When to Say No

That’s what I still need to work on. I thought I’d gotten better as the years went by, but nope. Still getting screwed out of money and time.

On Tuesday, I got off the train at Shinagawa, ready to scan my card out of the gates and head home, when a man approached me despite my obvious headphones purposefully trying to block out the sounds of the world. He asked me in broken English if I was an English speaker, then proceeded to beg me for 500 yen in a mix of English and Japanese.

“You… beautiful… kind… help me…?”

A little excessive, but he was a decently dressed Japanese man with curly hair and glasses, and I attributed his awkward attempts at sweet-talking to language barriers. He even opened his briefcase to show me his empty wallet (with a single silver coin inside).  He also asked me for my phone number so he could pay me back, but I refused on that. Apparently, he was going to Saitama, and I instantly suspected that he might have been a tsunami survivor still struggling to get back up in life. Who knows, maybe he is?

Anyway, I was thrown off by the fact that someone was asking for money here, in Tokyo, where I’ve only seen a single homeless man – they must hide themselves well – and I wanted him to go away at the same time that I felt bad for what seemed like a desperate situation. I also wondered what Zach would do in my shoes – though that was a no-brainer; he’s generous to a fault.

To top it all off, when I brought him aside and gave him a 500 yen coin, he asked me where I was from and responded with “Oh, beautiful; lots of nature” when I told him Oregon. So he knows about Oregon, of all places?!

I went home feeling a little accomplished; feeling the pain of losing that bit of cash when I’ve been complaining about being strapped for cash – but I reasoned (cognitive dissonance here) that if he was so bad off that he would overcome his pride and beg, I’d done nothing to be ashamed of.

Then, yesterday in Akihabara, I noticed someone watching me as I went through the station gates, following me a few meters, and catching my attention through my headphones AGAIN; and who do you think it was?

Well, he had a totally different attitude this time: voice low, asking if I spoke a bit of Japanese instead, and getting straight to the point with “500 yen?”. He might not have recognized me, but upon recognizing him, and realizing that I’d been suckered into giving money to what seems to be a hustler, I became instantly pissed off and just said, “Sumimasen” and waved my hand in front of myself. He split instantly, experienced as he probably was with rejection. Could be that he got fired and this is how he’s surviving… I decided to settle on that conclusion so that the next time I see him again, I don’t snap back with something rude.

On that same day, I paused for just a second to admire a few photographs in a store display and a store clerk ended up selling me holographic postcard for 500 yen – reduced from 1000 yen, which in my gullible stupor and desire to get her to leave me alone, I thought was a good deal until I actually handed her my money. So now I’m stuck with a 5 x 3 holographic postcard that I can’t even write on the back of because it’s weird plastic. I don’t even think the post office can put their stamps on this thing…

The moral of the story is: I need to stop being such a pushover. -__-

Etc + SUMO!

On Friday, I met up with Jouho-san at Asakusa after class; but by the time we arrived, the festivities for the Sanja Matsuri were over for the day. Instead, we walked along the famous (touristy) market street leading up to the shrine to look for a Yukata that I could purchase. All were pretty much polyester souvenir types, though, with designs that Japanese people wouldn’t normally wear, such as geisha prints and temple scenery. The things up for sale were certainly eye-catching, but kind of pricey, with things like Kokeshi dolls, fans, decorative chopsticks, and cell phone charms galore. At Ueno’s Ameyoko shopping area, I had found a shop that sells Kokeshi dolls and geisha dolls for just around 1200 yen, so I was able to easily resist Asakusa’s allure.

We didn’t end up finding suitable Yukatas for me that day, and Uni Qlo’s apparently not selling Yukatas this year like they normally do. I’ll probably have to buy a cheap set (Good price is around 3000 yen) online – if I do decide to go to the Fireworks Festival in July. It’s insanely crowded, and my host parents wanted to travel to Toyama, Jouho-san’s hometown for that last weekend I’m in Japan; I’d much rather do that than spend hours cramped with thousands of people trying to hop onto a single train platform home…

On Saturday, I went to the Sumo tournament in Ryogoku with the other Spring OUS students, as Marie had already given us our tickets ahead of time. They were probably the cheapest tickets, at 5200 yen, but it was still quite easy to see all the action. From Waseda Station, Kenny and I took the Tozai subway to Iidabashi, and then transferred to the JR Chuo line train. From there, we stayed on and the train turns into the Sobu line, eventually dropping us off mere meters away from the Ryogoku Kokugikan – the sumo arena.

There were sumo souvenirs on the way, and huge lines of people just waiting on the side of the sidewalk to take pictures of and cheer on arriving wrestlers. Kenny and I explored the building and had some Chanko nabe, the traditional hearty stew that sumo wrestlers eat, for 250 yen a bowl. Then we found our chairs on the second floor and waited for the others to arrive. At around 3, the high-ranking fights – and more intense bouts – start, so they were taking their sweet time; Tamarra and Kelly, for instance, were exploring the Edo Museum right next door.

I was surprised to find that Sumo is actually really intense in person.

The psyching up part takes forever; but watching the wrestlers take up position, then move away to slap themselves, perform the ritual tossing of salt and sipping of water, stretching – all builds up anticipation for the inevitable collision that just suddenly happens without warning – and then the wrestling, slapping, pushing lasts mere seconds and these huge guys toss each other like they hardly weigh anything at all.

Sadly, I had to miss the last hour and the Yokozuna’s (highest ranked wrestler; there’s only one currently, but there can be many) battle. WIF’s practice retreat was schedule for the weekend, and I was already arriving very late – and as I already paid out the 5000 yen fee for the required retreat for room and food and facilities, I really didn’t want to miss dinner.

So I took forever trying to find the subway station on the northern point of the JR station, then took the Oedo line to Daimon. From there, I transferred to the Asakusa line, which, if I’d gotten onto the right express, I should have been able to ride all the way to Misakiguchi station; but at Shinagawa, I had to hop off and jump back onto a later train that was not going to take a completely different fork in another direction.

On the way there (which took ~2 hours), I got a text from a WIF member saying that I would be too late for dinner and should purchase something from 7-eleven or something… and my mood went sour.

The day before,  I’d texted another member in charge of organization, telling him that I would be arriving at around 7 or 7:30 and asking him if that would be too late for dinner. If so, I was planning to buy a bento box before getting on the train.

But he never answered my question – like all the people I talk to in this circle do. I can never get straight answers from this group. I asked and asked, but I couldn’t even find out where we were going or what exactly we were doing – what to pack, whether we’re being fed, etc. – until two days before the retreat. And now, because of this strange tightlipped behavior, some of the money I unwillingly put into this thing is going into thin air. Yes, I was very hungry and cranky.

To top it off, I texted him when I arrived into Misakiguchi and was boarding the bus to head to the designated escort spot. Since he told me to text him again once I arrived, I thought the ride would be long – but it was a mere 3 0r 4 minutes, and then I was alone. When I messaged again, 10 minutes passed, and I finally got the message that he’d just gotten out of the shower and would head out soon. The facility we were staying at was 10 minutes away, so I settled down to wait another 10 minutes… and another 10 minutes… and started falling asleep… and the bus passed me twice. And then he finally tapped me on the shoulder, pointing out the group that had arrived on the last bus, and we all walked together to the YMCA lodgings. Maybe it was my imagination, but he seemed guilty, so I eventually forgave him and kept in good spirits.

We played group games that night. And then the next day, we practiced our dances all morning before presenting them after lunch.

And then I went home… FINALLY… and passed out on my bed for an hour or two.

The retreat was very fun… but I’m just glad to be home with my familiar bed and my dependable host parents.

Tokyo Disney Sea ようこそ〜!

My first Amusement Park visit ever started out with little enthusiasm and an hour’s worth of frustration.

The park opens at 9am, so the girls wanted to meet up at around 8am. As the ones experienced in Disney excursions, they advised me to bring sunscreen, a camera, extra money, and a coat for the evening chill. I didn’t really feel any excitement the morning of, partly because it was so early, and partly because I just didn’t know what to expect there. I’d had Sri Lanka dance practice late Wednesday night and just passed out in bed without a chance to look up the website ahead of time.

So at 7:30, I took the Rinkai Line from the station at Tennozu Isle, a 10 minutes’ walk from home, at 330 yen. I transferred to the rapid Keiyo line at Shin-Kiba, which dropped me off at Maihama Station. Because the girls ended up being 15-20 minutes behind me, I sent them a message asking where they wanted to meet up and settled down on some stairs to wait for them to arrive. Skipping past the details, there were communication delays and I later ended up lost and on the complete opposite corner from the Disney Sea gate (note to self: Disney Maps are completely upside down), so I had to take the Monorail from there to finally find the girls.

It was getting quite warm, and the walk had been about 20 minutes; plus the fact that I only had 5000 yen on me for food and souvenirs made me even more frugal than usual and the 250 yen I shelled out for the monorail was painful; especially considering that we ended up taking it on the way back that night.

At the Disney Sea gates, we ended up on opposite sides again; but at that point, a break of laughter really helped matters and lightened my spirits again. When I was lost, all I really wanted to do from there was to screw Disney Sea and go home; but really, just laughing at yourselfdoes help. It works wonders.

So when we finally found each other, Kelly and Tamarra and I stashed our coats in the 600 yen lockers (divided by 3, it was manageable), and went in and had a FANTASTIC time.

My first Disney ride was the Tower of Terror. I’ve realized that I really like these moderately-sized coasters. We’ll see how I handle the much bigger ones when I finally experience them…

But while the fireworks were cancelled because of the strong winds that night, the day was overcast but very warm; I won’t forget Disney anytime soon. And I’ve developed a liking to Donald Duck (though I got his name wrong at least twice…)

Sanrio Puroland

Yesterday, Kelly, Tamarra, and I spent Kelly’s Birthday at Puroland, the Sanrio indoor theme park. I’ve never been a big fan of Hello Kitty, but for a few months, they’re having a special One Piece/Hello Kitty crossover event. I was still a bit skeptical of having spent 4000 yen on what seemed to be a Hello Kitty theme park, but the prospect of a mysterious One Piece 3D attraction pulled me in. Watching a special on the creation and development of Hello Kitty on TV the night before was also a very helpful coincidence.

We took the Keio Line to the Tama Center Station, which is usually about 40 minutes by the rapid line. However, we  instead took the Semi-Express line from Shinjuku and transferred to the rapid line at Chofu to head southwest, cutting off probably 15-20 minutes off of our trip. The Keio line has several different trains that make different numbers of stops. The local makes every stop; the rapid skips a few; the semi-express skips most of the stops except for major ones like Meidaimae and Chofu; and the Express is like the semi-express, except that after going about halfway on the loop, the semi- skips less stops.

Each way was 330 yen, so not too bad. On the way back, we ended up on the rapid the whole way, though we could have transferred onto the semi-express again just on the other side of the platform….

From the station, we walked for about 5-10 minutes to Puroland, and the first glimpse of the place was enough to actually make me forget about my skepticism of Hello Kitty’s cuteness. And not just the exterior was amazing – the inside was definitely much, much more than I’d expected. It’s far from being all about Hello Kitty in there. To be sure, she has her own mini castle attraction; but Sanrio is comprised of a huge variety of characters, and the place itself was designed like some underground fairy hideout. The mascots and actors were both animal-suit characters and beautiful fairies. There were shows playing around the Wisdom Tree several times a day, and there were also shows in various other parts of the place.

We had bought the Passport, which is usually 4400 yen when purchased at the door. Unlike the 3000 regular adult pass, the Passport allowed us to get into every show and every attraction – including the One Piece 3D theater.

The One Piece show was basically a 20 minute computer-animated One Piece episode with a very simple plot – but for a die-hard fan like me, it was AWESOME.

We also saw the Time Travel Show – which was so cute I kind got a little sick towards the end, “Believe” – which was too amazing for a camera to capture, and a fairy musical in the Fairyland theater. All were musicals, of course, with great melodic cutesy songs.

Puroland closed at 5:30, so after the Fairy Show, we took one last stop at the gift shop where I got some caramel popcorn for Jouho-san, and a Hello Kitty pen for Megumi-san.

We also stopped at a florist’s for Mother’s Day carnations for our host mothers. At the stations, single-stem red carnations were 525 yen each; but we lucked out by finding this shop that sold theirs for 210 each.

Kelly left us for home at Meidaimae, so after getting to Shinjuku station, Tamarra and I found the bakery/food area of the station – just above the Keio Line – to purchase cakes for our host mothers as well. My slice of layered strawberry shortcake was 399 yen. Otherwise, the other “whole” cakes were teeeeeny, yet ranged from 1050-2500 yen!

So I went home, gave my host parents their gifts, had a delicious dinner, as usual, and watched American Idol with them till bedtime. Megumi-san was kind of slow on the uptake as to why I was giving her all these gifts. Definitely not used to being gifted on Mother’s Day. Apparently, Tamarra’s host mother was so touched that she started tearing up… And Ella – another OUS student – told us that her host mother reacted to a card by jumping up and down and uncharacteristically giving her a huge hug; her own daughters hadn’t done anything for her for Mother’s Day, and instead she’d cleaned the house and cooked a big dinner herself…

Also, according to Megumi-san, shortcake is a Japanese favorite. I felt bad for not getting enough cake to share with Jouho-san, but it is Mother’s day, and I’m still feeling frugal after spending madly over Golden Week…

But just wait till Father’s Day, Jouho-san! You are definitely just as appreciated~

The Best End to a Golden Week (+ surprise pics)

I didn’t think it was possible for me to sleep so deeply in a tent, but Friday night – my intended last night in Niijima – saw me completely passed out in the blissful silence of no crazy wind.

In the morning, I woke up early to roll up my things and pack up my tent. The Farmers and Jo were also leaving on the 11 o’ clock ferry, so I was waiting for them to finalize their packing. In the meantime, I breakfasted with a pastry from the day before and a banana from Shiho, and hooped casually. And in between, the girls attempted to convince me to stay for one more night. Shiho even offered to call the harbor office to change my ticket for me.

They’d started from the night before, while I was teaching them all of my personal tricks. I’d thought about it as I fell asleep and was still trying to decide even as I was rolling up my tent; but eventually, my defenses broke down. As we helped the Farmers bring their things to the parking lot, I handed my phone over to Shiho and she called the number posted on the campground bulletin board. In a few minutes, it was done; and not only did she change my ticket free of charge, she got me an even cheaper seat than I’d originally purchased!

So I was staying for another day of hooping and playing and sun. Today was the best day yet – the wind was perfect, the sky was blue, and there was even a reggae party at the beach.

We had a partner-play hoop workshop before lunch and then headed down to the beach to get in on the music. I went on ahead to shower and was surprised to see everything set up right in front of the bathroom. So I got to enjoy a hot shower to music~!

After, while I waited for the rest of my group to arrive, I met an extremely friendly older (surfer) couple, and we watched the waves together with their friends. A centaur-man also provided some entertainment for a while (if you saw the video, you know).

Then the Guru Guru group burst onto the scene and we had some delicious Kansai-style Takoyaki and grilled chicken and photo shoots, and, on and off,  hooped our asses off. It was definitely more of a friendly and easygoing atmosphere here than at the Mt. Fuji Festival. Best moment of the party was definitely when the whole crowd was singing “One Love,” arms around each other – felt like I was in a Eugene event! I think I like Japanese surfer types. 🙂 A lot are also apparently from the Kansai area, so perhaps that would be a more chill area to live in than among the metropolitan types of Tokyo…

As the party ended and I started chatting with a Japanese woman who’d just gotten married that day to her American beau, a trio of drunken men approached us, speaking very clear English like most of the young people I’ve spoken to on the Island. The one who reminded me a lot of Zach, in terms of appearance and sense of humor, wasted no time in making it clear that he was trying to hook me up with his “shy” Japanese buddy with the “giant penis”. They were just silly and funny about the whole thing – and the friend in question, though polite, was quite embarrassed – so even though the other two persisted through my claims of being already taken (it was just getting more racy at this point), it wasn’t hard to take it in stride and in good cheer.  I managed to dodge them as an equipment van moved through the floor, though I can’t say I wasn’t enjoying the jokes.

After the party was over, we had a large dinner of curry and hummus from the last of Kristen’s camp food, and also shared food with Dex, a surfer from Australia. Then we had a hoop meditation workshop and spun fire! It was Keiko’s first time playing with fire, and though she was terrified, she’s resolved to get herself a fire hoop too~ Cathrine was also absolutely hilarious; I wish I’d gotten her look of sheer terror just isolating the hoop before finally flinging it away in a panic.

As everybody dropped off to sleep, Shiho, Bekah, and I were also invited to join a mixed group of Japanese surfers and foreigners – which included the centaur guy – to a nighttime chat and food. I can’t remember all of the people I met that night, but the fun time was worth a few hours less of sleep.

In the morning, we all packed up together, and pretty much the whole campgrounds except Sayaka (Cat Girl) and Kristen and Todd headed off to the ship. Good bye Nijiima! Until we see you again! (I’ll bring my sexy poi-spinning boyfriend next time, too<3)

Journey Home – But still together

Bekah and Shiho and I all had floor spaces at the bottom of the ship. I also managed to switch spaces with a family who’d reserved just one space (mine was a really good isolated spot yet again) – so we had 3 whole spaces to fit in our friends who had seat-less tickets. The ship was packed, with people settling down, and even sleeping, in any bit of floor space they could find, whether in front of the showers or up on deck where it was cold and windy.

We spent the ride home dozing, eating, and going over the pictures Rob had taken over the weekend.

Since my camera was dead by Friday, I’ll link his pictures instead (his are way better anyway):

General Camping/hooping/fire spinning funtimes (my days come in around the middle): http://gallery.me.com/robmoreno#100151

Beach Party funtimes and Photoshoot: http://gallery.me.com/robmoreno#100190

More photoshoot: http://gallery.me.com/robmoreno#100183

We walked to Hamamatsucho station together and broke off little by little. Swinky offered us all lodgings should we ever come to visit Kenya, and we all promised to hoop together again one day. Keiko and Bekah and I took the Yamanote Line towards Shinagawa, and in the end, Bekah and I were left to say our last parting wishes. I wish I didn’t have to leave; returning to the silent crowds of Tokyo felt so alien after the open characters of Niijima.

I’ll be in Osaka to visit Bekah once before I return to America, though. And though Shiho will be in Sydney from now on, I’m sure we’ll meet again one day – and they’ll all wow me with their amazing new skills. I’ve realized, from playing and teaching a little, that it would be nice to teach hoop someday – as an actual teacher. I’ll consider trying out for the free school in Eugene, perhaps.

So now, it’s back to the routine; though it’s been far from boring. I daydreamed about Niijima often in the past week, but the Sri Lanka dance group also has its charms. I went to my first Nomikai last night with them, and it was not disappointing. A little drink does indeed help with language skills – if not in actual ability, but in confidence and flow of words. And of course, a drinking party is not complete without someone who drank too much and ends up throwing up outside in the streets.

The group is a responsible one though, and a couple managed to find Daizo when he wandered off alone and help him get home. I’m still grumbling to myself about the cost of the WIF t-shirt that’s required (2500 yen), and training camp (4-5000 yen), not to mention the actual dance clothes and the Nomikai that I forced myself to go to. But I don’t regret joining the group. Definitely going all the way with this one.

Looking forward to the days to come!

Oh, and I also went to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaki today, so here are pictures from that! We couldn’t take pictures inside the museum, so if you wanna see the beauty and magic of it all, you’ll have to come see for yourself~

Return to Guru Guru Camp

Okay, now that today’s happenings are out of the way, back to Golden Week!

The next morning (Thursday) opened up with a protein-charged breakfast and the end of the storm.

Megan, Jo, and I had made a reservation at the Glass Art Center the night before for a glass-making workshop, so right after breakfast, we headed out on foot to the south edge of the island.

It wasn’t hard to find, and the view along the way made the rain bearable. There were surfers out, despite the weather, taking advantage of the wind and waves.

Inside the studio, a cute glassmaker gave us directions in English, and we got to make a glass one by one. And by make, I mean hold the equipment while the glassmaker technically does everything. It was still an interesting experience to see the process and kiiind of try it out for ourselves. After the glasses were made, we would have to pick them up the next day, which Jo kindly did for me since she had a bike. The workshop itself went pretty quickly and cost about 2600 yen each. Way more expensive than expected, but I have no regrets.

After, the sun finally came out and we walked back to the ryokan, then had lunch at a restaurant. Megan and Jo decided to stay at the ryokan for another night, so we got to keep our things there all morning before the Farmers (Ashley, Tracey, and Max) were ready to go back to camp with me after lunch. For the one night and dinner and breakfast, I ended up paying 7000 yen. I’ll just have to be a little more frugal from now on…

Back in Camp! – Thursday and Friday

From Top Left to Right: Cathrine, Todd, Uko, Kristen, Sayaka (Cat Girl), Bekah, Esther aka Swinky
And bottom: Me and Shiho

The ryokan owner kindly drove us back to camp, where I finally got to set up my tent and meet some new arrivals, Shiho and Bekah. Bekah is from Seattle and shares some astounding similarities  with me in regards to lifestyle and interests. She’s been hooping for about 3 years, though the amount of practice in the past 2 years has declined. Currently, she lives and teaches in Kobe as part of the JET program, which pays for its teachers to not only come to Japan, but also provides lodgings and a phoneline along with regular pay. Shiho is from Osaka and certainly has the friendliness and open personality  that shows it. She studied abroad in Kansas for about 5 1/2 years, and has traveled the globe (hoops in tow). She lived on a ship in Antarctica for some months as well.

My hair felt disgusting, so I went over to the beach, where there were hot coin showers at 100 yen per 5 minutes. Then back in camp, we all hooped and played for a while, then Bekah and Shiho and I walked to the free outdoor Onsen, which is located just before Mamashita onsen on the western coast of the island. On the way, we stopped at the surreal stone animal garden at the camp office – and this is where my camera died on me. So I didn’t get to take pictures of the onsen… or the rest of the weekend, for that matter…

Buut it was gorgeous, complete with coin lockers and hot coin showers. There were several hot baths + one cold one, and a steep pathway led up to a Greek architecture-ish pillared structure that housed the most gorgeous outdoor onsen ever. Usually the top bath is heated as well, but it wasn’t for the weekend, for some reason. The baths require swimsuits, and was mix-gendered. Later, Megumi-san told me that outdoor onsens are usually naked affairs, so this was unique.

After soaking for a while, the girls and I called up the funny cab driver and got back in time to spin some fire in the circular pavilion just across the street from camp. The wind was too fierce to stay too long, so we headed back to camp and got ready for bed…

And during the night, the wind decided to terrorize us all.

I seriously thought the panels of my tent were going to tear away, exposing me to a beating from nature. The flapping was way too loud to bear without earplugs in; and then when I woke up at dawn for a bathroom break, I saw that Bekah and Shiho’s tent – the “peanut” tent with the sleeping compartments on the side and the open room in the middle – was being compressed in a way that made it seem impossible for anybody to sleep in it. I assumed that they must have relocated to another spare tent, and so I went back to sleep – only to wake up 2 hours later with my tent’s support poles bending inwards in a way that scared the crap out of me. I was instantly wide awake and hurriedly unzipped my tent to release the poles and allow my tent to collapse naturally – and just in time. As I struggled to free the poles from their restraints, my tent buckled and made a terrifying cracking sound. But as I flattened it out, it was released from the pressure of the wind.

Others, I saw, were not so lucky.

I was camped near the back edge of the camp, which is lined on all sides by very tall, impenetrable shrubbery. And all along this line of trees and bushes, it looked as if someone had taken all the loose trash of the campgrounds and dumped them there. There was even a crumpled tent, its support poles sticking out like broken bones. All around, I could see people struggling to keep their tents intact, or just taking them down like I did.

While I was slowly securing my tent to get ready to put on some wind-proof clothes, Rob, another Guru Guru Camper and the group’s professional photographer/videographer, came over and helped me move all of my things to an open spot under the trees, where the wind ranged from manageable to almost non-existent. He’s so nice! He’d helped me set up my tent the day before, and here, he helped me put it up again. He also told me what happened to poor Shiho and Bekah.

Apparently, they’d woken up with the walls of the tent inches from their faces. They’d attempted to secure the tent in some way, but because there was really nothing they could do short of just abandoning it, they’d gone back to sleep, one in each side of the peanut. Eventually, Kristen came to rescue them sometime before I woke up, and they tried to get some sleep in Rob’s tent instead. I managed to sleep for a few more hours too.

When I woke up, a few more newcomers had arrived: Cathrine, Esther (AKA Swinky), Uko, and Keiko. We attempted to hoop despite the wind; and at one point, other campers began to join in on the jam. After, I went out for lunch with the Guru group at a small restaurant by the beach. Then we watched the sea for a while. Though the wind was still raging, the sky was blue and sunny, with clouds that just raced by. In the evening, we hooped some more and had a muuch better night’s sleep than before.

I also prepared for the 11am ferry the next morning. It had been an interesting time, but the vacation was already over.

Or so I thought.

Kitty Lovin’ and Lovin’ Electric Town

Today I decided to hit up a Neko Cafe for the first time.

At least 8 popped up on a Google search, but because Rob from Guru Guru camp had shown me pictures from the Nekomaru cafe in Ueno, I went with that one. The cats were so cute, and the people there, so nice, that I ended up staying a half hour longer than planned. For my 90 minutes of playtime with the kitties – sans drinks – it was ~1500 yen. For an hour, it would have been roughly 1100 yen. So it was a pretty good deal!

Afterward, I had lunch at First Kitchen just downstairs, and then, because it was on the way home, I hit up the Akihabara Electric Town.

Definitely Otaku central. Hobby shops EVERYWHERE, along with import electronic equipment. Plus maid cafe employees on almost every block, beckoning to potential customers. And don’t be surprised by the anime boobs if you ever come here. There was also one particular action figure shop that was insanely cheap… I couldn’t resist. Of course, One Piece merchandise reigned as the most abundant of any other…

First day in Niijima -> Evacuation!

When I stepped off the boat, the sky was drizzly and gray. The harbor itself was also bigger and more… concrete-y… than I’d thought it would be. I couldn’t see the town from the ship, so the prospect of walking all the way on foot was kind of ominous.

But it was still beautiful.

Stunningly green hills and cliffs and forests made an almost unreal backdrop to the gray harbor, and the sea was still a clear, clear blue despite the rain.

I followed the other travelers past a long line of people waiting to board the ship and into a covered walkway, where several taxis stood waiting. I thought at first that people had had the foresight to call a cab from the ship, but when the third and last taxi driver saw me looking lost and skeptical about walking all the way to the campgrounds in the rain (which was my original plan), he waved me over and gestured towards his cab.

Vacant!

I was hesitant about using a taxi because of the cost and the issue of communicating where to go and from where, but the driver took one look at my huge bags and immediately guessed that I was headed out into the hills. He was quite friendly and chatty the whole 5-8 minutes through town, waving at people in the narrow streets and seeming to be very curious about where I’d come from. Must help to be friendly when your business relies on the tourists. And old Japanese people are so cute!

The cab stopped in the parking lot of the campgrounds, right next to the camp office. Up ahead I could see a tennis court, as well as two thickly tree-lined paths leading out the the right. To the left, there was also a garden filled with large stone animals. Later, I would discover that the garden also had a roller-slide (perfect for a back massage!) and a small zipline….

The smells that hit me were also amazing – just grass and leaves and dirt and rain and GREEN. I could already smell some of the freshness upon getting off the boat, but here, my worries were just blasted away by the delicious crispness of the air. And the forested cliffs surrounding us were magnificent. I’ve never really been THAT much of an earthy person, but compared to the smog of Tokyo, this was like paradise.

I paid the driver a decent sum of 1250 yen and followed one of the paths until it opened up to a tent-strewn clearing. A bathroom with cold, open showers sat at the start of the field. It was not at all difficult to find the Guru Guru Camp group, because the field slanted upwards further on, and the hoopers already had their hoops out and spinning as early as 8:30am.

Kristen McQuillen, the head of the hooping movement in Japan, greeted me in her swimsuit (despite the rain, it was pretty warm out), and offered me a space in a spare tent until a good spot opened up later in the day.

But sleeping out in nature was not to be that night.

I napped all morning, and woke up to Kristen telling me that a storm was rolling in and the authorities were advising us to take shelter in town. Our group was divided into two – Kristen’s would spend the night at a minshuku, while my group went out to Tomihachi, a ryokan. I played cards with a pair of young siblings for a while, then got a ride with my group in the ryokan owners’ vans. The wind was howling and tearing at the tents by this point, so I was looking forward to the warmth of indoors…

Tomihachi

The ryokan turned out to be more homelike than I’d expected. Though there was a large communal dining room with several long tables, and down each hall, stalled bathrooms, it was quite cozy. The owner drove us to the Maruman supermarket a few blocks away to buy ourselves lunch, and then I read some One Piece manga and watched Finding Nemo in Japanese.

I also acquainted myself with my group: Ashley and Tracy and their 1 ½ year old son, Max; Jo, Ashley’s sister; and Megan. All from Australia. It was a treat listening to them speak. Jo was the only hooper in the group; the others were frequent campers.

At around 6pm, Ashley, Megan, Jo, and I took a cab out to the Mamashita Onsen. The cab driver was even more friendly than the first, quoting American song lyrics like “Bye, bye, miss American Pie” and “Doumo Arigatou, Mister Roboto” He was hilarious.

When we reached the onsen, he gave us his number, which I ended up using for the rest of the weekend.

Anyway, I tried the sand onsen for 700 yen. They gave us Yukata to wear for the sand bath, and I also purchased a small hand towel for 100 yen to dry myself off.

While Ashley went off to the men’s wing, the women and I changed in a different room down another hall and stepped into the humid, wide room of the sand room. Outside the glass-door lined walls, we could see the wind lashing rain about; it made the heat more bearable. An attendant covered us up to our chest in sand, then left after telling us to lay around for about 10-15 minutes. It was kind of weird when I could feel my pulse in my feet; and the sand felt kind of icky where it touched my hands and skin. Overall, it was an interesting – if one-time-only – experience.

When I was tired of the sand, I followed Jo into the next room, where we took off our Yukata, rinsed off, and then went to another room to shower and then chill naked in a hot stone bath. Much more lovely than the sand bath. If we cashed out another 300 yen, we could also have gone into the outdoor onsen; but there was no time.

We took the cab back in time for dinner at 7pm. And then, time for bed!

The さるびあ丸 (Salvia-maru)

Okay, I really need to put all of my memories on here now so I can stop being annoying and gushing about my Golden Week to everybody at school.

Guess I’ll start at the night of departure, Tuesday, May 1st.

I actually considered cancelling the trip that day. The fear of solo travel set in, and I found myself imagining a tidal wave tipping the ship over, or worrying that the weather would be bad and I wouldn’t be able to find the campgrounds on my own, or getting an allergic reaction to the local foods and not getting medical attention on time, or even just having an awkward time not able to communicate or relate to the other people there, etc., etc…

I set off at about 9:30, after sleeping, relaxing, packing, and skyping all day. I had a bit more packed this time – an extra backpack with clothes, extra shoes and a bit of food. My host mother also forgot that I was home for dinner, so I had to eat my bento box that I’d planned for the next day. Oh well, one less thing to carry…

The Tokai Kisen Ferry

On the Yamanote Line, I got off at Hamamatsucho, two stations down, and turned right along the street with the intention of heading straight down until I hit the harbor. I shouldn’t have worried about getting lost though. Takeshiba Port is hard to miss with its giant decorative mast strung up with multicolored lights. I was met with a huge circular plaza, with dozens of fellow travellers sitting around among their bags and suitcases. Inside what looked like the ticketing office, the information desk clerk told me to check in at the ticket booth after I showed him my receipt I’d gotten at the Student Co-op travel agency. I exchanged that receipt for my departure and return tickets, on which I had to write down my address and phone number, and was instructed to head for gate A-1 to board the Salvia-Maru.

The inside of the ship was not very difficult to navigate. The Japanese-style floor rooms, which I had a ticket for and were the cheapest along with the reclining chairs, were on the bottom floor of the ship. It was kind of stuffy and quite warm.

Unable to sleep, I decided to explore the ship just in time to catch the lights of the city passing by. It was a warm night and quite beautiful. I could already tell that the air out here over the water was much cleaner than the confines of the city streets. When it got too windy for comfort, I headed back downstairs, laid out my sleeping bag, and slept, waking only momentarily as each stop was announced.

At 7am, the Niijima stop was announced, and I packed up leisurely, heading up with my bags to wait in the lobby of the ship.