Japan Day 4: Asakusa Shrine and Travel to Mishima

Today I left Miriam’s and headed to Sensoji, a Buddhist temple. I was nervous to be off on my own, but had this new found sense of courage. The temple and shrine were gorgeous. I could just sit there and think all day. I still can’t believe I’m here and doing this. The whole thing is surreal. The Asakusa shrine was the most touristy spot I’ve been to since I’ve been here, but there were mostly Asian tourists, and I can say I enjoy them much more than the Americans. Nakamise is the street leading up to the shrine filled with shops and eateries. I bought my dad a sake carafe with matching glasses, and mom a Japanese mug with longevity written in the inside. I had tofu and an Asahi for lunch outside the temple. I love that tofu is common here, like chicken is in the US. The park and shrine outside were so peaceful.

Miriam was nice enough to ask her friend John if I could stay the night at his place in Mishima. He teaches English at a school right outside of Mt. Fuji. Getting there was a bit nerve wracking because I have to take two different trains outside of Tokyo, (just went I thought I was starting to get used to the metro system), and walk a ways. I have to give Miriam credit, she is amazing with directions. She gave me perfectly accurate instructions (go down three streets, cross train tracks, turn left at the fork…etc).

I wanted to go to Mishima park to see the Shinto shrine, but I got there just as they were closing. The park was infested with cats, really friendly cats. The area is beautiful, a lot quieter than Tokyo.

I met John at his (American) friend’s Mexican restaurant. I got there early since the I didn’t make it into the shrine and had a burrito, taco, and chips with guacamole. They had good hot sauces! John got there and we talked for a while, and his friend Ryan met up with us. The four of us, including David the owner, talked for hours and hours. I learned a lot about Japanese culture (through American eyes), the school system, courting, and that iPhones aren’t very popular in Japan because there are so many characters that it’s difficult to text.

We walked home and I took a much needed hot shower.



Japan Day 3: Onsen and Sushi



Yesterday was a bit more excitement than I was hoping for. Today Miriam and I tried to plan a calmer day. She made sure I ate breakfast (a great host!), I had tea and a kind of rice cake. It wasn’t as good as the mochi, it was kind of plain, but not bad. She let me borrow a pair of her boots (that were a few sizes too big) because my Vibrams were frozen. Then we headed to an onsen! I was so excited. Relaxing in a hot spring sounded like the perfect thing to counter yesterday. The idea of stripping naked in front of a few dozen strangers was terrifying, but if everyone else could do it, so could I.

The initial bathing wasn’t so bad. Everyone was on little stools in their own little showering area. I could handle that. Plus the shampoo smelled great. We walked around until we found a spots to sit down. This was an amazing experience. Sure, I stood out like a sore thumb, with us being the only non-Japanese women there, but no one seemed to care. Some women kept to themselves and relaxed. Some women hung around in groups and chit chatted. I loved being a part of this culture. There were hot springs inside and outside this onsen. The outside ones were particularly beautiful with the newly fallen snow.

I could feel the heat from the water permeating through my entire body. They say that the springs have minerals that are supposed to detox your body. I don’t know if it’s true, but I could feel stress being pulled away from my bones.

After a short period of time I felt something else. Extremely light headed and dizzy. I asked Miriam if she minded if we went inside for a bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it that far. While walking from the outside springs to the inside of the onsen I passed out. In the middle of the doorway. Naked.

It’s happened to me twice before. I started to lose my hearing, things went black, and I tried to sit down gracefully instead of collapsing. The next thing I remember was Miriam, and a few Japanese ladies hovering over me checking to see if I was still alive. It took me a few minutes to get up. A women brought me a full size towel. (Thank God I didn’t have to walk around naked anymore.) I drank some water and fought the urge to get sick all over the place. After I didn’t feel like dying, we went downstairs to the restaurant for lunch. Eating was the last thing I wanted to do, but I knew it would help me feel better.

Miriam takes a dance class here, and while I thought it would be an awesome thing to experience, I just wasn’t feeling up to going with her today. I instead, hung around the area, and did what I do best. Went shopping. I found an awesome “All Natural” (I don’t know what that means in Japan, if it’s unregulated like it is in the US) beauty store, and bought some makeup. It was attached to a clothing store and I bought some shirts and a pair of dress socks. I adore the way the Japanese dress. Everyone looks so polished 100% of the time, where I look like a tired, sore, American homeless lady, who is carrying all of her belongings in an overstuffed back pack. Anyway, I bought the dress socks as a baby step for me being more fashionable.  Right before I met Miriam, I found a beautiful black lace dress for about $14.

We went to dinner at a little hole in the wall sushi place. This is what I’ve been waiting for this whole trip. There was bar like seating with the chef in the middle, making the sushi and placing it on a conveyor belt that went around the room. Each plate of sushi was ~$1.36, it was fresh, and it was delicious. I got a salad and several plates of sushi for about $10. They had matcha tea, and I learned it’s free in most restaurants. Why is it so expensive in the States?

After dinner we looked for a pair of sneakers for me. I ended up with a pair of Nike’s for about $50.

We got a bottle of rice wine on the way home, but it was too sweet for me.

Another day done, and I’m grateful to be alive.

Yoyogi Park

Japan Day 2: Yoyogi Park

“…a bird which flies into your house is an angel. You must look upon his presence as a blessing.” -House of Sand and Fog

First thing his morning I got up and took a bath. I also learned how to use the fancy toilets, haha.

Miriam teaches English here, and she had to teach all day so I was off on my own. She sent me off with an agenda, directions, and a list of useful Japanese phrases.

My first stop was Yoyogi Park. I loved it. It was pretty chilly and I was right by the rest house when it started to rain so I stopped in and bought an umbrella and some dry tea that came from the park. After trying to describe to a very nice vendor to give me anything that didn’t have meat, I was delightfully surprised with red bean mochi and a Royal Milk Tea (~$2.50 for both). The park was incredibly beautiful, even in the rain. I tried my best to observe what the locals were doing and try to act accordingly. I have this horrible fear I will do something offensive and not even notice it. It rained harder so I hung out back in the rest house for a while longer. I was soaked. The heated toilet seats were a God send.

Next I headed to Patisserie Potager. It’s a pastry/dessert restaurant where everything is made out of vegetables. I was having a hard time communicating with the people working behind the counter, so I just pointed at whatever looked good and hoped for the best. I had the tomato chiffon cake and a coffee ($7.50). The cake was delicious. It was sweet, just like a normal piece of cake. I’d love to try making something like that, but I don’t know that I have the skill. I would’ve liked to try some of the other treats, but it was a little pricey. They did have heaters though, so I lingered for a while. I felt like a drowned rat and my feet were soaked. Still, I’ve never seen such well groomed and put together women (and men)…even while it was pouring.

(Sidenote: I’ve noticed that not many people speak English here. I was surprised in Greece that almost everyone under the age of 50 spoke English well, and kind of thought it might be the same here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe I should go to another country and everyone should speak MY language, but I wasn’t expecting the language barrier to be *this* difficult.)

I decided to skip going to the Crayon House for the organic lunch buffet because the timing wasn’t working out. I did see some red snapper fish cookies on my walk though. Didn’t try any. Maybe tomorrow.

Next stop was Zen Chafe tea cafe. I ordered a matcha latte ($3.20) and charged my phone. I still had a couple hours to kill until meeting Miriam, but I was getting seriously drained. The people at the cafe were extremely nice and gave me directions to Roppongi Hills. There, I had dinner at the Total Workout Cafe. I got rice and curry ($10), and I think it was pork curry. Again, huge communication barrier and I ordered by pictures. Whatever it was, it wasn’t bad.

It started snowing. Even though I hoped it would be a little bit warmer here than in the States, it was absolutely beautiful

The next part of my day was not my favorite. I was exhausted and wasn’t meeting Miriam until 10pm. It was only about 8, so I decided I’d relax on the metro for an extra stop or two to kill some time. I got off a few stops later and tried to take the same line back, but I ended up on an express instead of a local. I completely missed my stop and had to take another train back again. I stopped to get another coffee because at this point I felt like I was about to fall over any minute. I went into a burger place in the train station and the only open seat was in the smoking section. I felt more and more drained by the minute. When I finally made it to our meeting spot I was about 15 minutes late and not even sure if I was at the right metro entrance. I walked a block to the other side to see if Miriam was there but she wasn’t. I waited a little bit, unsure if I’d be able to find my way back to her place in the dark and alone.

My first thought was just to find a hotel room for the night and try to email Miriam to tell her I was okay….but there wasn’t a hotel in sight. Businesses were starting to close and I couldn’t even find anyone to point me in the direction of somewhere to stay. My phone was dead, and at this point it had been snowing for hours. (It only snowed a few inches but it had been the most snowfall they had had in a while.) I went into survival mode and started looking around for corners that I could bundle up in, in case I couldn’t walk any further. While I was walking I was recognizing the area a little bit from passing through in the morning. I decided to try to find Miriam’s place anyway. She lives in a very rural area and all the houses look the same. After finally making it to her neighborhood and walking around for what seemed like forever I started to wonder if this was an even worse idea.

It was close to midnight. It was still snowing, and I was sliding around everywhere in inches of snow…in my Vibrams. (I love these shoes but at this moment, wearing them was the worst mistake.) I saw a man with a tripod set up in the middle of the street taking photos of the snow fall. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see another living human being (I was also praying he wasn’t a psychopath). I pulled out my now soaked paper map (with no street names, just a park and a star that says “Miriam’s House”), and tried to communicate that I was lost. He spoke not one lick of English.

But this man was an angel.

He put away his camera equipment and brought me to his house. I tried to stand outside because I was soaked. My pants were went up to my knees. I wasn’t sure if I even had feet anymore they were so cold. My hair was soaked and I had been sobbing (although I was so wet and frozen you couldn’t really tell). I’d only been in Japan for a day, but I quickly learned how important cleanliness is, especially taking off your shoes in the designated area, and wearing slippers throughout the house. I peeled off my Vibrams and again tried to stand in the shoe area, but this man and his wife gave me dry slippers and insisted I come inside. The man tried to compare a Google map to my hand drawn map, and his wife made me a cup of coffee. I gave him the phone number I had for Miriam and he called her. It turns out I was in back of her place diagonally. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve ever found it on my own. This amazingly kind man walked me to her house and made sure I got in safe. I wish I could’ve done something for him in return. He took in a complete stranger, in the middle of the night, who didn’t even speak his language. He may have saved my life.

I started to wonder if coming to Japan by myself was such a great idea after all.

(I later learned that Miriam had actually been 30 minutes late, so if I had waited a little longer I might have caught her. Also, turns out there was a magna cafe that was 24 hours that I could’ve hung out in.)