|Pretty much the best Indian food ever for under $10.|
In the course of the last few days, I've accomplished some pretty big things. I figured out how to get from my house to my uncle's, the station, the school, and the bakery! I got signed up for and a small tutorial on the Tokyo train system. I have groceries, a TV, a recliner, and a desk. I've started working on two projects for my uncle already, including an important document related to Persimmon. And I've been taking lots of pictures with my camera (thanks sis!). Oh. And I made new friends. AND I ate the succulent Indian food you see above.
Yesterday was my first day out on the town! I made a new friend (Casper), who was kind enough to invite me to hang out with him and his friends in Yokohama, about an hour South of where I'm staying. We used the train system. I'll try and post some pictures of what it's like in the terminals and on the trains, but, it was definitely one of the most confusing and scary experiences of my life. Seriously, Boston, Chicago, and Washington have absolutely nothing on Tokyo (I haven't been to New York yet, so I guess we can't compare). There are a myriad of different lines owned by a variety of companies, each with its own list of stops on trains of different speeds. Really. I almost had a panic attack yesterday when I had to find my last train by myself. More on that later.
Another thing about the trains: personal space is non-existent. Sometimes guys try to feel girls up on the train, so Casper told me he holds the top handles with both hands when it's really packed so no one will accuse him of anything... I think this is sort of a good idea. At least I found out that everyone is annoyed by this situation, not just me. Hey, I don't want my junk on some other dude's trunk any more than the next guy. And neither do Japanese people... it's just necessary. After a long 12-hour day of work (more on that in future posts) and a congested train ride, many Japanese go home and keep to themselves, finding whatever sacred space is left for them. I can't say I blame them. Though with a bit of rap music and a few drinks, a subway train car could be a pretty racy club here in the states. Just sayin'. (Copyright Michael Hennings, Jan 2011)
So Casper and I made our way to Shibuya Station.. the famous Shibuya station. Basically any movie you've ever watched with footage from Japan probably has footage of people walking across the street at this busy shopping plaza. It's basically a huge station next to a GIGANTIC outdoor mall. (All these photos and more are available on my Picasa web album)
The 2nd floor Starbucks (in the building to the right, top photo) is a pretty famous tourist spot, and we went up there to take a couple pictures/video. The curious thing about this place is just how chaotic it feels, especially to foreigners. In many ways, this is not indicative of the entirety of Tokyo. In fact, many stations are not nearly this busy, and each has its own reputation and subculture (for instance, the girls at Shibuya station are known to be "hussies/hoochie-mammas"). Shibuya station is really just an example of the western perception of Japanese life.
There's also a statue of a dog (Haichiko) in the plaza, which is a popular meeting spot. It is said that when the dog would wait faithfully for his master to return from work every day in the same spot, and when the master died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, the dog came to this same spot at the same time every day for the next nine years, waiting for him to return. Or so the legend/Wiki goes.
After that we went down to Yokohama to meet up with Casper's friends Myra and Kevin. We met up outside the train and instantly went over to Chinatown. That's right, Chinatown. I guess every large city has at least one. It was supposed to be Chinese new year, but, unfortunately, for some reason, no one was out celebrating. I was looking forward to noisy dancing and frivolity, but instead I satiated my lustful desires (dramatic, oui?) with a nice can of Qoo. It's a tasty can of apple juice. And yes, the can has a cute kiwala/bear/pikmin/monster type thing on it. Needless to say, it was very refreshing.
After that, we walked a few blocks down to the dock where Commodore Perry first landed in Japan. I'm not going to bore you with what I perceive to be the exciting historical nuances of this event, but the main point is that before Perry landed here on a U.S. steamship in 1854, Japan was entirely closed to the West. After Perry insisted that Japan trade with the U.S., Japan's merchant class burst forth to usher in a new era of technology, prosperity, and Western-ism. And, in a backwards way, this set Japan on a course that eventually led them to WWII. But that's a long story.
The dock is just beautiful. It looks out over the huge Bay of Japan, and downtown Yokohama is visible from here...after seeing which, I could NOT stop snapping pictures. Maybe I was temporarily on LSD, but I thought the bright, glowing Ferris Wheel was completely mesmerizing. Yes, tourist Mike "came out." This will not be his last emergence.
The old warehouse building has recently been transformed into a massive and surprisingly tasteful, tourist/date location. Outside, was an ice skating rink where many Japanese couples were happily skating away. This is where I learned that Japanese couples find it VERY embarrassing to make physical contact in public. This led to a string of jokes about Japanese dates, and secret locations where Japanese couples go to actually touch each other. We did see some extreme hand holding, I guess.
Inside the warehouse was a delicious (and not too expensive) restaurant where we enjoyed the fine candle-lit atmosphere (it was quite dark). But you could sit on either a chair, a couch, or a BED to eat sushi. A BED. Hello awesome date location. There was a whole wall of bed for the sitting. We sat in chairs and couches, but I did get to hear some familiar music (Passion Pit). Also, my new friends and I shared some delicious California Rolls.
After a short jaunt through downtown (me snapping pictures all the while), we all parted ways, and Casper and I headed back on our train. It was his job to make sure I got back to Hagashi-Kurume Eki before the trains stopped running at midnight. This is a very early time for trains to close, but part of it seems to be to force people to head home instead of irresponsibly staying out all night and drinking. It's probably a good idea. I had to walk alone through the station to my last train. This led to a panic attack, as it was midnight already, and I couldn't read which train was mine!! In the end, due to some helpful people, I ended up safely on my way, packed into a car full of people who were falling asleep standing up and who smelled like alcohol.
All in all, a successful day. This morning I woke up and went to the bakery. Yum!
I'm happy and enjoying my life in Japan so far.. did you think I wouldn't? Stay posted! There are more pictures on my online album, and I update it a couple times a week!
Here's to new friends:
Please continue to pray for me. Believe it or not, I am doing a lot of work, and the challenges I face every day (by the grace of God) are very great. I love you all.