Christmas was spent with some friends and coworkers. My friend/coworker/pseudo boss mentor lady from New Zealand and her Japanese husband hosted a lovely dinner at their place. It was a low-key event with nice conversation and more food than we could handle. This was the second Christmas Day in a row that I did not spend with family. Last year I went to my former boss’s house for dinner, since my family wasn’t having any gathering. I think my mother may have been working that day.
Beth got me a chiropractic appointment for Christmas, and amusingly enough I got her a massage at a local spa. Our friend LeeAnne, ever the superwoman that she is, gave us fun and thoughtful gifts and also earlier in the month made chocolate candies individually wrapped - and an advent calendar for us.
We spent a few days in Tokyo for the New Year, which was fun. The city continues to amaze me in its size and offerings of everything. You want a bunny café? Tokyo. Cat café? No problem. Robot restaurant? Got ‘em. Owl café? You betcha.
One of this trip’s highlights was the Tokyo Sky Tree, a 600-plus-meter broadcasting tower with two observation decks: one at 350 meters and the other at 450 meters. The amount of pedestrian traffic is incredible; 10,000 tickets are sold daily. Being foreigners, we were allowed to access the Fast Track ticketing counter, meaning we didn’t have to wait in the long lines with everyone else. My inclination was to go there after dark, when we could see the city lit up in all its glory. My inclination was spot on. It’s difficult to realize just how massive the city really is until you can view it from a quarter mile above the ground. Tokyo is a sprawling, gigantic place. Including all of its surrounding wards and regions, Tokyo has almost 40 million residents. You read that right. 40 million. Big place.
The elevator from the fourth floor rockets its passengers to the first observation deck in a matter of a few moments. A screen indicates how fast that metal box is jettisoning into the sky, and numbers showing each floor change so quickly it’s dizzying. But lots of things make me dizzy.
Oh yeah, we also went on a rickshaw ride.
On New Year’s Day we went shopping. Or rather we went to where there were places that normally sell things but were closed because the New Year is really important and everything shuts down. The streets that were bustling a day before were now eerily quiet, save for a few hopeful tourists. So instead we walked around and didn’t shop. First we attempted to go to Ochanomizu, an area known for its dozens of music shops. All closed. Then we trekked to Ginza, a neighborhood of Tokyo, which has lots of shops and restaurants and people dressed as their dogs. Everything was closed except for a tax-free shop. It was really busy, probably because everyone had nowhere else to go to look for the incredible deals that are rumored to surface after the New Year. Oh well, a penny saved, eh?
Before departing Tokyo we went to get our bags from the hotel and ended up spending some time there to try our hand at calligraphy. One of the employees got us set up with paper and brushes. She was a cute and cheery woman dressed in a kimono for the occasion, and she praised our craftsmanship (but I think she would have praised anything we came up with; our work wasn’t that great).
There were two menus for the day, and the dishes that were prepared were traditional Japanese foods usually eaten for the New Year (we were just a little ahead of schedule, no biggie). While the locals did most of the preparation, we did get to get our hands dirty and learned how to prepare some of the food. There is a certain radish that is sliced in such a way that it resembles a mum. Carrots and other root vegetables are cut in beautiful little flower shapes. Taste is paramount, but presentation is just as important.
I also attended a performance by a local orchestra and choir. A coworker sings in the choir and she gave me two tickets. I went with my friend Natascha, who lives in the apartment below along with her husband and adorable one-year-old daughter. Having recently obtained my international driving permit, I drove their car. Only once did I accidently reach for the wipers when I meant to go for the turn signal. Driving on the other side of the road in the opposite seat isn’t really that difficult but after doing something one way for nearly twenty years, it’s easy to form habits. You ever move into a new place and reach for the bathroom light but have to keep reminding yourself it’s on the other side of the wall? Same thing really. Only you’re in a moving vehicle with other cars and people all around you.
I also went to see the new Star Wars film on opening day. A group of friends met for dinner at my favorite place, Hamazushi. It’s got the conveyor belt sushi and it’s unbelievably cheap. At most you’ll pay \150 – about $1.20 – for any roll. Most are only about 80 cents. The same meal here that costs me the equivalent of $8.00 would cost me about $30 in the States (again, plus tip).
Our friend Ben, who’s from Manchester, bought the tickets in advance. In Japan, you are assigned a seat at the cinema. You are also offered a lap blanket, and provided a storage locker for your belongings while you are in the theater. We opted for the 4Dx experience. A 4D movie is a 3D movie with the addition of added effects. When there’s an explosion on screen, your seat pulses and vibrates and additional lights flash in the theater. When you’re in the cockpit of an X-Wing Fighter or the f*** yeah Millenium Falcon, the seat sways, leans, turns, and so on. When the characters are standing in the rain, you get rained on (note that there is an option to turn off your assigned chair’s water, but you still get overspray). And when it snows, something weird happens and it looks like there’s snow falling at the front of the theater, which was really trippy. As far as the film, it was awesome, and if you haven’t seen it I don’t want to spoil anymore. From this post you already know there’s gonna be inclement weather and starships and battle action. I wouldn’t want to reveal anything else.