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Friday, July 7, 2017

Japan 101: Family Trip

When I think of Japan, I remember a very beautiful country inhabited by nice people that served excellent food. My trips to Japan had always been interesting. I had visited the country twice so far at the time of this writing and they were due to the same reason. It's also worth mentioning that for both visits that I had, Japan was never the original destination that I'd like to go to, but due to the spectacular turn of events, I ended up there.

Linda, around Harajuku.

The first time we were there, we went there as a family of three, when my daughter Linda was not yet two years old. We were supposed to go to Australia, but because Paul McCartney had a series of concerts there, I changed the trip to Tokyo instead. It took me a while to muster enough courage to step into the reality that I could actually watch Paul McCartney playing live. I mean, he was a Beatle! For the longest time, I didn't even dare to entertain the thought of being in the same building as the living legend. It was just too far-out! I eventually cancelled the Australia trip and switched direction to Japan instead once I got the concert ticket!

Linda wasn't feeling well when we flew to Tokyo, but she was such a sweet little girl that she didn't give us much trouble at all during the seven hours flight. As we were cruising up in the air, I couldn't help noticing that the sun was shining bright at 3am in the morning, long before we arrived at Haneda. The country of the rising sun wasn't just a name that was made up out of thin air, it was real! Oh, talk about the airports, I had a chance to try both Haneda and Narita. Given the proximity to Tokyo, I think I like Haneda better than Narita (do take note that Haneda is actually located between Tokyo and Yokohama). There is a monorail that will bring you to Hamamatsuchō Station within 20 minutes ride.

At Yotsuya station, learning how to buy tickets.

We went only to Tokyo and Hakone at that time. As we brought along our daughter, we couldn't travel lightly. The fact that I had to bring a baby stroller and two luggage was quite nightmarish. Unlike Singapore, the train platform in Tokyo was very long to the extent that it was difficult to see on which end the lift was. We could have walked very far to the left only to realize that the lift was actually on the right side of the platform. If you are wondering why we didn't just follow the sign, that was because we didn't see one. There were also times when there wasn't any escalator or lift at all, so I had to literally do the heavy-lifting one by one. Some stations such as Shinjuku or Tokyo were extremely huge and crowded, so it could be quite stressful if you had to find your way with so many baggage in tow (and the train map didn't help, because it was so convoluted with so many lines criss-crossing one another).

Mitsui Garden Hotel in Yotsuya was where we stayed when we first arrived. I chose the hotel because it was close to the National Stadium, the venue where the concert would take place. The hotel room was fine, except it was kind of narrow that Linda bumped her head once or twice. The hotel was also within the walking distance to the train station. I seem to recall that we had to pass by KFC before we crossed the street. Judging from the menu, KFC in Japan didn't seem to offer anything special as compared with other countries, where it serves rice and perkedel in Indonesia or gravy in the Philippines.

Linda and Mama, in front of Mitsui Garden Hotel.

Yotsuya is only few stops away from Shinjuku, so we went there and some other places nearby. I always thought of Jackie Chan's Shinjuku Incident when I was on my way there, but the place actually looked pretty safe and wasn't exactly prone to incident. Shinjuku was like a maze-like Orchard, complete with Takashimaya, but much more chaotic. There was a big garden called Shinjuku Gyoen somewhere around the area. I didn't do much of the sightseeing on the first day because I brought Linda back to rest at the hotel, but my wife went out with her camera in hand.

We went to Meiji Shrine on the following day. It was grand, big and very Japanese. There was also this green tea ice cream counter on the way out. Well, they must be aplenty in Japan, but placing one at the corner, a spot that we easily found after a long hot morning walk was brilliant! Then there was this sea of people in Harajuku afterwards. As if that was not crazy enough, there was a Daiso shop in the middle of the street, making it more hectic than it had already been. The only times I put my daughter on the ground was when she had her pictures taken. Other than that, I would hold her tight!

Linda at Takeshita Street, Harajuku.

We alighted at Shibuya for a while after that to have a glimpse of Hachiko, then came the time for the concert. Paul arrived in Japan few days before us and I was so excited to see the Japanese concertgoers staying at the same hotel (they carried banners and stuff). However, Paul was ill that he gotta cancel the first concert. The one I was about to attend was on the second day and I could only hope that he would make it.

Along the way to stadium, I saw so many fans walking to the same direction. My family was with me until we reached the venue, then my wife, who understood how important this milestone was, wished that I'd have a good time attending the concert. It was very nice of her, but much to my dismay, the concert didn't happen. There were people, which I assumed were the coordinators, announcing something in Japanese. After asking around (I learnt that asking in a formal sentence simply didn't work, but it was more effective to say, "Paul, cancel?"), it was confirmed that the concert was cancelled. To think that I went all the way from Singapore, what happened was hard to swallow.

I was understandably disappointed, but I still had many days in Japan, so no point ruining the holiday mood by feeling bitter about it. We visited Tama Zoo on the next day and I was cheered up by the sight of African elephants and Indian rhino. While the zoo was quite far from Tokyo, it was worth the traveling time to see the animals that I haven't seen before. The thing with zoos are, there are certain animals that you can only find at certain zoos, a fact that is often overlooked by many.

Checking out the giraffes at Tama Zoo.

Hakone was the next destination for us. We planned to stay there one night, so there I was, dragging the luggage again. From Shinjuku, we took Odakyu Romancecar which was roughly a one and half an hour ride. Hakone was like the olden days Japan that one could see from the movie, populated by small wooden shop houses with a shallow and fast current river flowing at the side. We opted to stay at ryokan to try out the typical Japanese tatami-matted bedroom, similar with Nobita's from the famous cartoon Doraemon.

Once we were done with check in, we began our journey in Hakone. It was started with a bus ride, then we walked through the pine forest to a small town where we took a pirate ship to cross Lake Ashi. Once we reached the other side of the lake, we continued with rope way to Owakudani. It was a peak famous for the black color eggs (but it was already finished when we reached there). While we were there, we could see Mount Fuji from afar. On our way down, we took the cable car (I always think that the terms for the transportation vehicles were rather odd. What was referred to as rope way was actually a cable car and what they meant by cable car was supposed to be a tram).

When the night came, we went to a restaurant next door. In hindsight, it seems like my daughter's love for ramen started in Japan. She wouldn't eat any other food except ramen and that night wasn't an exception. The problem with this was, because she wouldn't be able to finish the whole bowl, I wouldn't order a meal for myself because someone would have to finish what she couldn't. I ate so much ramen until I got sick of it and started developing the ramen phobia. That aside, food in Japan was splendid. Even a small dining place served delicious food. The Japanese people must be very particular and meticulous when it comes to cuisines.

Dragging the luggage back to Tokyo again.

We went back to Tokyo and spent the last leg of our family trip by staying at Hotel Ryumeikan, a hotel nearby the Tokyo station. I had an impressive encounter with a Japanese at the Nihombashi station. We couldn't find our way out when we first got there and I asked a passerby. He seemed to understand me, but couldn't reply in English. He eventually gave the hand signal for us to follow him and he brought us to the correct exit before he went back to his own direction. That was very nice of him!

We had a short stop to Akihabara on that day, a rather interesting place where comics were sold. I stepped into a basement of the shop where hentai (seijin manga, the adult comics) filled up the book shelf. It was quite funny that everybody looked at me (they were all guys, no girls) when I entered and then their eyes rolled back to focus on the manga. The collection, I must say, was second to none. You got all sorts of porns that you can imagine, from teacher porn to alien porn, but I ended up buying a new luggage at Akihabara instead of porn, haha.

At Disneyland with Papa.

We spent one day at Disneyland and another day at DisneySea. It was quite a distance from Tokyo station so we had to commute, but it was alright and convenient. Disney was like a childhood dream came true. I mean, the moment we stepped out from the train station, we could already hear all those familiar tunes, so it was like a blast from the past. Every part of Disney was so cartoon-like and animated. The only slight problem was suddenly we had Donald Duck and friends speaking Japanese so it was as if they were being overdubbed. When the night came, there were laser show and fireworks. Very magical.

By the end of the day, when we had a dinner there, I remember telling my wife that Japanese people were so friendly like Indonesian and hardworking like Singaporean, multiplied by two. I seriously doubted that we'd experience the same level of hospitality and efficiency like that anywhere else in the world. Japan was a nice place to be, not for work, but for holiday. The next day, we flew back from Narita...

The family picture at Owakudani, with Mount Fuji at the back.

Japan 101: Liburan Keluarga 

Ketika saya berpikir tentang Jepang, saya teringat dengan sebuah negara yang indah dan dihuni oleh orang-orang ramah yang menyajikan makanan yang luar biasa lezatnya. Liburan saya di Jepang selalu terasa menyenangkan. Saat artikel ini ditulis, saya sudah mengunjungi Jepang sebanyak dua kali dikarenakan oleh alasan yang sama. Perlu disebutkan juga bahwa dalam dua kesempatan ini, Jepang sebenarnya bukan merupakan tujuan wisata pertama, tapi karena satu dan lain hal, akhirnya saya pun berada di sana.

Kita pergi bertiga dalam kunjungan saya yang pertama, ketika Linda belum lagi genap dua tahun. Sebenarnya kita sudah merencanakan liburan ke Australia, namun karena Paul McCartney akan konser di Jepang, saya pun beralih ke Tokyo. Setelah mendapatkan tiket konser, saya melupakan kunjungan ke Australia dan berbelok arah ke Jepang! 

Tiket konser yang tidak pernah dipakai.

Kesehatan Linda sedang tidak prima saat kita terbang ke Tokyo, tapi dia adalah balita yang tidak rewel sehingga penerbangan selama tujuh jam itu tergolong lancar. Saat kita mengudara, saya perhatikan bahwa matahari sudah bersinar terang pada jam tiga pagi, beberapa jam sebelum kita mendarat di Haneda. Negeri Matahari Terbit ternyata bukan julukan semata bagi Jepang! Oh, bicara soal bandara, saya berkesempatan untuk mencoba baik Haneda maupun Narita. Karena jaraknya yang dekat dengan Tokyo, saya cenderung lebih menyukai Haneda (perlu dicatat juga bahwa Haneda terletak di antara Tokyo dan Yokohama). Kalau anda ke Tokyo, ada monorel yang akan membawa anda ke Hamamatsuchō Station dengan waktu tempuh sekitar  20 menit.

Pada kesempatan ini, kami hanya berlibur ke Tokyo dan Hakone. Karena kami membawa putri yang masih berusia balita, barang-barang yang dibawa pun cukup banyak. Satu kereta bayi dan dua koper tidaklah mudah untuk dibawa saat bepergian! Berbeda dengan Singapura, stasiun kereta di Tokyo sangat panjang sehingga sulit untuk melihat di mana lift sebenarnya berada. Kami bisa saja berjalan jauh ke arah kiri hanya untuk menyadari bahwa lift sebenarnya berada di sebelah kanan stasiun. Jika anda membayangkan kenapa kami tidak mengikuti petunjuk jalan, itu karena kami tidak melihatnya. Selain itu, beberapa pintu keluar di stasiun tidak memiliki lift dan eskalator sehingga saya harus bolak-balik mengangkat koper. Stasiun seperti Shinjuku dan Tokyo sangat besar dan ramai sehingga bepergian dengan membawa-serta banyak koper sangatlah repot. Perlu saya ingatkan pula bahwa jalur kereta di Tokyo terlihat cukup rumit bagi yang tidak terbiasa.

Di Kuil Meiji. Lihat kereta bayi di samping saya? 

Mitsui Garden Hotel di Yotsuya merupakan hotel tempat tinggal kita saat pertama tiba di Tokyo. Saya memilih hotel ini karena letaknya yang dekat dengan National Stadium, tempat konser Paul McCartney. Kamar hotelnya bagus, cuma agak kecil sehingga Linda sempat terbentur beberapa kali. Hotel ini juga tidak jauh dari stasiun kereta. Seingat saya, kami melewati KFC sebelum menyeberang jalan. Kalau dilihat dari menunya, KFC di Jepang tidak menawarkan sesuatu yang istimewa. Berbeda halnya dengan KFC di negara lain, misalnya nasi dan perkedel di Indonesia atau kuah kaldu kental di Filipina.

Yotsuya hanya beberapa stasiun jauhnya dari  Shinjuku, jadi kita ke sana dan sekitarnya. Film berjudul Shinjuku Incident yang dibintangi oleh Jackie Chan selalu terngiang di benak saya, tetapi begitu tiba di sana, Shinjuku terlihat sangat aman dan tidak rawan kecelakaan, haha. Sebagai perbandingan, Shinjuku mirip Orchard di Singapura, lengkap dengan Takashimaya, tapi lebih hirup-pikuk. Taman bernama Shinjuku Gyoen terletak di sekitar situ. Setelah beberapa waktu, saya membawa Linda untuk pulang dan beristirahat di hotel. Istri saya kemudian keluar lagi sambil membawa kamera.

Saatnya makan malam!

Kami pergi ke Kuil Meiji pada keesokan harinya. Bangunan ini luas, megah dan sangat bergaya Jepang. Di depan pintu keluar, ada kios yang menjajakan es krim teh hijau. Saya rasa es krim teh hijau bisa ditemukan di seluruh Jepang, tapi posisi kios ini sangat strategis dan mengundang, terutama setelah saya berjalan di pagi yang panas. Setelah Kuil Meiji, kita melewati lautan manusia di Harujuku. Ada Daiso di pertengahan jalan sehingga tambah ramai kawasannya. Sekali-kalinya saya menurunkan putri saya di jalan adalah saat berfoto. Selebihnya saya peluk dia erat-erat!

Dari Harujuku, kita singgah sebentar di Shibuya untuk melihat patung Hachiko, kemudian tibalah waktunya untuk menonton konser. Paul tiba di Jepang beberapa hari lebih awal dan saya sangat bersuka-cita saat melihat para penggemar Paul yang tinggal di hotel yang sama (mereka membawa spanduk dan sebagainya). Akan tetapi Paul ternyata sakit sehingga harus membatalkan konser di hari pertama. Yang akan saya tonton adalah konser kedua dan saya hanya bisa berharap bahwa dia sudah cukup sehat untuk tampil.

Di sepanjang jalan menuju stadion, saya melihat begitu banyak orang berjalan ke arah yang sama. Keluarga saya turut serta sampai kami mencapai stadion, kemudian istri saya yang mengerti betapa pentingnya konser ini pun mengucapkan selamat menonton. Sayang sekali, konser ini tidak pernah terjadi. Ada beberapa orang yang terlihat seperti koordinator mengumumkan sesuatu dalam bahasa Jepang di setiap sudut stadion. Setelah bertanya ke sana kemari (saya segera menyadari bahwa bertanya dalam kalimat yang panjang tidaklah efektif. Mereka lebih gampang memahami pertanyaan singkat seperti, "Paul, cancel?") Setelah dikonfirmasi bahwa konsernya batal, saya pun pulang. Rasanya sulit untuk diterima. Jauh-jauh dari Singapura namun batal konsernya.

Happy face before the concert was cancelled.

Saya sangat kecewa, tapi liburan di Jepang baru saja dimulai, jadi tidak ada gunanya bersedih terus-terang. Di hari berikutnya kami mengunjungi Tama Zoo dan saya pun merasa lebih gembira setelah melihat gajah Afrika dan badak India. Sungguh binatang-binatang raksasa yang mengagumkan! Tama Zoo terletak agak jauh dari Tokyo, tapi memiliki beberapa jenis binatang yang belum pernah saya lihat. Bagi yang belum tahu, terkadang binatang tertentu hanya bisa dilihat di kebun binatang tertentu.

Hakone menjadi tujuan wisata di hari selanjutnya. Kami telah merencanakan untuk menginap semalam di sini, jadi saya pun kembali menyeret koper-koper lagi di jalan. Dari Shinjuku, kami menaiki kereta Odakyu Romancecar yang menempuh durasi selama satu setengah jam. Hakone terlihat mirip seperti Jepang zaman kuno yang biasa kita lihat di film. Tempat ini dipadati oleh ruko kayu dan dilintasi oleh sungai yang dangkal tapi deras arusnya. Kali ini kami mencoba ryokan, rumah tradisional Jepang yang beralaskan tatami seperti rumah Nobita dalam serial Doraemon.

Setelah menaruh koper di hotel, kami pun memulai petualangan di Hakone. Perjalanan dimulai dengan menaiki bis, kemudian kami berjalan menembus hutan pinus dan tiba di kota kecil. Dari sini kami menyeberang Danau Ashi dengan menaiki kapal bajak laut. Begitu tiba di seberang danau, kita menaiki kereta gantung menuju ke Owakudani. Puncak gunung ini terkenal dengan telurnya yang berwarna hitam, namun tidak sempat kita coba karena sudah habis saat kita sampai di sana. Dari Owakudani, kita bisa melihat Gunung Fuji yang menjulang di kejauhan. Menjelang senja, kita pun turun menggunakan tram.

Di Hakone.

Saat malam tiba, kami makan di restoran sebelah. Kalau saya lihat kembali, sepertinya kecintaan putri saya pada ramen bermula di Jepang. Selama kami berada di sana, dia hampir tidak mau mencoba makanan lain kecuali ramen. Masalahnya adalah, dia tidak bisa menghabiskan semangkuk ramen sendiri, jadi saya tidak memesan apa-apa karena salah satu dari kami harus menghabiskan sisanya supaya tidak mubazir. Saya memakan begitu banyak ramen sampai merasakan fobia! Kendati begitu, perlu diakui bahwa makanan di Jepang sangat lezat. Bahkan kios kecil di tepi jalan pun sedap masakannya. Orang Jepang tidak alang-alang dalam menyiapkan makanan. Mereka memberikan yang terbaik!

Setelah semalam di Hakone, kita kembali ke Tokyo untuk menghabiskan sisa liburan di sana. Kali ini kita tinggal di Hotel Ryumeikan, sebuah hotel di dekat stasiun kereta Tokyo. Saat mencari lokasi hotel, saya mendapatkan sebuah pengalaman menarik. Di stasiun Nihombashi, saya menanyakan arah pada seorang pejalan kaki. Sepertinya dia mengerti, tapi tidak bisa memberikan petunjuk dalam bahasa Inggris. Akhirnya dia memberikan isyarat bagi kami untuk mengikutinya dan dia membawa kita ke pintu keluar yang mengarah tepat ke hotel!

Linda dan koper yang dibeli di Akihabara.

Di hari itu, kita mampir ke Akihabara, sebuah tempat menarik yang menjual beragam komik. Saya masuk ke lantai bawah tanah sebuah toko khusus menjual hentai, komik porno Jepang. Lucu rasanya ketika semua orang langsung menoleh ketika saya masuk, lalu kembali menyibukkan diri dengan komik yang mereka baca. Koleksi di sana sungguh beragam, mulai dari porno guru sampai porno makhluk luar angkasa, tapi yang saya dibeli di Akihabara adalah koper, bukan komik porno, haha.

Dua hari berikutnya adalah kunjungan Disneyland dan DisneySea. Jaraknya cukup jauh dari stasiun Tokyo, tapi lumayan praktis dan gampang untuk ke sana. Taman bermain Disney ini bagaikan kebahagiaan masa kecil yang menjadi nyata. Begitu kami keluar dari kereta, kami sudah bisa mendengar lagu-lagu Disney yang tidak asing di telinga. Setiap bagian Disney sangat menyerupai kartun yang hidup. Jika ada sedikit masalah bagi saya, maka itu adalah bahasa yang digunakan oleh Donal Bebek dan kawan-kawan. Mereka semua berbahasa Jepang! Namun kami tetap bisa menikmati suasana di sana. Ketika malam tiba, kami pun menyaksikan pertunjukan laser dan kembang api. Spektakuler!

Linda and Mama at Disneyland.

Sebelum pulang, kami bersantap malam di sana. Saya ingat bahwa saya berkata pada istri saya kalau orang Jepang itu ramah seperti orang Indonesia dan pekerja keras seperti orang Singapore. Saya sangsi bahwa kita akan menikmati keramahtamahan dan efisiensi serupa di bagian lain di dunia ini. Jepang benar-benar menyenangkan untuk liburan, walau mungkin tidak demikian halnya untuk bekerja di sana. Setelah DisneySea, kita pulang ke Singapura lewat Narita pada keesokan harinya...

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