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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Walk Along the Streets of Tokyo (part one)


The lyrics to an Audioslave song hums in my head “I walk the streets of Japan till I get lost. Cause it doesn't remind me of anything”, while I find myself on a slow stride along the random streets of Tokyo. Fresh visuals regales me everywhere I direct my gaze, regardless of the countless films I watched beforehand set on this bustling city of 13 million souls. Exploring a new city always presents the best feeling in the world – the sensation of not knowing what situates around the bend, only learning about it as I turn and walk closer, gifts me with an ultimate high always reminding me why I love to travel.

The unwavering lights of Tokyo are in rhythm to the constant movement of its people
A total contrast of the streets of India and other third-world cities like Manila, but equally magnanimous when it comes to sheer street activities, my every observation is quickly followed with another interesting scene. "This is the real Tokyo" I told myself - still finding it hard to believe how luck inserted Japan to my calendar year just before 2015 was about to end. Not even with my multiple viewings of “Lost in Translation” and reading Haruki Murakami’s novels would prepare me for such visual blitz.

I Come with the Rain

Arriving from a sleeper bus from Nagoya into a heavy downpour in Tokyo the first light of a Sunday morning, had me not looking beyond an 8 hour slumber. My first agenda other than running away from the rain taking shelter under numerous sheds of high rise buildings, is to locate Oak Cabin Hostel. Doing so ushered me towards my first encounter with the vaunted complexity of Tokyo’s mass transit system.

Highly efficient but at the same time challenging to most travelers. My first attempt had me taking the wrong train and ending up on another part of the city. Asking for directions, a commuter showed me the station I was supposed to take, on his mobile phone showing an app written in Japanese. I didn’t understand anything he said except one vital information; "download this" while pointing to an app called Tokyo Rail Map on his iPhone.

Oak Cabin Hostel

I booked a $22.00 capsule bed at this place a week prior at Agoda.com mainly because it is located strategically beside a river that would afford me a view of the narrow harbor – which I imagined would be spectacular come sunrise or sunset time. Under a blanket of dark skies and drenched from miniscule raindrops I quickly located my hostel after I finally took the right train – alighting at Kayabacho station, I walked for 10 minutes guided by Google Map.

My home in Tokyo: Oak Cabin Hostel
On my way I passed by a place housing Pachinko machines which evokes a long forgotten childhood memory about a similar toy I had when I was 8 years old. These though, comes in technologically advanced machines used popularly in Japan as a form of recreational video game, but has since became a commonly used gambling device. Akin to the slot machines found in Western gaming such as the popular Betway Casino, my interest was piqued and so I walked inside to take a look. Inside I saw a diverse group of patrons ranging from students to professionals whiling their time away in deep concentration, making me wonder if they are just playing these video games for leisure or engaged in a bit of wagering. Probing further, I realized it was all fun and games and came into a conclusion that this is one of those wholesome Pachinko game dens popular in Japan – I figured the gambling versions are probably tucked away hidden from sight.

Looks complicated to play. 
Situated at the Chuo-ku (‘Central Ward’) part of downtown Tokyo, the five-story Oak Cabin Hostel is also a five minute walking distance from the famous Tsukiji fish market. The first floor houses the male dorms while the reception and the living room and kitchen is located at the second floor. I picked the mixed-dorm at the third floor where my capsule bed became my home in Tokyo for the next four nights.

Rendezvous with an Old Friend

Still reeling from a long night of bus travel and feeling a bit under the weather, I wouldn’t let a chance of meeting an old friend get shelved just because I am starting to feel my age (35). Summoning my old self of accomplishing a lot in a day each time I travel, we decided to meet at Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Shrine
My friend Ada is also a travel writer and is now based in Yokohama along with her US Navy husband Eric Wilkinson. It has been a few years since I last saw her and what better way to catch up than in the city of Tokyo.

Taking the train with help of my Tokyo Rail Map app, I arrived at Shinjuku station 30 minutes earlier than our agreed time. Instantly, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people – a balance mix of foreign travelers and locals. I saw a few Japanese ladies dressed in colorful cosplay costumes, hipsters, professionals, students, backpackers and groups of tourists representing many nationalities.

Hey ladies, I'm in front of you as Peter Parker holding a camera
Suddenly, it dawned on me. I am really in the city of Tokyo. The same city my then single mother explored for a couple of weeks in the late 1960s and appears like a distant world on her black and white photographs. The same metropolis I always wanted to see before any cities in the world not located in India. 

Meiji Shrine

Already in the company of Ada and Eric, we took a short stroll towards Meiji Shrine – a Shinto monument dedicated to the consecrated spirits of Emperor Meiji and his Empress Shōken. Completed in 1920 and tucked inside a 70 hectare garden in the middle of Tokyo, it is encapsulated by an evergreen forest consisting of more than 120,000 trees comprising 365 variety of species.

Inside, we witnessed a Shinto wedding march featuring a beautiful bride appearing radiantly in her white traditional kimono dress highlighted by a ‘tsuno-kakushi’ (white hat) while closely followed by her maidens. While we lost sight of the wedding entourage as the couple approaches the priest at the altar, I was glad to have observed such happening inside Meiji Shrine. 

A Shinto wedding march inside Meiji Shrine
Feeling lonely as my travel companions at Nagoya all flew back to Manila the previous night – except for Lilliane, who took a bullet train to her sister’s city the same night. I observed the childlike sweetness being exhibited in front of me between the Ada and her husband Eric. I think about my then girlfriend who always dreamed of coming to Japan. Right there and then I promised myself (which appears irrelevant now) to make plans as soon as I get back to Manila to travel back to Tokyo with her in tow.  

Ada and Eric
After walking a few more streets and corners and having late lunch together, I started feeling delving deeper into sick bay. I bid goodbye to Ada and Eric and opted to spend the remains of the day tucked under the sheet of my small capsule bed. That night, I slept soundly for more than 8 hours, recuperating my body just in time for the next few days filled with continuous wanderings in the streets of Tokyo. 

Next Part: Japanese Food-trippin, Museum hopping, Shibuya Crossing, Selfie with Hachiko and more Tokyo Walks and trainspotting. 

                                 ******************
Cebu Pacific Air flies daily from Manila to Tokyo. Flights departs Manila at 5:25am, arriving in Tokyo at 10:35am. The return flight departs Tokyo at 11:45am, and arrives in Manila at 3:45pm. 





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