Written & Photographed March 2015, Edited August 16, 2016
I couldn’t sleep on the plane. Whether this was due to my excitement or the overall intense discomfort of flying, I could not say. Having departed Vancouver some ten hours earlier, I was in dire need of both sleep and an opportunity to stretch my legs.
Nonetheless, it was thrilling.
After twenty-some years spent living in the same corner of Canada, I had finally made the long-anticipated trip across the world. I had finally plunged into unknown cultural depths. I had finally come to Japan. Upon landing, I felt no fatigue (despite my lack of rest) perhaps due to a combination of first-time-traveller’s-anxiety and the thrill of being in the land of samurai, anime and ramen—because isn’t that how most westerners view Japan?
I went through immigration, customs and collected my luggage (of which there was quite a lot). I was then greeted by my friend, Morihiro, whom I had first met in Canada. With his long black hair framing his smiling face, he was a welcome sight.
The train ride from Haneda Airport to Mori’s residence in Chofu was an unexpectedly long one, made all the more troublesome by the weekday evening rush hour and a couple transfers—one at an insanely busy station.
The sheer amount of men in drab black suits and girls in short skirts and heels was dizzying. Whilst on the train, I did my best to hunch over and peer out the window. I noticed a window decal advertising Perfume’s new “bru-lay.” I chuckled to myself and thought, “Japan.”
An hour and a half or so later, Mori and I arrived at Fuda Station, Chofu, and after consuming a quick bowl of ramen at a nearby shop, we retired for the night.
The next day was first spent exploring the simple, quiet scenery around Mori’s neighbourhood. The temples and shrines were quaint, but beautiful.
Afterward, we made our way to the reputable Meiji Grand Shrine by Yoyogi Park and the famed fashion district of Harajuku. Amidst the dense greenery, a giant wooden torii gate loomed over the massive path’s entrance.
It was impressive and overwhelming. So, as is to be expected, it was bustling with tourists…
Even so, the shrine’s beauty was breathtaking; made all the more magical by the partially-bare trees, the bright, pale skies and the frosty, late-winter air.
Just across the train tracks, in stark contrast to the solemn earthy colours of the shrine, was Harajuku and its celebrated streets, Takeshita and Omotesando. Each was ablaze with consumerist chaos and nauseating noise. It was incredible.
A trip to Shibuya followed, and I was not at all disappointed. Shibuya Crossing, or “the Scramble” as it’s sometimes called, was just as intensely busy as I had expected it to be.
I stood by the windows of Shibuya Mark City’s overpass. Obviously by coincidence, but seemingly by design, there were two giant ads across the way. One showed Gundam RX-78-2 and the other, Goku. The remnants of my ten-year-old self wanted to shriek. The buildings rising around the bustling intersection danced and sang, writhed and screamed.
Each urban giant was adorned with an array of dazzlingly colourful eyesores advertising anything and everything, each noisier than the last, each competing for people’s attention.
There was a world of difference between Shibuya and Chofu, and indeed, Vancouver seemed not just half a world away—but rather several worlds.
I had truly ventured into the unknown.
...oh, and there were vending machines absolutely everywhere.