6:30 AM. My last full day in Tokyo.
My second-to-last day actually never ended, since I came home at 1 AM and proceeded to talk to my sister for 3 hours. By the time I closed skype, I could hear birds chirping outside and decided that since I had yet to take a leisurely stroll around the area at 4:30 in the morning, now was the time to do so. I stuffed my phone and keys into my pocket and slipped out the door, thinking of a nearby shrine with some benches and a vending machine. A cold can of coffee while watching the sunrise? As my hand turned the lock, I doubled back into the house for a camera and a 500 yen coin. Now I was ready to go.
Outside, the sky was already pale lavender, though the moon was still up. I turned my feet towards Omiya Hachimangu, the nearby shrine famous for helping parents (especially mothers and soon-to-be mothers) raise good, healthy children. The soundscape changed as I approached the looming torii backed by dark forest eaves. Occasionally chirping birds acquiesced to the squalling drone of cicadas and other insects. I took the path to the side of the gate, quickly enveloped by dark foliage and the insects’ sighs.
I ended up ambling past the benches, allowing my curiosity to pull me towards some stairs I had noticed the day before. They led down to a park with a pond, some ducks, and some old people getting in their morning exercises. I stopped to photograph a blue heron stalking a fish and a middle-aged man avidly flying a remote helicopter. He was silhouetted against the rising sun as his toy droned in and out of focus. I took some dirt from the path as a souvenir, funneling it into an empty “pet bottle” (Japanese-English name for plastic bottle) with my fist.
This still did not satisfy my curiosity, which told me to explore a different way out of the park. As I walked on, I saw why – I had come across a fishing spot. 500 yen for 30 minutes; 700 for 1 hour. Opens at 9 AM weekdays; 8 AM on weekends. Shaved ice is 300 yen. I now have mid-morning plans, right after the pancakes I make with the last of my food supplies.
I continue on, then double back when an elderly regular tells me the shrine (and my house) are in the opposite direction. The torii swallowed up the dregs of the cicadas as I stumblingly meandered my way out of the woods. The sun shines brightly and cars flicker past on the main street. 6:30 AM in a quiet Tokyo neighborhood, and my last day has only just begun.
After coming back from the free weekend, the Singaporeans were facing a hardship as it would be their last week of program. We Americans had one extra week of program. So the Singaporeans had their final projects, presentations and final exams all on Thursday and Friday. And besides that, we were going to have a Lake trip on Wednesday which would crunch their schedule again.
As everyone was still excited after coming back from their free weekend trip, we were ready again to go for the Lake trip. We set out Wednesday morning and arrived the lake around noon. After we finished having a quick and simple lunch, we were divided into three big groups for different activities.
The lake was a pretty huge artificial lake great for sailing, canoeing, and rafting. I was excited because I have never done those activities before.
Our group went for sailing first. After some quick instructions, a sailing boat was assigned to each two persons. So this kind of sailing boat turned out to be easily controllable. One person will be responsible for controlling the strength of canvas and thus will control the speed of the boat. Another person will be controlling the tail blade of the boat to control the direction. And of course, the power of this boat depended completely on winds. There were times when there were little winds and thus we had to go with the waves and waited. But overall the sailing experience was relaxing as the weather was nice enough for us to lie on the boat in the middle of the lake to enjoy the French sun.
Our second activity was canoeing, and it was a very tiring activity… it took us a long time to find out how to synchronize our rowing movements so that we can move our canoe efficiently. But we never got it perfectly. Maybe due to the bigger winds in the afternoon, our group of canoes could not manage to row far away from our starting point. Soon we all gave up and decided to go on shore to take a rest.
In the evening, we also played pedanque and shooting. Pedanque is a popular French recreational game played all over France. A small ball will be thrown at first and then your goal will be to throw your steel ball as close to the small ball as you can. I really like how delicate the iron ball was made. The shooting was fun as its laser-shooting the flying plastic pans. I did pretty well and the trick was to hold your gun firmly and pull the trigger when the pans flied right under your aim.
The final activity was to have a barbeque dinner! Sausages, steaks, salads, wine, and so on. It was a fulfilling day.
I know this doesn’t entirely fit with the tone of this blog, but I was so moved by this video I wanted to share it … (the title looks a little extreme, I know).
Watching Japanese news generally gives one the impression that the crisis has been effectively dealt with, and that the best way people can help is through consumption. Celebrities are sponsoring “Let’s go Tohoku” campaigns, urging people who feel strongly about the victims of the tsunami and nuclear meltdown to buy products that come from that area … Though I’m sure it somewhat helps to revive the prefectures, there seems to be only relatively muted discussion about the fact that products with high radiation levels have been allowed to enter the market, or that the government has been doing almost nothing to solve the problems in these areas for the past 4 months.