Tag Archives: Tokyo

Back to Tokyo!

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Last autumn, we went on a very special holiday. I’d been looking forward to this trip for a long time. After 4 years I finally set foot on Japanese soil again and you know what!? It felt like I’d never been gone! I even managed to brush up my rusted Japanese while we were there. Since we did so many things and took tons of photos I’d like to share with you, I’ll split this up in several posts. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we did. So let’s get started with Tokyo, the place I’d called my home for a year back in 2009/2010.

Our trip didn’t start off as nicely as we’d hoped for. When we got to the airport in Frankfurt we learned that our first flight to London was delayed by an hour because it was too foggy for the incoming plane to land. Of course, there’d been nothing but clear skies the previous days. Oh well! Since we had 2 hours between flights we were still positive we’d make it in time. Until we finally sat on the plane and nothing happened. We had to wait for connecting passengers and by the time we got to Heathrow, we had only 10 minutes until boarding was closing. I was still hoping they’d wait for us like we’d waited for the other passengers, but of course they didn’t. The next possible flight wasn’t until 6 hours later. Bummer! But well, somehow we managed to kill the time and after a pleasant flight we finally made it to Haneda airport. We took the bus to Shinjuku station and while we were making our way into central Tokyo, so many memories popped up in my head and I was overflowing with excitement. I couldn’t wait to show M around, to take him to all the places that had been part of my life for such a long time.

From Shinjuku station it was a short subway ride to our hotel. This station can be a pain in the ass as its one of the busiest in the world with millions of passengers every day. It’s basically a maze and I got lost more than once on the search for the right train line during the first months. I’m pretty sure M had his first little culture shock there since we got there during the evening rush hour and I think he didn’t expect me to know what I was doing. But we made our way to the subway without getting lost, yay! The second cultur shock for M was when we saw the shoe box that was our hotel room.

IMG_2590I have no idea how many times we bumped into furniture or our suitcases while moving about, but that’s the way things are in Japan and we didn’t spend much time at the hotel anyway. Plus, since we were pretty high up, we had a nice view over the city.Desktop_01

After a very long sleep, it was finally time for sightseeing. First, we went to Meiji-jingu, a big shinto shrine which I’d visited many times before. Before we went inside, I made the mistake of sitting down at the bottom of a tree in front of the big entrance gate and immediately got whistled at by a guard. Ooops! Well, I was already pregnant at the time and needed a rest, so, sorry! At first, we took a stroll through the adjacent garden, a first time for me as well, then went on to the shrine itself. IMG_2723As a contrast to the tranquility of the shrine, we afterwards walked through Harajku’s Takeshita dori, a narrow street with lots of fashion boutiquesm some of them selling pretty extraodinary clothes (even for Japanese standards). IMG_2741From there, we walked down to Shibuya, a part of the city I’d spent a lot of time at since I’d worked there and had frequently gone out for after work drinks in the area. I’d always loved standing at the famous Shibuya crossing, waiting for the lights to turn green and then letting myself drift along with the crowd. Standing there again after such a long time was a very special moment for me, kind of magical. Desktop_05We walked around on Center Gai for a bit, a shopping street with colourful stores and neon lights, pretty popular among the youth. IMG_2810When we got hungry, I rembered a sushi restaurant I’d been to several times before and after searching around for a bit, I finally found it. It wasn’t the same chain as before, but a way cooler one. You could order your sushi via a screen and after a few minutes the food arrived on a little train. What an awesome idea! Since I was pregnant and in Germany doctors recommend not to eat raw food, I decided to stick to the non-raw and veggie options. When I saw M indulging in all the sushi goodness, I felt tempted to try just one piece, but I didn’t dare. Japanese women would probably laugh at me, but well, there were plenty of other great things to eat waiting for me on the trip, so it was ok. IMG_2779Since the cafe I used to work at was only a short walk from the restaurant, we decided to pay it a visit after dinner. But unfortunately I had to find out that the place had been closed down. I have to admit that this made me pretty sad since I had hoped to see some of my former colleagues. On the other hand, it wasn’t such a big surprise to see a place had vanished since Tokyo is constantly changing and doing so pretty fast. So we took the train back to Shinjuku and went for an evening stroll in the Kabuki-cho area, an entertainment district, and through the bar-lined alleys of Golden Gai. All in all, it was an awesome first day back in Japan.IMG_2816

Inspirashot: The City

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Here’s a little something I wanted to share. An evening shot of Tokyo. Just because I’ve been missing Japan like crazy recently. This actually hasn’t happened in a while. It has been almost 3 years since I returned to Germany for good. And more than 2 years since I’ve last set foot in this beautiful country. And while I’m ok with being back in my home country, there are some things I do miss about that time. I miss the freedom I had there – even though it was probably the only time in my entire life that I had to worry about money, sort of. Of course, I didn’t actually have to worry since I just could’ve gone back home and my parents would’ve supported me no matter what. But I wanted to make it on my own – and I did. I also miss the sense of adventure that comes with living in a foreign country. All the things to explore and to discover. And of course, I also miss the food and the people. I really hope I’ll be able to go back there on a holiday in the not so distant future. My Japanese definitely is in need of a brush-up.

Oh and by the way, just right after I took this picture, I experienced my first ever earthquake. On the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori tower. I’ll definitely never forget this day.

Postponed dreams

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When I was on my very first walk to work since my move to Frankfurt last week, I realized something. I looked at the river on my left and the skyscrapers on my right and I realized that this was just another dream come true. It might not be the biggest or brightest one in my oversized bag of dreams, but still it is something that has turned from a wish into reality.

When I was on job hunt after returning from Japan, Frankfurt was definitely number one on my list of cities I wanted to live in. Not that it’s particularly standing out from other big cities in Germany. But I had lived in the farther area before which meant that I still knew some people who lived there. And while it is far from being a metropolis, it seemed like an acceptable option for someone who had just returned from Tokyo. A lot of people say thatFrankfurt is a village that dresses like a big city – and I actually believe it’s true. But with a decent amount of tall buildings, business people who consider themselves the most important species on earth and an exciting variety of bars, cafes, clubs and shops you can at least pretend to be in a big city. Plus, after living with my parents for 2 months in the town I spent the first 2 decades of my life – which is literally in the middle of nowhere, a lovely, peaceful middle of nowhere I can usually only endure for a weekend – Frankfurt actually was my personal Tokyo.

I’d had a job interview in Frankfurt, but before a decision had been made I got offered my old job back and took it as it seemed like the best option at the time. I thought about the possibility to still move to Frankfurt and to commute for an hour minimum everyday, but quickly decided against it. So the dream of the big city went back into the bag, but it wasn’t forgotten. I still had my fair amount of Frankfurt during the past 2 years, especially when my sister lived here for a couple of months last year. It had always been clear to me that the job situation would only by a temporary solution and that one day I would look for another chance to find a place to work in Germany’s banking capital. But I didn’t even have to. My new job found me, an unexpected surprise I welcomed with open arms for different reasons.

So now – after 2 months of annoying train and bus rides to work which stole at least 3 hours of my time everyday – I have finally arrived. And I have probably been the most relaxed person in the world ever since. No more forcing my body to wake up at a time it still considers as night. No more time checking of every single move I’m making in order to not miss the bus. No more stalker guy. No more rushing at work in order to get the earlier train and no more killing time in the office because the next train only leaves in 30 minutes. Now it doesn’t matter anymore if I stay in bed for just 10 more minutes. I can take a relaxed 30 minute stroll by the river to work if I want to. Or I can take the train if I’m lazy or too tired because I stayed up too late. I have time to go out after work because I’m not a sleep-deprived zombie anymore and I can still catch a decent amount of sleep. I hope that I will be able to appreciate the time I won back. I’m having a lot of ideas in my head I want to pursue – and posting here more often is definitely ranking high on my list ;). I also can’t wait to explore this city. To actually lead a social life again which I have been shamelessly neglecting lately. I just can’t wait!

So as you see, sometimes it’s the little dreams that can make you happy. And sometimes you just have to wait for the right time. Some things need a while until they can be turned into reality. Sometimes they even do so by themselves. If they don’t, be sure to check that bag of dreams once in a while and see what happened over time. I actually had to postpone another dream of mine due to my move here: buying an electric guitar. I spent so much money on the move I can’t afford it right now. Instead, I dream about it frequently. When I close my eyes I can feel it in my hands, I can feel my fingers stroking the strings and I can hear the music I’m going to play. One day in the not so distant future I am going to own that electric guitar. It’s going to be red and shiny. Hell, I can’t wait for that day!

Immersion is key

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I’m going to tell you a story I haven’t told a lot of people before. Because it’s gross. And I still can’t think back to it without feeling embarrassed and creeped out even though it happened almost 3 years ago. But I will tell you anyway. So here it goes:
I’m in Tokyo standing in front of the most luxuriously looking hotel I’ve ever seen. I’ve put on the fanciest clothes I’ve brought to Japan – and I still feel like a homeless person compared to the people in shiny suits and stylish dresses that are entering and leaving the lobby. I take a deep breath and walk inside. The marble walls and chandeliers are blinding.
“Just keep breathing”, I tell myself as I walk up to Manoru who invited me into this fairy tale. Manoru is about 50 years old, he’s a busy surgeon with almost no private life – and he is one of my students. This is only our second lesson – and by lesson I mean one well-paid hour of chatting in English. For the first lesson we met at a Starbucks in a train station. And now we’re here.
I realize that coming here was a big mistake, when we sit down at the bar. We’re having champagne. I think I’ve only had champagne once before in my entire life. It was a gift I’d received for a magazine subscription.
“Why the heck did I listen to my friends when I knew better”, I’m thinking to myself while trying to put on a smily face. Manoru is telling me about a difficult surgery he just did. I’m taking a sip of champagne hoping for it to calm me down. My glass is still half full when our table is ready and we move over to the restaurant. I notice dozens of different forks and knives on the table as I sit down. I can’t breathe. Thank god, the wine is served.
“So tell me about your work”, Manoru says. “You’re working at a cafe, right. A pink one”
“Yes. In Shibuya. Pink chairs and everything”, I reply.
“You like it?”
“Yes, it’s fun. I like talking to the customers. They’re very nice to me.”
The first dish is served. It’s tiny, but it tastes delicious. The waiter pours some more wine into my glass. I’m already feeling tipsy, but I’m scared it would be rude not to have anymore.
Suddenly I can feel Manoru’s hand on my knee. I can’t believe he’s making a move on me after the first dish already! But why is his hand making a crackling sound? I lift the table cloth. Bills! A lot of bills. What should I do? I take them and nervously shove them into my purse. It looks like a lot more money than my usual 3.000 Yen.
For the rest of the dinner, I’m desperately trying to think of a way to get out of this. Should I just go to the toilet and run away? Should I pretend I’m not feeling well? But Manoru paid for this expensive dinner. And maybe he just means well. Maybe he gets that it’s not easy making a living in Tokyo as a waitress. And he’s probably lonely and just enjoying my company. Maybe that money in my purse isn’t that much after all.
After another 6 courses and a lot of wine, we leave the restaurant.
“I have to go to the restroom”, I tell Manoru, finally hoping to be able to escape.
“Me too”, he says. Luckily, he walks away in the direction of the men’s room.
I open my purse and take out the bunch of bills. I count. I count again. And again. 50.000 Yen! Fifty freaking thousand Yen! That’s about 500 Euro. Almost a month’s rent. Now I’m really freaking out. My hands are shaking as I put the money back in my purse. I’m running out of the restroom – but Manoru’s already waiting for me. We take the elevator down to the lobby. There’s an awkward silence.
“So, thank you”, I say when we get to the lobby.
“What are your plans for tonight?”, Manoru asks.
“I’m going to go home now”, I say, hoping he can’t hear my voice shaking.
“Really?” There’s no mistaking his disappointment. “I thought we could go up to my room.”
“Oh, you’re having a room here?” I’m trying to sound naive.
“Yes.”
“Sorry, but I really want to go home now.”
“Ok”, he says and walks away.
For a split second I’m too startled to move. Then I turn around and run as fast as I can. I’m not stopping until I’m a block away from the hotel. I feel like throwing up. Instead I go to a game center to play UFO catcher.

P. S.: It wasn’t until more than a year later that I found out that the word pink in Japanese doesn’t just stand for the colour. It’s an equivalent for red-light. Someone should have told me.

When I first came to Japan, I was suddenly thrown back to the state of a toddler. I was 26 years old, but when speaking to Japanese people my vocabulary consisted of nothing more than about 50 words that I was unable to put into a proper sentence. What they were saying to me sounded like a weird gibberish and I’m sure they felt the same way when I was talking in English. So I had to rely on gestures and interpreting facial expressions which isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re faced with a totally different set of cultural rules and customs. For example, it took me quite a while until I realized that when someone is pointing at his nose, he doesn’t want to tell me there’s something in my face. He just refers to himself.
Of course, I felt a little lost and sometimes desperate not being able to express myself the way I wanted to. I tried to study during breaks while working at a ski lift in a ski resort – and there were a lot of breaks. But I always ended up being frustrated because I didn’t seem to be able to learn fast enough and there were a trillion of words I thought I needed to know and they all sounded pretty much the same and nothing like any other language I had learned before. So I could have ended up like one of these foreigners who spend years over years in Japan, but are still not able to properly order a meal or ask for directions (which is extremely useful in Japan). But I didn’t. Because unlike them, I didn’t just surround myself with people that were speaking the same language(s) I did. I talked to my workmates and asked them to teach me stuff, I made Japanese friends, I watched Japanese TV and tried to read manga.
And after a couple of weeks, something amazing happened: Suddenly, I was able to understand what people around me were saying. Little at first, but my skills were increasing fast. And I realized that it didn’t matter if I didn’t get every single word. I got the overall meaning. And that was worth something. And of course, input created output. There were sounds coming out of my mouth that sounded more and more like proper sentences. My brain had turned into a sponge that was soaking up everything Japanese around me and releasing it when I was pushing hard enough. After only 4 months in Japan I got a job as a waitress. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to understand the customers and my workmates who were all Japanese and didn’t speak any English (except for one girl from France). I was scared I would get the orders wrong. I was convinced I would get fired within a week. But I didn’t. Instead, my Japanese skills went through the roof. It didn’t happen over night, but after a few more weeks I was able to chat with customers, to joke with my workmates. I even went on a date with a Japanese guy – and yes, we just talked (at least at the first one). By the end of the year, I decided to challenge my newly acquired skills and took the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (level 3). It required the knowledge of about 300 Kanji (Chinese characters) and 1.500 words. I passed.
The point I’m trying to make here is: Whatever you want to learn, whatever new hobby or activity you want to pick up – just throw yourself in there! Surround yourself with it as much as possible. Then watch and imitate. You will feel like a toddler trapped in a world of grown-ups. You will trip and fall. Many times. But you will get up again. You will progress. And maybe one day, you will be a grown-up, too! Ganbatte!