The next day we woke up nice and early with the rest of the thirty SAS girls on our pod floor, since they were not co-ed floors, as everyone was nice and loud waking up. But we had plans to wake up early as well it was just hectic with only one working toilet, two sinks and everyone trying to get ready at the same time. We finally made it out of there and headed on our way to Kyoto. We planned to spend a few hours looking at the cherry blossoms, because it was the special cherry blossom blooming time, but when we arrived after our 45 minute train ride, it was pouring rain, not ideal weather for walking through scenic areas. We decided to just walk down the main drag and see what we found.
We happened upon a huge building with a gate surrounding it. It turned out to be a Buddhist temple, as we later found out. We walked in and walked up to a sort of fountain/water structure and none of us knew what to do but there were dipping cups placed around the edge of the pond. A Japanese couple saw us struggling because we obviously wanted to know what to do. The husband was kind and, although he didn’t speak English, showed us the ritual performed of dumping water into the hands from the dipping cup, with specific order of how to pour to clean your hands and rinse your mouth. Then he motioned to the building past the fountain and clearly meant to tell us to go inside. We all did the ritual and walked towards the large hall, with music and chanting flowing from it. We removed our shoes and walked up the steps and walked inside the hall. There was a sort of prayer service going on, with not too many people inside. We walked in and kneeled down along with the people scattered around the room. There was a group of people chanting at the front of the room. It was so quiet and so peaceful and all five of us just sat there for about 20 minutes, until it ended.
Once it was done, we walked back outside and kept walking down the street. It just kept pouring and we were all cold and wet so we walked across the street to a little green in the middle of the two roads with plenty of cherry blossom trees and a big fountain. We decided that we had enough of Kyoto, although it seemed like a cool area, but we wanted to make it to Tokyo with enough time to find a hotel before making it to the baseball game we planned on going to that night. We walked back to the train station and bought our Bullet Train tickets. After trying to find a place to buy good food and just giving up and grabbing something at the convenience store, we headed to hop on our train. We tried to put our tickets into the slot so the little terminal doors would open but it said we had the wrong tickets. We went to the ticket office and after struggling with the Japanese/English language barrier, we finally figured out we had only paid for the base fare tickets, and we had to buy other tickets to go along with those. Actually, we were pissed because of how much more money we had to pay, it made sense because of how cheap the first tickets had been. Haha… Lost in translation every day.
We made it to the train and got on with just minutes until it left. Although there is a bullet train leaving about every 30 minutes, the one we needed was as direct as we could get to Tokyo. The next train would have just meant we would have had to wait around a little longer, like it was really any big difference. After about a 3-hour train ride, much of which I slept through, before we knew it we were in Tokyo! We quickly tried to figure out what station we needed to go to and we ended up going to the Harajuku stop, thinking we could find a place to stay there. Harajuku is indeed what inspired Gwen Stefani’s Harjuku Girl clothing line because pretty much any girl walking down that street and working in the stores was dressed exactly like the pictures. We certainly stood out with our giant hiking backpacks and rain gear. After window-shopping around, trying to find outfits for our Harajuku Girl night out, we started asking around for hotels but then figured out there were no hotels close to the area. We had to get back on the subway and go back one stop to find a place to stay.
As we arrived in Shibuya, which ended up being like the Times of Square of Japan, we took forever wandering through the station just trying to find a way out. Once we finally made it out into more crowds of people, we began walking down the street to find a hotel. Katy had a pictures dictionary in the back of her journal so we could point to a picture of someone sleeping in a bed to signify a hotel. Well it turns out that a picture of a person sleeping in a bed with Zzzz’s coming out of their mouth and a moon in the window is not the universal sign for sleeping, because all we got were blank stares from the numerous people we asked, or some sort of head shake/”no”.
We had pretty much given up by this point and were heading back to the train station where we had seen a sign for what looked like a fancy hotel, but we were rushing to find something to make it to the baseball game on time. As we were waiting to cross the street, we saw two White guys and we asked them if they spoke English. They said yes, thankfully, and they ended up being from America. We asked if they knew of any hotels close by and they said there were plenty, we were obviously just misinformed. They said that we could follow them to their hotel because there was internet that we could use in the lobby.
We got to talking and quickly found out that they were on tour with their band, one guy was the drum player and the other was their videographer, and they were from Pennsylvania and San Diego, respectively. The drummer, Matt, once he found out Katy and I were from Seattle, asked if we had heard of Mars Hill Church, which of course we had. That was quite a sigh of relief at this point because, as I’m sure some of you were thinking, this could have been a somewhat sketchy excursion, but you get used to things like this when you’ve done it a few times. Anyways, Matt had actually been a speaker at a conference at a Mars Hill conference for college students a few months back as a person working in the industry but still maintaining his faith. This was also about the time we found out the band was actually a Death Metal/somewhat Christian band (August Burns Red, for those of you who are death metal fans). By this time, we had wandered too far and took a little while to regain direction and walk down a different road to the hotel.
As we were walking, we probably passed 5-10 hotels but decided to see what their hotel rate was, since most of the ones seemed on the pricier side. The Shibuya City Hotel ended up being on the pricey side as well, but after Matt did some negotiating for us, we had it down to a reasonable price. So for 5 girls, we ended up with a small room with two beds the size in between a twin and a double, if that even exists. We were able to push the beds together and overall it worked out for all of us to squish together. Before going up though, we made plans to go to dinner with the guys and then head to their concert after. The baseball game plans had been hacked, as we were at least 45 minutes away from the stadium, it was a cold and rainy night and we would have gotten there too late to enjoy the whole thing. I was certainly bummed out but this is definitely a country I will want to return to, so I’ll just have to come back for that game.
We dropped out stuff off quickly and got ready for dinner. Dinner ended up being Outback Steakhouse, obviously, haha well we had already pretty much overloaded on Japanese food and one thing I’ve learned in countries is that it’s okay to take a break from the local food. And I mean, how many people can say they had Outback Steakhouse in Tokyo, Japan. We also met another band member, JB, who played the bass (or guitar, I can’t quite remember.) The dinner was delicious and after we walked just a few blocks down the street, to the concert venue. We split off from the guys because they had a sound check, and we had time to kill before we all were to attend our first heavy metal Christian rock concert. The concert was quite an experience, to say the least. It consisted of a mosh pit, spilling alcohol, lots of head banging, but mostly words that I couldn’t understand even if I tried my hardest. But I guess he was singing something because there were people singing along. So once the concert was finished, I was surprisingly composed, with most of my hearing intact and only a few bruises from the moshing. It was definitely an experience I will never forget, and it certainly was no baseball game but I have to say it was pretty fun. Afterward, we waited around to hang out with the guys, and meet the ones we hadn’t already met. One of them invited us backstage to the dressing room/hang out areas, where we got to eat the food and drink the drinks they hadn’t finished. We even got free t-shirts! Mine is Angry Birds-themed, obviously. They were all super nice and funny, and most of them were older and married or had girlfriends, so it wasn’t weird.
Funniest story of the night, however, was definitely when these American guys, clearly in the Army, were waiting outside the concert, pretty clearly trying to talk to us, and as they were hanging around, I whispered to the girls “We’re not American, we’re British.” The guys came over and started talking to us, and Liz and I broke out in British accents. The other three didn’t quite hear me but we mentioned how we were on Semester at Sea and of course one of the guys had a friend who was on the ship. He shows us a picture and it was of someone we recognized. Then he proceeds to tell us how he should take a picture so he can show it to his friend later. I can only imagine the conversation between the two… “Oh I met a couple British girls on your ship.” “Um there’s no one from England.” “Are you sure? I have a picture of them.” *Awkward! But also an, “I guess you had to be there” story because it was beyond hilarious. I am also now much more confident in my British accent.