Monday, 22 February 2010


The "3" was obviously missing and that made a whole lot of difference.

Suddenly, all that I propragated evaporated before my very eyes when I realised that I had been imagining the "3" all this while.

Paradigm shift. 

The difference between "31" and "1" made an extremely big difference. Checking and double-checking made me realise that it was now or never.

Hesitantly, I made the booking, knowing that I only had 4 days to plan my itinery. Day after day since then, I woke up with second thoughts, wondering if I made the right choice, wondering if I should go ahead with it, wondering if I should be putting the money to refurnishing my room, or finally landing the PS3 (especially when it is just inches within my reach financially, after 2.5 years).

Is it worth it to exit my comfort zone, to be thrown into the midst of adventure once again, navigating a foreign land and hardly speaking the foreign language? Perhaps it is a little too soon, perhaps I don't need it; but yet, to pass on the chance to return to the beautiful Land of the Rising Sun to garner new sights and accumulate new experiences on a free ticket provides an all-too-tempting counter-argument.

And so, here I am, 4 hours away from my second trip to Japan in 2 months, with fragments of the previous holiday still deeply etched into my memory, and yet, going for another vacation that, some would argue, I don't actually need.

Anxiety almost suffocating me as I attempt to grasp the uncertainty and unfamiliarity that I am about to put myself in again.

Was it too rushed? Where will I stay? Will I manage alone? What will go wrong this time?

Thoughts upon thoughts flood my head as I sit here thinking, playing out the worrying scenarios in my head, and yet, ambivalently, feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation to the adventure that awaits.

"Free-spirited" is a word that I like to be associated with. Images of me picturing myself travelling on my own with a backpack to unknown and unfamiliar destinations in my own time have been haunting my dreams and thoughts since I was 10 years younger.

"One day, one day," were the words I told myself then, but with time, that "one day" only grew further and further away, growing fainter and fainter, as school, work and the busy schedules slowly engulfed it.

And now, by a stroke a (mis)fortune and circumstance, here I am at the brink of rekindling a forgotten thought, to live a forgotten dream - if only for a week.

Deep Breath.

- Leap of Faith -

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Pieces of Japan: Day 1 - Journey to the West

19th December 2009
Tokyo, Japan

Narita Airport: First Light, First Sights

First Light

Narita Express: Journey to the West

Shinjuku: The Taste of Familiarity

The west-side of Tokyo was home to 3 major lifestyle districts of Tokyo City; from the neon-lit streets of the Kabukicho-Cho in Shinjuku, to the Fashion district of Shibuya,  to the famous weekend cos-play-filled streets of Harajuku.

Familiar teritory for sure, as I had already trodden on this west-side path the last time I was in Tokyo, and sought to play more of a guide to my companion this time around. But things in Japan change so fast, and there is always something new to see.

Alighting at Shinjuku station, we caught a glimpse of the district by day, before the vices and sin set in with the setting of the sun. It was just another Saturday afternoon in Shinjuku, and provided a relatively quiet start to our trip.

Walking past a black and white signboard, I felt the unspeakable urge to lead my companion in for some  authentic Japanese sushi. The customary greeting before taking our seats, our cover was immediately broken when we started ordering. By it was the end that counted, as we still managed to get the dishes we wanted.

Sashimi Platter

Grabbing a slice between the chopsticks and dipping it in the Japanese Soy Sauce, I raised the piece of fresh Sashimi to my mouth, letting it slide gently across my tongue and down my throat. Such freshness, such authenticity, such texture, such... familiarity.

Looks like some things didn't really change over the last 2 years.

Hidden between an alleyway, red gates led to a traditional Japanese shrine, said to be particular auspicious for businesses, legitimate or otherwise. It was strangely ironic to find a holy place just a few streets away from the Red Light District just down the road, but perhaps it's where the sinners are that the saints are needed.

More than the irony, what resounded more with me was the sense of calm that came upon me as we made our way through the gates just to take a look at a rather conventional but characteristical shrine. The ability to simply stop along the way and walk into an alley to explore served as a very good reminder that we were on vacation, and we had all the time in the world.

Harajuku: First Christmas

The marker in my hand touched the card on the table, as I struggled to scribble something down, the sounds of the crowd overwhelmingly drowning out the squeaks that came from the writing.

Said to be the first time Christmas was officially decorated and celebrated in Tokyo, faces upon faces had come to bathe in the atmosphere, rending a normally peaceful afternoon in Harajuku littered with cos-players utterly unrecognizable as I felt hundreds upon hundreds of faces giving me a quick glance of curiosity as they passed on by while I continued to write.

The streets within the network of alley-ways were mostly left unscathed by this episode, but out on the main road, it was nothing but crowds and chaos - an orderly kind of chaos at least.

"Ok darling, I'm done." I said to her, handing her the card.

She joyously hopped over to the tree, where hundreds of other wishes were hanging, and circled it looking for a good spot. Finding a spot she was satisfied with, she brought the card up and started tying it to the tree, hoping to join the other hundreds in a journey of well-wishing and fulfillment.

Shibuya / Shinjuku: Looking for Love 

Christmas Hachiko

The rolling of the wheels was the only constant sound that broke the silence that fell between us. Across the crossing, through the crowd and now up the hill. The silence was natural, as at a time of fatigue as such, it would probably be better to conserve the energy and not waste it whining about how strained our arms were or how sore our feet were from all the dragging and walking.

The strain in the arms came from dragging a good 20-kg luggage each for a good 30-minutes across the Shibuya district and enduring the stares of numerous onlookers. They say that a million people cross the Shibuya Crossing a day, and it sure felt like it - from the crowd that we had to push through and swerve around to get to our destination.

Shibuya Crossing

The soreness of the feet was simply the toll the day's accumulated mileage - and on this particular day, we clocked too many. Partially from the intended destinations, but also partially from the better part of the evening spent in trying to recee for a abode for the night.

We had come into the first night wanting to try something a bit more crazy and a bit more wild in the form of staying at one of Japan's notorious Love Hotels, mostly for the sake of the novelty. But as with these shady places, unlike normal hotels, reservations are not allowed and they only open for booking for an entire night after a certain time.

From Shibuya to Shinjuku before deciding to settle for Shibuya, we finally withdrew our luggages from the locker from Shinjuku and decided to drag them out to the Love Hotel Hill at Shibuya to settle for the night.

Kabuki-cho at Shinjuku

We arrived at the entrance of one of our earlier short-listed candidates panting, as I told her to stay put and take a breather while I went in to get us a room. A slight sign of relief came over her anguished face was the last thing that I saw before turning around and entering the Love Hotel.

We had short-listed a few candidates based on the look of the rooms and of course, the price - since we were on a bit of a budget. As I entered the Love Hotel and made my way to the counter where the friendlier-than-the-rest lady receptionist was waiting, I had forgotten that I had to go to the machine to select a room first before making any form of payment.

So I made a quick turn to the picture board that depicted all the rooms and displayed their availability. To my horror, none of the rooms were lit, and it was only a mere 15-minutes after the "book for the night" check-in time of 11pm.

Easily deciphering the disappointment from her face as I told her, I decided to try the next on our list, and yet, it was the same old song and dance, again and again and again, with each of the chosen; except that the song drew more moody with each candidate crossed off and the dance got more and more frantic; as we approached the state of panic from not being to be able to find a room to stay in for the night with our insanely heavy baggages and to shelter us from the bitter cold.

She grew increasingly visibly distressed as we moved from door to door, while I tried to keep up a brave and optimistic front as we were turned down with each entry. Little did we know and expect that the locals would be so eager to get some lovin' on a Saturday night, and taking up almost every single one of the better rooms - must have been a holiday season thing.

We came to the top of the hill with only the last 3 possibilities left; none of which were on our initial list of consideration. By then, we were very much fatigued, a little frustrated, but much more so flustered.

Hearing her deep pants as we dragged the suitcases up the steep incline, I turned to her and told her to stay put with the luggages while I took a run up to try to grab on to our last glimmer of hope. After what was probably the longest 20-minutes for her over the course of the day, I came back with the results, hearing a sigh of relief from under her breath as I delivered the news to her.

Sonic-Boom Bed at R-25

Grabbing 1 of the last 2 rooms at R-25, the second-last Love Hotel up on the hill. It was hardly our ideal choice in terms of design based on our initial recee. But with a decent price and more importantly, considering the state of our broken bodies and weary souls; the saying "Beggars can't be Choosers" never rang more true, and we sure felt knew which side of that statement we were on. 

- Photo Album @ 19th Dec 09 -