Tokyo v2: Ratch

After Hakone, we made it back to Tokyo for our last day in Japan before heading to the US the next morning. Here, we stayed in a hotel (accommodation style #5) in the heart of Shinjuku!

We went to Harajuku and visited a bunch of really cute clothing stores. We also had these very special Japanese crepes. There are entire desserts IN the desserts!

 

After our shopping adventure, we decided we needed to have one proper “night” before leaving which of course included karaoke. We got dressed up and went to Roppongi (a second time for me). Apparently, Roppongi on a Saturday night is a crazy stampede of human beings. We were constantly getting stopped by club owners, groups of guys, or restaurant owners. I am pretty sure we were coerced into exchanging Instagram information with some people along the way. Aparna and I even lost each other at some point and it was the most terrifying 5 minutes of both of our lives. We found an underground karaoke place that seemed to have just opened up and they were looking for business. We thought the owners were so cute that we went in and stayed there to karaoke for two hours. I think the place was called ‘Gold bar’-something, so you should check it out next time you’re in Roppongi (I hope it becomes big!).

After that, we fought through throngs of people and made it to a club we had heard about. Once there, we chilled for a bit and met this really sweet waitress named Mariko on the dance floor. Turns out she had moved to Tokyo from the Philippines and had now made her life there. After chilling for a while more, a group of Japanese guys and one girl started talking to us. One of the guys was named Shou who sat next to Aparna and the other Yuki who sat next to me. Aparna and Shou were having a conversation for which I had to translate between both of them for a good portion of it (since as Aparna described it, he was “exploding Japanese at [her]”) while also maintaining my own conversation with Yuki. By the end of the night, we had all connected digitally either by sharing phone numbers or by following each other on Instagram (apparently we are now just Instagram friends with random people from our trip). Definitely a very random but fun encounter for our last night in Japan. 😀

 

The Aftermath: The next morning, we both had to wake up ridiculously early which was difficult since we were out pretty late last night and Narita Airport was hella tooi (far). I was so sad to stop speaking Japanese anymore. At the airport, I made it a point to ask for help in Japanese just to squeeze my last opportunities dry. Once I reached the US, it legitimately felt weird knowing that I could speak English and didn’t have to plan out my Japanese sentences anymore. I’m guessing this is what happens after spending two entire weeks in a foreign country. Now, onto Japan round 2! 🙂

Hakone: Baby onsens, hiking, and using up the pocket wifi

After our Kyoto trip, we circled back around Japan towards Hakone. Hakone is a town near Mount Fuji and famous for its scenery. While there, we stayed in a ryokan (accommodation #4) up in Gora (which is a town above Hakone and you need to take a rail in order to get up there). A ryokan is a typical Japanese inn (think of the cute hotels with the hot springs you see in every anime where everyone is wearing a yukata).

Our ryokan was so cute and clean. It had two mini private onsens, free popsicles, a collection of DVD movies free to borrow, and free yukatas while staying there!

On the way to Hakone, we sat across this Japanese couple on the train and they started making conversation with us in Japanese. We talked for a while and we again got the “nihongo ga jyouzu” comment. They told us about their family and asked what we did and what we came for. I tried to explain to them that I am doing my PhD but apparently that term doesn’t translate so I tried to explain that I was a “daigakuin-see” (grad student) and that “sensei ni naritai” (“I want to become a teacher”), but the kind that ends up with a Doctor title. After trying to explain that I wouldn’t be healing people, I think we finally settled on the explanation of “daigaku de oshietai” (“I want to teach at college”) since this is eventually what I would love to do. This was the middle ground we achieved. 🙂 In any case, even after this struggle, they were so amazed at our Japanese and even more so that Aparna had learned all her phrases from anime! It’s an interesting phenomenon when people’s first instinct is to talk to us foreigners in Japanese and are then shocked that we can actually speak it. 🙂

On one of the days, we decided to hike all the way to the famous Lake Ashi (Ashi-no-ko). It was a long trek but apparently a very historic trail. The trail was part actual highway road and part forest trail. At some point, we even took a bus to cover part of the trail. 🙂 Since I had been in Japan for about two weeks at the time, I was exhausted, while Aparna was still fresh from her one week in Japan. I remember walking slowly at some point and these two American guys passed me and said “You can do it!” to which I replied, “I’m trying!”. Along the way, we stopped at this famous tea house called Amazake Chaya. We met the sweetest lady named Kotoko who was shocked (like most people) that we could speak Japanese. Apparently, she had lived in Seattle in the US about 15 years ago which is where Aparna lives and I lived for one year. She ended up speaking Japanese with us for the rest of the conversation (which was awesome, since usually when someone knows English, they want to speak it with us) including saying the price in Japanese. As we were leaving, she gave us two cards with good wishes on them written in Japanese and told us to be safe while finishing our hike!

 

We finally made it to Ashi-no-ko just when it started to get really cold and started to rain. But man was it beautiful! The Torii gate at the entrance of Hakone Shrine reminds me of the Akatsuki hideout entrance in Naruto Shippuuden (Can anyone tell I love Naruto? Not sure if I mentioned it enough times).

 

After our hike, we decided we were too exhausted to do anything that involved more physical activity. We went to a Lawsons store, bought a bunch of snacks and sweets, and went back to our ryokan. Once back, we decided to go to the onsen for a mini night-time bath (at this point, we are used to bathing naked next to each other after Osaka). We then put on the yukatas provided to us, picked up the ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ DVD from the DVD library, and watched the movie in our room in our yukatas while eating a ton of snacks. It was a great night. 😀

Throughout the rest of our Hakone trip, we also realized we had a few GB left in our pocket wifi and the trip was almost over. Therefore, we tried to use it up given that our ryokan didn’t have wi-fi and also watched ‘The Girl who leapt through time‘ or ‘Toki o kakeru shoujo‘. BTW, go watch that movie if you haven’t seen it!

The eternal search for Yogurthie

A common theme throughout the second half of the trip was Aparna’s eternal search for Yogurthie. On our first day in Kyoto with all 3 of us, we found a vending machine inside the Yasaka Shrine in Gion. We all had a refreshing drink that said “Yogurthie” on it, probably implying a yogurt smoothie.

Following that amazing day of yogurthie, every time we saw a vending machine we would check and see if there was yogurthie. But, alas there never was. Aparna was notably disappointed at this. Soon after the initial stages of mutual disappointment, every time I would see a vending machine, I would yell “Yogurthie!” and Aparna would jerk her head towards the vending machine (think the dog from “Up”-style). But we never saw the yogurthie again and it was sad.

Apparently we are not the only ones: though: https://iamnotatrainedchef.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/fully-explained-weird-vending-machines-of-japan/.

Maharaja’s evil plot

Now I’m going to tell you the tale of Maharaja’s evil plot.

On the first day we got into Kyoto, we were walking the lively bustling streets of Gion’s shopping area and as we were passing an alley, and Indian man came out of nowhere and gave us a flyer saying “Maharaja Indian food!”. We took the flyer and joked about how the man got super excited on seeing an Indian person (or in our case a group of 3 Indian girls) and wondering whether we would eat Indian food after coming all the way to Japan (ignore our Gaara detour in Chigasaki :P).

Fast forward 3 days. Aparna and I woke up super late in our little Gion Airbnb on our last full day in Kyoto (think 10/11am). We had plans to get lunch then go to the fancy tea place (Tsujiri). We started walking along the road perpendicular to the Yasaka Shrine (yup, the same one from Memoirs of a Geisha) hoping to see one of the restaurants whose outer displays looked absolutely scrumptious. We passed Maharaja again and laughed about how we kept seeing it. We also saw another Indian guy with flyers but he didn’t give it to us that time. We went into about 2 restaurants to ask if there was vegetarian food (“begetarian ga arimasu ka?”), since Aparna and I are both vegetarian, to which unfortunately they replied that none of their scrumptious food displays could be vegetarian. At this point, Aparna jokingly said “dude lol, it feels like we’re gonna end up eating at Maharaja”, to which I replied “hahaha lol. I mean I’m fine with it…”. But neither of us seemed convinced that we should give up our resolve yet. We tried around 5-6 more restaurants (continuously joking about how we’d end up at Maharaja, but not really), even getting excited at a couple of them only to have them tell us there were no vegetarian options (surprising for such a tourist-heavy area). After about the 5th or 6th restaurant we visited, Aparna declared “dude let’s just go to Maharaja.” Naturally, I said of course, and we both came to the conclusion that Maharaja had been plotting against us, making sure no restaurants served vegetarian food so we’d be forced to go there. By now, both of us were excited at the prospect of Indian food and as soon as we arrived outside the restaurant, another Indian dude showed up out of nowhere and gave us a flyer saying “Maharaja Indian restaurant” to which we laughed and we assured him we were already going inside.

So that concludes Maharaja’s evil plot to get us to eat Indian food in the middle of Kyoto, Japan and succeeded. (See below picture for foodgasm.)

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Hella Atsui: Telugu songs in Nara Park

On one of our days in Kyoto, Aparna and I decided to go to the famous Nara Park which is known as the ‘deer park’. For those of you who are Naruto fans (I obviously am), you can make the connection between Shikamaru Nara, the deer symbol, and the name of the city/park. 😉

This particular day was so hot to which Aparna declared that it was “hella atsui man”. “Atsui” means hot in Japanese and “hella” is her Californian slang, so that became our phrase of the day.

The rest of the day can be described as a day of singing. As we were walking around the park, we started singing this Japanese song Aoi tori which is one of the Bleach ending songs. On spotting a deer, we randomly started circling it and singing “Aoi nara” and then replacing every other word with “nara”. Not entirely sure why we did this since “nara” doesn’t even mean deer. Needless to say, we had many spectators who were undoubtedly wondering why two random Indian girls were circling a deer and singing a Japanese song that made no sense due to our modifications.

Parallel to this singing incident, throughout the whole day, I was singing this Telugu song Priyathama (here is the original song from 1991) that I had recently gotten slightly addicted to (which by the way, is such a cute song!). As I was unconsciously singing this throughout the day (note: when I say I was singing throughout the day, I don’t mean humming, I mean legitimately singing with lyrics and gamaka), suddenly Aparna started singing it too. And this is where our greatest singing adventure was born. I got the idea that this would be such a fun song to sing in rounds. For instance, I would sing the first line and Aparna would start singing the first line once I’ve started the second line. We promptly found a bench and turned on our pocket wifi. Aparna studied the lyrics and learned how to say Telugu words (she speaks Malayalam) and then we practiced a good 10 times. When it was finally ready, we recorded it on my phone a couple times until we found a version we were happy with. I don’t even question the amount of deer and people looking at us and wondering this time, what two Indian girls were randomly singing in some strange language in the middle of a deer park.

Check out the track below. Of course, it has mistakes in the lyrics and some apa-srutis (mistakes in tune) since we were singing in rounds and it can get confusing. But hey, we did the best we could for doing this in the middle of a deer park in Japan!

Kyoto: Shrines, geishas (maikos), and karaoke!

On the afternoon of August 27th, all 3 of us (Aparna, Aditi, and I) reached Kyoto in the afternoon and took a cab to our AirBnB in the middle of Gion. If you’ve read or watched ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, you will be familiar with this neighborhood. It is known to be the main “geisha” district of Japan. It’s a lively and bustling neighborhood with lots of shrines, cute, old-fashioned looking streets, stores, and restaurants. I would say Kyoto was my favorite city out of the whole trip purely because of how traditional the whole city and the neighborhood felt. For instance, the inner streets near our AirBnB looked like this.

 

Our AirBnB (accommodation style #3) itself was adorable.

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Cute AirBnB!

I copied the wall stickers and bought them from Amazon for my own room. Compare.

 

The first night in Kyoto all 3 of us explored the Yasaka Shrine (yes, the one from Memoirs of a Geisha!) and where we discovered yogurthie (more on that here). At some point during our walk, my sandals gave way and I couldn’t walk anymore, so we set out on a quest for shoes and ended up at H&M after passing about 30 different karaoke places on the way. I ended up buying converse to wear for the rest of the trip which sadly did not go as well with all my cute dresses. 😦

Amidst the shopping, we came across an amazing singer who was trying to get to New York. She was singing Nandemonaiya from the movie ‘Kimi no na wa‘ or ‘Your Name‘. I learned about this movie after watching this performance; such an amazing movie! See the videos of her performance at the bottom of this post!

Aditi left later that night on a bus back to Tokyo, from where she took her flight back to India the next morning. That night, Aparna and I bought some umeshu (YUM), chocolate bread, and pocky snacks from our favorite store Lawsons, brought them to our room, wore our happis, and had a Japanese style girls’ night. [In case, I haven’t mentioned it by now, we went to Lawsons about twice a day on average and always bought chocolate bread and/or tamago pan/egg bread. SO AMAZING but so, so, so much bread.]

Over the course of the next few days, Aparna and I visited more shrines and even visited the cities of Kobe and Nara on day trips (read more about the Nara trip here). We also ate dessert/tea at this well-known tea dessert shop called Tsujiri tea house. See below for dessertgasm.

 

Some pictures from our Kobe day trip.

 

During our Kyoto stay, we knew we needed to karaoke. This turned out to be a real feat, though not for the lack of places. For some reason, the rules and restrictions of the karaoke places we visited were much more complicated than what we were expecting. I was pulling Japanese out of parts of my brain that I didn’t know existed to be able to converse and understand exactly how much it cost and what was included in the deal. I would definitely call this my hardest Japanese conversational experience of the whole trip. We eventually got into the room which we booked for 3 hours and sang only about half of the Japanese songs we know (we didn’t have enough time! 😦 ). We definitely used up a significant amount of pocket-wifi so Aparna could see the lyrics in English. Again, I am curious how other people karaoke here.

Another awesome phenomenon we saw were maikos, which is apparently the accurate term for geishas in this neighborhood. We saw so many of them walking the streets and I even stopped to ask one of the maiko mothers for directions to an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) in the inner streets of Gion. As for the izakaya, it was closed when we got there and we never got to go to one. 😦 We ended up chilling at a non-Japanese pub and as I was talking to the waitress in Japanese, she said “Nihongo ga umai!”. I awkwardly nodded at her and was confused since I didn’t know what “umai” was. Desperate to know what she said, I turned on the pocket wifi and looked it up and it meant “good”! I felt so bad that I didn’t thank her properly since I was so used to hearing “Nihongo ga jyouzu!”.

On that note, one funny incident occurred at some point during our Kyoto trip. We hailed a cab and I said “Kyoto station” to the driver. The driver’s first response was “Nihongo ga jyouzu desu!”. The only Japanese word in my sentence was “Kyoto”; I didn’t even say “station” in Japanese (that would be “eki”)! Apparently, the standards for good Japanese from foreigners is not very high. 😀

Miscellaneous pictures from the Kyoto trip:

 

Nandemonaiya performances!

 

 

 

Osaka: Bowing matches, cute old people, and lots of nekii-ness

Warning: Descriptions in this post are not for the faint of heart and might be nsfw if you can’t handle a little talk of nekii-ness. 😛

We took the Shinkansen to Osaka (our first bullet train ride!). In Osaka, we stayed in a hostel (accommodation style #2). When we reached, the person we rented the room from was a tiny, old, adorable Japanese lady named Sugako. She showed us around the little hostel room which even had a baby kitchen! She was speaking mostly English with Japanese here and there. She then tried to explain to us how the A/C worked and started gesturing “warm” and then “cooool” and started pretending to shiver in the cutest way when showing how the controls worked. Aditi has graciously provided an accurate audio re-enactment below and insisted that I re-create this part as authentically as possible (apologies if it is slightly offensive :P).

Later on, I went with Sugako while she showed me where the bathroom was and we ran into another cute, old lady friend of hers on the way. I said “konnichiwa! hajimemashite” (“hello! nice to meet you”) to her and did a mini bow. The old lady said it back and then told Sugako while still staring at me, “ohashi/ohanashi ga kirei”. At least this is what it sounded like. I am guessing it either means my chopsticks are sweet or my talking is sweet. I am going to guess it’s the latter and take it as a compliment. 🙂

While staying in this hostel, we had to use a public bathhouse which was not exactly nearby. All we had was a paper map from Sugako about how to get to the house from our hostel and conveniently this bathhouse had no official name that we could look up on Google Maps. We didn’t bring our pocket wifi with us either. It was a matter of minutes before we got lost. We stopped inside a diner to ask for directions in Japanese. They told us to look for the “Shobashou” (?) and the “akai kuruma” (“red car”). With these two seemingly disjoint pieces of information in hand, we set out along the main street parallel to our hostel in the blazing sun. We kept stopping people to ask them about the “shoubashou” without knowing what that even was. We finally stumbled across a place with giant red firetrucks and made the connection! “Shoubashou” is a fire station and the “red cars” were firetrucks! A cute guy at the shoubashou pointed across the street to us to show us what we were looking for. Lo and behold, the bathhouse was right in front us.

Once we got into the bathhouse, the first of the nekii-ness (naked-ness) adventures began. [I’m not exactly sure if nekii is the correct word for naked but people kept using it, so here we are.] There was a partition between the men and women’s sections of the bathhouse. The procedure is this: you strip down completely before entering the bath; then bathe next to or in front of your fellow bathing women (unabashedly). Also, the little Ojii-san (old man) who was sitting at the entrance between the two partitions could easily see into the women’s section but no one seemed fazed by this at all. Aditi and I somehow managed to not be weirded out by the idea of taking baths next to each other and then chilling in the hot tub/mini onsen together. I will say this, once you’ve bathed together in a Japanese public bathhouse, your friendship reaches completely new levels.

On another of the Osaka days, Aditi and I decided to check out another public bathhouse phenomenon on a much larger scale — a place called Spa World. This was a place like no other and took nekii-ness to the next level. It is a so-called hot spring complex and boy was that accurate. First of all, everyone was naked in the locker room and we were confused. When we tried to ask one of the service workers there if we could get towels or if we had to be naked, she almost apologetically told us “sou, neekii” like “yeah, you have to be naked”. So there started the hours of completely naked walking through about 15 different types of hot baths. The amazing part to us was how free everyone was walking around completely naked. I am pretty sure we saw every kind of boob that exists in the world. Definitely a liberating and empowering experience! There were all sorts of fancy baths. Some long showers and some outdoor stone baths. Imagine all the kinds of hot springs you’ve seen in your favorite anime and they existed here. After about 2 hours, we realized we were pruning and dehydrating and that the spa-ing had to come to an end. The next day I couldn’t find my shorts for under my dresses and realized I lost it to Spa World (loss #4) :(.

After our night at Spa World, we went to go pick Aparna up from the train station where she planned to reach from the airport. The next morning, all three of us went to the public bathhouse. Aditi and Aparna had just met each other the previous night (i.e., < 12 hours) and already their friendship reached the next level after using the public bath. After the bath, we planned to leave Osaka for Kyoto via the Shinkansen. On the way out of our hostel, another cute, old lady saw us outside and said “Konnichiwa! Atsui desu ne?” (Hello! It’s hot isn’t it?”). It was Aparna’s first Obaa-chan (old lady) and she was so excited!

During our trip, we saw many cool sites like the Osaka Castle, the famous Ramen Museum, and the Osaka School of Music. We ate amazing vegetarian curry at an underground mall there. The waiter was so sweet and he sat down next to us and explained every item and how it could become vegetarian, in a mix of Japanese and English. I wish I had pictures of this beautiful curry with egg and cheese on top but it looks like we were too hungry to take any pictures. 😦

On one of the nights, we passed by a mini-festival (matsuri). We stopped to watch it for a while and it was such a glorious site. The style of singing reminded me heavily of Indian Carnatic music for those of you familiar with this type of music, complete with gamaka and everything! See the video below and tell me if you agree! One thing we kept hearing throughout was “kodomo wo korosu!” (“to kill the children”) which alarmed us and we figured the song was telling an extremely dark story.

Bowing matches: On the first day we went to the public bath, on the way back, we ran into this tiny little Ojii-chan (old man). We first passed him on the way to the bathhouse and he stopped to look at us and then bowed deeply and said “Konnichiwa” then abruptly turned and went his own way. We thought it was so adorable and then continued on our way to the bathhouse. On the way back, we suddenly saw a small Shinto shrine on the side of the road and ran into the same Ojii-chan again! He looked at us and then pointed to the shrine and said “Shinto sama, desu ne!” (“It’s Shinto-sama!”) We were hooked on the little man hereafter and were shocked that we managed to see him twice in the same day. The next day on our way back from the public bath, Aditi casually remarked “hey, we didn’t see the cute Ojii-chan today!” and literally one second after she said that we saw him up ahead about 20 meters in front of us walking in the very distinct way that we remembered from yesterday. Shocked at this crazy coincidence, we ran all the way up to the man without really thinking what we were even going to say to him. We finally caught up to him and wished him “konnichiwa!” We then proceeded to have a 10-minute conversation of which I understood about 40%. We were somehow able to converse with him and learned that he lived in Korea for a long time (maybe?) and that he had a son (also unclear). He asked us questions about ourselves and our trip and we had a really cute conversation! After the conversation was over, we both said “sayounara” and “hajimemashite” after which he proceeded to bow deeply to us a few times. We returned the bowing gesture and turned around and started to walk away. After a few seconds, we turned around and he was still bowing to us to which we bowed back. After another few seconds, we turned around and saw that he had started walking in the other direction but kept periodically doing hasty bows in our direction while walking. It was a very cute, long, bowing match. These bowing matches were very unique to our Osaka trip.

There was another incident where we were trying to take the local train and the ticket machine was especially confusing at this station. These two tiny Obaa-chans saw us and helped us. We said “arigatou gozaimasu!” and they said “doumo!” (also “thanks!”). They then asked “doko kara kimashita ka?” (“Where are you coming from?”) to which we replied “Indo kara” (“from India”). We both then said “arigatou” again and “hajimemashite” and bowed to each other. We noticed a similar pattern as we walked away from them as the Ojii-chan from the previous story. They were walking away but kept bowing to us as they were walking. We ended up on different sides of the platform, and we noticed them across the tracks and they were STILL BOWING to us! Talk about kawaii (cute)!

Miscellaneous pictures from our Osaka trip!

Orchestra performance we randomly came across in the same field as the castle!