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Arma in Japan: June: A Visit in the Rainy Season

by Mr.RMA

Mr.RMA My sister drops by and the rain starts coming down. Title kinda sums that up, huh?
It’s a bit of a peculiarity, when you’re so used to Summer vacation starting in June or late May because your American school system conducted things that way, and then you’re faced with Japan’s school system where classes are only a couple months in, and the first term isn’t even over. That’s not to say I’ve never worked in the Summer, certainly not; I usually only held onto jobs as a kid during the Summer months after all. The difference is I was far and away from school, but then, I was never a teacher before in those previous instances, and Japan’s vacation system is, obviously, a different beast entirely. So, as the weather got hotter and the bugs grew plentiful, there was just a strange feeling, having school in session.

Up to now, I always saw Summer as the “epilogue” of my year. School was such a dominating presence in my life in that respect. Every year felt like a new story’s beginning, and every first chapter’s setting was that late-summer, early-autumn interim. Now it seems the metaphorical book series that is my life has taken a bit of a turn, as what I like to call the “adult saga” has truly begun. Graduation came and went, along with my job at the Post Office, which was like the interquel to things in retrospect, leading up to the beginning of my current adventure in Mid-Spring. Hard to say when I’ll feel like I’m in another epilogue phase, but I suspect they’ll feel like much shorter periods of my life from now on.

All that reminiscing aside, let me get back to recounting these past few weeks. June began with a visit from my sister, Aubrey, as she was already headed for Thailand. (Now that I’ve said that, here’s another sidetrack as I explain why my sister was going to Thailand in the first place…)

I’ve been told Aubrey’s exact line of work several times by now but I always feel like I’m missing out on the details, so, to put it very basically, my sister studies birds, and snakes as well, though I’m not sure if that’s still part of her current quota. Essentially, I've surmised that she’s a nature observer/protector/informant. Exactly the kind of job anyone who knows her would have expected if they spent more than a day with her in the past. My sister’s passion has always been with the protection and study of animals, and the environments they inhabit. I can’t remember a moment in my childhood where that wasn’t the case, and even if I didn’t always want to admit it, because, y’know, younger brother mentality, her ambitions have always inspired me. She’s traveled the world well since her college years, whereas I’d barely traveled outside the east coast barring a few memorable occasions, and never outside of the U.S or Canada. I wanted to finally start traveling and experiencing the world further outside as well, and for once I was going to a place my sister hadn’t really experienced herself yet.

I still hadn’t worked out the holiday request system yet by this point, and even then, I wasn’t sure exactly when Aubrey would arrive until a couple weeks prior, so I unfortunately was working for a lot of the time she was around, but I still gave her as much advice regarding locations and customs that I could while I was around, and we made sure to spend the afternoons and evenings venturing out to whatever local sights we could find. Outside of frequently going to the mall to play Vocaloid tracks, Touhou music and the Totoro theme song on a Taiko Drum arcade game, we also went to a sort of hole-in-the-wall local tavern that I’d gone to once before, a place that was easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Of course, this meant it was one of the more authentic places for Japanese cuisine, and we had a memorable dining experience, running the menu through Google translate before giving up and just pointing to pictures of food, hoping whatever we picked would taste good. We were two Hawaiian-print shirts away from being quintessential American tourists by that point... Thankfully the staff at this tavern were absolutely saintly in their patience and politeness and helped us out to the best of their abilities. Top notch place, and Aubrey was delighted to point out afterwards just how polite everyone had been to her since she first arrived. I couldn’t deny that, so far that’s been the norm for me as well here, and even if anyone is only being nice because it's part of the cultural expectation, it’s hard to think about that cynical notion when you’re just so happy that everyone’s smiling and being courteous to you at that very moment.

In spite of the limited time we had, we made the most of it as I showed my sister around to all the places in Ushiku I was familiar with, and she in turn ventured further to places I’ll need to start seeking out in the future myself. Still, as the last day came around, I knew I didn’t want to just send Aubrey off on a train to Tokyo without getting the chance to experience more of the massive city firsthand. After all, she may have seen some of the place upon her first arrival, but the jetlag probably diminished most of that experience. So, despite all the advice and warnings against driving into Tokyo… we drove into Tokyo. In the rain. I can safely say the warnings were all very valid. Once we’d arrived in the city proper, the traffic was a complete nightmare, and this was all on a Sunday. I’d hate to imagine weekday traffic…

Eventually we found a parking garage and took to the streets, where we were welcomed with what appeared to be a city-wide festival of sorts. Upon researching it later, I believe this festival was a traditional event called the Sanno Matsuri, and it had crowds of people wearing historical costumes with the music and atmosphere to match as they paraded through the rainy roads. As far as unplanned experiences go, it was quite an entertaining one, though we nonetheless pressed forward, as I had a set destination in mind. Aubrey had mentioned wanting to get a good view of the city without having to pay hefty entrance fees that places like the Tokyo Tower required. Thankfully, from my previous experience in the area, I knew a reasonable alternative that wouldn’t cost a single yen coin.

With my smartphone’s map, I led the two of us to Ginza Six, a shopping center/office building sort of place. Shopping there isn’t really the best idea if you’re not the sort of person who has money to burn in piles, but that wasn’t what we were there for. Instead we took the elevator to the rooftop, where, along with a stunning view of the city horizon, there was a collection of gardens all over the area. Naturally, my sister was thrilled at this, as I expected, and despite the fact that we were getting drenched, we joyfully went around and marveled at the forestation set atop the city. Looking down onto the streets below, we could see the procession of the festival, still carrying on, likely to do so for the rest of the day. I recall Aubrey mentioning that she was still surprised that she was even here in the first place, a sentiment I could still relate to myself, but she elaborated further on that. My sister’s the sort to explore places near vast stretches of wilderness, and Tokyo doesn’t exactly have a nature-heavy reputation, so she earnestly never thought she’d visit the city because of all the places she’d prioritized further up her list. Yet, thanks to where my life had taken me, she got the opportunity, and, fortunately, the circumstances all convened to make her time in Tokyo a far more pleasant experience than I think she may have expected prior.

Getting back to my car, after I rather embarrassingly got us lost looking for the exact parking garage where I left it, I dropped Aubrey off at a subway station that led directly to the airport. Still in the midst of Tokyo traffic, we quickly said our goodbyes and soon enough I was back on my own, braving the dangers of the road back to my apartment. With the heavier rainfall and the dim lighting of a cloudy late-afternoon, the journey back was definitely more of a stressful affair, but I somehow managed to get home without any disasters befalling me.

Just like that I was living alone again, and I had a new week of work coming up fast but getting to spend even a short time with my sister, who has so often been away on her own expeditions, was great while it lasted, and they’ve brought some of my favorite memories of my short time in Japan so far. A good thing too, because I’d need happy thoughts as the rainy season would continue to drudge on.

As an aside, I’d like to say I think making these journals a monthly sort of thing is probably the best way to go. This way I’ll always have something to recount, even if I encounter a couple uneventful weeks or simply reach a creative burnout over any given weekend. That’s the plan I’ve got, and I’m hoping to stick with it, so with that in mind, I hope you’ll join me next time when I discuss the July chapter of my adventure in Japan.
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