.

The counter, with my Lonely Planet in the foreground

The counter, with my Lonely Planet in the foreground

The cook whipping up my dinner

The cook whipping up my dinner

Half-eaten deliciousness

Half-eaten deliciousness

The next day, Nadav promised me some of the most amazing sushi I would ever eat. But first, some sightseeing!

We trekked up to the Meiji Jingu shrine, which was everything I expected and more.  It was a small patch of calm and serenity nestled inside the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most advanced societies.  The buildings, meant as a place for people to pay their respects to Emperor Meiji and his wife, were  beyond spectacular.  If you could block out the trendy Japanese people walking around and the occasional train whistles coming from nearby, you could easily picture the shrine as it was in the early 20th century.

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Yeah, I'm there giving the peace sign.

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Handwashing before entering the shrine

Handwashing before entering the shrine

After we left the shrine, Nadav and I met up with his friend Justin and headed over to a tiny little place in Shibuya.  The restaurant has a conveyor belt that all the sushi comes out on.  Food is priced according to plate, so certain pieces will come out on specially colored plates.  I’ll admit that I went a bit camera crazy, but only because the sushi was SO GOOD.

Tuna, avocado and mayo

Tuna, avocado and mayo...so I like taking pictures of food. So what?

The best things in life come out on conveyor belts.

It is official: The best things in life come out on conveyor belts.

This was the only video taken that contained appropriate audio.  Unfortunately, it was also the most boring.  But it’s past midnight and I don’t feel like censoring the audio on the other videos I took.

The obligatory "we're in a mirror!" shot

The obligatory "we're in a mirror!" shot

Fin.

Fin.

After lunch, Justin and I headed over to Ikebukuro to check out a planetarium I wanted to see.  I kind of have a thing for planetariums, and the one in Ikebukuro got rave reviews in Lonely Planet.  Sure enough, the show was awesome, even though I didn’t understand a single word.  After the show, Justin headed to a nearby pub to meet some friends for a drink and I went to…um…a place called Nekobukuro.  I’m not sure what the translation is, but basically, you throw down 600 yen (about eight bucks) and you get to play with cats for as long as you want.  I love cats.  No, seriously.  I LOVE cats.  It didn’t matter the price, I was gonna do it.  Turns out, the cats are so used to being fawned over and lavished that they didn’t care to play all that much.  They just lazed around and acted as though they owned the place.  Took some photos, but I must say, my two cats at home (yes, both of them) are eons better than the ones at Nekobukuro.

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So that was the cat place.  After that, I met Justin and his friends for happy hour, then we walked around in search of some quality yakitori.  The first place was a total flop–the only chickeny thing they served was chicken liver.  I did get a quick video of the cooks, but I turned my camera sidways, as I have a tendency to do.  It’s worth it to watch all 16 seconds of the video though, just for the surprise twist one of the cooks throws in at the end.

With the help of Lonely Planet, we found a second yakitori place.  This place was absolutely fantastic.  I was probably full about halfway through, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

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After the second restaurant, I decided I wanted more sushi.  Luckily, the guys indulged me (that’s what she said) and we found a small standing sushi bar nearby.  Earlier that day, Justin had tried to convince me to eat this fatty tuna sushi, but I flat-out refused.  While at the sushi bar, he bought me a piece as my going-away gift.  OK, he was right–it was the most amazing thing I’d eaten in months.  Well, the story only gets better from here.  Turns out you can have the top of the tuna blow-torched.  I never thought I’d say that fish melted in my mouth, but folks, the sushi absolutely melted in my mouth.  I think the only word to describe it is “divine.”

Regular sushi...

Regular sushi...

Some blow-torching action....

Some blow-torching action....

And the end result!

And the end result!

And this, my friends, is where the pictures end.  After a 13-hour journey, I made it back to my apartment in Seoul.  It was wonderful to get out of the bubble here and experience a different Asian society.  It is easy to think that all Asians are the same and that all Asian cultures are the same, but I learned how untrue that was.  Every society is different.  Each one has its pros and cons, but no two are the same.  I came back from Tokyo energized and eager to explore the rest of Asia.

I just want to take a second to thank Nadav again, for hosting me in his apartment and serving as a wonderful tour guide for the week.  It was, to say the least, a trip I’ll never forget.

On a more somber note, my last post was about Ken Joseph, my Scholars associate director.  It was a tough weekend, but talking to friends both here in Korea and in College Park helped me to get through it.  I’m still waiting for it to feel real, but that moment hasn’t come yet.  The Diamondback had a good obit today, but I’ve come to realize that no words can sum Ken up.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have known him in the context I did, and can only hope that whoever takes his place has even a fraction of the heart and charisma he had.

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