My first big trip outside of Akita was back to Tokyo for New Year’s. Asakusa Temple is a well-known and popular spot to usher in the new year, so that’s where we decided to go. But first, we had to get there. The cheapest way to get anywhere in Japan is to travel by night bus, and that’s exactly what we did. On December 29th, we took a bus from school to the mall, another to the city, and then had to wait for the Japanese equivalent of a Greyhound to take us to Tokyo. While we waited we treated ourselves to some karaoke and visited our favorite okonomiyaki spot.
After about eight hours on the bus and checking into our AirBnb, we rested a bit. Then it was time for touring the Tokyo SkyTree! There were about a billion stores and exhibitions inside, and we spent hours exploring each one. Many stores featured regional or themed goods, such as Hokkaido milk and a store centered on an anime called “Aikatsu!“.
By the time we were finished with that, a light show had opened on a patio area at the base of the tower.
Then it was time to go up the SkyTree! The nighttime view of the city was beautiful.
The next day was New Year’s Eve! We started out in Akihabara, hub of anime and electronic goods. We spent a good amount of time hanging at the Sega arcade. Unlike in America, claw machines (referred to as UFO catchers in Japan) are actually a great way to win prizes. They can contain anything from anime figurines to candy to laundry detergent (just to make adulting a little more fun). At this location, a surprising amount of the winnable merchandise was dedicated to “Love Live!“, an anime that maintains an intense popularity despite having ended three years ago.
We even had a chance to go to a maid cafe! For the uninitiated, maid cafes are entertainment cafes run by women in maid outfits. The food is all super cute and often animal themed, and the maids will do chants and play games with you. Buzzfeed did a video on the subject that just so happens to have been filmed at the cafe we visited. While there can sometimes be some pervy undertones coming from some weird dudes sitting at adjacent tables, it’s mostly innocent fun. Pictures of the maids aren’t allowed, but you can pay to take a polaroid together. They gave us a complimentary keychain to go with it.
After that, we did some more shopping and enjoyed the beautifully nerdy scenery.
Finally, it was time to make our way to the temple to welcome in the New Year. We began doing all the touristy things, wandering around the entrance to the temple taking pictures gawking at stuff when suddenly my friend was approached by a Japanese couple. See, sometimes Japanese people want to take pictures with foreigners, when you are as gorgeous and fashionable as my friend here, it happens to you quite a bit. According to her, once, as an old man got his camera ready to take a picture with her, she saw he had an entire picture folder labeled “White People”. This time was particularly hilarious to us as rather than taking the photo together, they each took a photo separately. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that this guy is taking pictures with this random woman while his girlfriend stands awkwardly to the side, waiting for her turn.
Once that was dealt with, we made our way through to the main area of the temple.
We made our way to the omikuji station to find out what our fortunes would be for the upcoming year. To do this, we had to shake a cylindrical container until a stick with a number on it fell out of a small hole in the top of the container. That number corresponded to a drawer which held pieces of paper with your fortune on it, ranging from bad to good to great, and providing details on your upcoming romantic, economic, and academic prosperity- or lack thereof. If you got a bad fortune, you then must tie it to a rack so that the monks can come and pray over them to rid you of your bad luck. I got a good fortune, but I tied it on the rack anyway because I wanted to participate.
We walked around the dozens of food stalls that had set up in celebration of the holiday, and eventually the clock struck midnight. Had we decided to wait in line, we could have had a chance to approach the altar at the main part of the temple, but we misunderstood how it worked and ditched the line in favor of food. Regardless, we had a good time!
We soon made our way back to our AirBnB, and fell fast asleep.
The whole trip had been pretty non-stop up until this point, so we were all pretty exhausted. We slept in a little later than we originally planned. After heading out to do some shopping, we made our way to the Tokyo Dome City amusement park. We got a five ride pass that was good for any five rides in the park, so we rode the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster (which went through the Big O Ferris wheel), the Water Drop, the Super Viking Sorabune, and the Ferris wheel itself.
I am afraid of heights. It was an emotionally exhausting day. By the time we got to the fifth ride, I had to bow out. I went on a nice, relaxing merry-go-roundish car ride, while my friends went on the Sky Flower, which basically involved standing in a flimsy-looking metal cage that took you Lord-knows how high in the air just so you could appreciate a beautiful view before you fell to your death. Pretty happy with my decision.
At some point during all of this, we experienced our first kaiten zushi. We sat at a table while sushi passed on a conveyor belt, with each plate color-coded to indicate price. Special orders could be placed on a touch screen and would be brought via the cutest motorized, shinkansen-shaped tray above the conveyor belt. It was delicious, and I was grateful I didn’t throw it up at any point on one of the rides.
Our final day in Tokyo was spent exploring more shopping districts and eating yummy foods. We were especially excited to go to this restaurant that changes its theme every year called “The Guest”. During our visit, it was themed after Sanrio’s character, Cinnamoroll. Everything was super adorable. Although the food was somewhat tasty, we were definitely paying for the experience rather than the food itself. But like I said, super adorable, so it was okay with me.
We finished up with more shopping, and slowly made our way back to the area where our bus would pick us up.
With our goodies in tow, we made our way back to school and prepared ourselves for winter classes and the long, long winter that was well on it’s way.