Japan was one of most wonderful destinations we had ever been to. I always imagined two sides of Japan – the historical and traditional Japan of temples and geishas, against the hyper-modern cities, cartoons and robots. The really cool thing is how it all knits together to form a truly fascinating and rich culture. We saw kawaii cartoons advertise everything from hangover remedies to cartoon monks; the natural beauty of a snow-speckled winter forest lit by stone lanterns; the subway trains that play little video game tunes at each station, I even became fond of the naked-only hot springs.
Our trip to Japan was long anticipated, and Cindy and I knew we were going to love every minute of it. Even though the trip was more than 6 months ago, just writing about Japan again stirs up such nostalgic feelings of longing, I want to go back immediately! We had it awkwardly planned in the middle of our big move from Australia to The Netherlands, so we were faced with spending a month touring Japan with the heaviest backpacks imaginable. But thanks to some friends in Tokyo, we were able to drop off the extra baggage, and the adventure was on!
We arrived at midnight on a wintery December night, and we took those heavy bags to our first AirBnB in Hatsudai, just west of Shinjuku. Starving, we also picked up a few onigiri for a midnight snack at a local 7/11 (more on onigiri another time – this wonderful food deserves a blog post of its own!). The house was located just off a long, narrow street of small local shops and restaurants called Fudo Dori. Everything was closed so late at night, and the only signs of life were prowling cats.
Like many other post-war houses in this area, the house was cube-ish, clean and geometric, a sensible construction in a whole neighbourhood of small houses. It felt very compact, like the rooms of an apartment were rearranged to form a mini 2-story house, which had shrunk in the wash. With such thin walls, the house was icy cold, so we let ourselves in, took off our shoes, and turned the heater up a toasty hot temperature.
Fudo Dori was awake in the morning. The weather was fresh and cool, but clear and beautiful. We went in search of hot food. We passed a dog barber, trimming a poodle to give it an afro, a tail afro, and afro feet. A delivery driver was securing a plastic bowl of soup to the back of his motorbike for delivery. Many of the shopkeepers were very old, selling fruit, vegetables and mystery fried things. Then we found the restaurant we were hoping for, a cute local diner with a small dining room, a fresh coffee station, and some local men reclining with cups of tea, watching game shows play out on the TV. Our Teishoku arrived – a Japanese set menu with rice, miso soup. We couldn’t wait to finish our breakfast and start the adventure!