Back in Tokyo after the tranquil weekend in the hilly countryside, the next few days were spent learning the ways of my new home and adjusting mentally and physically to the always populated, seldom quiet atmosphere of the gigantic city.
Together with Akiko-san and Saki-chan, I explored the community around our apartment, which includes two shrines- one of which, Saki-chan warned, brings out crowds and crowds of people during the New Years time – any kind of shop you could ever dream of, hundreds of restaurants and a train station. I also visited Akiko-san’s workplace and met her brother and his wife, who live up above the company floor.
Monday night was monja night. Monja is a kind of “fast food” or “junk food” as Akiko-san claims, which might give the impression of hamburgers and fries, but chase that image away, because it is actually quite the opposite. Diners sit at a table with a hot plate in the middle, and servers come to pour a mixture of vegetables, meat and soup onto it. They then chop it up and fry it right in front of the diners’ eyes. Monja is very famous in an area a little ways away from our apartment, where during World War II, was safe from American bombing because of the foreign residents living there and also because a hospital for foreigners was located close by. The street where we enjoyed our monja, therefore, contains beautiful, age-old architecture. Akiko-san explained that monja is so popular there that there are more than fifty monja restaurants on that same street.
On Tuesday, I tagged along with Saki-chan when she visited her friend, Yukiko-chan, who is studying abroad in Canada for two years starting this summer. We rode the train for about an hour and got lost on the way, but I was very grateful that we made it because Yuki-chan and her mother were both so kind. We ate lunch, discussed both silly and serious topics, walked around town, ate a delicious home-cooked dinner, and rode the train home again. The full moon was bright and beautiful that night…
The next day was, as promised, an afternoon of shopping and a movie at the local mall, the Toyosu Lalaport. There are many shopping centers around Japan that carry the name Lalaport, but according to Saki-chan, the Toyosu mall is the newest and largest. I believed this fact as soon as I entered the gigantic complex- which resembled an American mall, but was even bigger. I could already see myself getting lost, easily, so I was forever grateful for the fact that Saki-chan knew her way around.
After a few hours of shopping – Hello Kitty, clothes, shoes, pencils, books…anything I could possibly want was present – we sat down for some soft-serve ice cream (strawberry-chocolate for me, double chocolate for Saki-chan). My feet ached from walking around the huge complex, so we headed over near the movie theater to find a place to sit.
Saki-chan spotted some chairs so I sat down happily and breathed a sigh of relief as the pain slowly ebbed from my heels. But when I looked up, I was facing a busy, noisy game center, and as I peered closer, I noticed some puricura stalls. (Puricura stalls are a hit among teenage girls because basically, anyone can go in with friends, take pictures that exaggerate faces to look like models, decorate them on the computer, and print them out as stickers, all for an amazing price of 100 to 200 yen.) I had never taken puricura pictures but had read about them in fashion magazines and when I mentioned the stalls to Saki-chan, who told me she had taken some pictures with her friends, she too became excited, so we both decided to run in to one of the stalls to take pictures together.
When entering the stall, we put our belongings in a cubby, inserted some coins and posed, posed, posed while a mechanical, cutesy woman’s voice urged us to hurry, repeating the phrase “time is running out” over and over. This caused me to feel rushed, so the first two poses I couldn’t even spot the camera and accidentally blinked when it flashed, but by the end I was beginning to understand it. As soon as all of the poses were done, we grabbed our purses and went outside the stall to quickly put decorations on our pictures on the computer. I had no idea how to use the computer, so I accidentally covered one of our pictures with random images of flowers while Saki-chan quickly decorated the rest.
By the time we received our puricura stickers, I felt as if I had forgotten to breathe the whole time. I had never knew taking puricura pictures could be so difficult! Saki-chan and I laughed hysterically at our awkward pictures – there was only one okay one in the bunch- and promised to take better ones, someday. 🙂
After the puricura madness, it was time for the movie – a Ghibli animation called Kari-gurashi no Arietti, or The Borrowing Life of Arietti- to start. The Ghibli studio is famous for its founder, Hayao Miyazaki, who produced such famous animation movies such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, among others. This new anime was directed by one of his apprentices. Saki-chan and I both thoroughly loved the plot line- a sick boy comes to stay at his grandmothers’ countryside home and meets a miniture girl named Arietti, who survives with her parents by borrowing bits and pieces of supplies (sugar and tissues, for example) from the humans in the house. Arietti and her family decide to move after being discovered by the boy and the housekeeper because of the danger, but not before a love emerges between Arietti and the boy. We also enjoyed the gorgeous portrayal of the gardens of flowers and the miniature life of the family- of using nails sticking out of the wall as ladder-steps, fighting off mice and insects, or using tape to stick on the bottoms of their shoes to walk up walls. But most of all, at least for me, the music that accompanied the scenery was most enjoyable- songs that mixed a soft harp and a clear, refreshing voice.
Coming home in the car, Saki-chan and I giggled out our stories of the puricura fiasco and the heart-wrenching, gorgeous anime to Akiko-san. After our late night routine of dinner and a hot bath, I lay down to sleep on my bed in the living room, still smiling, enjoying yet another day of city life.