tisdag 28 april 2009

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

I'm back in Sweden now, and have been for a few days. During that time I've met Melody (to everyone's explosive delight) had dinner with my parents, listened to an early cut of Jesaiah's new album, and begun to organize my grown-up life. 
It's surprisingly hard to understand that I have just spent three months in Tokyo. Really.
Nothing here has changed, obviously, but it's funny how quickly you pick up old routines and habits. In many ways, it's as if I never left.

My last night in Tokyo took place in Shin-matsudo, hometown of Philippe and Robin. The former was kind enough to let me stay at his place for the night, and together with Robin's friend Andreas we set out to find something fun to do in Shin-matsudo on a Friday night. It started well enough with sushi, which I've eaten less of than I had hoped in Tokyo.
The plan was then to find a karaoke place and/or bowling alley, which proved difficult. I was initially determined to find something really colourful, like a paintball/casino/dog race establishment, but there's not that much available in Shin-matsudo. At last we settled for an hour of free drinks and karaoke, servicing both the thirst of my comrades and my eagerness to sing Whitney Houston songs.
It was a nice hour. I sang pretty much non-stop, plowing through both One Moment In Time and The Greatest Love of All, as well as some old favorites by Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Feist. Me and Philippe also tried to conquer Hysteria by Muse, which nearly killed us.

The journey back to Stockholm was smooth, thankfully. My overweight suitcase and bus-sized backpack made it through check-in and customs at Narita without any fuss, and the 10-hour flight to Copenhagen wasn't too bad at all. I watched some of The Incredibles and about 9 episodes of The Simpsons. The food was great, and I got some sleep.
At Copenhagen I again bought some internet-time, and the flight to Stockholm was barely noticeable.
Before I knew it, I was back in my apartment.

I've already been asked the question "How was Tokyo?" to which I have no good reply. It was amazing. It was difficult, at times, and confusing. It's the greatest city in the world, and probably the most expensive one I've visited. 
I'm sure the significance of this trip will become apparent over time. Right now, it's a collection of photographs and new acquaintances, fond memories and some vague understanding of the Japanese language.
But three months is a long time. Maybe not spent going to work as always, but learning new things every day and discovering a city like Tokyo, it's a lot of time.

I've seen snow and summer, listened to noise and the shamisen, eaten every type of Japanese food I could ever want, seen the sakura blossom. I've been to temples in Kamakura and seen robots on Odaiba, I've watched a Japanese game show being made, and seen silent movies accompanied by a benshi voice-actor. I've been to retro videogame shops and ten-floor department stores, the Imperial Garden and Electric Town in Akihabara.
Despite all that I have done and seen, I can't wait to go back. 

As far as "How was Tokyo?" goes, I advise anyone who asks to find out for themselves. It's the best city in the world.

Packing all the essentials.

Philippe's glorious home.

Hitting the notes.

My ten-hour flight: Simpsons, onigiri and Soyjoy, and sleep (not pictured.)

Oh harrow.

Everyone's favorite niece, making friends with Totoro.

Back home, as it were.

fredag 24 april 2009

Packin' heat.

I'm leaving.
Tomorrow, that is. Due to Sakura House's lovely adherence to bureaucracy, I had to move out today, and will be spending the night in Philippe's room (or possibly on the subway or in an alley, we'll see what happens.)
I barely managed to squeeze my belongings into a suitcase and a very serious backpack, which will no doubt leave my spine mangled and shattered by the time I get home.
Home! It's exciting, and scary, and a bit sad. With so little time left, I just want to get moving and bring everything back safely. Well, at least my records are already in my apartment.

This, the last week of my stay in Tokyo, has been a good one. I had my doubts, but then I met a really nice girl from school who didn't oppose to spending three afternoons in a row walking aimlessly around some of my favorite parts of Tokyo. It's a bit of a kicker that I met her now, four days before leaving. Anyway, we walked and talked and bought cool stuff and ate crêpes, and I'm really glad we did.
Monday was my birthday, so Robin and Philippe bought me sushi for lunch. Then me and Robin went to the Yushukan war museum at Yasukuni shrine, to see broken helmets and the Japanese' thoughts on Pearl Harbor (amongst many other, really interesting things.) 
I've been there before, and I still like it.

So that's about it. One night and one morning to go.
Now I'm literally sitting outside my vacated room in Shimura-sanchome, ready to depart and eventually return home.

Philippe and Robin, happy about sushi.

My stand-in birthday cake, with cotton candy-flavoured ice cream.
Not bad at all.

Lunch at Yasukuni with Sanna. Yes, that is nattō.

Bright lights in Ginza, one last time.


söndag 19 april 2009


Yokohama is, apparently, the second largest city in Japan. Huh. I wouldn't have guessed it.

With it's seaside location at the entrance to Tokyo bay, Yokohama has ever been a vital commercial hub of Japan. It's also been torn apart more than once.
In 1923, a staggering 95% of the city's entire population died in the Great Kantō earthquake. Some 22 years later, American bombs repeated the effect and erased most of Yokohama along with the rest of Tokyo.
As I said in my previous post, I keep this in mind when looking at the infrastructure, architecture and everyday life of Tokyo. Most of what I see around me has only been here for about 60 years.

Anyway, I went to Yokohama today! Perhaps that was obvious. I've been wanting to go there for some time, if only to get away from Tokyo for a day (not that I don't like Tokyo, it's just nice to check out the surroundings.)
Although Yokohama is officially it's own city it's still within the Tokyo subway system. Me, Philippe and Robin were able to get from Jimbocho to Yokohama in less than 30 minutes for 510 yen, which was nice. 
Once there, we eventually managed to find our way towards Chinatown, following the water.

Chinatown was cool. I mean, nothing mind-blowing, but it was different. We had some proper chinese food for lunch, which was really good. Also, there were about 80 shops selling panda-related items of every kind. Panda candy, panda t-shirts, panda umbrellas. Panda meat? Maybe.
Chinatown being the first, we did have a second motive for being in Yokohama today. As Philippe informed us early on, a giant robotic spider was scheduled to make an appearance in Yokohama today. Sounds good, I thought. But where? And when?
These two pieces of information were gathered quickly and easily enough, and after our colorful adventure in Chinatown, we decided to try and locate said constructs.
When looking for a gigantic robotic spider, you'll never do wrong to follow the crowd. We did, and even though "the crowd" covered most of downtown Yokohama, we eventually found the spiders. They were, in fact, gigantic. And robotic. Sort of. It was actually a set of limbs on a Matrix-inspired body, that moved as though the spider was walking. Except, it was hauled around on a truck. 
A touch lame, I have to say. See, when someone says "giant robotic spider", I envision a scuttling cyberbug of lethal, inhumane power climbing up the side of the Landmark Tower. This did not happen today.
Anyway. I enjoyed Yokohama. The sun and the heat helped, I suppose.

Three days ago, I returned to Kugahara for dinner with the family. It was great to see Akiko, Kobayashi-san, Eric and José again, and eat good, real Japanese food. I guess that's the last time I'll see them for a very long time. A bit sad, really.

And tomorrow it's my birthday. Hip hop hooray!

Sea Bass. We saw this error on least six different signs.

We also saw lots and lots of dogs in silly clothes. 
As one does in Tokyo.

Giant robotic spider.


torsdag 16 april 2009

Going solo

I'm a nerd. Alot of people make that claim about themselves, often in an attempt at self-criticism or humour, but I don't think that's necessary. Saying that I'm a nerd is like saying that my shirt is red; it's stating a simple matter of fact.
Anyway, my nerdism manifests itself in many ways, not least in my complete fascination with the second World War. 
I think one of the most interesting things about coming to a new country is understanding it through it's history, to some degree. Things like colonialism, war and religion have all helped change and shape the world, not least in the last hundred years.
This is especially true in Japan, who suffered perhaps the most humiliating and utter defeat in World War II, and still managed to become one of the leading economic and industrial powers in the world. Like, omg, wtf?
I've had all this in mind when I've met alot of Japanese people, especially the elderly. Those who were born in Tokyo in the late 40's have literally grown up with the city, seeing it emerge from a smoking ruin to a futuristic metropolis (in some places, at least.) 
But aside from the Yushukan war museum, I haven't found too many traces of the war here. Until now.
Two days ago I decided to check out a photographic exhibition in a building very close to our school. I've walked past it dozens of times, only occasionally looking up at it's unique facade, but I never knew what it was.
Turns out, this building is the Showa-kan – a library and memorial to Japan during and after World War II. Since opening in 1999, they've collected and exhibited pictures, texts and films from that time for all to see. I only glimpsed at some of the books and photography archives, but there was alot of it.
My inspiration for going there now was an exhibition with photos taken by Werner Bischof in 1951 and 1952, in Tokyo and Kyoto. It shows an occupied Japan, shaped by American influences but still shaken by the tragedies of the war. Funny, educational, fascinating, I really enjoyed it. And it was free, so that made it extra super awesome.

Yesterday, my roommate Nathalie went back to Sweden. She came here when I did, but I have nine more days of rice, sun and crowded subway trains to go.
I've never lived together with anyone before, and all things considered it's been great. 
So long, my friend, I will miss you.

First day of school, Januray 13th.

Sweet's Paradise, February 6th.

Denny's, February 21st.

Ice skating, March 28th.

söndag 12 april 2009

Holiday road!

A week ago it was spring. Now it's summer.
The blossoming is all but over, but the warmth seems to be staying put. The last few days I've been doing an absurd amount of walking.
I have one of those machines that count your every step, and since coming to Tokyo I've walked 134 040 393 steps, which is the equivalent of six laps around the earth. 
Okay, so none of the facts stated above are true. But fuck me, have I been walking! 

On Wednesday, I went to Ueno. This was actually my first time there, and I'm impressed. Aside from the famous park and it's many pretty trees, there's a market between Okachimachi and Ueno where gullable tourists can buy cheap backpacks and skewered fruit. I'll be going back there before long. Me and Robin walked there from school, which wasn't too bad. Even though Geos is quite a bit away from Shinjuku and Shibuya, I think it's at a good location. 

Thursday, I went south towards the Imperial Gardens to eat my lunch under a tree. Aside from an abundance of ants, it was nice. The sun is really intense here, and sunscreen didn't seem all that necessary when I packed my bags in early January.
I continued down towards Ginza, hung out at the Apple store for a while to borrow their smokin' hot wi-fi, and walked back to Jimbōchō. I plan on bringing a book the next time.

On Friday, me and Robin took the advice of our teacher to go and see sumo wrestling at Yasukuni shrine, near Kudanshita. Supposedly it was free, but we couldn't really find an entrance and there were too many people there already anyway (where do all these people come from, don't they have jobs to go to?) so we went off to find a better spot.
We did, actually, find a school just behind the shrine. Trying to look like we belonged, we went inside and up to the roof, which gave us a great view of the entire arena. Not that sumo wrestling is very exciting to watch, but it was cool none the less.
From there we followed the Kandagawa river to Ochanomizu, bought some records, and went home.

And yesterday, I finished off this week's leg-abuse with a trip to Odaiba, with Phillippe. I've been there once before, with my parents. This time our main destination was the Miraikan science museum, and their current Terminator-exhibition. 
Featuring mostly scale models and some brief facts about the creation of the movies, it wasn't quite what it could have been. But I was satisfied, not least by the few items they had on display from the upcoming Terminator Salvation. I hope that one doesn't suck, by the way.
The rest of the museum was much more engaging. We saw an animated short film called The Space Elevator (oh yes) on one of those gigantic screens, as well as several robots. The biggest crowd-pleaser was Asimo, a humanoid robot whose balance is better than most organic people after they've had two drinks. 
A second robot seemed at first to be designed for cleaning, like a really advanced vaccum cleaner. But that's because me and Phillippe confused the words sōji (cleaning) and sōjū (controlling). Stupid foreigners. 
There was also a "hands-on model of the internet" (oh yes!) and a robotic seal with a pascifier.

When we finally decided that the future is awesome, and the museum had given us it's all, we headed towards the beach to find some food. In keeping with the theme, we settled for a "hawaiian" burger place called Kua'Aina. My mahi mahi burger with fries and ginger ale might be the best lunch I've had in weeks.
And then we took a walk. 
It's weird, but Odaiba really is a great change of scenery. Walking alongside palm trees with the ocean in front of you, it's hard to believe you're still in Tokyo. And it's funny how a sea breeze can render me completely sappy, and content. Like I said, it's a great change of scenery.
We saw the sun set behind the Rainbow bridge, and walked back towards the city. 
Even though my legs were hurting, I was too awake to go home. So I strolled through Ginza, watching all the stores close (at nine on a Saturday. I like Tokyo.)

This week I've felt like I'm on vacation. It's the weather, and perhaps an increase of tourists. I want to do something fun every day, but I can't really afford to go traveling around the country now. And as Melody pointed out, I'm not really here on vacation. I live here. 
The city looks different in bright sunlight, I think. I'm very prone to moodswings depending on the weather, so it's a bit easier to smile now.

I have places to visit and revisit, people and things I want to see. But in less than two weeks, I'm going home.

This made my day. Diet Dr Pepper for 84 yen.

Shrine in Ueno.

Sumo at Yasukuni shrine.

Phillippe-san and meself, enjoying English dubs at Miraikan.

A different side of Tokyo.

Sunset on Odaiba.

tisdag 7 april 2009

Almost there, but still here

Last week we finished our 12-week conversation course. This means little to me, since I have three more weeks of conversing to go. But it did set a good mark – the beginning of the end of my stay in Japan.
Today I have 18 days left before I set foot in Sweden. As I've said and thought, I really hope to make the best of every one of those days. But at the same time I'm starting to warm up to the thought of returning home.

The past week have seen the sakura blossom in earnest, and damn it if the Japanese will miss a second of it. The pink and white flowers are absolutely everywhere, and under each tree is at least one Tokyoite with a camera. By the looks of it, this is the first year that the sakura has blossomed. Ever.
Aside from saturday's outing, the creative people working at Geos decided to organize a hana-mi and/or long walk for the entire school yesterday. The hana-mi part was less prominent, the walking very tedious and confusing. It mostly consisted of random teachers (I think) telling random groups of students (I think) to go somewhere, or wait, or hurry up, or all of the above. 
Me and some friends ended up near Yasukuni shrine, having lunch under some cherry blossoms after all.

Look, flowers!

söndag 5 april 2009

Big Christmas!

Yesterday I went to hana-mi ("watching flowers and getting shitfaced") in Sumida park with some friends. 
It was really nice. I've never actually been to an official hana-mi as a dedicated activity, but I enjoyed it. Lots of food, good enough weather, and an amazingly drunken japanese girl with a trumpet. I even made a video. 

onsdag 1 april 2009

Don't be a fool!

Hello, April!
I like April, I always have. It's my birthday in 19 days, and this is usually the month where spring decides to appear in earnest in Sweden.
In Tokyo, it's much the same. Shigatsu is the month of hana-mi, the national obsession with sakura blossoms, and although I've already seen my fair share of sunshine and warmth, it feels more and more like winter is done for the year.

Since my parents took off on Friday, I've spent a lot of time indoors. I caught a cold around Thursday and by Friday I was feeling pretty messed up, so I thought I'd surrender my weekend to rest. A true enough paradigm, granted, but one that proved a bit difficult to stick to.

On Saturday, Nathalie and I had agreed to meet Kyouhei and his friend in Shibuya.
With no specific activity planned, it wasn't long before we ended up in a batting cage in Shinjuku-gyoemmae (I think, I'm still unsure where we went). I understand that this was mostly Nathalie's initiative. 
It was great. I used to play baseball – some fifteen years ago – so naturally I had no difficulty securing at least nine or ten simulated homeruns against my ball-chucking robot opponent. I kind of wish we had batting cages in Sweden, even if we don't have baseball.
When everyone was finished with the bat-swinging, we were again left with nothing to do on a less than sunny day. Brief consultation of a map revealed a skating rink nearby, and why wouldn't we want to do a bit of skating, right there and then?
So, a pair of rented size 44 skates later, I found myself on the ice for the first time in about twelve years, doing surprisingly well. I didn't fall, I didn't die, I didn't even freeze that bad.
After a good few laps around the rink, we decided to call it quits. 

I spent all of Sunday indoors. Like, literally, I did not leave the house once. I watched some Firefly, made some soup, got some sleep. It was awesome. I said I'd make the best of my last days here in Tokyo, I wasn't kidding.

Disney's Swedes On Ice.

With extra smile, please.

This is what we've been doing in school this week. Hard times.