Sakura Hunting

The week starts with my team leader Ken taking me out for an ox tongue lunch, which is unexpectedly tasty (I have some issues with the texture though). In the evening I thought I’d give the cherry blossoms another try since I met a Japanese guy who told me that there was a park that was open in the evening with light arrangements and everything. Sounded awesome and since I was pretty miffed that I’d missed the blossoms in the weekend I was pretty psyched to see more. While on the subway there however I discover that I’ve forgotten to bring the camera… Salvaging what’s left of the evening I head to nearby Akihabara – the tech Mecca of Tokyo, supposedly filled with 8-floor stores of only tech stuff. I only manage to find one though, guess I should look at a map to get a feel for this place. I do manage to find a 3-story sex store, filled with all manners of dildos, costumes and movies. Quite entertaining to browse through!

I go for a second try on Wednesday evening and find the park he was talking about, the problem is that it’s closed! Adding insult to injury it’s also raining cats and dogs while I scurry home with my tail between my legs. I decide that I’ll wander about and try to find some dinner in Ginza district since it’s on the way home. It turns out to be a big mistake since Ginza is a very upscale district where everything is super expensive. I finally find a little Turkish restaurant in a cellar on a back street where dinner only costs me a bit over 2000 yen (around 160 sek), to contrast with the tempura place I saw where the cheapest item on the menu was 8500 yen…

For my third try I ask Ken about the park and he is able to give me some more specific instructions. He warns me about the park being rather small though, but what the hell, it sure beats just hanging in the hotel room. He is indeed right, the park is maybe 50 by 20 meters and doesn’t even have grass. It’s a fountain, some trees and streetlights. Very disappointing…

Friday afternoon we have an all employee meeting, it’s all very self-congratulatory as those things go but I found one thing especially amusing: the big boss told everyone that he appreciated all our hard work and dedication but he insisted that we’d try and go home early on Wednesdays and Fridays, because family is really important! He said that it may not always be possible, but that we should try and go home around six, six thirty. …he said what now?! So I guess six thirty is considered early here, imagine that…

Today is also a spring party here at work and at around six the assistants start putting out beer and snacks. I haven’t signed up for that since I had other plans, but those plans didn’t work out so now I need a new plan for the evening. Fortunately I meet Jonas and Stephan who are looking to go out for some after work so I join up with them. Stephan is working in the team next to me and is from the Netherlands but has lived here in Japan for quite a while now and speaks excellent Japanese. Jonas works in the lab mostly, installing and troubleshooting equipment.

We end up in Shinjuku at a Teriyaki place and are joined by Jonas’ friend Justin who’s also from Sweden and like me is here on a short term contract. There’s the usual work-related bellyaching accompanied by an array of excellent teriyaki. After some coercing we convince Stephan that karaoke is a good idea and we head next door for a two hour session including free drinks (the teriyaki place also had free drinks, it seems a popular business model where you charge an upfront sum somewhere between 1000 and 2000 jpy and then you get as much as you can handle for the next hour).

Karaoke is fun, but be prepared for some trial and error with the huge remote. We mostly manage, even though some songs comes as unwanted repeats as we have a hard time figuring out the queuing system. Somewhere during the karaoke session we lose Stephan and when the staff politely informs us that it’s only 10 minutes left of our session we go on for an estimated 20 minutes before the staff once again politely informs us that it’s only 10 minutes left… Taking the hint we move on to Roppongi and a club that Jonas hazily remembers. We eventually find it and are subjected to an exorbitant 3500 jpy entry fee, adding insult to injury they want another 500 to store our jackets! Ah well, the club is filled to the brim with young Japanese and it seems like wherever we choose to stand there is a guard that has an opinion on it! The dance floor is interesting as well, there isn’t much room for anything else than hopping, so that’s what we do, and before we know it the place is closing. Outside is daylight and consulting the clock shows that it’s 5 am! Jonas takes us for some awesome kebab, some of the best I’ve ever had as a matter of fact, who knew?! The subway has even started going again (in Tokyo the last train is around midnight actually, so if you’re out partying you’re generally stuck with taking a cab home) and at about 7 am I stumble into bed after what amounts to a really great night out!

I sleep my way through most of Saturday but when Sunday comes I’m ready for another shot at Shinjuku Goyen – the cherry blossom park. Much of the flowers have already fallen off but the park is still fantastic and there is also a lot of other types of cherry trees that are still in full bloom. It’s really beautiful, but most fun is looking at all the Japanese obsessing over the flowers and taking hundreds of pictures.

The afternoon is spent window shopping around Shinjuku, being slightly molested walking past a gay bar. Late afternoon I make my way to Harajuku bridge in search of people dressing up, but today it’s scarce. Just a few on Omotesando street. I continue walking all the way down to Shibuya where I do some more window shopping before calling it a week.

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