Watashi wa Amerikajin desu ne

I'm self-conscious in a very humbling way on this trip.  Or rather, that's what I'm hoping I'll remember once I'm home.  What I'm doing here is causing embarrassment to myself and my fellow traveler on numerous daily occasions.  Whether or not I am trying to represent or feel attached to a certain culture, I can just imagine the eyes on me at points throughout the day: ...sigh. ...stupid American.

Let me explain this way: There's been construction going on outside our hotel all week.  Some days, our entering and exiting causes the men to have to stop what they're doing, lay down a wooden board for us to walk across, and kindly lead us out to the street with their arm gestures and nodding heads.*

Yesterday, upon leaving our hotel, a little old Japanese construction worker was sweeping something near the front of the building.  Noticing this, I consciously chose to hop over the area he was working on as I sped by.  Once past him, I felt his head turn toward me.  I looked back and nodded, held back an arigatou gozaimasu, and continued on my way.  Anthony was behind me, and we walked a couple hundred feet in the direction of the station.  Then,

Anthony: You know you just stepped in wet cement, right?

Apparently that was why the man was looking at me.  He had looked down at the footprint and was then putting a face to the horror.  *Sigh*...baka na Amerikajin.  At least I hadn't thanked him.

*On a side note, there is really something to be said about this: along with how seriously the Japanese appear to take their jobs, there seems to be a job here for everything: when construction of any kind is going on in an area of land, one or two men are always standing guard at the front of the site, waving their hands and letting people know that it's still OK to continue along the sidewalk.  Or at parking garage exits, not only are there lights that flash when a car is about to pull out, but two men with glow sticks are kindly asking people to chotto matte, kudasai while then proceeding to guide the car out and onto the street safely and efficiently.  Sometimes I don't even notice a reason why people are stretching out their arms in the direction I am already going, but I'm reassured nonetheless.  It feels as if we encounter someone every few hundred feet who is getting paid simply to remind us that we can continue on our way, providing it is safe to do so.


I have been craving a big, filling meal for the past 3 days.  Don't get me wrong, the food here is amazing.  The perfect combination of taste and health.  But being a vegetarian, there's only so much goodness I can partake in, and when it comes to the fried and oily foods, I have to settle for watching Anthony do his thing.  I don't usually crave greasy food.  In fact, when I do get a craving for something, and it's not in the sugar family, it's often something comparable to the food served here, which I've had daily access to since arriving.  Despite this, I have never so badly wanted to give someone money in exchange for bringing a box of pizza to my front door.  It's funny how you can go into a situation already "knowing" what to expect from it or how much fun you'll have, or possibly expecting too much or too little, and be completely surprised by the outcome.

Yesterday we rode a new line from Yokohama to Shin Yokohama, where we paid 300 yen a piece to enter the Ramen Museum.

The price was cheap, and we'd been talking about going since first planning this trip.  But I think our reasoning was more for the sake of being able to say, Yup, I've been to the Ramen Museum.  I had no idea it would be one of the coolest things we'd do while in Japan.  The top floor was sooort of like what I imagined (although in my head, it was a long, skinny aisle with fancy tapestry that you walked along, viewing on your left and right glass cases with replica ramen dishes of all shapes and varieties).  There was a fair amount of information on the history of this dish, and the transformation that took place in 1958 when instant noodles were invented and Japan was "transformed...into a nation of ramen connoisseurs" (taken directly from brochure).  There were interesting souvenirs, kitchen utensils and dishes for cooking and eating ramen at home, and possibly the most badass digital photobooth.  Ever.

The little caption above our heads in the one picture says something along the lines of, If we don't hurry up and get home, Mom's gonna scold us!  Notice Anthony's pumped fists.

When we went downstairs to the lower level, however, it was like stepping into another world.

A "1:1 replica of a section of Tokyo in the year Showa 33" greeted us so realistically that I wondered if we'd accidentally skipped out on paying some extra fee just to be down there.

There were old looking shops, decorations, signs, stations...everything.  There were also about 10 different old style restaurants that you could eat at, which served...ramen.  Of course.  (I got a dirty look from the woman working at the restaurant we stopped at because I ordered nori (seaweed), gohan (rice), and bean sprouts; I've just had my fill of noodles and soup).  I also bought, for 150 yen, a fat piece of agepan at a little bakery that sold 4 flavors of it--I got cinnamon--along with a bunch of old looking sodas.  The little alleys that you could walk through on this floor of the museum were amazing, and occasionally it felt like a haunted house.  The sound effects and the music on top of the decor completely put us in the time period it was mimicking.  We were also able to briefly catch story time in the center of the floor, where a woman dressed in traditional clothing enthusiastically told a children's story on this old, stand-up board where she swapped out pictures as the plot progressed.  Anthony took a shot at an old game booth for 50 yen where he loaded a rifle with what looked like a tiny cork and tried to shoot a prize off of a shelf.  I put a 100 yen coin into a box and pulled out a fortune that I'm still trying to decipher along with Anthony's help.

Shin Yokohama was just a beautiful area in general, and we had so much fun that we ended up arriving late to the Lomography Gallery Store Tokyo grand opening party.  On our way there, I finally got to experience this:

Not my photo, but this looks like the same line we took.

It was Friday night, and apparently we'd gone back to the hotel early last week, because we had yet to see the trains get so full.  There was no need to hold onto any railings inside; the people around you held you in place.  The trains would approach, and what you'd see from the platform would be faces and limbs pressed up against the foggy windows.  It was hilarious and exciting and awful.  I think we both were secretly happy to have "experienced" it, but there's nothing more anxiety inducing than being stuffed in the back of the train and trying to work your way out when your stop is up and you're the only one needing to get off.

The Lomo opening party was spectacular.  The cute and cozy new shop was packed to the brim, especially the upper floor where free food, beer and wine were being handed out generously.  All of my friends from the night at the izakaya were there, along with a ton of Lomographers and people interested in learning about this photographic philosophy.  The products beautifully lined the shelves.  People were talking and snapping photos and taking videos all night.  I spoke with a variety of people.  Sometimes I didn't even find out names.  There was some kind of instant connection, being in a room with people wearing their Dianas and Diana Minis and walking around with Colorsplash flashes attached to their LC-As.  We all routinely stuck our hands up over our heads and took shots of the mingling crowd.  Occasionally I'd see a Horizon pop out above me.  I smiled and took photos.  What was your first camera? and So how did you get involved with Lomo? were the questions of the night.  A man in a business suit asked me a question in Japanese.  I said, Mouichido (one more time).  He asked me again; he wanted to know if I was a Lomographer.  I responded with a firm Hai and then used a phrase I'd been wanting to say to someone this entire trip: Nihongo ga chotto dake wakarimasu (Japanese) (a little) (only) (understand).  He nodded and spoke to me in broken English.  I didn't need to know anybody's name; I already knew them all.  I had photos taken with people.  There was a giant LC-A cake that my friend Takuji along with Shintaro, the store manager, ceremoniously cut into as we all aimed our lenses and cheered.

I thought I was going to drink a lot that night.  Takuji was determined to begin getting drunk around 9.  Anthony had a headache and left early to cope by playing games down the street at the Taito arcade station.  I'd already had two beers, and in the midst of the crowd and the heat, I started zoning out on the language being spoken around me.  I occasionally heard some German.  I was in a room full of people I didn't know, but I knew completely.  I started feeling homesick and hungry.  I needed two more beers or I needed to walk off what I'd already had.  I'd never before felt so caught in the middle of equal places.  I wanted to be more buzzed or less buzzed.  I wanted to transport myself home to my bed and my cats.  But I wanted to transport my bed and my cats to this place.  I felt really lonely, especially with my partner in crime being down the street, but I felt completely surrounded by this room full of friendly people taking photos.  My friends Takuji, Katharina and Nao all looked charming and finely dressed for the occasion, and they walked around greeting everybody and taking photos of their own, representing the new store with grace and confidence.  I wanted to stay out all night with these friends who I may not see again for a very long time, our homes being in three different countries.  I wanted to catch up with Anthony at the Taito station, but by the time I had that though, I figured he was on a train headed back to the hotel.

It was Friday night in Shibuya and everyone was drunk and merry.  It was Friday night at the Lomo Tokyo store opening and I became a part of their history.  The weeks before leaving for Japan reeled through my head, while I simultaneously envisioned my world once I'm home again, living my American life, most likely dreaming about being exactly where I was currently at.  In a moment of impulse, I grabbed my backpack, stuffed my camera into it, and began the long walk down the street to the Taito station.  Anthony was still there, playing Pop'n'Music, exactly where I hoped he would be.  I walked up to him and smiled.  There was a Sbarro pizza place next door.  I'm gonna go see if it's still open, I said.  And they were.  And I ordered pizza and Coke, and got wonderfully, sickly full.

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