This morning I went to Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics/gadget central. Not really sure what I was expecting of the place but it was actually pretty boring! Lots of shops but I suppose unless you were looking for something in particular then not the best place to hang out. I was about to leave to go see somewhere else but then stumbled across the biggest shop I’d ever seen – the wonder that is Akihabara’s Yodobashi Camera! This gargantuan store comprises nine floors of electronics, restaurants and… golf. There was even a mini driving range on the roof! By the time I’d explored the place it was already lunchtime – I’d forgotten breakfast anyway so my stomach needed something! I was actually feeling kind of dizzy too – probably day 2 of hangover, doh.
I selected a place that had very appetising pictures of their food outside, thinking that at least in the eventuality I couldn’t read the menu I could at least point out something. Ha. The menu was somewhat different – almost all Chinese characters (kanji) and only 9 pictures of non-descript foods in the whole thing! There was nothing for it but to hazard a guess, and my question of, “yakisoba?” was answered by some page turning and a rundown. All I could really hear was “oyster” being said over and over. Confused, I asked for pork, she said “yes” and that was that, lol. I’m sure spaced out English folk are not their everyday customers.
Later I went over to Asakusa to go see the temple there. There were many people (girls especially) dressed in ‘yukata’ on the way and at the station and I remembered that Rena had told me about a big fireworks display that was taking place that evening, where it is traditional to wear a yukata. I looked out for the posters advertising the fireworks but couldn’t glean much information, so continued on my way. It was around 3pm this point and as I walked along the street and down next to the river there were already a large amount of people who had arrived early for the show plus umpteen people distributing fans with advertising plastered on and many street stalls selling all types of food and drink. Rena had also said that it’s crazy full and some people had gotten crushed to death last year, so I was thinking I might head off somewhere else in the late afternoon before taking the bus to Kyoto that night. I also had to head back to my hotel before going to the station as I’d left my case behind the desk, having checked out that morning.
At the temple there were also many people and food stalls, inclining me to think it might be better to take in future cultural sites on weekdays rather than weekends! There was a long line of people queuing to make donations and pray, so I watched them for a little bit and decided to join in after a while.
Adjacent to the prayer area were some intriguing boxes. I was watching a couple shake a hexagonal cylinder, take a stick, read a number from it then take a piece of paper from the correspondingly numbered drawer. I presumed it was some kind of fortune telling, and this was to be confirmed shortly after when I was approached by a group of three Japanese girls (of varying ages) who wanted to a) help me to understand what was going on and b) practise their English! I was quite astounded that the girl was able to tell I was British from my accent – usually non-native speakers really struggle to match accents with places, and she wasn’t fluent (although, in her credit, was fairly capable). I stood chatting to them for a while, explaining what I was doing in Japan, where I had/was visiting etc., then the girl who had assumed the lead speaking role – Yukie (pronounced you-key-Ã¨) – invited me to her friend’s place to watch the fireworks that evening. I pondered it for a minute and, thinking what did I have to lose, said I’d be very happy to come. We walked around a bit more and they explained a couple of the other features to me, for example there’s a burning well in the middle of the grounds, which smoke, when inhaled, is supposed to bring good fortune to your family. Also, they explained about the fox gods and how they are not worshipped in Japan because they require constant worship and are liable to trick you any time if you cease. Interesting.
Yukie (24) and the other two girls, Sayuri (who I’m guessing was around 34) and Aiko (who was 12), had met when they were living in Australia, in Melbourne if memory serves me correctly. It was amazing what a grasp of English Aiko had having only learned it for 2 years in Australia. I’m not sure if she was related to Sayuri – they lived together but since the information wasn’t volunteered I thought it potentially impolite to ask. Aiko definitely looked older than 12 I thought, strange since most Japanese look younger than they actually are to me! Conversely, Yukie guessed my age as 28 :( I guess it works both ways, lol.
After a while, and after buying some delicious okonomiyaki (and copious amounts of water – it was baking hot) from a stall, we met their friend. An older guy whose name I couldn’t quite grasp and gave up on after a while. He led us to his place, where everyone was spectating from the roof of the apartment building. I feel I seriously lucked out here, as where we were was absolutely prime – about 30m away from the fireworks – and considering the crowds and how early the rest of the people arrive before the show is due to start to get a good spot! Awesome. I also got fed and given beer (though still didn’t particularly feel like drinking from 2 nights previously!), result.
The firework display itself was ok, not quite up to Vancouver’s festival of light, but interesting nonetheless. I think I perhaps found it more interesting observing the other spectators. They probably thought it most strange that there was a ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) in their midst on top of this apartment building in downtown Asakusa! Everyone was very polite though. In general I can’t fault the Japanese people, I thought that perhaps they’d be a bit more xenophobic.
As time drew on I became a little concerned about the amount of time it was going to take me to get home, and the girls had many concerned-sounding conversations! Turns out they were especially worried because I’d said I had to get my bus at 10.30, when in fact I meant I should arrive at the station for 10.30 to catch the bus at 11.15 (or 11.10, as it turned out)! I assured them that all would be fine, although I did sweat a little bit when we descended at the end of the show into the largest mob of people you’ve ever seen! There were police everywhere directing the flow of people – we had to duck under their barricades at least twice to ensure direct passage to the station, and even then the nearest two stations were closed off due to volume of people. It turned out to be fine in the end, although I accidentally let slip an expletive in front of Aiko-chan, who found it hilariously funny. Oops :) I said my goodbyes and thanked them as best I could at a station which name I can’t remember – collecting email addresses on the way. Yukie I thought was acting a little strangely toward me, mentioning something about speaking of feelings, but luckily she stopped short what she was saying. Run away! :p seriously though it was really nice of them to take me along like that, and even better to offer me their food and drink. Thanks guys!
Made it to the station on time and was disgusted to learn that I couldn’t use my JR pass for the JR bus because it was a discounted service. Errrr, come again? I can only get the more expensive ticket for free? What? Doesn’t make sense to me but what can you do 30 minutes before departure. In fact I made it to the station before Rena did, and she arrived running before running off again shortly after arrival. Crazy girl :) I think I managed to sleep 30 minutes in total on the bus, and started very early the next day on the beginning of the Kyoto temple trail…