Fall 2016 Tokyo Tour

Emily Okikawa
September 28, 2016
Tokyo Tower Selfie

I fell asleep on the train ride to Tokyo Station.

The exhaustion of jet lag, plus the gentle rocking of the train car lulled me into a state of semi-consciousness and I began to feel my eyelids droop, then slowly close. The next thing I knew, the train jumped—startling me and causing my neck to snap backwards like I had been caught sleeping in class. My head hit the window behind me with a hollow thud that reverberated throughout the car. As the heat of embarrassment colored my cheeks, I was hyperaware of the subtle side-eye glances being thrown in my direction. So, I sat stiff with perfect posture, my eyes wide open for the rest of the train ride, staring fixedly on the interactive map showing me the exact amount of minutes of embarrassment I had yet to endure.

When I finally arrived at Tsukiji Station station, I had a 50/50 choice of making it to Tsukiji Hongwanji. But, because being directionally-challenged is a god-given curse of mine, I chose wrong and walked around the block aimlessly before following a merry band of tourists.

The Tokyo Tour started at Tsukiji Fish Market—a flurry of colors, languages, and delicious aromas wafting through the air. I sampled a handful of dried ika (squid), and nibbled on dried pineapple, oranges, and mangoes as the current of tourists pulled me along the crowded stalls. One of my favorite meals of the day was a cantaloupe slice that the shopkeeper dipped in liquid nitrogen (I think?) to give the pieces a crisp chill. It instantly cooled me down in the muggy Tokyo weather.

Our second stop was Asakusa. We gathered outside Kaminarimon (雷門, "Thunder Gate"). I marveled at the bold gateway guiding the bustling outside world into the Buddhist temple, Senso-ji. The path to Senso-ji was lined by rows and rows of stores selling wares from ukiyo-e prints, to tenugui, the traditional Japanese washcloths. Another IES Abroad student, Katie, my e-pal, Naomi, and I decided to split a package of azuki manju. As we unwrapped the manju, fresh off the stove, the shopkeepers asked us to please eat outside of the store in order to prevent littering (FYI, you’re not allowed to walk around and eat!).

Once Senso-ji came into view, I headed straight for the omikuji (fortune telling paper)! After paying ¥100, you shake a box containing little wooden dowels, each with a different number written on it. Eventually, one dowel will stick out of the small opening on the bottom of the box. You can then locate the drawer with the matching number as the one you selected, and take out your fortune! My fortune was merely “regular,” but promised good things for the future. It looks like my Fall semester in Japan is already looking up! If, however, your fortune is less than favorable, you can tie the piece of paper to the wooden frame with wires running horizontally across it. They’re usually standing next to the omikuji area. Traditionally, you’re supposed to tie the fortune to a pine tree--a custom that started with a pun. Since pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb 'to wait' (待つ matsu) sound similar, the idea is that if you tie the fortune to a pine tree, the bad luck will wait there and not follow you forward in life.

In the middle of the courtyard stands a giant incense burner. Harumi, another e-pal instructed us to wave the smoke onto our foreheads. When we gave her puzzled looks, she told us that doing so will make us smarter. After making direct eye-contact with Katie, we both stuck our heads a little deeper into the incense smoke and waved vigorously towards our faces.

            “My brain cells need all the divine help they can get. Maybe I should just stick my head in the sand?” I asked her with a straight face.

            “Please don’t,” she responded.

We walked up the steps to the temple, offered up a donation into the collection box, clapped twice, then bowed twice, as is the custom. We had all moved into the open area when we noticed that Harumi wasn’t with us. Looking behind us, we laughed to see her still praying seriously, her head bowed in concentration.

            “What were you wishing for?” I asked her later, after she had caught up with us,

            “A handsome boyfriend,” she said, looking up to the heavens and clasping her hands together. “Dear Buddha, please send me a handsome boyfriend!”

The last stop of the day was at Tokyo Tower, which loomed above us. As I craned my neck to see the entirety of the structure, I felt the blood drain from my face. I’m not a fan of heights, a problem that was complicated further when my friend told me that it was approximately 1,092 feet in the air. However, when we finally made it to the top of the structure, I was instantly in awe. I walked around in a circle to get the full 360º view of Tokyo. There were even small windows in the floor so you could see the ground beneath the tower from a bird’s eye view. To be honest, I only peeked through the cracks in my fingers because I’m so afraid of heights. Harumi tried to get me to stand on top of it, but I kept running away from her!

Although Tokyo Tower is a popular tourist attraction, I was able to find one quiet corner to myself to just stand and gaze out across the city. It’s a surreal feeling, being in a different country. There are still a lot of things I don’t know about Japan. Sometimes I walk on the wrong side of the street, and stand on the wrong side of the escalator. The waiters still don’t understand what I order and I’m constantly making a fool out myself with my fumbling Japanese.

But somehow, looking out at Tokyo, teeming with life and vivid color, I felt perfectly at home.


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Emily Okikawa

<div>Emi Okikawa escaped from Oahu, Hawaii by hiding in the cargo hull of a plane headed for the East Coast.&nbsp;</div>
<div>She was last seen at Franklin &amp; Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.</div>
<div>Recent rumors have surfaced about her being set loose in Tokyo. Be advised, the suspect has been spotted eating her weight in Japanese pastries&nbsp;and sitting in animal cafés for multiple hours a day.</div>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Franklin & Marshall College
Environmental Studies
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