Journey in Japan Part 61: Ticket to (almost) Ride

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Today is Christmas Day. I wake up at 4 am with a Christmas party hangover. It is too early to think, but I have things to do. Today my friend is arriving in Japan from England, and it is my job to act as a tour guide for the next few days. I walk to Nippori Station and arrive a little too early for my train. In order to kill time, I wander over the tracks to witness the sunrise. The warm winter sun silhouetting Tokyo Skytree. My photograph ruined by a smudge across my lens.

Inside Nippori Station, it is business as usual. Today might be Christmas, but for Japan, nothing changes. Salarymen dash to make their connections on the busy trains, Seven Eleven workers look exhausted from a heavy night shift, and ‘Let It Go’ blares from every speaker, as usual. A normal business day here in Tokyo.

I take the Keisei Skyliner to Narita International Airport and wait. Eventually, my friend appears wearing a knitted Christmas jumper and a Santa hat. Despite seeing her in festive garb, it never really feels like Christmas. No trees and no snow; in fact, another clear warm day. There is no Christmas music in the airport either, just the constant drone of nonsensical announcements.

We take the Narita Express bound for Shinjuku Station. The Narita Express describes itself as, “fast, convenient, and pleasant to ride,” but never has a quotation been so further from the truth. On the train, my friend makes an off-hand comment about whether things ever break in Japan. I tell her, “This is Japan,” which translates to mean, “Things never break here.” No less than five minutes later, our pleasure to ride train crawls to a halt outside Sakura Station.

We sit on the train for what seems like an hour, before an announcement in Japanese tells us all to get off. A kind Japanese man sat one row in front of us explains to us in English what is happening. We have to take a Sōbu Line train from here to Chiba, before continuing toward Shinjuku on local trains. For some unexplained reason, the Narita Express and the rapid line are out of action. Apparently, our ¥3390 tickets can be refunded in Shinjuku.

Not wishing to spend all day sitting on trains, we decide to get off close to Asakusa. We wander to Sensō-ji Temple to get our fortune; something that I very much enjoy doing. My friend receives a ‘Bad Fortune’ and leaves it for the gods. We eat sushi at my favourite standing sushi restaurant, before taking the train to Akihabara.

In Akihabara, for reasons that can’t be discerned, Ultraman is riding a horse.

We hop on a Yamanote Line train and get off at a random station. Her choice, Nippori. My fourth time this week to visit this station. We wander across the tracks and explore the many temples and shrines. We pass through Yanaka Ginza Street, and stop off at a small park. Tired and with feet hurting from too much walking, we take a breather at Zenshoan Temple. As we enter the temple grounds, in the distance stands a huge gold statue.

The statue of Kannon is impressive, but what is potentially more impressive is the Ghost Museum. Sadly, the museum of silk scroll paintings depicting ghosts, and macabre ghost stories, is only open during summer months. Something about horror stories warming your blood, the reason for the seasonal opening hours.

With all this talk of spirits, we take a wander through Yanaka Cemetery. I have visited here once before and found it incredibly peaceful then, and do so now. Something about the perfect rows of decorated graves is somewhat calming. Perhaps the quiet all around adds to this feeling. For some reason, the unfinished sign doesn’t display how the winter should look here. The row of sakura trees and blossoming primrose jasmine in spring is a reason to once again walk upon the dead next year.

We head to Asakusa. Tonight, my friend’s hostel is having a Christmas party, and Santa Claus will be arriving at half eight by the subway train. I decide to give the party a miss. Exhausted from a long day and an early start, and in need of my own bed, I head home.

At home, for my Christmas dinner, I dine on Domino’s Pizza (four seasons) and a New York Cheesecake. I could post a photograph of a Japanese pizza from Domino’s, but it really isn’t any different from anywhere else. Instead, here are some instructions for Christmas decorations that I saw earlier today:

Merry Christmas everyone!

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