THIS IS THE FIRST PART (OF SEVEN) OF MY TOKYO 2016 BLOG SERIES
Most of the time, I am just an ordinary person. However, every once in a while, I do feel like I have some lucky stars watching upon me and striking their magic for me. One of those instances was in 2013. That was the first time I took my first step on the land of the rising sun―Japan.
It was during the summer, my first time there. As part of a kind of student exchange program, I went there with strangers, who, upon completing the journey, have turned into good friends. Many of us bonded on how much we enjoyed being in Japan. I think, we collectively felt the warmth of the place in “taking care” of us, even if it was only for a brief time. Personally, it was such an unforgettable experience. I took an instant liking to the whole country, even when I really only stayed, for the most part, in Nara.
Looking back at it, it was somewhat obvious why. You see, Japan isn’t exactly a stranger to someone like me. Growing up, I already forged a connection with the country through the countless anime and manga that I consumed on a daily basis. Even though this connection seemed to fade away as I entered the next phases in my life, the bond was still there. It only took time and fateful (re-)encounters with certain things that made me realize that connection again. And then, upon meeting the real thing at last, I was relieved to know that much of what I imagined was actually somewhat true. Technically, it should’ve been a foreign and strange place to me, but it wasn’t.
During my first time, through the excitement of everything I experienced there, I came across a display of wall of wishes for The Star Festival (in other words, Tanabata) at the hotel where I was staying in. Along with two friends who I just met the very same week, I took a piece of paper and wrote mindlessly a wish about coming back to Japan. “Someday… SOON!” I wrote. I put that wish into the box provided, not particularly thinking when or how I would come back. I just knew I wanted to come back. Someday. Somehow.
Thank my lucky stars―and perhaps, those Tanabata stars I sent my wish to in 2013, my “Someday. Somehow.” came way earlier and in a much more unbelievable fashion than I could ever imagine. In October 2016―some three years after my first time, I came back to Japan. Though for a briefer time, I stayed there and had the time of my life―filled with precious self-discoveries, unforgettable and one-of-a-kind experiences, and pure happiness.
During my previous visit, I didn’t get to experience much of the capital Tokyo, so when I was planning this life-changing trip, I decided to just stay put and explore Tokyo as much as I can. I was there from the 17th to the 21st of October―a total of four amazing nights. This time, I decided I needed to go there alone. At first, there was an understandable nervousness inside me―the kind of butterflies in one’s stomach―because, after all, this was to be the very first time I ever traveled somewhere faraway alone. I wasn’t particularly afraid, though. I was sure about it because I believe in the place I was going to. The land had taken care of me once before. Like I said, it’s supposed to be a foreign place, but it never felt like it. So this time, it certainly felt like I was coming to a familiar place. Somewhere that almost feels like home.
There was an ulterior motive about my going alone on this particular trip. The purpose of my visit was a selfish one. As you may or may not know, I grew up as that girl who learned all the basic life lessons from Sailor Moon. Actually, I learned the lessons when I rediscovered the anime recently, some 15 years after I first watched it. When I was much younger, I only learned the one important thing: girls can be heroes; girls are heroes. Anyway, as part of that rediscovery of the vital existence of Sailor Moon in my life, I also for the first time learned about the musical version of the story. The tradition has actually long been established, but it was revived in 2013 after some years being inactive. After getting my first taste of the Sailor Moon musical (bless recorded live stream and a team of really nice, kind, and hard-working fansubber), I have always wondered about how it feels to experience those musicals first-hand. (Side note: I’m also crazy about musicals! So, imagine, two obsessions in one). In the back of my mind, I have this wish that maybe someday (and somehow) I get to attend a live performance of a Sailor Moon musical. I remember during last year’s musical season, when tickets to the shows started being offered to international audience (Hello, online ticket reservation website in English!), I thought to myself, “Ah, so there’s a chance! Maybe someday!” I daydreamed about it for a while, then I went on with my life.
It’s the funny thing about life―yesterday’s daydream could be today’s reality. And perhaps, that was what happened to me. Around June this year, when the new musical was being announced, I started pondering, “Maybe I could plan a trip to Tokyo for the sake of Sera Myu.” Before I knew it, I started punching the numbers, listing the pros and cons, and researching details of a possible trip left and right. Somehow, the simple thought was slowly turning into an actual plan. There were still so many things needed to be looked into, but the seeds were scattered to the soil. And the rain that would help those seeds grow was just about to come.
As fate would have it, it wasn’t rain that came. It was storm. Because of multiple reasons and situations, during the same time I was planning this trip, I found myself discovering and nurturing a new kind of obsession; a new fandom. Some of you who are reading this might think I’ve been living under a rock for so long, but earlier this year I just discovered Arashi. Yes, that insanely popular male idol group from Japan. To some, I seemed late to the craze, but to me, I “met” them in the most perfect timing in my life. Long story short (possibly, this needs a separate piece to elaborate on), finding Arashi at this point in my life rejuvenated me. They’re a much needed rain―no, well, storm―in my life that was drying, slowly but surely. In a more specific way, they also gave me the final push to go on this trip. This is going to sound stupid, and if you never experience similar things, you will not get it, but I wanted to be on the same land as Arashi, even just for a moment. So I was even more determined to go.
Planning a trip on your own is not the most difficult thing in the world, but it takes patience, effort, and determination. Thankfully, I have my clear goals―this was to be a purely self-indulgent, fangirling trip. I was fine about it. I thought I needed it. I think I’ve gone too long under an unclear pressure to do well on certain things and to reach a certain target, that I haven’t been able to take time for myself. This was my chance to do it.
However, coming back to my earlier point about having a connection with Japan, coming back this time wasn’t just me fulfilling my fangirling needs. Yes, it was a big part of it, but another big part was re-experiencing Japan, in particular Tokyo. Three years have passed. I have slightly changed here and there. I’ve come to admire the country more and more, not just because of my first time, but because of the many things I have encountered about Japan after that first time. For example, somehow a year ago, because I started watching Japanese drama series, I found myself enrolling to classes to learn the language. By learning the language, I come to appreciate the culture a little bit more, too. I realized there are so many aspects of life in Japan―or perhaps, “the Japanese life”―that may be a good fit for me. As I am in the process of searching for a place to belong (because, let’s be real, I don’t particularly like where I am now), I find Japan to be the right fit. This thought was the motivation for me to make this trip happen. I wanted to test the water. I wanted to test the air. I wanted to see if I like them, and if they like me.
Judging from the overall result of the whole time I spent there, yes, we do like each other. Like I’ve already mentioned, from October 17th to 21st, 2016, I had the best time of my life. It all started with a really chill, quiet, and pleasant morning flight from Jakarta to Tokyo. I opted for a morning direct flight that arrived in Tokyo in late afternoon so I could rest on the night, and started early the next day and have a full day of activities. I chose to fly with Japan Airlines, because I remember how enjoyable their flight was during my first time. Sure, it can be a bit pricey. I was ready to break the bank just for the ease and comfort of a direct flight, but thank my lucky stars, I got to save a lot because I had promo ticket (again, thank my lucky stars!).
Choosing JAL was wise. Not only the schedule was kind to my overall physical endurance in traveling, it’s the little Japanese thing that makes the experience remarkable. I remember waiting to board the airplane, still in Jakarta, and as the flight attendants were entering the aircraft to get ready, they made sure to bow politely to the waiting passengers. I feel like only the Japanese do that. Another instance, when we were approaching landing time and the flight attendants were finishing their service, two of them came to me to have a little chat. They asked me how long I was going to stay in Tokyo, and which area I would stay. On a wrong moment, these questions can be annoying or invasive. But at that time, to me, it was an advance warm welcome from the country and the people.
Landing in Narita was emotional. Remember, I was alone. Not only that, the flight didn’t have full passengers, so I got to claim two seats by the window, which made it easy for me to release all kinds of weird facial expressions and murmurs about how surreal it was to be in Japan again after so long, and to be there all by myself. As I walked out of the plane and to immigration, baggage claim, and the ticket counter for the bus to the city, I think I was crying with happiness inside. I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it.
The weird but awesome thing about arriving in Tokyo that evening was how easy everything went by. It almost felt like I’ve been going on that path a thousand times before. I was nervous about getting transportation to the city, because I never experienced it before. I thought I’d get confused, but of course, I didn’t. Not even for a millisecond. This, of course, is thanks to the incredibly effective organization of information and access that the Japanese is known for. I was also concerned about getting to my hotel, because I had to walk from the bus stop to the hotel with all my things. But all of these worries and concerns were for nothing. It couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I made it safe to the city, to the hotel, with little to no confusion.
Because this was a solo trip, when it comes to accommodation, I tried to choose an affordable, but still comfortable choice. I went for Kimi Ryokan in Ikebukuro, because they offer a private room that is quite affordable. I insisted on the privacy, because I knew the whole trip would be overwhelming enough that I needed a safe space to “vent” and process everything. Kimi Ryokan is basically a ryokan-style hostel. I was drawn to it because of the ryokan concept. I wanted the “sleeping-on-futon-on-tatami-floor” experience to be a part of this particular trip. Overall, it was the perfect choice for me. It’s simple and comfortable enough–the staff is kind and helpful. But more importantly, my instinct was right in choosing Ikebukuro. It’s a lively area. Plus, my ryokan was so close to the JR and Metro access, so that going around the city would be easy.
The night I arrived, I was a bit surprised, though. I thought Tokyo in mid-October would be colder, but apparently, even the leaves hadn’t turned red yet. I laughed at myself for packing a quite serious wool coat in anticipation of really chilly weather. But this warmer-than-expected weather was actually such a blessing. It made the subsequent days of going around the city from sun up until sun down a lot more enjoyable and beautiful.
That first night, I quickly showered and settled in my 4.5 mat tatami room. It was a really small room with almost nothing in it. It was very Japanese in spirit. At times, I felt like one of those students from faraway renting a room in town during their stay to find themselves. And then, there’s the futon… Inserting oneself into the incredibly comfortable futon was the nicest feeling. I remember lying there for a while, awake and looking up at the ceiling. I couldn’t believe that if we had removed the ceiling and the roof, I would practically be lying under Japan’s early autumn sky. There may have been a tear shed as I whispered to myself, “I’m here. ただいま.”
I was so happy and relieved to be in Tokyo again. I was really looking forward to everything that I would encounter there. I was ready to execute all of my detailed plans. I was ready to re-experience Tokyo. However, nothing could prepare me for the fact that in those short few days, I actually gained more than I ever expected.
(…to be continued in Part 2/7)