TOKYO

Moments before the final boarding call, Silken and I indulged in lattés, meaning I slept all of 2 hours on that 11-hour flight from LAX to Tokyo. But at least my prayers were answered - Inside Out was playing on repeat the whole time! And I wasn’t about to switch the channel to San Andreas- ok, I did for about 30 minutes, and I’ve been having nightmares about natural disasters ever since. The live footage we watched of Japan flooding while in the Tokyo airport certainly didn’t help. Real talk: is California still there? Will I ever be able to rollerblade from Venice Beach to Santa Monica ever again, or will my new route be from the Taco Bell to Burger King in Barstow? Better start investing in that prime eastern Californian real estate now, before I blow my life savings on $8 massages here in Siem Reap. If California falls into the ocean, that will probably spawn a ginormous tsunami targeted at SE Asia, drowning me as I’m getting deep-tissue treatment on a desolate beach. And I forgot to tell the government “SMART” traveler program where I’m going.

Oy. Ok so we landed in Tokyo around 7 PM to clear skies, boarded a bus to the city, and by the time we arrived at bustling Tokyo station the weather had listened to my worries – to mourn the ocean swallowing California (not even the Rock could save it!) it was sobbing phat rain drops. We snatched our baggage and took cover in a coffee shop, then started sprinting through the downpour when Nicole let out a blood-curling scream… what in the… oh, Emily!! Emily graduated from SC a couple years ago, is now attending grad school in Tokyo, and soon became our Japanese Guardian Angel. We hobbled like a pack of wet Quasimodo’s across the street – almost getting hit since they drive on the left side – into Tokyo station where Emily helped us stuff our belongings into an overnight locker. At this point I realized I’d left my brand-new camera and iPod on the flight. So classic, but hey, I had my passport and a cold can of gin biters (surprisingly delicious), which Emily pulled out of her purse to welcome us to Japan with. We hailed a cab and headed to Ninja Restaurant – yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Through the foggy downpour we found Nicole’s sister and friends, and our posse of 10 pushed through the ancient wooden door into Ninja Restaurant. First, us mortals must go through Ninja training! Our Ninja guide taught us the basic Ninja moves- slash up, slash down, slash right, slash left, slash, slash, duck, slash – and we used our new skills to close a trap door with our minds, slipping into the dark grotto of a restaurant. We ordered Sapporo, Saki, and spiny sushi – it was a spicy tuna roll covered in seaweed flakes, but it easily could’ve passed as a sea urchin. Halfway through our meal, a special Ninja arrived for the Ninja show—no photos please! This was the Japanese version of a magician, and damn he was good. Card trick after card trick, we shrieked with joy, but his final trick really got us oOOoooing and aaAaaaAAhhhing – he had Dana write a note to Nicole on a card (which said “pls don’t die in Cambodia <3”) and then proceeded to pull that same exact card out of a sealed manila envelope in his jacket pocket. Bravo, bravo Ninja!

            Ninjas out. We passed a convenience store having a massive sale – everything 3% off! (cue some good ol currency conversion chuckles)- and journeyed down below the wet streets to catch the subway to Shinjuku. The Shinjuku Hood welcomed us with bright neon lights and loud club promoters, but best of all was the glimmering “Karaoke” sign. We ducked inside, pulled on some Pokémon onsies, and rode the elevator up to our private Karaoke room complete with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing Shinjuku. They had any tunes our heart desired – from One Direction to Drake – with the Japanese-English lyrics over scenes from home. I cracked up seeing montages of the Santa Monica Pier, Staples Center and Griffith Observatory zoom across the screen. We jumped on the tables and across the booths, perhaps emboldened by our incredible Japanese onesies – I mean, how could you not perform like Beyoncé when you look this fly? When our voices started cracking around 4 AM, it was time to hail a taxi watch the sunrise over the Sumida River from the Kachidoki Bridge. Due to the monsoon, I’m not sure if the sun ever did rise on September 10th, but the fog made it eerily epic – Godzilla could have appeared at any moment! Even though it was only 5 AM, the nearby Tsukiji Fish Market was causing quite the commotion, as tons of fresh seafood was unloaded from the ships into the market. Apparently, the outer market is for tourists and the inner market is reserved for licensed wholesalers only – well the public portion didn’t open til 9 AM, so we just ran through the whole damn thing! We got yelled at, a lot. We kept skipping past fish corpses that were bigger than us, snapping pics and snatching a few samples from friendlier vendors. The manner in which the guards attempted to hide the happenings of the inner market made us all the more curious, like taping a “do not touch” sign to a platter of Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookies. What didn’t they want us to see? Why are the auctions so private? And how is that fish’s eyeball bigger than my brain?!

Time for coffee, it was 7 AM after all. Our frazzled posse only had few more hours in Tokyo. Emily and Kaylee continued our bender with us, and we used Emily’s subway cards to take the metro to Harajuku station. After running rampant all night, I’d used up the remaining balance on my subway card. Thankfully, I developed a cunning solution. When the machine flashed “eeeer!” with a big red X, I simply yelled “No! Wrong!” and charged through the gates. If my big American legs could fit through the swinging doors, I have no idea how the police keeps Japanese hoodlums in order. After a few stops we arrived at the famous Harajuku station - Harajuku happy fun time YAY! However, the rain and time of day kept the famous Harajuku girls inside, curled up in bed. We strolled the fashionable streets, deliriously giggling and splitting a chocolate-crème crepe from “Santa Monica Crepes.” MmmMmmm!

Now us Ninjas-turned-Zombies had to schlep our bags from Tokyo Station, through the underground metro maze, to Narita International Airport. Nicole and Silken carried backpacks weighing in at 30 pounds. But I’m a “stuff person” meaning I really like stuff. So in addition to my 50-pound backpack I also brought a roller duffel bag full of 20 Costco-sized Advil Liquid-gels and Extra-Strength Tylenol for my inflamed lower back and leg, and continued tossing in gummy vitamin jars and Kind granola bars until my bag hit the 50-pound mark. I was already creating a scene, heaving and huffing with the backpack on my back, tote bag around my neck, and rolling the duffel behind me… I made it a few yards until the metal handle snapped off. Both metal bars attaching the bag to the handle ripped off, leaving me flailing around a no-good bag handle. Kaylee came to the rescue- we carried that bag like firemen saving a child from the ashes, through buzzing Tokyo station and onto multiple overcrowded subway cars (and just continued yelling “no!” while charging through subway gates – by this point the police may have been onto me). Oh and in case you couldn’t guess, the bag was a certified Wal-Mart product. After a 22-hour bender in Tokyo, I still don’t know how we boarded the flight to Singapore.

-Annie