Japan has always been one of those places I thought I’d visit in the far future, a place of unknown lore and exciting past. I’d see pictures on Instagram filled with the red posts of torii gates, the fog of steam wafting off delicious street finds, and think – that’ll be me! someday.
So I shocked myself a bit when I decided earlier this year to be part of a group trip to this famous and also infamous island. It didn’t really hit me, even on the plane, that I was finally going to Japan. That person behind the Instagram pictures of Japan could be me! The person eating that authentic ramen dish could be me! but all I could think of was how long the plane ride was, and how season seven? eight? of the Office was lacking continuity in some character arcs.
But then I landed. And there was no Miyazaki soundtrack (not that I expected one). Tokyo was, by and large, a well developed, modern city. I felt at home like I felt at home in New York. The first thing I was enthralled by was the vending machine.
It was so colorful.
It took a few tries (first machine was a dud) but I got my first Japanese snack! A milk-yogurt sort of drink. It became my solace when I had to figure out my baggage (they left it in Montreal, sad) and then on the train while fingers crossed I hoped I was doing the right thing.
I did something right, because I made it to the Airbnb, losing my umbrella somehow in the process.
The second thing that really got me was at the Akiba Uniqlo – you set your shopping basket in an area, and the machine just knows, somehow, what you bought. I was flabbergasted. Was there some chip in the tags? Was there some unseen laser scanner my eyes didn’t pick up on?? I may never know.
The third thing that tripped me was the ordering machines. I had remembered seeing vids of cool Japanese vending machines that give you what you want, right out of the machine. So I saw some tourists pressing buttons on a ramen machine, only to have my friend inform me that they were just ordering with it. Man, I was so ready to see ramen come out of that machine. Ah well.
The alleyway that night on the walk to the Airbnb was so colorful – a dark backdrop splotched with the warm glow of restaurants in the walls. It was also rainy, which added to the whimsical, nostalgic lighting.
And the Airbnb itself was remarkable – everything was so square and different – each apartment took up a floor, so exiting the elevator would put you within inches of your friend door. It was pretty cramped, actually. Then there would be a separated shower and toilet space (the toilets were so fancy!! what do the buttons even do?) and small combined kitchen and living room space. The doors were slidey (very fun) and led to our bedrooms. I found it to be small and cozy, albeit even more cramped with five people.
Also the shower area had an showering area outside of the tub, which I found to be interesting because I usually just shower in the tub. There was also a thermostat-looking device that needed to be turned on before the water could get hot (oops).
Japan is fascinating.