Ibaraki Adventures

Last weekend I went up to Tokyo to see my friends Midori and Anna from my course at Edinburgh, who are spending the year at universities there. After a nightmare with AirBnB which led to our reservation at a house near Mount Fuji being cancelled, a friend of Midori's pulled through with a different house we could stay in, just two days beforehand. 

So, without knowing quite or where I was going, I got the bullet train up to Tokyo, at great expense. I had planned to get the overnight bus which would set me back about £50 one way, but it's necessary to pre-book buses and without any solid plans, I was only able to get the bullet train. One way was 17000 Yen, or £113. However, the latter option is considerably comfier and generally more convenient; at just 3.5 hours door to door rather than a ghastly 12 hours overnight. As expensive as it is, it is always exciting to take the Shinkansen. I mostly looked out the window all the way, as we jetted our way to Tokyo via Himeji, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Yokohama. 

When I got to Tokyo on Friday evening, Anna, Midori and I caught up for dinner in Omotesando, where Anna lives with her host family. We updated each other on the crazy year we have all had, and how drastically different the experiences have been. We have all struggled in different ways and talking about it with people who understand what it's like to live in Japan was therapeutic.

The next morning, I joined Midori and 10 of her friends that she has met at her university. Together we got the train an hour out of Tokyo, into another prefecture called Ibaraki. From there, it was a 30 minute bus and  a short walk to what would be our house for the weekend. We had been forewarned there was no shower, so all of us were interested to see what kind of place we would be staying in. It turned out to be a beautiful, 150 year old house, with just one big tatami floor, a concrete floored dining area, and a little kitchen. There was an upstairs open rafters space, and the whole building was surrounded by paper screen doors. The fact that these rural areas still have numerous buildings with simple paper screen doors just shows how safe the areas are. There's not much point in locking doors when the doors are made of paper.

The straw mat floor, where all 12 of us slept on rolled out futons, surrounded by paper screen doors

half of the gang

We spent the first day exploring the local countryside and generally not doing very much. It was so hot and the chance to lie on the grass in the sunshine - something I can't do in Okayama and they can't do in Tokyo - was wonderful. 

Midori and I

Olive, Fee, Midori and I

Before we got on the bus to the house, we made a (very long and slightly stressful) stop at the supermarket to get everything we would need for food for the weekend. Organising 12 people, 12 trolleys, and a very long shopping list, we managed to escape after about an hour. In the evening, we BBQ'd all the food we had bought, made 6 litres of sangria, and enjoyed sitting out in the garden until the early hours. When the sun was just peeking through those paper screens, we all rolled into our futon beds. The next morning... was very slow! Lethargically, we all showered in the outhouse with the hose, which for the lucky early risers, had been warmed in the sunshine. For everyone else, it was freezing cold but a welcome relief from the sticky humidity of the night.

When we had all sufficiently recovered enough to move, we had a breakfast of leftovers and toast and did little more than listen to music and nap: the absence of Wi-fi was barely noticed. In the afternoon we had a waterfight in the garden and had a very hungover trip to the only restaurant in walking distance, which was, with reason, very shocked to see 12 foreigners in their tiny rural area. 

As the sun went down, we went on an evening adventure around the area, then our Japanese hosts drove us up Mount Tsukuba, to see the city lights and the full moon.

In the morning, we made a very sleepy journey back to Tokyo. Exhausted from the adventure, Midori and her friends went back their dorm, which I wasn't allowed to even enter as a non-resident. I took the chance instead to wander around Tokyo for a bit and catch up with Anna again over coffee. We parted ways after a couple of hours of reminiscing about the year, and thought it crazy that the next time we will see each other will be back in Edinburgh in September. What a year we have all had!

As I was waiting for my train back to Okayama, I snapped a few pictures of the station and the beautiful blue skies over Tokyo. It's a place I have a lot of happy memories, and it felt strange to not know when the next time I'll be back is. Most likely it'll be in 2020 for the Olympics, which seems to far away. I've got so much to do before then - like graduate! I bid farewell to the big city and made my way back to a gloomy Okayama. 

Things have been very slow and largely unenjoyable this week. After being in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and surrounded by friends, coming back to sleepy Okayama is always hard. What hasn't made it easier is that there has been a strong typhoon, which means everyone is effectively stuck in their bedrooms. University is still open, but a lot of trains have been cancelled due to flooding and some people in other areas of the city have even been evacuated away from the river, which has burst its banks. I've taken the time to catch up on work, snuggle down and watch some movies, and even do a bit of packing. It might seem a little premature to start packing, but it makes me feel like my leaving date is close, which is reassuring. Hopefully the rain eases over the weekend, so I can actually leave my bedroom without battling the weather. Only 19 days left... it feels completely surreal.

Until next time, which will likely be the last post in Japan -
Molly xox


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