The first day
I woke up my first morning in Japan at a respectable 5:30 a.m. and did some journalisming for a couple hours until I heard from my friend Kazuyo who I'm staying with for about the first week of my trip. She said we could meet at around 2 p.m. so I decided to take advantage of the free time as an excuse to not do work and instead go exploring. Come on, I had already done two hours of work - that's enough for one day.
One thing about visiting a place for an extended period of time (and when you're bringing liquid gifts that exceed 30 ml in volume) is the utter cumbersomeness (spell check is confirming that that's a word, by the way) of luggage.
When I lived in Japan, I treated my apartment as a small storage locker or a rather large purse - that I could also sleep in. There was never any need to bring much more than my trusty North Face travel bag when I went on jaunts around the country. But this time - because of the gifts and the intention to fill the darned thing with steteco [Japants] - I have a large suitcase, which makes moving from one place to another an even sweatier affair than it has any right to be. It also means that to find a place to store said suitcase for the day is a race against time and millions of people for the few large coin lockers at exist at major stations in Tokyo. I had to wait at the hostel until I heard from Kazuyo because I needed the facility's precious wifi to contact her, and as every minute went by I could feel the weight of not getting one of those bigger lockers bearing down on me like the weight of the very suitcase itself.
But ho! I found one. The real challenge was fitting not only the large suitcase in the locker but my North Face bag as well, which in retrospect I could have just put inside the suitcase since it wasn't that full... I'm only just thinking of this now. Anyway, I didn't want to pay for two lockers and after several very sweaty minutes of pushing, I got both of them in there. It was a sort of reverse birthing, if you will.
I was so relieved to be rid of my luggage for several hours that I neglected to do a proper check to account for the things I needed from the bags for my outing - you see, once they're in there, there's no going back. Until you go back to get them for good. Or unless you want to pay all over again. And so I was crestfallen when I realized I had forgotten one of the most important items of my entire trip: my sweat towel. Somewhat ironic given how sweaty I was from the reverse-birthing.
My body was quickly reminding me of all the places it was capable of secreting sweat from as I walked around Ginza, an area I had never explored before apart from going to an art/aquarium exhibit that featured various kinds of goldifsh in avant-garde tanks that would have looked amazing if you had just taken some MDMA. Thankfully, convenience stores here are very convenient and I picked up a new sweat towel and a lychee/salt drink (a past favourite of mine), the two things that were absolutely necessary to combat the 34C 90% humidity I was attempting to wade through.
Ginza is a neighbourhood of opulence. Buildings for luxury designers like Chanel and Louis Vuitton rival the size of my entire apartment building back in Vancouver, with towering facades of glass reflecting more heat onto the streets in a sort of sadistic gesture that also reminds me, I will never be able to afford such niceties.
Still, it was a good area to be in on such a hot day since the many, many department stores were wonderfully air conditioned for my strictly window shopping pleasure.
I took out my camera to start taking pictures only to discover the lens cap would not come off. I broke a nail trying to remove it, and decided it would be best to deal with that problem later. And that hopefully it was not something to worry about. I ate two onigiri and drank a Boss coffee to take my mind off of my camera anxiety.
Something that I'm embarrassed to have forgot was how damn good people tend to look here - I don't just mean Ginza [although it does reserve a special place in the category such of goodness] - but throughout the country. My face was melting, my feet swelling, my hair cloying to any part of my body it could reach. But you would never be able to tell that me and the people I was seeing on the street were experiencing the same weather if you were to take a still shot of us side by side. Nary a bead of sweat to be seen on their brows, make up looking impossibly fresh, hair dry and coiffed, clothes wrinkle free. What was (and am) I doing wrong? Is there some sort of secret here I don't know about in addition to the sweat towel and thirst-quenching beverages? underwear made of ice, perhaps? Actually no, that sounds very uncomfortable. I decided I needed to up my fashion game for the rest of the trip, as I looked far too Western-urban-gym junkie for this crowd.
I took a break from the ritzy fashion streets to duck into Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple in the area. I had been there before (with Kazuyo, actually) but I took some time to sit and take in the room and its happenings this time. The detail in the architecture is spectacular, and a service began when I sat down, the hypnotic chanting (along with the air conditioning) soothing my hot, jet lagged mind.
I successfully survived the heat, retrieved my luggage and met up with Kazuyo to make it to her home in Saitama, where I spoke (or 'listened with intense focus and sometimes nodding to feign understanding') with her mother for two hours. She's a lovely lady, and I can understand most of what she says, but she says so much at such a rapid pace - it's like an AK47 of syllables firing off, and I find the target practice exhausting.
I fought through the fatigue to go to Kazuyo's sister's (Shinobu) apartment, to visit the rest of the family. Shinobu's daughter Yuna was excited to see me again, although disappointed Ben had not also come on the trip - she did, however, draw an amazing picture of him with a curly mustache real-life Ben would be envious of. The newest addition to the family is Sana, who is incredibly chubby and painfully adorable - they call her the sumo baby. I can see the likeness.
We watched a spectacular fireworks show from the apartment that lasted 90 minutes, and Yuna kept running outside to yell about how great they were. Kudos to her energy, I thought. Two hours of work and twelve hours of travel/sightseeing/reunions will take a lot out of a person. That or I'm getting old.
I managed to get the lens cap off the camera before going to bed, anxiety relieved. That anxiety, anyway.