Author: Elise A., Graphic Designer
Once upon a time, I went to Japan.
It was one warm October day, as it often is in San Antonio, Texas, when I embarked on my journey to Tokyo.
Like a true Inflowee, I took something awesome with me: a small Lego R2-D2 to help document my travels in photographs. Unfortunately, I lost him somewhere at San Antonio International at 5 in the morning before my first flight ever left. He did, however, grace one photograph on my hot orange luggage before he scampered off on his own local adventure (or so I would like to think).
My journey began at 4 am, when I was delivered to the airport by a dedicated friend. (Because who wants to get up at 4 am to drive anyone anywhere?) Per the standard, I arrived two hours before my international flight to get through airport security. After clearing said security, I had over an hour and a half to wait, so I grabbed a coffee and waited it out with R2-D2. Sometime between coffee and boarding is when he disappeared. #fail
As you might imagine, traveling to the other side of the world takes a while. I had a connection in Canada (where I snagged a little bottle of real life maple syrup! - like you can't get that anywhere else. But hey! It was in a maple leaf shaped bottle.) From Canada, I began the second longest flight I've ever been on and the most amount of hours I've ever spent over non-land. When you travel across the International Date Line, people tell you to sleep on the plane. I opted for tactic number 2: stay up until you can't anymore. It worked and I adjusted to local time and was working remotely the next day.
I lodged in Uraga, a subdivision of Yokosuka that sits at the entrance of Tokyo Bay, where I was greeted by a large praying mantis, whom I accidentally made quite upset with my going in and out to the balcony. When I realized he was there, I took a picture of him from the safety of the inside.
I quickly learned how to navigate the trains, which I gained a strong affinity for, and I traveled between Uraga Station and Yokosuka-Chuo Station almost every day without ever getting lost.
I got to visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, a Shinto shrine built in 1063. There, there is a cleansing station where visitors to the shrine wash their hands before entering. I also got to see a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony hosted on the temple grounds. Additionally, there is a wall containing giant barrels of sake, given in offering.
I experienced one of the world's busiest crosswalks, the Shibuya scramble crossing, where traffic stops in all directions to allow pedestrians to literally scramble every which way at once. The crossing is overlooked by one of the world's busiest Starbucks locations, which I did not visit because I am not brave enough to fight that battle. Besides, you can find coffee in vending machines every few feet all over Japan. Additionally, there were photographers everywhere who would pause in the middle of the crossing to get their perfect picture - including a couple getting their engagement photos. I was not one of them, so please enjoy this photo, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The 40th Mikoshi Day Parade in Yokosuka took place on a Sunday and went from the Yokosuka-Chuo Station, along Blue Street, to the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, where it finished up with a festival with over 25,000 people. A Mikoshi parade is a Shinto tradition where groups of people carry Mikoshi (large portable shrines) on their shoulders or move a wheeled Dashi (a tiered float carrying drummers and often puppets or a life-sized doll) to symbolize the transporting of a deity from one shrine to another. Float bearers will often wear a "happi coat", which is a traditional cotton coat bearing a crest, and a pair of "tabi boots" (jika-tabi), which are rubber-soled, split-toe shoes. People sing and dance and have a grand time. There was even a small float that spectating children were encouraged to join in and carry through the course of the parade.
I drove through Tokyo during rush hour dressed as a girl Luigi (from the game Mario Kart) on a guided go-kart tour, where I got to see Tokyo Tower, one of the many "miniature" replicas of Lady Liberty in the world, and Rainbow Bridge (except it was daytime, so the bridge wasn't lit in true rainbow fashion). There were about 10 of us on the tour, and the group kept getting separated at intersections, so we had more fun trying to catch up to each other as an added obstacle. By the end of it, however, my face was covered in a fine layer of dirt after the two-and-a-half-hour tour.
Bonus: after the go-kart tour, we off-loaded and I was met by a real-life Caterpie (hint: Pokemon).
I've "known" how to use chopsticks nearly my whole life, but my skills were tested (and improved) during my trip. In Tokyo, I was delighted to try Okonomiyaki, an amazing grilled dinner pancake-like meal, consisting of awesomeness and topped with Katsuobushi, which is dried, smoked, shaved tuna.
Eventually, it was time to go home, but Japan was awesome and next time, I plan to visit the Owl Café and Mount Fuji.