The quicker we leave, the faster we can return. Right? Piqued by my husband’s adamant need to visit the tallest freestanding broadcasting structure in the world (634m) and egged on by the ability to stop in Akihabara on the return trip, I went along with W’s plan to trade Yokohama sightseeing for an additional Tokyo visit. After a 45 min train ride, and a change from the JR to the private line serving the Skytree, we made it to the mall attached to the launch deck. To my surprise, there was a Pokémon store in the building, and a Kirby Café that had recently closed for the season. W vowed to return just to get to eat a Kirby bun burger!
Talk about bad timing!
A quick 10 min wait later we were up in the observation deck on floor 350. Due to the overcast weather we couldn’t see the Yokohama Landmark Tower in the distance, nor the elusive Mount Fuji which we hadn’t spotted once for the same reason: visibility. From the Tembo Deck, we boarded the elevator to the Tembo Galleria, an inclined walkway that spirals upwards from floor 445 to 450, the highest point patrons are allowed to visit. The Galleria theme was “First Beagle in Space” an exhibit featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts characters to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Visitors young and old cued up to take pictures with the displays and built in photo ops. Totally awesome!
We spent two hours gawking down at Tokyo residents and businesses. The day’s smog cleared a bit but not enough to spot Yokohama or Fuji. High up among the clouds, you could take in the hustle and bustle of the neighborhoods. Kids playing soccer. Trucks making deliveries. Rugby fans taking in the sights. Suspended in time, I enjoyed the view from hundreds of meters in the air, grateful for the chance to witness such an impressive feat of engineering and architecture. People like us, enginerds, had made this building a reality with hard work, grit and resilience. Inspiring and enviable.
True to his word, W allowed me to stop at Akihabara to take an updated picture of him against the LAOX building. We walked around the station and into a few of the stores we’d shopped at during our first visit together. Tucked in a corner, W spotted a free admission Go Nagai exhibit. I totally fangirled and dragged him inside, repeating the story of how my childhood imaginary friend had been Koji, Mazinger Z’s pilot. PBS ran the anime episodes, gluing me to the screen and to the robot technology described as part of the narrative. It didn’t surprise my family that I’d choose mechanical engineering as a career later in life.
Robots! Robots everywhere!
W made a note to order an action figure from their website for Christmas, so hopefully he can make up his mind by then. The one he bought me back in 2014, from a consignment store, had seen better days and wasn’t as detailed and stocky as the ones displayed. The Mazinger Soul of Chogokin seen here is an example of the craftsmanship of the “toys” inside the show cases. An excellent geek/nerd souvenir if you ask me. Can’t wait to upgrade and display the carbon fiber and metal articulating figure. Just thinking about it makes me happy.
Around 5 pm we started the trek back to the hotel. W was uncertain if we were on the right rail line, so I got out of the car to check the digital name plate. As I was heading back inside the doors rapidly shut closed, trapping him on the train. Ooops! 🤦♀️ Thankfully, I knew the destination and had my cellphone with me. Catching up to W wouldn’t be too difficult unless he exited the station and forgot I didn’thave my pass or my cash with me. 🤷♀️Sitting alongside commuters and school kids, the entire car was quiet even through it was jammed packed with bodies, providing me with a calm moment to collect and process my thoughts about the day without any haste or urgency. I typed notes, erased pictures and got my digital life in order between stops. I reminisced about previous journeys and lessons learned. Alone with my thoughts, I managed to clearly see the trip as a win rather than a loss.
Any road worth traveling should have a little bit of adventure and uncertainty to be endearing.
Safely reunited in the Sakuragicho platform after almost an hour apart, W searched for buffet style restaurants in the area to quickly grab a bite before spending our last night in town. The place selected unfortunately didn’t impress us but their desserts made up for the lackluster selection of meats and Japanese fare. Craving a nightcap, W accompanied me into Jo’s Bar across the hall. We sat at the bar top in this 20ish seating capacity joint in the middle of the mall, conversing with the bartender via his trusty translator app and with a European business man on travel that fervently insisted to pay for two rounds of Jim Beam High Balls. W did his best to not partake because of the medications but he did accept a taste of local gin, the High Balls and a sip of Chita whiskey. Not a bad way to end a vacation if you ask me.
Before we went into the bar, W ran into Tomicar or Tomicarama, a die cast model store full of plane, trains, and automobiles. (I had to Google it to understand W’s excitement.) After 20 minutes of browsing, we purchased a Red Baron Snoopy mini plane and a Shin Chan mini car for our memorabilia collection. That’s the weird magic of Japanese ingenuity, they have a great appreciation and flair for pop culture, mascots, and character themed merchandise. It feeds the inner child without diluting the adult in you. I was very proud of our curios finds during those last few hours in the country. My heart and bags were full of beautiful memories that would stay with us for a lifetime.
Rising sharply at 9 am the next morning, Saturday September 28th, we were more than eager to leave and go back to our daily routines. In hindsight there was, and still is, an element of wonder missing from our lives; a wall of reservations that don’t allow us live in the moment and appreciate the failures as intrinsic parts of our success. All we wanted was a respite from the chaos of our lives, which we didn’t truly get thanks to the last minute rescheduling and problem solving. Maybe next time with better luck and planning, our yearly international vacation will run smoothly. The Narita Express ride to the airport went by in a flash, as did the security lines and lunch time. By 2 pm we were strapped to the seats of the A350-900 that would take us back stateside, back home.
Domo arigato gosaimasu, Nippon. Sayonara for now!