2006 Japan: Tokyo and Fujisan – First steps in Japan or “Ichigo ga Hanasemasu Ka?”

After the ski season I returned back to my old room in Wimbledon heavy with the experience of the 5 months past. Towards the end of the season I was plotting how best to pass the next 4 months and I settled on the idea of travelling – a “round the world” ticket in fact. So a little into May I embarked on the first leg of the journey – the long hop from London to Tokyo.

In truest fashion I did not book a hotel – I had no fixed arrangements planned – my journey was a blank structure pegged out with the target stops of where to get to by what time but no clear plans for the in-between.

On May 16 2006 I sat down next to a couple in a triple row aboard my direct London to Tokyo flight. I took the window seat and began avidly digesting Lonely Planet’s “Japan”. The man of the couple, Goto-san, introduced himself to me and throughout our 11 hour journey we discussed a number of things. I said that I was interested in potentially learning some Japanese so he began to teach me some basic Hiragana and advising me how best to approach the language. It was apparent that Goto-san and his wife were all part of a large tour group who were spread among the back of the plane where I was interpose as a single (soon to be) Gaijin. I recall approximately 8 or so hours Goto-san and I were stretching our legs at the back of the plane when he stated “we have been discussing…. we would like to invite you back to our home in Tokyo”. I was quite surprised on one level but then again on another the way the conversation had been flowing it seemed quite a natural recourse. I gladly accepted and we spent the rest of the trip discussing my plans for Japan – what would be best to engage.

When we eventually touched down – I was very glad of Gotosan’s assistance. My heavy luggage and the extreme culture shock of meeting Japan face first was enough to leave me very bewildered. He practically pushed me about the exit station guiding me through the process (which would have been completely indecipherable to me) of which ticket to buy and where to stand. The three of us traveled across Tokyo by some nefarious route which I now can barely recall. Eventually in the evening of the next day we made it to Gotosan’s house.

Gotosan’s wife went to prepare some food and I was installed in the family lounge – a downstairs room adjacent to the front door. Goto-san instructed me to take a shower. I recall in some bemusement (and probably a little bit of rational fear) – him walking in when I was naked into the shower room to show me how the shower and bath worked. Par for the course for Japanese who despite intense cultural form are rather unabashed about nudity.

Eventually – exhausted I fell asleep on the futon Masae had prepared for me in the downstairs room all the while questioning – “what have i got myself into?”…. There I was – touch down in Tokyo – my first trip to Japan.

–          –              –              –              –

My days in Tokyo are not very clear to me down 8 years have passed however I recall spending time with Gotosan as my guide for the city. Each day we would plan out our trip across the city with his suggestions based on things I raised from my reading in Lonely planet. All the while we had long discussions and I tried my hand at learning a few Japanese words. We traveled to Tsukiji Fish market After a few days and when Gotosan had appointments of his own to keep I traveled out alone and tried my new Japanese on the unsuspecting as I attempted to find my way around the urban labyrinth that is Tokyo-for-the-uninitiated.

One particular anecdote which I have dined out on for many years is my confounding of requests to ask people if they spoke English. Some how  – perhaps because it is proximate in its sounding I got into my head that “Ichigo ga hanasemasu ga” was the correct sentence to ask people if they spoke English. The reactions I got were priceless…. ranging from bewilderment, to anger to outright hilarity. Whilst I realised that most people don’t speak English I thought perhaps that they might be slightly more accepting of my attempt to communicate that I was finding. I was confused and put out… later that evening I spoke with Gotosan about my trouble. He and Masae laughed in a very polite fashion and told me my mistake… Broken down this literally means “Strawberry do you speak?” – I had supplemented the word “EIGO” for “ICHIGO” changing the sentence from “do you speak English” to “do you speak strawberry”?

Towards the end of the week Gotosan and I visited Fujisan. Unfortunately I was too early in the year to permit for it to be climbed. I achieved in frustration a partial circumnavigation (perhaps one 10th of the way around before doubling back on myself. Gotosan and I then clambered down through the woods to pick up the bus back to Tokyo.

I also picked put a suitable travelling lens 18-200mm which would be my trusty lens for the next 2.5 months until sustaining a crippling break in New Zealand only to be fixed on my next trip to Japan in 2007. The photos from the Matsuri are taken on the first day of owning this lens.

As I had only 3 weeks In Japan in total I was keen to travel elsewhere in the country during the time. I sketched out a basic plan of places I wanted to visit. Gotosan very kindly accompanied me to the Bullet train – the Shinkansen – and I began the first section of my first properly independent journey since having left London some days before. I whipped out of Tokyo on my way to 14 days of independent adventuring in Japan.

– – – – 14-02-2014

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