Yoyogi Park, Part I

Being homesick and lonely and totally lost in Japan, I naturally rooted out some fellow gaijins (foreigners) and arranged for a meeting to celebrate the most American of American holidays, the 4th of July. I did this by joining up on a little site called meetup.com, where I then joined the American group and planned to attend their holiday picnic in Yoyogi Park. For anyone new to Japan that may or may not be reading this, find people and groups of common interests on meetup.com or some similar site and go. You may not know anybody and might be nervous about meeting strangers through a strange website, but when you're done you'll have made some friends. Use these websites to make your life easier and more enjoyable... plus, you'll probably get to go to some cool places you might not have otherwise gone to.

So this is Yoyogi Park, apaprently the biggest and best park in Tokyo. I wouldn't really know if this was true or not, as I haven't been to any other parks, but its definitely a beautiful place. It's amazing how far a little grass and trees can go in improving your happiness. After disembarking from the train and seeing the trees, as one can see from the top photo, I felt twenty times better about being here. People need life because people are life and a city isn't living. But a park is. Life is everywhere and it tells you its there. It's a reassuring feeling. The life of the trees, birds, bugs, grass and shrubs tell you that you're not alone.

So of course, many people also feel this, consciously or unconsciously, which is why they gather there. Yoyogi Park, as I found, was a vast hub of people and activity. Foreigners and Japanese. Life attracts life it seems and the park was full of it. Not least of all, us Americans enjoying our patriotic holiday in a foreign land. It's strange how we do this, but all cultures do this. We go to different places and cultures and we bring our old culture with us, we can't help it. It's inevitable. America was founded on this, immigrants bringing their culture with them and sharing it. In an ironic twist, there I was, bring my culture to Japan. America was once the importer (and still is for the most part) and there I was being the exporter.

But anyway, I enjoyed conversation with fellow Americans and other nationalities. As it turns out, half the people attending were Japanese looking to hang out with Americans. Not that there's a problem with that, but the 4th was a lot of sharing with curious others. I also ate some of these little awesome things below. They're pastries filled with a sweetened bean paste. Custard would have been more awesome, but this bean paste is actually quite tasty. Nothing like beans at all.

And here's a photo of the people I met at the park that day. They were a very nice group and it was definitely a pleasure.

So this concludes Part I, in Part II I'll show you some of the more awesome things I found in Yoyogi Park.


You never know what can happen

So the most incredible thing happened to me over the weekend and it just goes to show you where you can go with an open mind and a little kindness.

I imagine everyone reading this is familiar with craigslist and a few have probably sold some things on there as well. Getting a buying to come through can be tough. Often times the buyer never shows up or is late when they said otherwise.

So I decided to buy a coffee pot off of craigslist because I am a hopeless coffee addict and instant coffee just wasn't doing it for me anymore. I found a cheap one from someone who was moving out of the country and arranged to pick it up on Sunday after church. Church is about 20 minutes by bicycle and the seller had to be somewhere by 6:40. This meant that I had to be at their station by 6:30 to pick up said coffee pot. Church ended at 5:20 which gave me 30 minutes to make it by bike to Shinkoiwa station (my station) and then another 30 minutes by train to Nishinippori station. I was aware the person had places to be and gave them a call once I'd made it to Shinkoiwa station after biking in the summer heat and being all sweaty. I figured, it was the courteous thing to do as the seller most likely didn't want to carry a coffee maker where ever it was they were going. So I rang in and said I was on time and should be there to get the coffee maker as planned.

Little did I know, this act of courtesy would inspire an idea in the seller's mind.

So I arrived on time, got my coffee pot and paid the ridiculously low asking price. Then, to my surprise, she invited me to go to her own going away party in Shibuya! I figured, "what the hell" and found myself across Tokyo in some strange high rise Austrian restaurant and meeting loads of people I otherwise wouldn't have known. I ended up having a great time, and dropping a small fortune on Austrian beer and some of the best chicken paprikas I've had in a long time. It was phenomenal! The view was stunning, all of Tokyo was laid out before me in its night time urban splendor. I couldn't have asked for a better experience of Tokyo in the short six weeks I've been here and I couldn't have asked to meet a nicer bunch of people.

I can't help but analyze it though, because that's the way I am. I know for a fact that every act of courtesy doesn't result in such wonderful experiences. But sometimes they do. Not that everyone should be courteous simply to reap the off chance benefit of it. Everyone should be courteous for the sake of being courteous. But there are times when it really gives back strongly.

Furthermore, keep an open mind. When someone makes a kind offer, take it. People are inherently good and when you experience that goodness, it's a gratifying and pleasing feeling. Strangers are just strange because you haven't met them yet, not because they're inherently wicked or full of bad intentions. Everyone's best friend was a stranger once.

And when in strange places, do as the strangers do.


Mirror Country

So I'm finally settling in and getting around to posting the long promised blog about life and travel in Japan. I had decided on the name when I first arrived and what I continued to see further reinforced the decision.

My plane flew its course over the Arctic circle and I came in over the north of Japan, Hokkaido and northern Honshu. I have a passionate interest in maps and geography, so I was really quite fortunate to come over during a clear day. I'm pretty familiar with Japanese geography so as I stared out my window I could see all the major defining features of Japan before me. It struck me how thin the islands really are, especially up north. The view was wonderful and I started to get a sense that I was really somewhere else.

Because, you know, before I had left Cleveland Hopkins, I wasn't entirely sure that Japan really existed. I was agnostic on it. I'd seen pictures, read stories and spoken to Japanese people. I've met people who've been there... but I'd never seen it with my own eyes. Japan felt like a fictional place from a story book... a fantasy land where high-tech gadgets grew on vines and people dressed acted like anime characters in their daily life. A place where there was prevalent, proud tradition and genuine foreign culture. In hindsight, Japan sounded so fantastic to possibly be real. Yet I found myself following the coastline to Tokyo as I sat in an airplane above.

As the plane began to descend I started to get a good view of the agriculture and life of Japanese people in terms of physical things. They drove cars on roads that went everywhere and houses varied in size. There was countryside and there were cities. However, something continually reflected the sun to my eyes, patches of water stretching over vast fields.

"They must be flooded from the spring rains." I thought. Such things were typical for a field in spring.

But it grew repetitive. Every field was flooded and it reflected the landscape up to me in my plane. The land was a series of mirrors tilted towards the sky. The still water reflected the world as it shown and everything was in endless repetition.

I disembarked the plane and over the next few days and even the weeks, I found that Japan was much like mirror-like, flooded fields (the rice paddies as I later saw up close). Japanese culture has an inclination for uniformity and repeated patterns. For example, most men wear a suit to work and everyone wears black suits. I see some variation on the black suit/black tie, but it seems anything else is completely unheard of. There are times when I am swarmed by black suits, each person a reflection of the other. Vending machines occupy four sides of a block and I wonder if Asahi Beverages might be concerned that the disharmony of a vending machine on only one side of the block might be bad for business. In Japan, it seems, everything and everyone mirror each other in an effort to great harmony and goodness.

This is Mirror Country and the guy in the orange shirt and blue jeans is me.