Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

MP3 track of the day: I will walk 500 miles – The Proclaimers

Weather: beautiful in Tokyo, though a little cold. Still, no rain and I had blue skies all day.

Tuesday 31st December 2013 – 8:30pm

By 8:30pm I'd read a couple of chapters of my book, looked at everything on the internet and was now thoroughly bored. I was also finding myself 'nodding off' and missing the new year wouldn't do at all; to prevent this from happening I put on every item of clothing I owned, picked up my camera and tri-pod and went out into the night. As I walked towards my destination (Senso-ji temple) I discovered that it wasn't as cold as I thought it was going to be; still I was glad for the extra layers.

As I had set off with three and a half hours before midnight, I found time to stop and photograph the main streets of Asakusa. Due to the light being poor, I had to erect my tri-pod to get a good shot. This attracted some stairs, but not as many as I thought it would.

Once at the temple I found it a hive of activity. Senso-ji temple is a Shinto temple therefore, it has an outer-gate followed by a long corridor (this corridor, being 'touristy', had shops lining both sides) which lead to the inner-gate and then the temple itself. The area is quite large and yet, I found it completely rammed with people; it seemed as though all of Tokyo had come out tonight.

I did not want to pray and, having seen the tourist shops a thousand times, I skirted around the outer-gate and entered through the inner-gate within no time. I was amazed to see that people were already going into the temple in their hundreds, praying for a good new year. I, on the other-hand, took photos of them praying and also of the many temples, pagodas and shrines within this culturally rich area though, I had to be careful; a guard had told me that I couldn't erect my tri-pod to it's full width due to the volume of people. I understood his point however, taking decent photos without it was pointless. Due to there being no wind I only had to open it slightly to give the camera a sold base.

I moved around slowly noticing that, apart from the praying, there were an awful lot of food stalls. Give the Japanese any excuse to eat and they'll eat. I however, realised that the stalls sold expensive 'tack' although, I did fancy a little snack. With time on my side I left the site to find a convenience store to purchase some cheap 'tack'; I was back within the thick of it by 11pm.

At 11:30pm I strategically positioned myself with the temple and Tokyo Skytree in full view. Here I waited along with thousands of others for the new year to come in.

At 11:45pm the police stopped the public from entering the temple. I could sense the tension building.

All of a sudden a small cheer went up and a group of people rushed into the temple. One guy stopped on the top step and waved to a cheering crowd before going in. It was at this point that I peered at my watch and realised that the new year was upon us. 'Is that it' I thought to myself; I new that a Japanese New Year is all about family and praying, but the Skytree hadn't even changed colour. I stayed and watched more people enter the temple and throw their money into a bottomless pitt. I had enjoyed witnessing a 'difference in culture' however, as it was evident that things were going to repeat themselves from now on (with group after group entering the temple) I left and headed back to my hotel.

After saying 'happy new year' to the front desk assistant, I went to my room and collapsed on the bed. The time was 1am but I still stayed up for another hour to talk to friends and family.

Wednesday 1st January 2014

I woke up as late as I dared. I had to check-out by 10am and so at 9am I had a shower, packed and got ready before I handed in my 'key card' at 9:55am. After surrendering all of my luggage, I left the hotel in search of breakfast.

Tokyo seemed little different from, what was now, last year. I ate some doughnuts for breakfast before walking back to the Senso-ji temple to see how much of a mess it was after last night. To my shock people, in their billions, were still queuing to throw their hard earned cash away on a superstition. I spoke to a police woman who said the temple remained open last night until 6am; it was then closed for cleaning and reopened at 10am. I couldn't believe the sheer amount of people standing in line waiting to wish for a new year. As I watched them – witnessing nothing new – I decided upon a new business venture; I would build myself my own shrine somewhere in Japan and say that it is 'the' place to worship for a good new year (I'll get Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise to say that they had prayed here and wonderful things happened). I shall then make my own 'new year good luck charms' and sell them for a reasonable profit. This, given the amount of people here at Senso-ji, would mean that I wouldn't have to work at all in 2014 (showing that, indeed, this temple does do wonderful miracles). As I said, as I wasn't witnessing anything new I left the site quickly and headed … well anywhere.

Not having a plan today (and hating crowds) I decided to do what I did twelve days ago and walk around Tokyo. Last time my desired location had been Shinjuku; this time I decided upon Rippongi but, how I got there would be up to me and fate. Leaving Asakusa I followed the river heading south; having taken far too many photos this holiday already, I left my main camera at the hotel and used my MP3 player. I bumbled my way along the roads looking up more that down. Being in between the tourist spots, foot traffic was light; I therefore made good progress as I listened to a mix of classical music.

About an hour after I'd started walking I found myself at Tokyo's main train station. How I got here, I cannot begin to tell you but I didn't think I'd come so far south so quickly. I was however grateful as I needed the toilet and something to eat. Major train stations always have a plethora of both and so I headed in and followed the signs for the 'restaurants'. It would appear that the whole of Japan had, at that moment, decided upon the same action as I, resulting in every restaurant being full with a line of people waiting at each one. The toilets too were busy with the queue for the ladies doing rings around the entire train station. The men’s too had a queue, which I joined as I was desperate; fortunately it wasn't that long and soon I escaped the station forgetting food.

I was now getting really hungry however, I walked on fancying something other than fast food. I headed to Ginza certain of finding something which would take my fancy but no; due to today being the new year every promising building was shut leaving me with little choice but to dine in KFC. Once finished I proceeded onto my final destination being surprised at just how close it was. Rippongi is meant to be a trendy neighbourhood where all the 'cool children' hang. However, today being the first, all the cool children had gone home leaving the neighbourhood closed. I walked through the area seeing places I'd seen in March and, as I gazed, my feet started to hurt. By now the time was almost 3pm and so my weary feet had carried me around for almost four hours. I therefore found the nearest underground station and was pleased to find the line went north, close to Ueno park. A plan formed in my head; I would head to Ueno park and chill, before walking back to Asakusa where I would have a large evening meal, pick up my luggage and walk over to Asakusa underground station to board a train to the bus station.

Once I'd surfaced out of the underground I saw the park on my right. I walked towards it feeling that something was wrong. I didn't feel myself and felt sure it was the lack of food I'd eaten today (3x doughnuts, 1x KFC twister, 1x packed of fries and a packet of biscuits) therefore I went in search of something but, yet again, I found only fast food restaurants. I didn't not feel like last food and so I did something I try to avoid; I went to a coffee shop. Sure the hot chocolate and cake were delicious however, at about £5, it was almost half the cost of a meal. Whenever I travel, I always try to avoid coffee shops as much because, if not, your money will just evaporate.

Once I'd got my cake and hot chocolate I sat down over-looking the main street. I ate the wonderful cake and drank the lovely hot chocolate feeling little different. As I sat there I did start to drift off and so, there and then I realised what was wrong with me; I was exhausted. I knew that tonight I was taking a night bus and, no matter the state of the chair, I felt confident that I would be asleep in no time however, I couldn't sleep now. Against all of my bodies protests I got up and wondered into Ueno park where I found a seat and sat down for thirty minutes. Within this time I played a game on my MP3 player, 'people watched' and saw the sun go down on the first day of the year. Though feeling rubbish, I had to say that I enjoyed this relaxing time and, when the clock stroke 5pm, I was sad to move on however, move on I must.

Having walked between Asakusa and Ueno before I knew the way and soon I found myself close to my hotel. I went back to the Senso-ji temple to still see crowds of people wanting to pray for a new year (it looked as though the queue hadn't moved in the six hours I'd been away) before heading for a 'tonkatsu' (breaded pork) meal with rice and vegetables. Once consumed I felt a little better but not a lot. I thanked the waitress and staggered out of the restaurant and back towards my hotel.

Once in my hotel I received my bags back, and checked the internet. Even though the trip I was about to take was one of the simplest of my holiday (walk to the underground station: 10 minutes. Take the train for nine stops: 15 minutes. Arrive at bus station) I still wasn't looking forward to it. I felt as though, at any moment, I would fall asleep and end up god knows where. Once I'd walked to the station I walked down onto the platform where trains would be heading south. Praying for things to be straight forward I noticed that two different trains were approaching the station, neither of which displayed my required terminus as a destination. Not being in the most reasonable mood I got on the first train that arrived, remembering that this tactic had worked so well for me in the past.

Fortunately I had boarded the train which took me to the bus station. I got off and pretty much knew where I wanted to go however, I thought I'd check the map just to make sure. Why is it that help only appears when you don't want it? As I was about to move away from the map, confident in where I needed to go, a rather pleasant Japanese guy came up to me and asked, no insisted, that I took his help. I told him I wanted the local bus station so that I could catch a night bus to Miyako. He looked understandably confused at a foreigner asking to head to Iwate; until I told him I lived there. With that cleared up he still didn't disappear. We then had to ask the station officer (who was as much help as a walnut whip) and then he had to get out his Ipad to google search my request. I would like to note that, for the whole period, I had all of my bags on. Eventually he pointed me in the direction I was going to go anyway. To end this encounter as quickly as possible I thanked him a lot for his help and he looked pleased as punch. I then made a run for it.

I arrived at the bus station two hours before my bus was due. I sat down however, with every passing moment, I was feeling worse and worse and when my cough became continuous, I adopted a mask. To keep myself from falling asleep I wrote this blog and watched buses come in and out until mine arrived. As soon as it did I boarded it quickly and went to sleep as fast as I possibly could.

Thursday 2nd January 2014

In truth, my night had not been as pleasant as I thought it would have been. Sure I slept a lot however, I woke up a lot too. I woke up for good about forty minutes before I arrived back within Miyako; I spent the time thinking about 'this and that' whilst trying to peer out of the window without waking anyone else up. I couldn't see much but, whatever I could see, seemed to be covered in snow. I found it quite ironic that, three days ago, I was walking around in a T-shirt and now snow covered the landscape.

Once I arrived within Miyako I picked up my bags and carefully walked to my apartment. I found my apartment cold but, not as cold as I thought I would. On the bus, I thought about going home and getting three or four hours sleep however, now that I was at home, I avoided the temptation in hope for a early, and long, night. I therefore got on with my jobs for the day which included washing, buying food and updating this blog.

So, with a rather sad expression, that is it for my winter holiday. It has been a fast paced, tiring holiday however, I have seen so much within a relatively short period. All-in-all, the trip cost me about 210,369 Yen (£1,203.00) which for thirteen nights, five flights, three ferry journeys and two night bus journey's (plus a good £70.00 spent on souvenirs) I don't think its too bad (£92.50 per night).

So, where to next? Well I hope to go on a short, 3/4 day trip to Nara around March / April time however, we will have to see how the money situation pans out.

Until then,

Toodle Pip!

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