Day 1 – 10am at Sensoji Temple, Asakusa
Only women’s belongings are covered in fake zips, more straps than Tarzan can shake his loincloth at and are as awkward as hell to get into. Just when you need to find something, you can never bloomin’ well get to it. But I’m no quitter. Despite the many layers of fabric in my bag knotting around my scrambling fingers like bamboo, I would find it. I would find my 100 yen.
“Becky, would you hurry up already? Even Kannon and Seishi are growing bored with your faffing.”
Kendra, my very impatient travel companion, was not best amused. Usually, she’d preoccupy herself by taking selfies, but photography from inside the temple was forbidden. So instead, she tapped her foot rushingly whilst keeping her arms firmly intertwined across her chest. With company like hers, I knew I should’ve gone alone.
“Hold on, will you,” I cried, trying not to attract attention from the surrounding tourists and guards, “I need to find my money so I can pay for my fortune.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,’ she huffed, crossed arms now falling hopelessly by her sides as she swished her head back in dismay, “Forget the money. No one cares! Just shake the box of sticks, pick one, open a drawer and let’s go already. I’m starving!”
Ramen was calling my name too, but this is a country of order and honesty – I couldn’t just steal a fortune! That’s a bad omen if there ever was one. Plus, I needed to know the answer to my heart’s questions.
For a while now, I’d been writing poetry in my spare time, living in hope that one day it would be bigger than just a scandalous rendezvous between me and my notepad. However, despite my love affair with words obviously being a passionate one, as of yet, it was going nowhere fast. I needed to write something that would speak to more than just me – discuss a topic that would ignite the flame of interest in other people, using my special style to showcase it at its most unique. That’s why I came to Japan – to be inspired. If this place could conjure up anything, it’d be inspiration. So I hoped and prayed that my fortune’s revelation would tell me that my love would someday be my life. Because no one wants to walk blindly in this world with only their fingers crossed behind their back.
Talking of love, I’d also met someone pretty nice back home – Ian. But – just like my writing – it wasn’t really going anywhere. In fact, it wasn’t going anywhere at all. We hadn’t exactly spoken properly since our initial hangout. But, nevertheless, by some miraculous chance, he was here, in this very city, at the same time as me! How crazy is that?! Without a doubt, it must have been the doing of the fates. That I was sure of. And so, if they were kind enough to do that for me, then I should be honourable and respectful of the sacred traditions of the temple in wait for my answers.
“No way!’ I cried at Kendra, still rummaging through my bag, “I’m not doing that. If you’re hungry then go find something to eat. I’ll catch up with you once I’m done here.”
Kendra’s harrumph nearly reverberated loudly enough for it to bounce off the nearby 5-storied pagoda and back again. She was such a drama queen.
“Fine,’ she frowned, the number 11 forming between her eyebrows, “I’ll find some melon bread down Nakamise. At least that’ll be more interesting than watching you play Mary Poppins with your handbag.”
I ignored her as she waltzed through the mouth of the Sensoji temple and down the steps. By the time I turned around, she was amidst the cloud of incense from the well outside. It was like watching Stars in Their Eyes, only with no Matthew, no singing or studio, and the fact that we were in Japan…
“Aha!’ I triumphantly remarked, clutching onto my 100 yen coin, “Gotcha.”
I then placed the silver coin in the slot, took the tube of numbered sticks and gave it a “polite” shake, as instructed.
There were so many people around me, I was aware they were staring at me to see how it was all done when it came to their turn. Hardly surprising – I did the same. Though being the star of the show wasn’t something I felt entirely comfortable with, so I stopped shaking the tube and carefully poured out the sticks into the palm of my hand. The one that came out was number 21, so I put the stick back in its rightful place and searched for the drawer with my fortune inside.
“There you are,’ I said, pulling open the drawer and taking out a paper scroll, “Please be good…”
‘This is not your year,’
‘Everything you strive to achieve will be a fruitless endeavour. All the things you hope for will take more time than it should. Love will come, but it will come too late.’
Perfect. Just the answer I’d hoped for. Because every girl on the wrong side of 20 only dreams that her chosen career path will be a dead-end and that her love life will arrive beyond fashionably late. Whoopdedingledoo.
I thought about scrunching the paper and putting it in the bin. But I also knew that whenever a bad fortune was received, Japanese practice states to tie it in a knot around the abacus-styled frame behind the fortune desk, which in turn would prevent that bad luck from coming true.
There were so many, all folded lengthways to make for tidy wrapping. Mine was about to join them, only, my crappy fortune was obviously reluctant to leave me. I couldn’t even tie a knot.
“Oh, for crying out loud,’ I muttered under my breath, fiddling with the stupidly rebellious paper that kept uncurling, “If you don’t stay here then the bad luck will follow me.”
For a good 5 minutes, I tried every which way I could to get it to stay around the wire, all the while others came and went with ease.
Why couldn’t you have just been a good fortune? Then I could’ve taken you home and put you in my scrapbook.
It didn’t stay, and despite my fears of misfortune, neither did I. Surely it’s all just a myth anyway?
Day 1 Continued, 6pm in Sumida
People practically eating each other’s faces on Azuma-bashi Bridge was the last thing I expected to see on my way to Tokyo Skytree. They must have been the kind of tourists who didn’t read the culture manual beforehand. Fools. If you’re going to come to a place like this, at least respect the codes of the country. And if not, do so with less tongue.
“Yuk!’ Kendra scowled, eyeing up the lusty pair, “My melon bread is threatening to make a reappearance! I thought PDA wasn’t allowed over here?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “Rebels without a cause, obviously.”
Kendra shook her head in refute, “If I was ever going to rebel, it wouldn’t be on the lips of a guy who looked like Napoleon Dynamite, that’s for sure.”
I laughed. When Kendra wasn’t scowling at me, her sarcasm was far more amusing.
The afternoon sun was beginning to fade into a light-breezed evening. My heart jittered excitedly at the thought of the dusk because, when the day turns to night, Tokyo city becomes a field of light, and I just had to see it from the top of the Skytree.
“Come on, let’s keep going’ I said, pointing at the towering Skytree in the distance, “We must be close to the Skytree now. Just look how big it is!”
Kendra quickly picked up her feet, “It was that big back in Sensoji. Ogling it from Sumida Park will look no different, I bet.”
“Hush now,’ I commanded, looping my arm through hers, “According to my app, it’s just through Ushijima Shrine. We’ll be there in no time.”
A noise that sounded distinctly similar to Marge Simpson emerged from her, “If you say so.”
“Trust me,’ I said, “I know my tall buildings.”
It took us 10-minutes to get there from the bridge. First turning left past the Asahi Beer Hall, past the statue by the river, through the park and shrine, continuously following the 634m tower that stood masterfully in the distance until we finally reached our end.
“This place better be worth it!’ Kendra grumbled, staring down at her feet instead of the staggering skyscraper, “These shoes weren’t built for walking all this way.”
“Oh, Kendra,’ I said, in awe of the sparkling building in front of us, “It’ll be worth every bit.”
No matter what my fortune said, I had no fear that this trip was going to be anything less than awesome.
Day 2 – 4.30pm at Tokyo Tower, Onarimon
Dragonball Z screenings one night, a pinkly illuminated tower the next – See! I told you this place was awesome! I was a complete baka to worry about what a piece of paper said. This place is blinding. Nothing could go wrong.
“What do you mean you can’t eat in public?! I’m starving!!”
Apart from the fact that my hangry friend might well take down the entire city.
“Kendra, you know the drill,’ I stated, taking the protein bar out of her hands, “Save some room for later. We’ll have dinner in Roppongi after.”
She flipped her head back defiantly.
“Urghh! But I can’t wait that long! This is so stupid.”
There was no way this could all just be food-related. I knew my friend. This constant moaning wasn’t about food or dodgy footwear – this was about a boy.
“Has Joel pissed you off again?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Lies! Her mouth may have said no, but her face told a different story.
“Okay, fine! Yes, he’s annoying me. One minute, he’s all over me like a rash, and the next, he’s watching endless reruns of Fullmetal Alchemist.’ She explained, arms back in their rightful place; folded across her chest, “I mean, what’s a cartoon got over me?”
“It’s anime,’ I corrected, “And I’m sure it’s got nothing over you, per se, but a guy can’t always be available 24/7. He’s got to have a life outside of you, too. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Hmm,’ She uttered, “I’m still not convinced.”
Convinced or not, the queue began to move rapidly. And given Kendra’s dilemma being anime-related, I decided it best to not opt for the One-Piece Tower combo ticket.
“Anyway, are you ready to brave this city from new heights again?” I smiled, eager to change the subject to Tokyo’s answer to the Eiffel Tower.
“Sure.’ She replied, “Just promise me there’s food inside.”
Day 2 Continued – 7pm at Tokyo Tower
My WiFi was keeping me entertained whilst Kendra ate her way through every Tokyo Tower-inspired chocolate bar she could get her hands on. We’d just been up the head-spinning elevator, watching as the giant city shrank to fireflies through the glass, and walked out onto the main-deck where we were greeted by harmonious music and views from heaven. Everything about it was so serene. It was clear that the Japanese knew exactly how to perfectly blend history and science with art and create a sense of awestruck magic. I was hypnotised. This place was incredible. I had to capture it.
Whilst I waited for Kendra, I admired the many pictures I’d taken of the glowing city. Every single one was so stunning I didn’t know which one to upload first. A Facebook post whilst trekking around Japan was most imperative, of course. But I was soon distracted by a reply from a certain someone.
‘Hey! Sorry I missed your message. Am out in Odaiba tonight with some friends. We’ll have to catch up another time this week!!’
Ironic at how high up I was in the physical, only to feel my emotions plummet right to the very bottom of my stomach. This guy, he was so close and yet so far. Still, it was early days. We had time on our side. So I put on a brave face and smiled, swallowing my pride to send him a picture of the city skyline instead.
‘You’re missing out!’ I wrote, attempting to sound cool and casual whilst I secretly hoped he’d come and surprise me from the lift, ‘Let me know when you’re free for that coffee :)’
For some reason, he thought I was at the Government Building. Was this guy for real? The message he replied to earlier was me telling him we were at the Tower tonight. Maybe he’d had too much sake with his friends to remember.
“BEX!’ Kendra screeched, making me jump like I’d been electrically shocked, “Can we go eat now? I need proper food.”
Flummoxed at her bottomless pit for a stomach, I turned around to face her, “It’s funny how you don’t like FMA, y’know.’ I stated, judging finger now poking at her belly, “You’d give that Gluttony character a run for his money.”
“Eh? Geroff! Chocolate doesn’t count as food.”
“Sure it doesn’t.’ I sarcastically replied, “Okay, let’s go find some noodles.”
And with that, we made our way out of the orange communications tower, through the glittering Winter Lights outside the building and on our way to Roppongi. In a city like this, good food and good friends would serve well at distracting me from my current state of confusion.
Day 5 – 2pm at the Imperial Palace
After a heavy night of sake drinking, Kendra and I took things easy for the next couple of days. We just about mustered enough energy to head to Ueno Park and have a boat ride on Shinobazu Pond the following day. The Zoo looked good too, but we decided against it because, let’s face it, who comes all the way to Japan to go to a zoo? Oh, and I also managed to squeeze an afternoon of gaming in down in Akihabara. I soon realised there was a good reason they called it “Electric Town.” Half of the world’s energy supply must be directed to power up the plethora of arcades there. Either that or the kids that play them create enough static through their trigger-happy fingers to charge them for the next 50 years. Nevertheless, as much as I loved all the hyperactivity of Japan and endless giggles with Kendra, today was about peace. No noise, no electrics, no Facebook messenger pinging away and certainly no moaning from Kendra. All I wanted to do was sit in Ninomaru Garden, take notes of the beautiful scenery that surrounded me and listen to the Koi as they swam in the water by my feet. And that’s exactly what I did.
Day 7 – 8pm at Tokyo Dome City, The Winter Illumination
Hope was still just about intact when I was drinking a matcha latte at Nana’s Green Tea Cafe. Staring out of the panoramic window, observing all the multicoloured illuminations below, my mind reminded me that I still had one day left to spare.
Everything was wonderfully colourful in Japan. From the attraction lights to the posters in the windows, not a tinge of grey could be witnessed. You’d think that being within the grounds of such a bright and glowy place would make me undeniably euphoric. After all, this is the place I’d dreamt about for as long as I could remember. Finally, it was real – I was here! But something was still eating me up inside.
After I’d finished my green tea, I ventured outside towards the illuminated rainbow tunnel. It was something I’d seen online many times and made a point of needing to see it in person. Amazing how far you’ll go for the things you want, isn’t it? All for the sake of my heart skipping a beat. And when it was there in front of me – the pinks, blues and greens radiating a cylinder of neon luminosity on my skin – skipping a beat was exactly what my heart did. Happy passers-by smiled just as widely as I did, laughing as they ran through the tunnel in pairs. It was just as I’d imagined. Incredible. Nothing could compare. It’s just a shame I had no one else to share it with.
Poor Kendra really wanted to see Bon Jovi at the Dome tonight, as well. But it seemed that her love of sake really was proving cumbersome. I promised myself that I’d remove all traces of alcohol and chocolate from her house when we got home. Just for a bit, anyway. That girl was in desperate need of a detox. So, as a compromise for her bed-ridden body being out for the count, I walked out of the tunnel and onto the bridge, leaning my phone on the ledge to film what I could hear of the concert from outside.
Before I put my phone away, I checked my messages again. Nothing. Nothing but a tick beside my last-ditch attempt to make plans with Ian. Why did I think my luck would turn out any differently? This was my life we were talking about. As a rule, travelling solo wouldn’t bother me, but today, what with all the hopes and expectations I had raised so high, I couldn’t help but feel bitter towards their unfair dashing.
I shouldn’t have been alone. I was meant to have seen him by now. Even the stars made it written. But he made other plans. A plan to make a promise he never intended to keep.
“If fate should see it
to prove you’re not the
Then step aside when our paths collide, so the pain I feel is
The Last Day – An Evening in Shinjuku, Kabuki-Cho
Typical, out of all the sights I’d seen from Sensoji to Shinjuku, I should’ve known better than to think he’d be one of them. It hurt to think that he couldn’t even give enough of a damn to say that he was sorry. It’s not like he hadn’t seen my messages. And, in my eyes, if you have enough time to read a message, you have enough time to answer it. There was me thinking that this guy was so awesome when we first met and that he seemed so genuinely keen to meet up again in a city where we both just so happened to be, only for him to go out and ghost me. I didn’t know who to blame more. Him, for being an asshole, or me, for being so stupid as to think he even cared. Either way, I was crushed.
“What’s up, Bex?’ Kendra asked, the view of Godzilla behind her, “We’re in the land of the rising sun! How can you seem so down?”
I stared at her, sipping my green tea as a way of delaying what excuse to come up with over the truth, “I just don’t want to leave. That’s all.’ I said, looking around at the psychedelic hubbub, “It’s an amazing place.”
She nodded in agreement, staring at the neon lights and crazy sights around us in the sleepless town of Kabuki-Cho.
“I can understand that.’ she said, “But, you must be so inspired though. Just think of all the amazing things we’ve seen. Shopping in that trippy mall in Nakano, walking through gates so insane that even Facebook felt the Meiji Shrine was cool enough to make an emoji for it, and rolling like a marble across the famous Shibuya Intersection. Bex, it’s actually mad to think we’ve walked all these streets! I can guarantee you won’t be able to stop yourself from writing about it all.”
She was right. And thinking about her words suddenly made it all become clear to me.
I’m a determined, brave and creative young woman, bursting with dreams that – through hard work and dedication – will one day become a reality. Feeling so deeply is both my gift and my curse, but no matter what, it’s what makes me special. Any guy would be lucky to have a girl like me! So no more time-frames, no more pressures, no expectations and no more stupid pieces of paper making me feel bad about my life – I didn’t need to worry anymore. I just needed to show a bit more love for myself. If anything, this week proved to me that if something means enough to you, you’ll go to the ends of the earth for it. And I guess, as hard as it was to experience, fate made things happen the way they did simply so I’d realise that. I knew I was worth more.
“Every cloud has a silver lining and all that.” She finished, sipping her Hojicha.
I nodded back, a little smile now curving my lips.
“You’re right. Cheers to that, Kenny!”
“Ooh,’ She said, excitedly preparing for the clink, “Cheers, doll!”
For a while, I’d been lost. But today, I was found in Tokyo.
3 Weeks Later…
“You have one new message. New message:…Hey there, Bex. It’s Ian…Umm, I just wanted to speak to you but I guess you’re not there…I saw the pictures of your time in Tokyo! It looks like you and Kendra had a great time. Look, I’m really sorry about not being able to see you whilst I was there…or getting back to you until now. It’s been pretty crazy here…Maybe we could try again for that coffee sometime? It would be great to see you. Okay, well, hope to hear from you soon! Bye for now.”
*************************************************************************************A fictional story inspired by true places. All pictures taken are from my trip to Tokyo in November 2018.