Monthly Archives: May 2012

Another Beginning


こんにちは皆さん!Hello everyone I’m back!  After a nice month off from school classes are back in session.  In the past month I’ve been doing a little bit of everything: exploring Tokyo, finding new places to eat, and making new friends all during the process.  I no longer live in the Ontakesan dorm, I moved to a share house in Omori.  It’s still in Ota-ku about 25 minutes or so east from Ontakesan.  Whereas Ontakesan was a quiet small and suburban area, Omori is anything but that.  The streets are wide and populated; chain restaurants and karaoke parlors are wedged between izakayas and internet cafes.  The first morning trains into the city have now become my new alarm clock.  The people here also seem to be more down to earth and relaxed as well, somewhat of a contrast when compared to the four months I lived in Ontakesan.

The quiet streets of Ontakesan, I miss this neighborhood.

In addition to living in a new place I am now interning for a Japanese company as well.  The company, Aoi Pro, specializes in filmmaking and makes commercials (as well as other media) for clients in Japan and worldwide.  Not that many people in the company speak English which I love, because it gives me opportunities to practice my Japanese.  Yet sometimes when I’m caught off guard it’s almost as if I become illiterate; I move my mouth and the words just don’t come out!  I don’t why it happens sometimes, hopefully as the weeks go on this problem will go away (haha).

A couple weeks ago I went to the Pink Cow, a restaurant and music venue in Shibuya.  The night that I went they were hosting a Hip Hop event.  A few weeks prior I met the host of the event at Coins, a very “Americanized” evening venue in Shibuya known for it’s cheap (and delicious) food, and great DJs.  I performed a freestyle at Coins that night and he invited me out perform at the Pink Cow.  I had no idea of what expect of the event.  When I got there, to my surprise, a Japanese woman greeted me in perfect English.  When I entered I was surprised to see so many American people.  I have been to Hip Hop events before in Tokyo.  This didn’t feel like Tokyo.  It felt like I was back home.  I began to mingle with the guests and everyone was open.  Many people even came up to me.  I started wondering…everyone has a story for why they came to Japan.  So I asked.  Some people told me they just came on vacation Japan, and ended up loving it.  Some thought there was more opportunity here than in America. (It’s ironic that the Japanese people I met said the exact opposite thing).

A few blocks from the Pink Cow

During the open mic freestyle session I rapped with emcees not just from Tokyo, but from all around the world.  I loved how even though all of us were rapping in different languages, there was still a connection between all of us.  The passing of the microphone from artist to artist was a visible symbol of that connection.  The euphoria we all shared needed not be explained, the music was all we needed to communicate.


The Ghibli Dream

The Ghibli Dream

The last post has come, and boy, do I have a lot of stuff to tell you. You won’t believe what Komame has been up to all this time. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I believed it when I heard.

The day started off… wet… cold… and M I S E R A B L E.

Not only had Haru almost forgotten the museum tickets she and Kristina ordered almost a month beforehand, but she was late getting to their rendezvous point. While Haru may not be the most punctual person in the world, she tries. Unfortunately, remembering that the tickets were back home about halfway to Tokaichiba station, she had go back for them. It was a pain trudging through the mucky rain on the way there, but it was brutal going all the way back and out again.

Let’s just say that by the time we did meet up with our good friend, we were all a bit low in the spirit and just wanted dry feet and some place warm and cozy to eat lunch. Rainy days tend to do that to people.

So after arriving at Mitaka station about an hour and a half later, we found a little Italian restaurant near the station and set up camp there. After two steaming bowls of spaghetti and a sweet strawberry dolce later, we talked a bit more about what we would see. The girls talked about what their favorite films were and why, but all I wanted to do was to go back to the station and catch the bus!

It’s no Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ), but it was still pretty obvious where this one was headed. The bus was crowded, and while the journey there wasn’t too long, I decided to take a nap.

When I did wake up, Haru was rifling through her bag for her umbrella and almost made us late getting out of the bus. Again.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos indoors. But we’ll use some visuals from Google to help you see what we saw.

I’ll tell you a bit about the inside. But don’t worry, I won’t spoil it all for you. It’s something you’d have to see for yourself, especially if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and know the movies inside out.

Like Kristina and Haru – they got pretty emotional the instant they walked into the first room. It’s not like they were crying or anything, but Haru did have her handkerchief out, just in case. Those two have probably been watching those movies since they were in diapers. They were pretty overcome with nostalgia, particularly when they saw their favorite characters in action.

There was a platform with little figures of Satsu, Mei, the Totoros, etc. The order of repetition for the figures didn’t make much sense at first, but then when someone presses the switch, everything goes dark and suddenly there’s this flashing light. Then inside the case where the platform is, you see the characters’ figures moving. It’s bizarre at first, but once the lights stop, you can see how the platform had been turn around and around like a roulette wheel.

I didn’t get it at first, but Haru explained that it was only an illusion. But somehow, the figures really DID look like they were moving! I swear, and I’m even allowed to swear!

Aside from all the cool little displays inside, the rest of the museum is built like a cozy house – just like something out of their movies. There’s this really cool windy, wrought iron staircase that’s sort of like a bird cage if you look at it from afar.

And there are all these wooden bridges and stained class windows. On those stained glass windows are Ghibli characters.

We even saw Chihiro and dragon-Haku on the colored panels.

There were even secret rooms with tiny doorways. We got lost once or twice and stumbled into the bathrooms. If there was ever a bathroom where you felt like something magical would pop up… maybe see No-Face rise out of a toilet or flowers to start growing under your feet… it was there.

Those bathrooms were a work of art.

Of course, there’s the Catbus. However, this one’s only for little kids. The museum got itself a bigger one though, where adults could sit inside and enjoy the scenic windows of Saitama’s farmlands in the summer time. All we needed was a plate of chilled watermelon, iced green tea, and yukata to wear.

And we can’t forget about the theater room where a Ghibli short was playing. The day we went, there was a showing of Ghibli’s short film, Water Spider Monmon (水グモもんもん). It’s very cute, even for the arachnophobic. It’s about a water spider who falls for a water strider. While the water strider is scared of him at first, she eventually learns to accept him and become his friend.

It’s amazing how a 15 minute film can make the warm and fuzzies grow all over you.

Next up are photos Haru took outdoors. Having been all enchanted and warm inside the building, the instant we stepped out, we were met with the cold and wet unpleasantness all over again. However, it was still pretty cool.

There was a real water pump out back, just like the one Satsu and Mei used.

And Haru got to meet her… knight in shiny armor. Despite being rain drenched, the girl wanted to throw her arms around it. Anyway, it’s that giant Laputan robot from Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ).

Walking around the museum grounds was like walking around in an alternate dimension. You just never know what’s watching you behind your back…

All that wandering around made us tired, so we went and got some food. A hot dog for Kristina, and two milk-flavored ice cream cones for the both of them. But I was not feeling hungry, and chose to mull quietly to myself.

Our days were numbered here in Japan, and I still couldn’t find Komame anywhere. I looked everywhere we went, even as I helped Haru with these blog posts. But nothing… I knew my kitty was gone.

Seeing my long face, Kristina offered me her cone, but even then, I turned it down. Milk was Komame’s favorite flavor.

That was when Haru started messing with my wig, knowing it was the best way to annoy me/get my attention.

I was going to tell her to leave me alone when I realized she was holding Komame out to me!

“Where did you find him?!”

Haru looked bemused as she put Komame in my lap.

“Well, where to start?” she asked.

So she told me how she had known I was upset since the day I lost him when we went to Kamakura. She’d also known why because she was the one typing my blog posts for me. I guess I feel sheepish now – I thought she was ditzy all around, but I really should have given her more credit.

I remembered that day in Kamakura. I wouldn’t tell her about it all semester, because I had wanted to find him myself. She entrusted him to me, so it was my responsibility to make sure he was safe. But when he got lost, I couldn’t bear to tell her and ask for help.

“Remember the bus we took here?” she began, “Well, I couldn’t take my eyes off this cat shadow. I thought it looked familiar.”

So that was when she caught Komame almost sneaking off the bus. Luckily, she managed to catch him. He had been trying to get off at the wrong stop anyway.

When she asked him why he would run away and worry us like that, Komame told her he hadn’t meant to. He was just tired of being a simple house cat and had bigger dreams to fulfill. He’d been searching for Studio Ghibli all this time to get a job. He wanted to be their new mascot!

“So why didn’t you leave a note?” Haru interrogated sternly.

Komame said he didn’t have fingers. He did have a point…

Either way, Haru gave my little friend another lecture about running away regardless of what he wanted to do. I also knew she didn’t want to mention it, but aside from the obvious Totoro merchandise, Studio Ghibli already had a mascot. He was also a snarky black house cat, except his name was Jiji.

Now that I knew, I couldn’t help but feel badly for my friend. I hadn’t meant to be ignorant of his dreams… I was just so caught up with my own. You know, being a world explorer-journalist and all.

Haru wasn’t done explaining.

“I’d known Komame was missing all semester since you used to take him everywhere with you. But I wanted you to tell me on your own.”

I was puzzled. “Why?”

“This is the Studio Ghibli museum,” she grinned, gesturing all around, “Think about what most of their films have in common.”

I thought hard, but couldn’t think of a thing. There was lots of magic and lots of characters.

The characters would make lots of friends…

And with their friends’ help, they would solve their problems, and…


“Sorry I didn’t tell you from the beginning, Haru,” I said quietly, “But thank you for bringing him back to me.”

Haru just smiled and told me not to worry about it because she’s always watching over me. She was just happy I learned more about friendship and what it means to be a friend.

“You grew up a little,” she told me. And I knew she wasn’t talking about my height.

“Yeah, but I’ve got some ways to go.”

Hugging Komame to myself, I wondered what my next adventure may be. But whatever it will be, I’m just glad I’ve got my friends with me now – and I can’t wait to meet those I haven’t met yet.

May all of you out there find good friends to keep, and visit as many corners of the world as you can!


Ps. To see what other mischief I get up to on Haru’s country-hopping trips, go check out her personal blog: Sincerely, Nobody. Catcha later!

Banzai, Kansai!

Banzai, Kansai!

After this post, there is just one left.

But before Haru gets all weepy over her keyboard and short circuits her computer, I’m gonna tell you all about our happy memories from the rest of the Kansai trip.

It was another early start for us the next day, so it was hard getting out of bed to go explore Kyoto one last time. But we did manage to drag ourselves out of our warm, plush futons and leave the temple/hotel.

Here’s another photo, to prove that yes, we stayed overnight at a temple.

Next up, Haru and friends went to see Sanjuusangen-do (三十三間堂), famous for being the temple that houses 1000 Kannon statues and 28 guardian deities. For those of you who don’t know much about Japanese Buddhism, Kannon is a bodhitsattva, one who is about to reach enlightenment, but holds back for the sake of others. Kannon is associated to compassion for this reason. Originally a masculine entity, Kannon’s masculine image in the East has long since evolved into a feminine one.

Photography isn’t allowed inside, so here are two photos from Google for the curious eyes. And as you can see, every single statue is unique with different faces and different decor. If you think about it, it’s kind of like those terracotta soldiers in China, huh?

Before we left to go see other Kyoto hotspots, here are some photos of the gorgeous gardens surrounding the area.

Have any idea where we went next? I’ll give you a hint – check out one of the main gates and one of the shrines behind it.

And here’s a hint.

For those of you who have seen Memoirs of a Geisha, you’ll definitely remember the scene where a young Sayuri tears through the stone path between the gates on her way up the mountain to pray for luck. Here’s another image courtesy of Google.

This shrine is the Fushimi Inari-Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), or the main shrine of the Inari. Not only is the mountain named Inari, but Inari-Ookami (稲荷大神) is also the Japanese kami, or god, of worldly success and agriculture. Back in the old days, rice was the main business. If you had no gold, you paid in rice. It is also said that the kami’s messengers take the form of white foxes, or kitsune (狐). Therefore, they are highly revered and seen throughout the shrine grounds.

This kami is so popular in the Japanese culture that there are well over 30,000 smaller shrines dedicated to this same kami throughout Japan. However, Fushimi-ku’s is especially popular, being the main shrine. It has the most torii gates to date, and sum up to the main attraction of the site. The torii gates seen here were all donated by businesses hoping to reap some luck and garner the favor of the Inari-Ookami. So if any of you are ever down on luck or something, here’s a place to make your pilgrimage!

Here are our friends wondering which path they should take. Hard choice, don’t you think? They both look the same!

And here’s an extra photo of Haru walking under the gates, courtesy of Yuan who caught her unawares.

Wrapping up our trip in Kyoto with the Fushimi Inari shrine was awesome, but after going to see sacred foxes, we went to see sacred deer.

And no, we did not photoshop the photo and place those wild deer so close to people!

These deer are so used to people, they’ll let you pet them. They’re called Shika (鹿), meaning “deer” in Japanese.

However, the deer weren’t there for no reason. According to religious stories, the historical buddha made his first sermon at Sarnath, or “deer park” in Hindi. Also, These deer are considered sacred messengers to the Shinto religion here in Nara.

And “here” is the Toudai-ji (東大寺), a HUMONGOUS buddhist temple. In fact, that temple is the largest wooden building created by man – IN THE WORLD! See how tiny people are compared to it?

So what do we find inside? Treasure? Other giant wooden buildings nestled inside it like Russian nesting dolls?

Close enough. Inside was a giant buddha, a Daibutsu (大仏) that was even bigger than the one we saw in Kamakura. To be fair, it is the statue of the Vairocana buddha, the celestial/omnipresent body of buddha, so it had the right to be as large as life.

And there WERE other buildings inside the temple – only they were too small for people to walk inside and look around in.

Next up, we traveled over to Osaka where we we ate okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) at Dohtonbori (道頓堀) in a very flashy shopping area near Namba station. It used to be a red light district, but now it’s just a really lively part of town.

Talk about some good food here! Everyone was stuffed by the time they were done eating.

The following day, we started with Osaka castle. If there was anything more famous here than the okonomiyaki, it was definitely the castle.

And to our good fortune, all the sakura were in bloom!

The last place we went to see was the HEP Five ferris wheel just a few minutes walk from Umeda station. The view was great, and we couldn’t stop taking photos. You would think that it would take forever to ride a a ferris wheel as big as that, but it was over all too soon.

To commemorate our visit to Osaka, we headed into HEP Five, which is a massive shopping mall complex all on its own. But we didn’t buy anything there – we just went to check out the Purikura (プリクラ), short of “print club.” They’re these popular photo booths developed by two very famous Japanese video-gaming companies, Atlus and Sega.

The end result?

Four starry-eyed girls floating among pink clouds and candied hearts. But did you know that at some Purikura places, boys can only go in if they are accompanied by girls? While I’m not sure if this was one of those places, I declined taking part in the shoot. Being virtually smothered to death in a sea of pink hearts was not what I called manly!

After scarfing down our final okonomiyaki dinner at Dohtonbori (again), we raced back to the international hostel where we were staying at to rendezvous with the rest of the group. Then it was a Shinkansen ride straight back to Tokyo.

As fulfilling as it all was, we were completely exhausted when we got back home in Yokohama. What an adventure.

But our adventures in Japan are still not quite over! However, in case Haru and I run out of time to post the rest of our adventures up here, feel free to keep up with us in her personal blog: Sincerely, Nobody.

The next post will be our last…

So here’s a sneak peak at our next story!

And if there’s anywhere Komame will show up at, it will probably be there. I hope.

Later gators,