Saturday, November 28, 2009

Japan Already?

Ten Countries down, one to go!

Japan the city of sushi, sake, karaoke, hiroshima, harajuku, cherry blossoms and geishas- I love it. Japan was my last foreign country and it was memorable between the independent travel and trying to dive into the culture. For starters, Japan is so clean and the people are so nice and willing to help. We had two days to spend in Yokohama and then one day to sail to Kobe where we stayed for two days.

Japan is our safest country on our itinerary so my friends and I were set on traveling to Tokyo, as Yokohama is only about 40 minutes away via subway. I have gained such an appreciation for public transportation while in Japan. The metro was so easy to navigate even though it was written in Japanese, we made it in one piece. I think I like public transportation because of the way it is in Japan- clean, clean, clean. I mean I have rode the subways in D.C, NYC, and experienced public transportation in several other countries including India but those don't compare at all. The metro was surprisingly quite, like no one talked, actually they all slept. It was funny because these people would be passed out heads bobbing and resting on stranger's shoulders.. I have no idea how they woke up on time to get off at their stop. Another peculiar thing is the anime porn comics... seriously these are all over and people read them with no shame, people of all ages and genders. That was weird to get used to, to say the least. Something that is not accepted in Japan especially on the metro is blowing your nose, that is a no-no. It is also considered offensive to excessively use your hands while speaking, that was difficult to remember when relying on some sort of sign language in order to find out what train to catch next. Tokyo as expected was full of english speakers but everywhere else, not a chance. Many times I would say. 'excuse me, do you speak english?' and they would reply with a straight up english 'no'. That was kind of funny.

My friends and I booked a hotel for the one night we had in Tokyo in Roppongi which is the nightlife capital of Tokyo, fitting. In order to get to our train to Roppongi we went through Shibuya and I will tell you I have never seen that many people in my life. All the eye could see were dark haired, well dressed people. Crossing the street made you feel like a fish swimming upstream. The Japanese have sweet style, they don't use much color (except for the Harajuku district) but it is still so attractive. All the girls dress the same, rockin boots, tights, a cute jacket, straight across the forehead bangs and so many cell phone charms that there is no way they could lose their phone is their huge bags. The men dressed like ballers. They wore suits and really neat shoes, no tennis shoes though? I have come to the conclusion that not only are the Japanese better looking than the chinese but also they are friendlier. I was not really expecting to see a difference but it was there, between their costumer service and willingness to please. I guess that's the difference between an oppressed society. The Japanese however are not friendly to other Asians, as they are an incredibly ethnocentric country. Anyway, our hotel was right in the center if Roppongi and that was wonderful considering a taxi ride in Japan starts at $7! We walked everywhere and it was neat because they city is always bustling and it reminded my of Times Square, with lots of lights and things to look at. I was wanting sushi, however my friends don't really do fish so I decided I would just get it later in the trip and we ventured to Hard Rock Tokyo. That was fine by me considering I have only ever been to the one in San Diego. We got there during lunch and got to have the first free refills all semester. No other country does this, it was refreshing in more ways than one. Our waitress was very nice and her name was Maiko (pronounced like michael) which I learned later in the week from watching 'memoirs of a Geisha' that it means apprentice Geisha so I didn't know what her parents were expecting from her. hello kitty was all over the menu, even though we didn't see one sanrio store in any of the asian countries. I got a burger and called it a day, I had not been that full in a long time, and because of the refills, the bathroom was needed.

Japan has some crazy toilets. They sing songs, wash you in more ways than one and are even self cleaning in some instances. As my friend put it, 'it's like a carwash for your booty', eloquent I know. The seats are even heated? I learned they sing songs because the Japanese find it embarrassing to hear someone go to the bathroom. Those were an experience in itself. The toilet in our hotel was just as sophisticated, it's obviously something they really take pride in! I actually like them from an environmental stand point considering they depend on a bidet washing over toilet paper. Japan seems to be on the 'going green' band wagon as well as all the cities are so clean... but ironically it is so difficult to find a 'rubbish bin'. That is something I didn't understand because in the States if there was not a trash-can than there would just be piles of trash on the ground, same goes for many of the other countries I have visited. The water in the Harbor was also very clean which was a nice change.

After a late lunch, we opted to go find a karaoke bar. After a hour of searching for the one the hotel recommended, we located it (the sign was completely in Japanese and that sign did not correlate with the locals knowledge) and set a time to come back and sing. We ventured all around the town going to the pet shop that Paris hilton frequents, starbucks (so common, actually there was the biggest concentration of starbucks and Mcdonalds in Japan than anywhere else) and other various shops. Although Japan is very aware of their culture, you can't buy too much of it. All the shops sold modern things, something I found some what disappointing. We went back to the hotel, got ready for the evening and then headed back to jam out. Karaoke unfortunately is not done as portrayed in 'Rush Hour' so there was no opportunity to do my own rendition of Chris Tucker's performance. Karaoke consists of a rented out room where you and your friends can sing as loud as you want and order drink after drink while these lights flash and strobe. This was the cheapest Karaoke bar around and that was nice considering most other SASers paid around $50 for an hour. We learned in our cultural pre-port that many foreigners sleep in karaoke bars instead of hotels, just keep that in mind if you ever make it our there. We ended up staying for close to two hours singing our little hearts out. We sang many songs including some Christmas ones Mariah Carey style. I loved seeing Christmas decorations in Japan. Although it is more of a corporate holiday than for religious reasons, it was still so nice to see some holiday spirit. Suicide rates are sky-high in Japan so we were told they really try to live up as many holidays as possible to give breaks to the stressful work weeks.

We went to a club after karaoke and that was a lot of fun, they played great music. Dancing in clubs is illegal.. yeah you read that correctly. I was shocked too, I mean they still do dance but for some reason the government can't know about it.. thus you can't use your cameras? It was strange. We still had a lot of fun and called it a night sometime around 4 in the morning. The following day we woke up early because we had to make it back to Yokohama before the ship took off without us. While we were in the area I really wanted to see Harajuku and unlike the sushi, my friends did too. Ever since I saw Gwen Stefani in concert and saw her little Harajuku girls dancing in the background, I found their style to be really cool. Harajuku is located right off the subway stop on 'takeshita' street, no lie. There were people flooding the streets and they all had different colors of hair and eccentric dress. We spent awhile walking the streets and window shopping because everything was so expensive, there were SO many sock stores, which I'm cool with but too damn expensive.

We left, got on the quiet subway and headed back to Yokohama. We got back dropped our stuff off and then attempted to rent some bicycles to go around the city, the problem was that the man did not speak a word of english, not even 'no' and all we knew from our time in Japan was arygato (well with help from Styx.. domo arygato Mr. Roboto) We had to ditch that plan and we just ended up walking all around. I really loved yokohama because it was a beautiful waterfront town with fall like trees and the people were so outdoorsy and family orientated. I loved seeing the little kiddos in their boots running around like they were 8 when in fact they were probably 3. The kids act so much older than they really are. Our ship left that evening at six and then we had a whole day at sea in between the two ports which consisted of sleeping and homework. There were only 194 members of the community left on the ship and that was such a nice change of pace. My roommate was traveling independently so it was so nice to have the room to myself, for once.

The ship arrived in Kobe early the following day and it is a much more industrial city with SO many slot machines! I basically just walked around and took in the sights, it was a holiday weekend in Japan so there were people all over. There was a nine story mall right near the subway station and had a huge tower records at the top. It was so nice to be able to listen to the CD's that have been released in the past three months as I feel totally disconnected. I spent many hours in there just trying to soak up as much of the music as possible. There were also computers with free Internet so that was nice! One the last day I finally got my sushi right before it started to rain, it was from a connivence store but nonetheless I got it!

Japan was a great way to end the stretch of foreign ports on this voyage and now I am attempting to conquer our longest stretch at sea on our way to Honolulu- ten days. It's brutal to say the least. I never thought I would find four days of class unbearable but the time has come. It also does not help that assignments and exams have picked up and one final is the day before we get to Hawaii. Thanksgiving was also interesting on the ship. In Hong Kong, we got a new chef and he was an American so we had a pretty legit dinner although there were no sweet potatoes or green bean casserole, my staples. I spent it with my adopted 'family' and it was nice to eat my meal in a dinner setting but I would honestly have preferred to eat with my real family or even my friends on the ship, but oh well it was nice either way. I find my list of things I am thankful for even longer since being on this trip, I mean after seeing everything I have seen, I feel so blessed. Our family took a lap to burn off our meal and that was pretty fun as we did a follow the leader type of parade through out the ship ending with a couple sprints outside on the seventh deck. It is a Thanksgiving I will never forget.

We make it to American soil on the 4th of December and that will be much needed after ten days on the ship. I don't have too many plans for Hawaii except for viewing Pearl Harbor one more time... especially since it is so close to the 'day that lives in infamy'. I plan to just enjoy the sun and these last couple of days with my friends until we get back on the ship, take finals, pack up all my stuff (somehow) and then head home to SAN DIEGO!


I can't wait. It is a strange feeling longing to be home but then at the same time not wanting this voyage to end- at all. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 16 days!

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