Our first full day in Japan was a day of “incidents”. Aditi and I decided to explore the famous shrines in the Kanagawa Prefecture. We took bikes from our host family’s house and rode them along the Chigasaki beach and then to a place downtown where an incline that goes up to the shrine starts. Rob came with us along the beach but then set off towards Mt. Fuji and split off from us.
This first day was the most disastrous day of our trip.
Incident #1: Aditi hadn’t ridden a bike in a while and ended up falling down periodically. Rob was there for most of these falls. 🙂 It wasn’t long before we ditched the bikes.
Incident #2: In the midst of all of Aditi’s falling and stumbling, the bottom of her sneakers peeled away and she couldn’t walk anymore! We found a konbini (convenience store, e.g., Lawsons, Family Mart) and bought super glue which Aditi used to glue her shoes back together. The day was off to a great start for her.
Incident #3: We got lost in the mini streets of lower Kamakura and stopped to ask a guy for directions. In order to have my first complete Japanese conversation on the trip, I had to bring out my Japanese from the inner depths of my brain and struggled through this encounter. Thankfully, the more I spoke the smoother it became and we ended up having a fun conversation (of which I understood about 50% only). He ended up telling us that he teaches yoga (or does yoga? not entirely sure what we were talking about after a certain point). I love yoga! I asked him where and he pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote the name of something (half Kanji, half English) to look up on facebook to find where he works/learns/does. Naturally, we never found out what he was trying to show us and we went on our way, with me being happy I could finally get my Japanese flow back.
Incident #4: Once we got up the incline, we decided to follow one of those tourist paper maps of Kamakura and went looking for the Hasedera shrine and the Sasuke Inari shrine. We followed the map in one direction and ended up hiking through extremely tiny dirt trails full of mosquitos for what felt like hours (though probably only around 45 minutes). After finally reaching a clearing, we came across a few houses and a lady who asked us in Japanese if we were okay to which I replied “tsukareta!” (“we’re tired!” — yay for speaking Nihongo). But this area did not look like a shrine at all, and rather like someone’s beaten down backyard. Confused, we asked her where the Hasedera Shrine was, to which, to our horror, she pointed in the complete opposite direction of where we came from.
Incident #5: We ended up taking a local bus to get to the shrine but we barely had a clue how the buses worked or exactly where we needed to get down. Once in the bus, I tried to ask a lady behind me “how much is the fare?” but I kept saying “itsu desu ka?” (“when is it?”) when I should have said “ikura desu ka?” (“how much is it?”) and she was replying in such intense Japanese that I kept saying the same thing over and over or “sumimasen, wakarimasen” (“sorry, I don’t understand”). Finally, the bus driver signaled to us that the “Daibutsu” (Great Buddha) was coming and that’s probably where we wanted to get off. After getting off, we realized that we got off way too early, but were too embarrassed to get back on the bus after my embarrassing Japanese conversation and Aditi’s miscommunication with the driver. 😛 Immediately after getting down, an American lady on a bike passed us (totally expected right?) and told us where to go. So we were saved. 🙂
Incident #6: At some point, Aditi went inside a store to use the bathroom and noticed a strange circular knob on the door. She struggled to turn it for a bit but it wouldn’t budge and so she went downstairs to ask the clerk how to open it. He gestured a simple pushing motion which she had not tried. Aditi ran back upstairs, pushed the door successfully, and then ran out of the store as fast as possible without looking at the clerk in the eye again. Obviously, she had a great first day in Japan.
Incident #7: We finished our shrine visits when it was starting to get dark and decided to find a place to eat on the huge, less-populated main street of Chigasaki which was chalk-full of restaurants. We searched and searched for restaurants that had vegetarian food (I am a vegetarian; Aditi is not). It soon started to get really dark and our stomachs angrier. It was at this time, that we found a tiny little restaurant called ‘Gaara’ (thinking Naruto, right?) with an Indian man cooking at the entrance. We excitedly went in and asked for the menu on which there were a lot of meat options but also vegetarian options (cuz, Indian food, amirite?). In addition to the Indian man, there was an adorable Japanese woman who was cooking food behind the counter. We enthusiastically sat down at the counter and ordered our food. We found out that the man had moved to Japan years ago from India and started this restaurant named “gaara” as a nihongo-fied version of the word “ghar” for “house” in Hindi. We ended up having fully Hindi conversations with the man and fully Japanese conversations with the women to which she said “Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne! Sugoi!” (“Your Japanese is so good! Amazing!”). She then told us about this amazing vegan ramen place in Tokyo Station (T’s Tantan) which I ended up going to twice, once each with Aditi and Aparna. Both the man and the woman were both so cute, and it was the best meal we could have had after that day. 🙂 And the line “Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne!” became a line we heard very frequently throughout the rest of the trip (averaging about 5 times a day).
[General musing: We spoke so much Japanese and actually needed it to get around for the two weeks; especially our reading skills during karaoke. I am really curious how people get around without Japanese!]
Incident #8: After dinner, we had to bike back to our homestay. We biked along the sidewalk but at this point, it was extremely dark outside, and for long stretches of time, there weren’t even any streetlights. The only light we occasionally got was from the cars that were passing on the highway. This was a terrifying experience for us and we were legitimately worried if we would make it home. If I remember correctly, whenever we turned on our pocket wifi to get directions, we kept getting messages from our parents, after which we immediately shut off the wifi and figured we wouldn’t worry them about what we were doing. 🙂 We eventually did make it home, much to the worry of our hosts. But it was definitely the most eventful day of the whole trip!