Up the creek without a passport

Well this past week has been pretty much been the worst and the best time of my life. More than anything, the events of these most recent days have given me a true appreciation of the meaning of friendship and also the kindness of strangers.

My return trip home from Tokyo was scheduled for August 1st, so I made it my goal to spend every minute enjoying my last weekend in Tokyo. Not only have I been taking in many new sights, but I’ve also made some new friends in theses last few days. Although it’s a little sad to think I only have such a short time time get to know these people, we have certainly had a blast together.

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It’s also interesting to think about how and when people come into our lives. Particularly one of my new friends Nate, (different than the other Nat) has lived in the same dormitory complex as me this entire time, and we know many of the same people. I was studying in the lobby one night when he came down with another friend and we all ended up hanging out. They invited me to go to the beach with them on Saturday and I eagerly agreed.

In the days between then, I spent almost every evening hanging out with Nate and his friend Carson who had come to visit him for a two week vacation. We had lots of fun taking Carson around the city, going to see the new Godzilla movie in Shinjuku, and making friends at some of the izikayas in Golden Gai.

Saturday we met up and all headed out to the beach, which was close to Zushi, but a little farther and less heard-of. I was thrilled to arrive and be greeted by white sand and blue water.

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We spent the day relaxing in the sun,

enjoying the sight of Mt. Fuji in the distance (although it’s hard to see in the photo)

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and ended up staying until dark to enjoy the sunset

All in all it felt like the perfect way to spend one of my last days in Japan. Little did I know, I was about to get an entire week more than I had bargained for…

Monday came bright and early. I had my room all packed and cleaned, and I was ready to say goodbye to the place that had been my home for the past 5 months. Nate, Carson and I all left the dormitory together and headed over to the Shinjuku Ward Office to un-enroll from our Japan national health insurance before leaving the country, (Nate and Carson were staying in Japan for another week, but decided to join me so they wouldn’t have to make a second trip). When we arrived at the Ward Office, I pulled out my case that I used to hold all my important documents… But it took me several minutes to realize that my passport was not there…

In reality, it was not anywhere in my possession, yet that realization took much longer. In the middle of the large government building, I began frantically searching through my luggage in increasingly desperate hopes that the precious document would appear. After about half an hour, I basically shut down. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, my hands were shaking too much for me to even zip my suitcase back up. All I kept thinking was “No… This isn’t happening… This isn’t possible…”

Looking back on the situation, I am overcome with gratitude for Nate and Carson who helped me through those first horrible hours, and the nightmarish week that followed. Almost instantly, they guys realized that I had gone into shock, and took control of the situation on my behalf. They started researching the procedure for lost passports, looking up contacts and phone numbers for me to call, and simultaneously dealing with all the heath insurance paperwork we had originally come to deal with.

I honestly don’t think it would be an understatement to say that the days that followed were some of the worst of my life. In short, I missed my flight that day and had to apply for an emergency passport at the Canadian Embassy in order to return home (exactly one week later than planned). Once again, I am indebted to Nate and Carson who stayed with me through it all as I underwent the process of filing a police report, obtaining my emergency travel documents, rescheduling my flight (which I ended up having to pay for in full), and finding reasonably-priced hotel rooms to accommodate us all the while.

Moreover, I am grateful to the two of them for helping me enjoy my last (unexpected) week in Tokyo. Despite all the stressful and frustrating circumstances I found myself in during those days, the boys made sure that every evening (and basically every opportunity I had away from the Embassy) we went out and had a bit of fun to mitigate my distress.

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A large portion of this involved going out for food, since (1) I was so stressed I would often forget to eat during the day; and (2) Nate is a professional cook, so he loved teaching Carson and I about the Japanese cuisine he had discovered during his stay.

Probably one of my favourite meals was Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) – which literally translates to “whatever you like, fried” – but is essentially a Japanese savoury pancake. The process basically involved choosing from a selection of ingredients…

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… and watching while the waiter/chef prepared it on a grill that was built right into our table…

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… from which we then served ourselves.

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We much of the rest of our free time was divided between visiting Tokyo’s many arcades, sightseeing, and enjoying some specialty beers.

(I really do want to clarify that this was only once the Embassy had closed each day, and I had done everything else in my power to ensure my return to Canada).

Five long days after losing my original passport, I got an email from the Canadian Embassy informing me that my emergency passport application had been approved, and it was ready to be picked up. My return flight had been rescheduled for Monday, August 8, giving me the rest of the weekend to enjoy and celebrate.

Saturday morning we packed up all our luggage and made yet another move over to a new hotel in Ota “city” (a ward inside Tokyo). Upon arrival, we were greeted by the familiar (to me, anyways) sounds of a shrine festival taking place, and I knew we had picked a good day.

I should note however, that it was also the hottest day on record for that year, and since we were in the process of moving to a new hotel, we were already sweaty and tired and therefore not exactly in to mood to be walking around in the sun.

But as it turns out, there were actually two summer festivals taking place in the area, so we decided to explore the shadier areas while killing time before check-in.

After wandering around some of the local shrines, we took a break in a nearby park. However we were soon told to move by an elderly Japanese man dressed in a yakata (浴衣) – a traditional summer kimono. We proceeded to watch as he directed two other men, also dressed in kimonos, while they set up several inflatable kiddy pools and filled them with water.

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Before we knew it we were surrounded by hordes of young children who squealed eagerly as huge garbage bags of goldfish were dumped into the pools.

Adults attempted to maintain some semblance organization while handing out plastic baggies with which the children were meant to catch the fish.

We stayed and watched the rather bizarre festivities – thoroughly entertained – for almost 2 hours. We mostly kept to the sidelines, although there was no avoiding the periodic showers that kept the older kids entertained and us nice and cool.

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Eventually, the fish had almost all been safely relocated to plastic bags (with surprisingly few casualties) and adults began handing out snacks and organizing other games to occupy the children. We were quite obviously the only foreigners there, but nobody seemed to mind our presence.

In fact, at one point towards the end of the festival, an elderly Japanese man approached us and offered us a large plastic bag filled with tomatoes. We were confused at first, but it became clear that he wanted to be bale to give us something to eat (and perhaps also get rid of the excess fruit).

Personally, I was delighted by the surprisingly kind gesture. We all enjoyed snacking on the juicy tomatoes while letting our clothes dry and watching children and parents run around the courtyard.

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The rest of the evening we spent relaxing in the hotel and wandering around, exploring the area. The next day was my last day in Tokyo (although, believe me my fingers were permanently crossed until my plane touched down in Halifax). They boys and I decided that it would be fun to spend the day at a beach, so we got up early and headed to meet one of Nate’s friends at Kamakura beach.

We arrived at the train station, and walked through town until arriving at the crowded beach.

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Like many of my other beach experiences, I spent quite a bit of my time on the lookout for security guards who were trying to enforce the no-tattoo policy.

Although the beach itself was not that notably different from either Enoshima or Zushi beach, the one significant feature was the large waves. We all had quite a bit of fun body surfing on the waves, or simply allowing them to crash over us as we tried and failed to jump over the swells.

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After spending several hours alternating between lying on the beach and cooling off in the water, we decided to go over to see the Daibutsu (most typically known in English as the Kamakura Buddha or “Giant Bronze Buddha”).

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I still find it quit ironic that this was one of the things I visited on my last day in Japan, since it is something I had previously (and consciously) avoided during my entire trip. Mostly this was because I was under the belief that the Daibutsu was mostly just an overrated and over-touristed landmark, which I basically felt I could live without seeing.

However, because we were with Carson (who was very much dedicated to doing/visiting as many tourist-oriented activities locations as possible in his 2 weeks in Japan) we decided it was worth the trip.

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Despite the fact that it was exactly as crowded and under-whelming as I had suspected all along, it was fun embracing our “inner-tourists” and taking advantage of the cliché photo-ops.

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On our way home from Kamakura we decided to stop in Yokohama for dinner since we had a train transfer there anyways. Since I was the only one who was familiar (and I mean that in the mildest/casual sense), I was able to convince the guys to pay the ¥800 each to ride the freewheel located in the middle of the city.

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I don’t exactly blame them for their hesitancy, since it’s mostly an attraction for tourists and/or couples. However, they quickly changed their tone once we (raised) above the building skyline, and were provided with one of the most spectacular sunset views I personally had seen in my entire time in Tokyo.

We were even lucky enough to be out on a clear enough night to get some great photos of Mt. Fuji, backlit in the darkening sky.

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It’s hard to deny that the whole thing was really quite romantic, but by that I mean romantic in the most traditional “Romantic” sense (aka. 17th century Romatic, Wordworthian kind of romantic). And in that most poetic sense, it was truly one of the best images to have as parting memory of Japan.

So the next day, the boys took me over to the train station – even helped me buy my express ticket to the airport – and stayed right up until my train pulled out of the station – waving goodbye to me as I left Tokyo once and for all.

Getting through the airport was surprisingly easy – obviously Japan was happy to see my on my way back home to Canada – and the rest of my trip went off without a hitch.

As I sit here in my parent’s living room,  my dog cuddled next to me, it’s hard to place myself in a sense of reality.

My last week in Tokyo has been a bitter-sweet in the  truest sense of the word. With all of the mayhem, the rest of the trip feels like quite a blur that will take some time to reflect on once I’ve been settled.  But now that I am beginning to settle back at home, the memories of Tokyo begin to feel more and more immaterial.

Nonetheless, there’s a true sense of happiness and serenity in being home, surrounded by people who know me. There’s a sort of comfortable stability in things staying the same, and I like knowing that I have that. But it can be hard to come back feeling totally different, looking at the world in a different light, and realizing that nobody else really understands. It’s this whole other side of culture shock that people never really talk about.

I know I’ll still have my many friends I’ve made in Tokyo – who are now scattered around the globe – to talk to and reminisce about things only we’ve shared. But it also helps to think about the people I’ll want to talk to now that I’m home – the ones I know will listen with genuine interest, and make me feel a little less alienated. More than anything it feels good to be back with my family, who have loved and supported me from the very beginning, and continued to do so from the other side of the world.

Through the miracles of technology, my parents have been able to share with me my laughter and amazement and pains, but there are just some things that cannot be replaced though images and screens.

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