Solo in Tokyo (Day 2): Return to Sumida Park + Encounters + Reflections

May 04, 2019

The stretch of the Sumida Park that I already walked through is apparently just a glimpse of the whole park itself. On the other side is another stretch of cherry blossoms parallel to the Sumida river. I noticed that the boat that cruises along the river is more visible here compared to the other side, and that more people are sitting at the banks here. I guess if you want to do hanami (complete with mats and all) the best spot is to go to the other side of the Sumida park, the one nearer the Asakusa area. If you want a great view of the river, then go to the side of Sumida park nearer to the Sky Tree.

Another self-discovery that I realized during this trip is that I work best if there is a goal in mind. I found it a bit uncomfortable just walking aimlessly around. Although I enjoyed the sceneries that I saw as I walked, it still felt a bit off moving without a destination in mind. And so as soon as I realized this during my walk along the park, I got my phone, opened Google Maps, and searched for the nearest shrine in the area. I was starting to really get fascinated with visiting shrines as my sign of respect and gratitude for being in this wonderful city of Tokyo. I found the Ushijima Shrine just a few blocks from the park. Setting it as the destination on the map, I began my walk towards this new destination.

The Pond (With Turtles!)
En route to the shrine, I saw this pond within the park. At first I thought the animals on the water were just statues, but no they were actually moving! I was at awe because I also saw turtles! Good thing my camera has super zoom -- I was able to see them better through the camera lens.

While looking at these wonderful animals, I was also able to do small talk with a foreigner who was also taking pictures of the pond. Apparently we both have the same brand of camera - hers was a Lumix too but a different model. We briefly talked about how awesome of a camera brand Lumix is because of the zoom capabilities. After a few minutes of chitchat, I said goodbye to her and we continued our exploration towards the opposite directions.

It felt so nice to just do random friendly talk with strangers. With that line of thought, another take away that I had from this trip is that if I wanted to do small talk with someone, I should be the one initiating the conversation. This is maybe because of people's prejudice towards each other. So yeah, if I wanted to talk to someone, I'll have to speak first.

At The Ushijima Shrine
The shrine was just a short walk from the pond. I immediately noticed that this is not really a tourist-y shrine as the place was not crowded, except for locals. Based on the descriptions around the place, this shrine is dedicated for an ox. According to legend, this ox attacked this place. When it was captured, it left something (I can't remember this anymore... I think it was an item, like a scarf), and this is what the people worship now.

I observed what the other people were doing at the haiden (hall of worship). People were lining up for their turn to pray. And so I joined the line. When it was my turn, I threw coins, bowed, clapped, and bowed again. At this point I was still really feeling awkward doing all these. I am 100% sure I looked stupid, but then again, meh. It's funny because everytime I did this for every temple I visited the trip, this was always how it went:
  • While lined up to the haiden, I would fill my head with thoughts of things I wanted to pray for.
  • When it's finally my turn, I would feel so self-conscious that my head goes totally blank. I just clumsily bow, clap, then bow again.
  • Immediately after that, as I walk away, I would feel a bit ashamed of myself because I knew I didn't do that ritual well.
  • Then I would just spend the next few minutes looking around the shrine, and this is the point where I would refocus my thoughts to remember the things that I want to pray for in that shrine.
  • My most favorite part is when I'm about to leave the shrine. When I pass through each of the tori gate towards the shrine exit, I turn around and bow (for several seconds) towards the shrine direction. During these moments, I felt peace, like the deities are truly blessing me at that moment (this last step I only learned upon visiting the Meiji shrine).
After the visit to the shrine, this is where the unexpected encounter happened. I had to do a separate post because I had a lot of things to say about that experience.

Reading Along The River
After that "encounter", I returned to my original path of going back to the stairs by the river that I saw earlier where some people (mostly couples) were seated. They had food with them, and they were munching while talking and looking at the river. It's such a nice relaxing scenery. I didn't know where they bought those grilled food on stick that they had (those did smell good!) so I only resorted to buying a bottle of green tea from a nearby vending machine. As I found my spot on the stairs, I sat, plugged in my phone to get the Reading Chill Out playlist on Spotify, and opened my A Hundred Years of Solitude book. Yup, I bought this book for this trip because I wanted to do some cafe hopping (and maybe do some people watching too). It was also part of my quarterly goals to finish this book. I ended up choosing this book to read because I came upon a review that said that this is a book that should be read by all people of all generations, next to the Bible. Because of that statement, I got curious and purchased the book.

And so going back to the stairs by the river. I tried to read one chapter of the book while listening to music on Spotify. Honestly I was absorbing only half of what I was reading because I found it difficult to follow the storyline of the book. Well I persevered, and was able to finish one chapter of the book on that sitting.

Dinner at Ichiran
I was walking almost the entirety of this day and I just realized that I haven't had a really "proper meal" for the day (apart from that avocado toast), so no wonder I felt hungry all of a sudden. I had no place planned to dine next so thankfully I have Yelp on my phone. I checked for nearby restaurants and saw Ichiran on the list. I haven't had ramen yet since landing on Tokyo, so I chose that, and I was very excited to do so! As usual, I had Google Maps as my guide. When I reached the pinned location, I got a bit confused because I didn't see the restaurant. I had to google image what the Ichiran logo looked like. Apparently I already passed by it. If you are not familiar, you would really miss the sign. Once I spotted the logo, I saw that the entrance to the restaurant was just a narrow passage to a descending staircase. Upon going down, I saw the logo again on a sliding door. Yay, I finally arrived! (I just realized upon writing this part, I might have actually cut into a line and just went straight to the door of Ichiran. I vaguely remember there were people outside shouting and all. They might be staff of the restaurant. I'm not sure if they were there to instruct people on when they could enter the restaurant. I remember there were some crowd in front of the restaurant, but I'm not sure if they were in line for the restaurant or they were from the pedestrian lane nearby. I hope I didn't cut any line, cause I'll feel bad for the people who were in line before me. Maybe the staff didn't bother stopping me because of the language barrier. Ahhh I know this has happened weeks ago, but because of some reason I'm feeling bothered.)

Apparently, this restaurant is pretty popular in Japan, and it was obvious that lots of people dine on this place. The store has a very organized way of taking their customers' orders and in delivering them.

Upon arriving, I was asked by the staff to wait before this red line (she was saying the instructions all in Japanese -- but I was able to understand it via body language). Then I was guided to this vending machine where apparently I will input my order.

I chose ramen (it said it's required) with tamago and green tea as add-ons. I inserted my payment. Small strips of paper got out at the bottom tray. I took them and went to this other line again. Another staff was there and she was asking how many people are in each group. When it was my turn, I told her for one only, and so she guided me to this room with only high tables, but with dividers. I placed my things below my chair and took my seat.

A staff was standing at my window (I could only see his torso LOL). I handed him the strips of paper that I got. I received first the tamago and the bottled tea. Then finally, my ramen arrived. The staff was saying something in Japanese (I think it meant "enjoy your meal", something like that), bowed, and untangled this bamboo thing to close my window. Now I have privacy within my own little cubicle! This is just one awesome thing about Japan, you'll never get awkward eating alone! 😁

The first few slurps of the noodles and soup was heaven. I don't know if it was because it did taste good, or because I was just hungry. Nevertheless, I was able to finish all of it. The bowl was squeaky clean. It's the first time I was able to finish a ramen down to the soup in a restaurant.😋

More Sky Tree + Cherry Blossom Night Viewing
When I went back to the park, the sun has already set. And oh my, the Sky Tree is now all lit up! 😍 I enjoyed this scenery while chatting online with people back home. I was video chatting with my parents on Messenger earlier today, and now I sent them photos of the Sky Tree. I think I spent a good 30 minutes on that spot by the river chatting on my phone.

When I felt like it was becoming colder, I grabbed my thicker outer vest and walked to Tully's Coffee which was just alongside the river. I was glad to see that the line was not long (unlike during lunch time). I ordered iced Sakura Matcha drink because I saw that this drink was exclusive only to this branch.

Since it's matcha flavored, it's yummy! I was expecting something different because of the sakura flavor, but it just gave the matcha a sweet twist.

I wrote on my iPad + bluetooth keyboard setup here. My fingers were slowly feeling numb because it was starting to get colder as the night continues to set in. I thought of ending this day with roaming one more time along the park to get some night time photos of the sakura trees. I would then return to my hostel to rest.
Writing with the Sky Tree on view. :D
Upon writing, I reflected on how my travel was progressing. I can't believe how at home I felt in this country. Although I know solo travelling will not be as smooth sailing as here in Tokyo compared to other countries, at least for my second day, I could honestly say that I have learned a lot about myself during this trip. It was around 7PM and I was in this unfamiliar place in this unfamiliar country, and yet I didn't feel any worry going back to my hostel, in case, late in the night. I felt at peace. I think I'm in love with solo travelling!

Since I still had to stop by the konbini store, I decided to packed up my stuff after an hour or so of staying at the coffee shop, and went back outside to the park. I was slightly disappointed because there was no event whatsoever in the park, given that per their schedule, it's the last day of the Cherry Blossoms festival. There were actually a few groups on their mats in the park, and some people passing by. Thinking about it now, if I really wanted to do some biking, I could have still done that at Sumida park but during the night time, because there were fewer people walking.

The lanterns that I saw during the day were now lit up, giving a golden glow alongside the lines of trees. The trees were "lighted", so I guess this is the setup for the night viewing experience. It is indeed a different view and feel looking at the cherry blossoms at night. And just look at the Sky Tree, so so beautiful at night!

I began my walk back towards the subway, and I took photos of sceneries along the way. I actually passed by a group of people, doing hanami, who was now rowdier compared to the all the groups I saw today. I think they were getting drunk already. Everyone was clapping and singing while one of them was dancing. Such a festive feeling!

Last Day for my Bare Wrist
Before settling into bed that night, I had some "reflecting time" done while looking at my right wrist. This is the last day that I will have a bare wrist because well tomorrow I'll be getting tattooed. Having a tattoo is a decision that has an effect that will last for a lifetime. This is something that I have thought of for years. I was sure that this is something that I wanted. I can't help but feel a bit worried because of the possible scenarios that could happen tomorrow -- what if I actually didn't like how the design looked upon etching it on my skin? I was not at all concerned with how painful the process would be -- it was more on my feelings towards the design, if this is something that I would regret for the rest of my life.

I prayed that night to the Universe to make my soul ready for this process. No one knew that I was getting a tattoo during my trip, except for one person. My parents had no idea. 😅

This is the last night that tattoo-less me would last. Tomorrow will be a new stage of my life, a new beginning. If I would refer to my life timeline, it would just be pre-sakura and post-sakura era. 🌸♪

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