At multiple points during the past few months, I’ve (OK fine, only very slightly) deluded myself into believing that 2012 would have me jumping back on the blogging bandwagon, rather than neglecting this poor excuse of a website, save for a minor post once every few months that consists mostly of me talking about how I don’t blog anymore. So ignoring that, I’m not going to waste any more time talking about not blogging. I am going to just do it. So hold on to your butts, here comes a somewhat old-school style mind barf as I recount my short trip back to old Nippon in a semi-followable manner.
Despite booking the ticket to Japan back in like August, it still seems like it kind of crept up on me. Could have been because December was pretty busy with school and work, but all of a sudden it was Christmas and even sooner after that I realized that I needed to pack to head over to Japan. This was the first time going back since returning to the US in August of 2010. Nervousness, anxiety, curiosity, dyslexia – I had none of these issues while preparing for my “return voyage.” As I’ve explained to a few people since, going to Japan just isn’t a huge deal for me anymore. It’s along the same lines as if I’m going to take a trip to Bloomington: I of course look forward to revisiting old hangouts, seeing friends who are still around, walking down familiar streets, and all that normal stuff. It’s fun and I love going, but going to Tokyo is no longer a big adventure. It really doesn’t even feel like I’m going to a foreign country at all. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but rather something to be expected after so many trips to Japan, topped off by living there full time for four years. So while it might sound amazing to some people when I say “I’m spending New Years vacation in Tokyo,” really it’s not such a big deal for me.
I was back in the Tokyo/Chiba area for about a week and a half total, which seems like a long vacation but honestly still is a pretty short trip. Especially when trying to meet up with so many people in the area and hitting up old favorite restaurants and shops, I do kind of wish I could have stayed longer. I definitely feel like I didn’t waste any days over there though – pretty much every day had something planned at least roughly. It seems like a lot of old friends would say “wow you haven’t changed at all!” which I guess is better than hearing something like “my god you’ve turned into a totally different person” or “Godzilla is attacking the city!” At first I thought it was a little strange, but I did quickly come to realize that although a year and a half had passed, not much really had changed. Everyone and everywhere is pretty much the same as before, which I guess should be kind of expected. It’s hard to explain the feeling. I guess if anything, it was weird that it wasn’t weird to be back in Japan.
This is getting a lot more introspective than I thought it would have. I guess I should give more details about what I actually did during my week and a half over there. I didn’t really do anything touristy of course, so it was more just hanging out with friends and hitting up old tabehodai buffets and restaurants. Also I expectedly bought a decent amount of plastic toys and junk. Surprisingly though, my suitcases didn’t come back as full as I might have thought they would.
The flight over to Narita was via Chicago, on an early morning series of flights. Following my modus operandi for international travel, I stayed up the entire night beforehand packing, which means I was pretty exhausted as I stumbled around O’Hare waiting for my international flight. Finally got to my seat, and luckily there was an empty seat in my row so I could spread out a bit more with an empty seat separating me from the next passenger. I slept around a total of 6 or 7 fairly solid hours during the 11 hour flight, eventually watching some TV on my iPhone. Breezed through immigration, getting the first stamps in my brand new, renewed passport, and picked up the rental SIM card I had pre-arranged for my iPhone. It did feel slightly cool and spy-like, picking up a package at the airport post office, going to a bench in the corner, swapping the SIM card from the rental phone into my own, and having my iPhone work in Japan. Or it might have just been the jetlag and lack of sleep doing their thing.
As I was spending the first few nights of my trip in Chiba, at the Mitsui Garden Hotel just 2 or 3 blocks from my old apartment, the nostalgia kicked in pretty quick. Took JR from the airport to Chiba, and cabbed it from there. First meal was kind of late, at Choshimaru, for real sushi that was actually prepared fresh with fresh ingredients. It might not be a fancy place, but it’s light years above what they have in St. Louis (no offense to the many St. Louis sushi shop owners who I’m sure read this blog religiously). Crashed hard that night, sleeping until late the next afternoon. Jetlag wasn’t too bad after that, although my sleep schedule was slightly weird for the first few days. It might not have helped that there was an all night party/karaoke planned for my first full day in Japan. I was surprised that I could stay awake for as long as I did, being jetlagged and out of practice for so long.
Hmm… If I actually do a full, detailed description of every day back in Japan, this entry will be way too long. I’m going to have to kind of summarize stuff from here on out. I’ll throw in some pictures though, since supposedly 1 picture is worth 1,000 words. Coincidentally, this is much, much better than the exchange rate of 1 USD to Japanese Yen.
Spent New Years Eve in Chiba, with the countdown to 2012 at The Hub. On New Years Day checked out Chiba Shrine for a kind of hatsumode I guess, which was actually pretty cool because I don’t recall ever going to a shrine on New Years Day proper. It was of course super packed with people. That afternoon I changed hotels to spend the middle portion of my trip in “THE TOKYO.” Got a pretty good and cheap hotel, the Keikyu EX Inn Asakusabashi-Ekimae, which ended up being great and a good central base of operations for doing stuff in the city. Went to Kamen Rider The Diner in Ikebukuro, saw the national college rugby semi-finals, and almost died eating shabu-shabu tabehodai. I feel like my mass-eating skills have gone down significantly since leaving Japan, which is kind of a shame. It was delicious, but wow there is only so much beef and goma-dare you can eat. The next morning I experienced a post-food coma food-hangover of epic proportions, which could be the really disgusting plot for The Hangover Part 3 if those writers get really desperate.
Speaking of food, that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, since it really is just totally different being back in the States. When you’re in Japan for a long time, you really start to miss stuff like pizza, Mexican food, and steak. I mean, you can get all of those foods in Japan, but they’re just not the same. They’ll work, and there are even some good places to go, but you still always are wishing you could get stuff from the other side of the pond. Well after being in the US for a long time the same thing starts to happen with Japanese food. Sushi, ramen, donburi, and stuff like that are kind of available in the US (especially in places like LA or NY), but it’s still not the same. So being back in Japan was awesome at the very least just because of all the good food.
Got to see a lot of old friends (thanks to everyone who made time to hang out!) at random times during the trip, but the main event was of course a massive party at Y’s with tons of people. Since the IES days in 2004, Y’s really has been the location for some of the best and most memorable events and parties, so it was awesome to go back and do another one there like in the old days. Bryan and Karen, who also live back in the US now, happened to be in Japan while I was there so it really was like a massive reunion. All in all it was a great time and I got to see a ton of people who I hadn’t seen in at least the year and a half since I moved back to St. Louis. Even certain friends who only have a 60% encounter rate for Y’s events showed up, haha. We went back to Chiba afterwards for all night karaoke again and I actually managed to stay up the whole time.
The last part of my trip I went back to stay Chiba, and was able to meet up with some old AEON people, etc. who couldn’t make it to Y’s because of the Saturday work shifts. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long since I graduated college and moved to Japan to work as an English teacher. Actually, I only now realize as I type this that that was about five and a half years ago. Things have changed but then again they really haven’t. I could definitely see myself moving back to Japan at some point, although I am honestly pretty happy with the way things are progressing back in St. Louis right now. I’m definitely not going to just settle down here for good just yet, so maybe in a few years I’ll get the urge to work and live abroad again. I guess you could say that life right now is a lot more routine than during the years I spent in Japan, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m busier and living in the American suburbs, or if it’s just because I’m getting older. Eh, I’m not really worried about it because I still have several more years of wandering around the planet trying to figure out what I’ll do when/if I grow up.
And with that, since my eyes are starting to close on their own I guess I will wind down this absurdly long post. I am seriously going to try to at least post more often than once a month during 2012, but that is a promise that will most likely be broken several times if not every month. Actually, I’m sure I’ll have at least one follow up post regarding weird or random stuff I saw in Japan, so there is at least some content there.