24 May 2015

Japan Flashback! Part 1: Tokyo

For those of you that don't know, I went to Japan as part of a school trip back in September 2012. Recently I've been missing it A LOT after watching Dan and Phil go to Japan (love them) and continuing my Japanese study at university. 

When I went to Japan, I was still at quite a low beginner level of language acquisition, but now I'm studying at an advanced level! It has been a lot of work and is stressful and overwhelming at times, but holding on to the sense of accomplishment I feel in learning the language and my continued fascination with the culture has pulled me through this far. I hope to continue working hard and pass the most advanced level in about a year and a half, so when I go back to Japan (which will DEFINITELY happen), I can immerse myself in the experience like I've always wanted to.

It occurred to me the other day that I've never really properly shared the things I did in Japan with the world, but after being so inspired recently, I decided that there is no time like the present. I hope you like the photos I took and find some of the things I did interesting!

Day 1: Arrival

Day 1 was mostly exhausting and anxiety inducing, due to it a) marking the first time I'd ever left Australia and b) having to wake up at 4am to spend the entire day cramped on planes. The flight wasn't that bad, due to it being during the day, so I spent it watching The Avengers and listening to music (J-Pop, of course, to get myself in the mood). By the time we touched down at Narita International Airport, night had fallen and we could see the lights of Tokyo below us, which were so much more impressive than any tiny city in Australia. 

After leaving the airport, we got on a bus and traveled for what felt like a long ass time to our hostel. The most we did after we arrived was wander the few streets surrounding where we were staying and get confused by the need for so many FamilyMarts (a Japanese convenience store that is literally on every street, sometimes even on both sides). We had bento boxes for dinner and then absolutely crashed in preparation for our first proper day.

Day 2: Senso-ji Temple (浅草寺)

Senso-ji Temple and the shopping street on its grounds, Nakamise-dori (仲見世通り), was our first experience of the culture and lifestyle of Japan. We caught the train into Asakusa (浅草), which was absolutely insane because the stations are so complex and the trains are almost always busy, depending on where you're catching it to.

The first thing we did was enter the temple itself and experience customs like cleansing your hands and praying for the first time. The temple was really beautiful with a lot of gold embellishments and detailed art and flowers. And as you can see, there was a lot of red, my favourite. A lot of the photos I took are really blurry or crooked because I was in a constant state of oMG JAPAN I MUST TAKE PICTURES OF EVERYTHING. I don't regret it.

We then walked up and down Nakamise-dori, our first experience of Japanese shopping, which is as nuts as it sounds. I'll admit to being a bit frugal because of being unfamiliar with the true value of yen and still having a lot of the trip to stretch my funds out for. BUT I did buy a little Totoro plushie, which was something that was definitely on my list. 

Exploring Shibya! (渋谷)

After Sensoji (and before homestay, which I was terrified of at the time), we went into Shibuya for lunch. I took a few photos of the city because it is SO different from anything you'll find in Australia (and therefore, anything that I had ever seen before), in that it is SO OVERWHELMING. There are so many sights and sounds to deal with all at once that it probably helped that I couldn't understand that majority of things that were being thrown at me.

We had lunch at a restaurant that was so high up a building it was ridiculous. The view was amazing, but it started to rain while we were up there. After lunch, we were put in taxis to go down the road to meet our host families! (The taxi experience was scary, just FYI).

We were introduced to our host families and played some games, and before we knew it, it was time to go. My host family lived in Yokohama (横浜市), so I got a chance to chat to my host mum on the couple of trains we needed to catch in order to get home. I was then introduced to her three daughters, their bird P-chan and their dad. 

I played some games with the girls (who were all between the ages of 5 and 9) like Uno, and showed them where I lived in Australia. They couldn't speak much English at all because they were still so young, but we were able to communicate with actions and simple Japanese words, which was still really fun!

We decided to go for a walk to what they called a "department store", which is NOTHING like what a department store is like over here. It's basically a whole lot of mini stores in one, like a Disney store, a newsagent, a cake shop, just anything you could ever want. I wish we had them.

We ate my host mum's amazing cooking for dinner (while I struggled with chopsticks) and then I went to bed. Turns out sleeping on a tatami mat isn't really all that uncomfortable.

Day 3: Homestay Continues

The next day I woke up and ate an actual Japanese breakfast! After that I got a sushi-making lesson from my host mum and sisters and we went to the park to play badminton (not properly, just randomly on the grass), which I turned out to be pretty good at. 

Later that afternoon we went to a "host family party" which three of my Australian friends were at, so it was a bit more relaxing. We got to know some of the kids, got quizzed on some kanji, were asked about how Japanese culture is received in Australia, and ate some of the food we'd made that day. It was fun to be around old friends and new ones at the same time.

Before we went home, we went stopped off at a cake shop to get CAKE FOR DINNER! The cake shops over there are so cute and all the cakes are really beautiful: they sell individual slices and package them up all nicely. We also had some rice cakes to celebrate the Harvest Moon, although we didn't actually end up going moon-viewing, as is a custom.

I unfortunately didn't take many photos myself during homestay, because my host mum took a lot. One of the last things we did was sit down and make a little scrapbook/photo album for me to keep. It's so sweet, I still cry a bit when I read it! I did, however, get this shot of the path to the park when we went out. It was nice to visit an area that wasn't all buildings and crazy noise. (I was starting to feel a little closed in by this point).


I hope you liked this first part of my Japan trip! We spent 10 days travelling (5 of them in Tokyo), so there will definitely be more to come!

Stay tuned!


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