Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Monday, August 13, 2012

I left my heart in Tokyo.

(Thanks for all the following photos, Jimmy!)

One year into my JET experience, and it seems I've come full circle. It's my second August in Japan, and here I am: back in Shinjuku, Tokyo, back at another JET orientation. Except this time, things are a little different. I'm no longer the wide-eyed new guy, endlessly lost and incapable of uttering more than an embarrassed "arigatou" when the bell boy whispers, "Sir, those are the women's toilets". Nope, I'm a seasoned JET now (yeah, right), here working for AJET (how did that happen?) to spread the gospel to the newbies!

 Good morning, Shinjuku.

Up until now, I'd only visited Tokyo twice, and both times for a mere handful of days. So the past two weeks here have been an opportunity to finally start getting to grips with Japan's Big Apple (as much as anyone can ever get to grips with this country-sized metropolis). ...and doing so has without doubt been one of the highlights of my whole JET experience so far. There's just so much life in Tokyo. On certain days, my working hours saw me up at 6.00AM and not getting off the job until 9.00PM, but the pulse of the city kept me afloat until the early hours every night. Jail-themed izakayas, moonlit disco-boat rides down Tokyo bay, shopping sprees in Harajuku, a visit to Disneyworld... we experienced it all! At the very least, my two weeks in Tokyo reminded me that, as much as I've adjusted to my country life here in the inaka, deep-down, I'll always be more at home in a big city. It's certainly got me thinking more deeply about just where it is I want to live once the Japan dream's over.

For our evening booze cruise along Tokyo Bay, the ladies all wore yukata, deservedly outshining us considerably more lazy gentlemen.

Going in for a cheeky peck on the subway.

The view from the boat along Tokyo Bay.

New friends at the izakaya.

Another huge difference been Tokyo and my country-bumpkin lifestyle here in Ehime is the foreign population. Here in Ainan, foreigners are a rarity. So much so that small children will literally stop dead when they see me, tug their parents' sleeves and whisper "Look, mummy... a foreigner". For a self-confessed attention seeker like myself, being something of a local celebrity still hasn't gotten old. In Tokyo, on the other hand, foreigners ain't s**t. You'd be hard pressed to walk down the street and not see a backpacker or three. But that's not surprising, this is Tokyo. What is surprising is how you find yourself reacting to any foreigners you see. "Ugh, tourists", you think with disdain. You go out of your way to separate yourselves from Them, whipping out the piecemeal Japanese that you know to make sure people know You Live Here and you're not One of Them. It's ridiculous. Having lived here for a year, I find myself feeling a certain level of righteous possessiveness over "Japan". Which is childish in the extreme, nobody has a right of entitlement to a country. But like that yellow, urine-stained bunny I had when I was three (not that Japan in any way resembles a sodden rabbit), there's no logic, or indeed, beauty, to the possessiveness; it's its own entity entirely. I do feel possessive when it comes to Japan, and, even though it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, it's something that's hard to shake.

One evening after work, we took the opportunity to climb to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It offers a great panoramic view of the whole city and is entirely free!

In a rare bout of travelling-luck (remember my trip to Miyajima?), we were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from the top!

At my own orientation in Tokyo back in August of 2011, I was far too jet-lagged to make the most of the experience. Stepping off a twelve-hour plane ride, it wasn't long before I was waving the white-flag and surrendering to sleep. But this time around, even work wasn't a chore. Meeting JETs from all over the world (and all over Japan) was amazing. It's something I feel I wasn't too successful at during my own orientation simply because I was so jet-lagged and overwhelmed, but I certainly remedied that this time around! Now I've managed to make a whole bevvy of new friends in different prefectures all across the country!

 On the job with the AJET crew!

Said crew, in cartoon form.

Amidst all the new faces, I also got chance to meet Aisling, my brand new neighbour! Having lived alone here in Johen for the past year, it's no understatement to say I was thrilled to be getting a fellow foreign face moving in next door! That being so, we wasted no time cracking into the bubbly in the fridge... though the un-corking was something of an anticlimax when we realised it was, in fact, a screw-top bottle. 

...let's hope it's not an omen for what lay in store in my second year in Japan.

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