on my last evening in Tokyo

salaryman: -catches up w me and babbles-
me: wakarimasen nippon-go
sm: oh. english?
me: hai.
sm: you pretty, i like you.
me: right. thanks.
sm: i thinking, i want play with you. do you want play?
me: what do you mean by play?
sm: you want have sex?

yes, i was propositioned for sex under the neon lights of shinjuku. this, after the day hike at takaosan, and my calves still carried traces of mud and leaves. it was an…interesting…surprise for my last night here, flattering and yet unflattering at the same time.

and i wonder, what might no-strings-attached sex feel like? what would sex with a stranger be like – is he a good lover, or will he pleasure himself with no thought for mine? would he be willing to pay for my services? how much would i charge anyway? what, actually, is the market-rate, given that im no professional? (we are in the land of the skilled courtesan after all) and then, hey, I’ll get to see the inside of one of the famed Tokyo love hotels!

i also experienced a mild panic attack – what if this is all im gonna get in the love department of life? a little bit of physical affection, that’s all? i recall what a flirtatious playboy asked me years ago, ‘what are you saving yourself for?’

to be honest, i have no idea (yet?). the waning, fading hope of being in a lasting, loving relationship?

my good sir, you ask so much, and yet so little of me.
(i turned him down.)

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nature walk at takao-san

i needed to get away from the intensity of Tokyo, and shinjuku station was lined with posters and video ads of Takaosan. it looked easy and near enough, so i gave it a try on a thursday. apparently it gets crowded on weekends as it’s the nearest nature getaway to Tokyo, so avoid weekends if crowds bother you.

i took a train on the keio line all the way to the end to takaosanguchi. (bring a book as it takes more than an hour and a half from shinjuku, and then there’s the return journey too)

the station has a small convenience stall where i bought a dorayaki in case i got hungry while climbing (which was just as well, because none of the food stalls on the ‘summit’ were open). it’s a short walk past some souvenir stalls to the foot of takaosan, where you can board the cable car up to the middle of the hill. there are about 7 different trails up/down, and i chose the inariyama trail which starts from the left of the station.

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a screenshot i took from the website before i left my accommodation (comes in helpful when you’re taking little hikes alone!)

here’s what the trail looks like, with mud stairs supported by wooden/bamboo beams –

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and there are treeroot-lined steps too –

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and being a ridge trail –

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there are segments where the trail is no more than 1.5m wide and it slopes steeply off on both sides.

as this is a popular trail, there are distance markers –

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this one told me i was just 700m away from the summit.

(random side story: i passed a salaryman on my way up. he was dressed up in a shirt, blazer and dress shoes and the sight was quite incongruent. perhaps he was just walking to destress, but i was half-worried for him as I’d heard stories of how places like these were suicide hotspots. i hope he’s ok and that im just over-imaginative.)

when i reached the summit, i met a family of cats which came out to play –

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the view from the summit is rather pretty, and on a clear day, one can apparently see mt. fuji (not my day, anyway)

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for the way down, i chose the japanese judas trees trail (now, ‘judas’ should have been a strong hint of a bad idea, but i was in a good mood from the walk)

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note that the website says ‘wild plants’ and ‘rich foliage’ in its description. i didn’t get the hint.

no pictures of this trail, as i was somewhat freaked out about 15-20mins in. the trail got so narrow that it would only allow a single file to pass, and the foliage so dense that sunlight was hardly filtering through. there was hardly any birdsong compared to the inariyama trail, and i had to sing hymns to calm myself down.

as this doesn’t appear to be a popular trail, there were no distance markers available and i couldn’t decide whether to turn back or to trudge on. it got worse, when, some way in, a warning sign about wild boars and how to recognise their footsteps appeared. i sped up.

as if that wasn’t bad enough, another sign appeared 10mins later, educating the public on the common snakes of takao. i broke into a jog, jumping over twigs and leaves, sometimes nearly tripping over small boughs.

by the time i stepped off the trail (many trails intersect in the middle of takaosan, where the cable car stops), my legs were jelly, not from the run/walk, but from fright. now, it sounds over-dramatic and silly, but i was genuinely freaked (by nothing at all, i know). an hour of being utterly alone in the woods without any comforting birdsong is scary. (I’ll never survive the army)

i wasn’t tired, but i didn’t wanna take another forest trail, and so opted for the cable car.

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quite a vista over Tokyo! i think it’s far more fun taking it down the hill, for the view it affords. riding it up would give you a view of trees (of which you’d be seeing a fair bit of if you climb up to the summit).

im glad i did this – doubly so because I’d stayed up the night before crying over my ex. were i to be in my home country, i think I’d have stayed in bed for most of the day. when you’re overseas, though, you feel this itch to get out and see things…and thus this post.

yasukuni shrine

[a continuation from the previous post on the east imperial garden]

from the east garden, one can walk through the kitanomaru koen to reach
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(notice the schoolgirls with yellow umbrellas walking out from a nearby school, under the daiichi torii)

i visited the yasukuni-jinja out of [intellectual?] curiosity. having read so many news reports about the place, i decided that if there was only one temple i could visit in my short 4 days in Tokyo, it’d be this over the famous senso-ji.

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dates for major ceremonies

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lanterns representing various sake houses – the hand-out provided at the temple spoke only of the building without explaining the role that these sake makers have. if i were to hazard a guess, it’d be that these houses supply (sponsor?) the supplicatory wine for prayer.

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you can see the haiden (prayer hall) through the chumon torii.

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the haiden, with the imperial chrysanthemum.

i believe it is important to honour the war dead, the way we do with our cenotaphs, or as the brits do, with wearing poppy flowers in november and memorial services on remembrance day. in fact, i think we do not take it seriously enough here in Singapore, and our war dead deserve more than the hollow credit and mention we give them once a year.

does the difference lie solely in that japan has refused to apologise for their war actions, and the history taught there reflects an altruistic, obedient-to-the-end army, which is so different from that taught here, where the people who lived through the war recount with terror the nightmare of the japanese occupation?

or is this about history being written by the victors, who, as victims in the war, demand for compensation?

or does the conflict ultimately boil down to politics? to unite the people against a common enemy? (and this happens on both sides too – abe and koizumi before him leading longsuffering Japan against the overbearing and oversensitive China, the aggrieved China against the unrepentant Japan who shows no remorse for their crimes against humanity.)

think on these things here – nearest metro stop: kudanshita

imperial gardens east

after the previous evening where I’d gotten lost at shinjuku, i needed a bit of quiet and headed to the east imperial gardens.

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it was drizzling slightly, which perhaps added to the dreamy romance of the gardens.

being summer, the irises were in bloom…

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and the view was calming –

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for such a beautiful and peaceful garden in the centre of the city, i was surprised that there weren’t more people around. i didn’t expect it to be quite so quiet; perhaps i was thinking of the likes of hyde park or our botanic gardens where there are people exercising, children running about etc. not that im complaining – it put me in a contemplative mood for the next place i visited – the yasukuni-jinja.

(to get to the gardens: otemachi station)

tokyu hands

“Tokyu Hands, the department store with everything for the home you ever wanted…”
-Protagonist, in Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance.

in my case, the home office. after having once lugged a souvenir pint glass and a christmas market hot chocolate mug all over Europe, i thought my aching shoulders and back taught me a good lesson to stop buying stuff while on holiday. perhaps tokyo was too short a trip, i had too much space in the backpack, plus their stuff are so irresistible that i succumbed to the allure of pretty stationery.

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washi tape! i don’t know what to use it on, given that i don’t use tape all that frequently. it just came to my attention while looking at the photo that i bought three cuboid-patterned ones? hmm bit silly of me.

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a memo pad and a to-do list. this, i use weekly. not for recording housework, though.

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more memo pads, which i bought for colleagues too.

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letter-writing paper – creamy yet delicate. i absolutely love this, and wish i bought more, but paying $7-8 for 20 sheets of paper is quite beyond me. yet, i do write notes and letters frequently (at least, i want to). spending money on things i actually use is not considered wasteful, is it?

and so, i splurged $30+ on stationery alone at tokyu hands, definitely a first for me (and hopefully last). if you’ve been to tokyu hands – what did you buy?

pretty ethnic clothing: the yukata

this is the last of a 3-part series on ethnic clothing, this time, focusing on the yukata, the summer kimono.

how i ended up in a yukata was serendipitous. it was my last day in japan, and i had a few hours to roam about shibuya before heading to narita. i stopped outside a shop window to admire the fabric on display, when the shop assistant beckoned me in. i flicked through the rack to look at the kimono fabric – mostly in modern japanese prints (some were honestly quite bizarre – like the modern tokyo skyline amidst a japanese zen garden setting. she then brought a basket over and got me to set my bag down, so that i could try one on. i protested, and tried, in my best broken japanese, to inform her that i had no intention to purchase anything. she gestured, ‘no problem!’ and after a while i went along with it. perhaps she was feeling bored..? or work ethic – not expecting anything in return for good service?

after but a few days in japan, one gets to know the japanese penchant for the beauty of wrapping – your purchases are wrapped in paper, then placed in a plastic bag, then put inside a paper bag to go. (it’s like a turducken, only prettier and in paper form).

the process of wearing a yukata pays tribute to the legendary japanese attention to detail.

there’s an inner white layer, lightly patterned in geometric shapes, fastened with a belt. then the yukata proper – wintry white flowers on a red background, again fastened with a belt hidden under the folds of the yukata. an obi, untied, held together with a binder clip. then a decorative blown-glass charm, strung on a thick blue-and-white ribbon, tied around my waist to accentuate the obi. lastly, a pair of geta to complete the look.

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i was amazed at the intricacy, the careful layering, and how seemingly clashing colours could come together.

later, i wondered how this counted as summer wear, given the layers, when the fabric is fairly thick. and then – if this is thought of as informal, what on earth would wearing a kimono be like?

before i left, she asked whether it was my first time trying on a yukata. i exclaimed that this was my very first time visiting Japan, and thanked her profusely for this unexpected experience. and then there was that slightly awkward bit where we kept bowing to each other as i was walking out of the shop.

i hope she’s doing well.

will be following up with a couple more posts on my short trip in june to tokyo, so stay tuned!

what i ate in tokyo

i admit, im doing this post so that i can delete the food photos from my phone, because i get so very hungry every time i flick through my gallery.

so, first up – most memorable meal in tokyo –

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yep. fast food from a fast food chain! so very different from the bad food we get from the yoshinoya in singapore, which is so bad that my ex used to joke that eating yoshinoya is a deal-breaker.

but here,  a simple gyudon (beef bowl), served piping-hot, topped with greens and a raw egg. it was absolutely delicious. the health-conscious will be delighted to know that they actually serve the raw egg with this holder that’s able to sieve the yolk from the white.

and more comfort food in the form of chashu and yasai ramen…

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this was served slightly differently from regular ramen in that you dip the cold noodles in the broth, the way you do with zaru soba/somen. i wish i had space for another bowl – was rather moody during the trip and comfort food was all i looked forward to.

curry omelette rice!

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it was a cold and rainy day where i was drenched while trying to find my way around, and this was quite the lifesaver. after this meal, while still being lost, i crawled into an underground bar for japanese whiskey highballs, after which, one of the bartenders was sweet enough to walk me up to the street entrance and direct me to the nearest subway station.

and, last but not least, one has to eat sushi when you’re in japan.

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from one of the stalls at tsukiji. honestly, though, you can enjoy sushi 20-30% cheaper at other venues in tokyo, even in the shibuya area. the stalls at tsukiji are more prestigious, supposedly fresher too, but, well, my palate is not that discerning.

i know other food/travel blogs are a lot more specific and helpful with directions and shop names etc., but i don’t usually bother with those (plus, i can’t read hiragana). i usually find my lunch/tea/dinner spots by walking into an affordable-looking place that looks decently crowded with locals. usually quite a good bet whichever country im in.

ah. i know i shoulda taken a photo of that matcha k-ki.