It actually WAS a walk in the park

At least half of Saturday was.

I got up early, showered, killed time and then headed down for breakfast.  Just moments before I stepped into the restaurant, a school group of about 25 kids had arrived.  That made the line for the buffet a bit lengthy.  I was able to grab a bit of fruit to tide me over while they raided the meats, eggs and toast.  I had some tea with sugar cubes from their nicely individually wrapped packages.

After breakfast (nothing too special, no fish unfortunately) I headed off for the ATM machine in Roppongi.  It’s an odd one that a guy (Brian) that I met last year told me about.  You go into a seemingly random doorway with nothing but an elevator at the back of it.  You go to the 2nd floor and suddenly you’re in a little lobby.  Very, very strange.  Of course, being Roppongi, as I headed to the ATM I was approached by 3 separate woman in about 20 feet, offering massages.  This was at 8am, so as John pointed out, this was the close to last night’s work, not the start of a new day, for them.  I simply said nothing and didn’t even shift my visual focus.  Oh boy is Roppongi lovely.

I had success with the ATM, so I was finally free to roam the city, as I had cash to work with.  I dove back into the subway and headed to Harajuku.  This is, of course, where the Harajuku Girls “live” and Olivia really wants to meet them, so I figured I should scout it out.  I’ll tell you now, I never did see them, but I think it’s just because I was too early.  What I did see – a lot of – was Yoyogi Park, a beautiful (and huge) green space that is quite popular.  Had I stayed longer, I would have seen the Harajuku girls as well as the Rockabilly guys, but instead I just saw lots of people enjoying a beautiful day.

I sat and watched a lot, soaking it all up.  I took copious notes in my notebook so that I could write this post with as much detail and color as possible.  So be warned, this could get wordy!

First, so many people seemed to be practicing for something.  There were high-school kids (and older) that were practicing great orations or plays.  They’d stand in groups or alone amongst the great trees and read from their scripts.  Sometimes they’d be quite passionate, with fight scenes or death scenes it seemed.  You’d also hear vocal exercises randomly emanating from the trees – “HO HO HA HA HE HE”  It was an odd combination of sounds, especially when you combined in the rock concert from the nearby stadium.

Oh!  The stadium, I nearly forgot.  When I arrived at Harajuku station I simply followed the crowd out of the station, figuring they’d take me to the right place.  They didn’t.  I followed them to the Yoyogi National Stadium where Tomohisa Yamashita (Wiki / Images) was set to play later in the day as part of his “supergood superbad” album release tour.  What was most confusing about this was the queue of young (almost entirely) men in suits along one side.  The other side of the common space was a line for merch and it was very dominantly women, which, after looking at the image search, I understand why.

(If you’d like to follow along in pictures, start here at the Harajuku station and go RIGHT.  Arrow keys work.)

Anyway, I found my way over to the park after realizing I didn’t care to be at the stadium.  As I walked in I noticed some food vendors setting up for the day and I quickly identified the takoyaki vendor.  I made it a personal goal to have that for lunch.  I then made my way into the park and got immersed in the sounds.  The vocal exercises / speeches, the runners and bicyclers, and the birds.

So many birds… especially the giant ravens.  I wonder a bit about what mythology or symbolism associated with the raven in Japanese culture.  The only thing I’ve ever heard was associated with the attack on the Taj Palace & Towers in India, whereby they were viewed as a bad omen.  A large number had been seen flocking around the Taj the day of / before the attack there.  No one seemed to pay these guys too much mind except a group of middle-school aged girls that were starting a group run and avoided one by a wide & squealing margin.  I think that, however, was just middle-school aged girls being girls.

There were tons and tons of people running.  Patrick had mentioned back in November that running was taking over as the national fitness instead of yoga, and this park was a clear indication of such.  There were people of all ages running around.  Perhaps most interesting was the group of blind and “challenged” (their word, not mine) runners going around the paths with a guide.  The sighted runner would share a loop of cloth with the blind runner and they’d head around the park together, matching pace and having a lovely chat.  It was part of some club and they may have been preparing for a marathon, but I’m not certain.  They, of course, had “uniforms” of brightly colored vests.

As I wandered the park, I starting to wonder which of the people may be living there.  It didn’t seem like a lot, but there were certainly people with more stuff than one would normally bring to the park.  They didn’t bother anyone or make much of a mess… they were simply at the outskirts, not congregating.  There was one ‘camp’ near the center that I couldn’t quite tell if they were officials or not, but they seemed to have collected every aluminium can from not only the park but perhaps the general vicinity.  They had 100 gallon industrial sized garbage bags F U L L of cans stacked up with them.

When a given spot would lose its entertainment value I’d get up and walk on.  In one part of the park there were leaves on the ground.  They were chopped up and disintegrating, seemingly having been there and piling up for years.  The canopy of the trees was just the right thickness to allow in dappled sunlight.  It was a beautiful spot, with picnic benches and a gentle peace despite being in a park in the midst of a massive city.  There were a couple of guys sitting on the ground playing some sort of card game, but they were making these serious gestures and used serious voices.  I suppose it was some sort of role playing / magic type game.

A spotted a guy with a drum and a folding chair set up at the edge of these trees.  He had graying hair in a ponytail and his shirt read “Peace for All.”  He’d bang out a few notes on the drum occasionally, waiting around for others to come and join him.  Eventually I saw him with another guy – he had moved out of the woods, presumably because the other drummer didn’t have a chair.  Later still there seemed to be three or four guys drumming away.

I wandered on and found a group of older people getting some sort of lesson.  I suppose this guy was teaching them to run.  (Remember I mentioned a new found passion?)  The teacher seemed to be a bit pretentious, giving ridiculous amounts of detail regarding their foot and leg positions, having them practice it over and over.  There were even helpers amongst the group to correct positioning.  Maybe the pretentiousness was added to by the fact the teacher and helpers were wearing fishing vests.  I don’t know… it just bothered me a bit.

Next to the running class was a group of high-school aged kids learned a dance.  That was another popular activity in the park – dancing.  Well choreographed dancing.  I saw a couple of groups of girls dancing, wagging their fingers and hips.  This was a co-ed group with large movements and lots of jumping around.

A continuous observation is that no one was self-conscious about their activities.  They all just came out, did their thing, and went on about their business.  For me, that’s a big deal.  I’d be continually thinking about whether or not someone was listening to my speech practice or dancing or running class.  Nothing embodied this attitude better than the guy jamming out on his guitar, singing at the top of his lungs.  He was on a picnic bench, separated from others, but at the same time fully on stage because of the way the nearby benches were arranged.  He was playing and singing for hours.  Not a single f*** was given.

Oh – then there were the boys doing some sort of complicated and rather athletic relay.  Let me see if I can describe it… a good photo is here.  (I also realized I’ve been writing a bit out of order from the photos, so you may have seen this already)  They are carrying a wooden packing pallet with 2x4s extending off of it using their shoulders.  Four guys are carrying, one guy is riding.  They start running toward a group of 5 other guys.  The rider slides off before they meet the group, then they perform the exchange on the run.  Once the ‘baton’ is shifted to the other group, the 5th man runs to catch up and jump on to the pallet.  Then they do it again.  It looked really tough and like a good bit of exercise.  Again, they did it for hours.

Around this point lots of families began to show up, setting up picnics and generally play together.  I started to get a bit worried about taking care of my family once they arrive.  Will we know where to get picnic supplies?  How will we carry these things?  What about toys for Olivia?  “That kid is riding a little bicycle, I can’t carry a bike on the train, can I?”  These are common fears for me as we begin the transition out here… but I pushed them away and wandered on to another part of the park.

And found a bicycle center!  They do bicycle rentals at the park, including bikes with training wheels!  To add to it, there is a ‘protected’ area where the little kids can ride.  The rates looks reasonable, and I can’t wait to get Olivia out here to try it out!

A little later I got hungry and headed to the front gate where I’d seen the vendors setting up earlier in the day.  After a little bit of waiting and watching (as is my habit), I approached the takoyaki guy and got my lunch.  It was delicious.  The bonito flakes were fantastic, the sweet sauce delightful.  It was a very simple purchasing process, as you might expect, but I still find it to be a bit of a hang up for me.  The first bite of the takoyaki was amazingly hot, but it was completely worth the burning mouth, as it was wonderful.  I finished up pretty quickly, but not without first taking a photo and posting a tweet about it.

I went back into the park, got a green tea from a vending machine, and wandered some more.  As I rounded a corner, there was a man sitting on a park bench, reading a book.  With a horse head.  I snapped a photo, then more people approached, taking photos for themselves.  Eventually a curious child came along and spoke with him.  It seems that just how he felt like spending his Sunday in the park.  With a horse head mask on.

Somewhere along in the day, I made some calls – to Susan, to my mom and to Christine.  They’ve all been really supportive and helped buoy my courage / energy.  I hate that they aren’t here to experience these things with me, but this is all scouting for when they do come.  (I know Susan is, and I expect the other two will as well! 😛 )  It’s not going to be an easy month getting everything going, both professionally and personally, so having people close and in touch is very encouraging.

Around noon John called and proposed we meet so I could get my Japan-based BlackBerry.  While I waited for him to get to the park, I found a nice shady spot under a tree and closed my eyes for a bit.  I had gotten a bit tired from all the walking that I’m not used to.  In a lucky coincidence, I happened to pick a spot next to an English speaking family and they eventually met their English speaking friends.  It was only the second time I’d heard English spoken in the park, and the first time was an angry British family.  (Apparently he was trying to give her a lovely Mother’s Day, but something, something, blah, blah.  It actually made me worry that we’d crack under the stress in a similar way…)

John and I met on the street, found lunch (Grilled Pork & Kim Chi) and shared some conversation.  He took me to the Bic Camera that connects into the Hibaya train station.  This is a 7 floor electronics shop with the basement floor fully functional and completely open into the train station.  You never have to see the street if you don’t want to.  I got a CF card reader so I could pull my photos and then we sought out a keyboard.  It seems that English keyboards with the pattern we expect are very tough to find.  Of 2 or 3 dozen keyboards, only one was correct, and they didn’t have any.  The problem is that they are designed to ANSI standards and have the double quote on the #2.  I don’t know what else is mixed up, but that one thing sounds pretty nasty already.

At about 5pm, I hit a wall – suddenly the world slowed down and I could have fallen asleep where I sat.  John and I said goodbyes and I headed back to the hotel.  Of course I got a bit mixed up coming out of the station and walked in a few small circles, but I made it back without too much trouble.  I set the alarm for 45 minutes, and passed out.  Only to give myself another 45 minutes.  Finally, around 7p, I called John to see about dinner, which he declined, and I decided to go back to sleep.  My stomach was pretty upset at that point, so I’m not sure that dinner was really in my best interests anyway.

I woke up again around 10p, started this post and made phone calls.  Its now 1:30a and I have to work tomorrow, so I suppose I need to wrap this up and get back to sleep.  If you made it this far in the post, then congratulations… you’re apparently quite bored! 😉

Oh yeah – the power will go out in 25 minutes for schedule maintenance / testing.  How convenient, as that will take away any potential distractions.  Now to post…

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