This Open Road

“The sight of the world put mad ideas into me; as if I could wander away, wander forever, see strange and beautiful things, one after the other.” – C.S. Lewis

A Hike, Food and Friends

The goodbyes have begun. I’ve had a busy final two weeks and it’s all quite bittersweet. I’m ready to go home, but I’m already missing this city, my friends and my life here. My suitcase was picked up today and taken to Narita. I’ll go to the airport tomorrow and will fly back to the U.S. I’ve spent some great time with friends, mostly involving a fun hike and excellent Japanese food. The friendships in this international teaching field are ephemeral. We’re all used to forming bonds, such as they are, knowing they will be gently undone, yet with the potential to last, depending on the effort put into maintaining the connections, or the possibility of working together in future months or years.

My friend Tim, with whom I worked two years ago, still lives in Japan and teaches at a university in Tokyo. Every term he organizes a hike and it’s always a great time. Recently he led a winter hike to Sengenrei. We saw a waterfall, hiked in snow, ate lunch on top of the mountain and finished the day with shabu-shabu in an izakaya in Tachikawa.

RC, Ikue, Machiko, Tim, Hiroko, Laura. The beginning.

RC, Ikue, Machiko, Tim, Hiroko, Laura. The beginning.

IMG_7444

Intrepid wanderers.

Intrepid wanderers.

So far, so good.

So far, so good.

We made it to the top, which was cold and windy.

We made it to the top, which was cold and windy.

It says, "You have arrived fearless trekkers. This is your reward." Actually, I have no idea what it says.

It says, “You have arrived, awesome trekkers.” Actually, I have no idea what it says.

Tim, contemplating our descent.

Tim, our fearless leader, fueling up and contemplating our descent.

We walked through a bamboo and cypress forest.

We walked through a bamboo and cypress forest.

We passed an old cemetery on the way down.

We passed an old cemetery on the way down.

We celebrated our day at an izakaya. Laura, Tim and I were the only foreigners there.

We celebrated our day at an izakaya. Laura, Tim and I were the only foreigners there.

Shabu-shabu. So good-so good.

Shabu-shabu. So good-so good.

Shabu-shabu is a traditional Japanese dish in which vegetables and meat are cooked in a pot at the table. It was so good and filling after a day of hiking.

Happy hikers.

Happy hikers.

Tachikawa.

Tachikawa.

 

We had such a great time that we decided to do an “encore” dinner the next week. Machiko organized our event at Okonomiyaki Honjin in Shinjuku. Okonomiyaki is another traditional Japanese dish that is also prepared at the table. We sat on the floor around low tables that had a grill in the middle. We ordered a variety of ingredients that were brought to us in bowls. We mixed the contents then spread it on the grill like a pancake. Then it was topped with different sauces and spices and cut into pieces. It was so good!

Masayuki couldn't go on the hike, but joined us for the encore dinner. Laura waits patiently, sort of.

Masayuki couldn’t go on the hike, but joined us for the encore dinner. Laura waits patiently, sort of.

IMG_7509

Ikue, mixing up the okonomiyaki.

Ikue, mixing up the okonomiyaki.

Machiko, cooking like a pro!

Machiko, cooking like a pro.

Doing some kind of mind-meld. Tim pretends nothing weird is happening.

Doing some kind of okonomiyaki mind-meld. Tim is trying to pretend nothing weird is happening. (Photo:Machiko)

 

About to flip my first okonomiyaki.

Flipping my first okonomiyaki. (Photo: Machiko)

Mushrooms.

Mushrooms.

Machiko, Hiroko, Ikue. Three classy ladies.

Machiko, Hiroko, Ikue. Three classy ladies.

 

Our encore dinner turned into a bit of a going away event for me, which completely surprised me! Ikue, Machiko and Hiroko honored me with some very special gifts. They gave me chop sticks and holders, coasters with famous Japanese art, and a furoshiki – a cloth that is used to wrap bento lunch boxes. It was all so wonderful. I was especially touched by the booklet that Ikue made, which showed the various ways to tie the furoshiki. It was very thoughtful and special. I loved being with these friends and appreciated the gifts so much!

IMG_7516

IMG_7520

IMG_7521

 

After dinner, we went to Golden Gai, a famous area in Shinjuku with over 200 small pubs and eateries within six tiny alleyways. We went to the Albatross, an old house that has been converted into one of the many pubs in the district. It was a fun way to end our night with good friends. It is a tiny place with three floors. We were on the top floor, which was reserved for bigger groups like ours.

IMG_7530

Machiko and Ikue.

IMG_7549

IMG_7555

Golden Gai.

IMG_7552

IMG_7551

Motivation to learn Japanese!

Last night in Shinjuku.

After a most excellent evening, we said our final goodbyes at the station. This was the first time I almost missed the last train home! But I made it with a minute to spare. :)

Goodbye to my good friends!

Goodbye to my good friends!

 

City Sights

The title of my last post was misleading. It was just a farewell to Tokyo for 2014. I’m still here until January 30. I’m making the most of my remaining time, enjoying favorite places and seeing some new ones. I’m very satisfied with the life I’ve had in Japan and feel ready to proceed on with the next phase of my journey. (Yes, I’m working on some ideas!) The Westgate office staff had a week and a half of holidays and, with weekends included, it added up to almost two weeks of vacation. I didn’t travel anywhere because living in Tokyo keeps me busy and content.

I spent my free time running, reading, meeting friends for dinner and outings, seeing the illuminations and just wandering around. I made visits to the Tokyo International Forum, the National Diet Building (location of Japan’s parliament), iconic shops in Tokyo Station, and the (newest) tallest building in the city, Toranomon Hills.

Inside the Tokyo International Forum with Renu.

Inside the Tokyo International Forum with Renu.

IMG_7436

The Forum at night. Designed by architect, Rafael Viñoly.

Daytime in the forum.

Daytime at the Forum.

IMG_7412

Near Kita-Senju Station. I go through here every day and often do some errands here.

Kita-Senju Station. I go through here on my train every day.

Waiting on a train.

Shinjuku Station.

The National Diet Building.

The National Diet Building.

Back side of the National Diet.

Back side of the National Diet.

Statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a 14th century samurai. Near the Imperial Palace.

Statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a 14th-century samurai. Near the Imperial Palace.

IMG_7423

 

Japan is rich in history, politics and… Hello Kitty.

IMG_7416

Inside the depths of Tokyo Station is a mini-mall with specialty shops dedicated to favorite Japanese characters, as well as other beloved icons, such as Snoopy and the Moomins. There’s also a KitKat shop that sells mini-bars in 15 different flavors.

IMG_7414

Of course there's Poke mon!

Of course there’s Pokémon!

 

A few more pictures from Yokohama…

IMG_7369

Many cities in Japan have signature manhole covers. Take a look at this link for some more.

 

IMG_7373

Motomachi in Yokohama.

 

IMG_7372

Japanese boys figuring out an old-fashioned Coke machine.

 

Back in Tokyo…

At Toranomon Hills.

At Toranomon Hills. The tallest building in Tokyo, 838 feet.

IMG_7333

IMG_6954

Icons of Tokyo: an office building, Tokyo Tower and a shrine.

Icons of Tokyo: an office building, Tokyo Tower and a shrine.

 

I have less than two weeks to go in this grand city. I have not done everything, but I’ve seen and done a lot. I’ve always felt very content living in here. Sometimes I feel a bit of “Japan fatigue”, still not always “getting it”, never fully understanding what is going on around me, and trying to keep up with the perfectionistic standards that everyone adheres to. At the same time, Japan is quite accommodating. Someone always seems to be nearby to offer directions or help with interpreting. When I think about what I’ll miss, it will be scenes from this and other posts. I’ll remember the frenetic bustle of the city and the various districts. I’ll remember the way the wind whips around the buildings near Tokyo Station, and the lights of posh Ginza. I’ll remember the way the energy changes in just the few blocks from the Westgate office to the sensory-assaulting anime district of Akihabara. I’ll miss the calm walk around the Imperial Palace and the Marunouchi district, just across the road. I’ll miss seeing Mt. Fuji and Tokyo Skytree as I run along the river or take the train to work. The memories are countless, beginning with the first time I walked through Narita International Airport in the spring of 2012. What an adventure this has been.

I still have another post or two before this chapter is over. Stay tuned!

A Farewell to Tokyo and 2014

I began this year in Japan and I’ll end this year in Japan.

After leaving Tokyo in January of 2014, I was in Colorado for a couple of weeks, then moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where I lived and worked online for a few months. Then I backpacked the Colorado Trail from Denver to Salida before returning to my parents’ house to regroup to return to Japan for my fifth term. Is this normal? For me it is.

My life in Tokyo has been great and I’ve been very content this year. I revisited favorite places, made new friends, and enjoyed all that Tokyo has to offer. Here are a few highlight of the last few weeks.

Happy New Year!

Tokyo National Museum.

Tokyo National Museum.

A visit to the Tokyo Government Buildings. My last visit was two years ago.

Tokyo Government Buildings. My last visit was two years ago.

IMG_7324

IMG_7325

 

A walk through Ueno Park with Renu and Laura…

IMG_7070

Shadowwalk.

IMG_7071

Renu, Laura and Tokyo Skytree.

Piano bar. Tokyo night life with Laura, Kirsty and Renu.

Piano bar. Tokyo night life with Laura, Kirsty and Renu.

 

Okonomiyaki with Laura. The beginning.

Okonomiyaki with Laura in Kanda. The beginning.

Midway.

Midway.

Won and done. Full.

Won and done. And full.

IMG_7212

At the N3331 Cafe.

IMG_7214

The cafe is in between two train tracks.

 

Laura and I took two tours on the Tokyo Skybus: one to Odaiba and another around Tokyo to view the illuminations. Unfortunately, these pics were lost in the new-camera stage. But this was the bus we took.

IMG_7286

IMG_7342

Tokyo Tower.

 

A visit to Yokohama…

IMG_7361

A day out with Kate.

Yokohama skyline.

Yokohama skyline.

IMG_7395

The last pic of 2014. Yokohama.

See you soon, 2015!

Happy Holidays From Tokyo!

While Christmas in Japan is not considered a national or religious holiday, Japanese have adopted some Western customs related to the season. The focus is more on being out with friends and less on giving gifts. There are many beautiful lights and decorations everywhere called “illumination.” These begin to appear in November and some are up all the way through February and March, while others are taken down on December 25. Japan-Guide has a link to the seasonal illuminations around Japan.

In Nakameguro, the lights are illuminated over the canal creating the “Blue Cavern.” It’s a highly-anticipated event and many people started gathering around the canal well before dark when the lights came on.

IMG_6926

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

The Blue Cavern.

The Blue Cavern.

Also seen in Nakameguro.

Also seen in Nakameguro.

 

In Shiodome people gathered for a light show at this display.

IMG_7105

IMG_7111

 

In Tokyo Dome City the lights were bright.

IMG_7171

IMG_7160

IMG_7181

IMG_7148

IMG_7149

 

The Mikimoto Jumbo Christmas Tree is a holiday icon in Ginza. It’s lit with 6,500 LED lights. Today was the last night of its illumination for the season.

IMG_7267

 

The lights in Maranouchi and at Tokyo Station are very popular and many people were out tonight to view them.

Maranouchi

Maranouchi.

IMG_7264

IMG_7279

The lights on the second floor are from Mucho, the Mexican restaurant where two friends and I celebrated Christmas before walking around to enjoy the lights.

 

There were many staff around to control the masses.

There were many staff around to control the masses.

IMG_7289

Tokyo Station is celebrating its 100 birthday this year.

Tokyo Station is celebrating its 100 birthday this year.

 

The best way to be part of the excitement.

The best way to be part of the excitement.

IMG_7306

Merry Christmas from Tokyo!

Living and Running Around Adachi-ku

Life has been good! My lack of posts have been more to do with new-camera issues than with lack of material. So we start where we are.

Tokyo is a-mazing! Bright lights big city in all its crazy glory. I love every bit of it. I’ll keep saying it: Sometimes I cannot believe I live here.

And then there are the suburbs. Where regular people live normal lives, exercise, catch the train, buy their groceries, ride their bikes, go to 7-11 for sushi and white bread egg sandwiches. (They’re not bad.)

This post is about my daily life. I run, I take the train to work, I walk to the store. I live in Adachi-ku, which is in the far northern reaches of Tokyo. Not Tokyo Tokyo (bright lights big city), but still Tokyo. I’d love to be a real author just so that on the book jacket it would say, “Robyn divides her time between Tokyo, the Appalachian Trail and Colorado.” Now I just need to be a real author.

 

My Leopalace apartment. Same floor plan that I've had for the past five terms.

My Leopalace apartment. Same floor plan that I’ve had for the past five terms.

The houses across the street with their front yard gardens.

The houses across the street with their front yard gardens.

The street behind my apartment.

The street behind my apartment.

A shrine in my neighborhood.

The road I walk to the local grocery store.

The road I walk to the grocery store.

IMG_6917

Kita-Ayase. This is my train station and the last stop on the Chioda Line.

Kita-Ayase. My train station and the last stop on the Chiyoda Line.

*

I’m still running four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. I love it and it’s what keeps me grounded and happy. On Tuesday and Thursday I’m usually running by 6:15, on the weekend, a bit later.

There is a river nearby with a path. On my way back I can see Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji. (They’re too far away for my camera to capture their images).

IMG_6912

IMG_6895

Stairs leading to the bridge that crosses the river.

IMG_6896

There are a group of retired people that I usually see in the mornings at this spot. They always wave and say "Ohayou gozaimasu!"

There is a group of retired people that I usually see in the mornings at this spot. They always wave and say “Ohayou gozaimasu!” (“Good morning!”)

IMG_6906

Proof.

Proof.

A late fall morning.

A late fall morning.

I usually see this man at this road construction site when I run in the mornings. Today he smiled and shook his head in that better-you-than-me kind of way. On my way back we attempted a short chat which ended with this photo.

I usually see this man at this road construction site when I run in the mornings. On this day he smiled and shook his head in that better-you-than-me kind of way. On my way back we attempted a short chat which ended with this photo.

Another local shrine.

Another local shrine.

IMG_6903

Life in my neighborhood is quiet. I feel safe, secure and content. I could not ask for more.

IMG_7202

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 147 other followers

%d bloggers like this: