Jacki: Sadness. Executive Editor Lynzee Loveridge is currently flying over the Pacific Ocean while I type this. The Anime Aunties — now divided — our fusion dance has come to an end. She returns home to the ol’ U.S. of A, and now, I am in Osaka.
Definitely sad to see Lynzee go; I adore her, and we had such an incredible time! We did SO much in Tokyo; our days were packed from sunrise to sunset, with extensive coverage of anime-related sites and activities in the capital of Japan. It all seems like a blur. The six-story Gundam, the Akihabara maid café, and Harajuku stood out to me the most. If anyone asks me what are must-dos, those three top the list. Also, Tokyo looks cool AF in Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. If you want to look at pretty lights and billboards, I loved walking around those parts and taking it all in. Now we move on to the next chapter though: Osaka.
First, we got to talk about the Bullet Train. What a comfortable, scenic experience. Emphasis on COMFORT. It was smooth, spacious, and quiet, with tons of seats open. My boyfriend is 7 foot tall, and I am 6’2, and we had all our bags above our heads and had our long legs spread out. I even napped for 30 minutes. There’s an easily accessible and clean bathroom on every train car. We just looked out our window and enjoyed seeing another side of Japan— from cityscapes to rice paddy fields to tree-covered rolling mountains. The Bullet Train lives up to the hype.
Osaka is incredibly different than Tokyo. There are reflective, metallic skyscrapers— that look like they could be a villainous corporation’s headquarters in a JRPG. It feels so shiny and new and clean. It’s missing Tokyo’s character and busyness, but it’s got its own vibe.
I am exhausted, though, and we have much to do in Osaka. Tomorrow we tackle Awaji Island and will try to make it through as many amusement parks as possible that feature Naruto, Dragon Quest, Godzilla, Shin-chan, and Hello Kitty. On Tuesday, we have Universal Studios Japan! If you all have any suggestions, let us know in the forum, and thanks for all your thoughtful commentary and for sharing this extraordinary journey with me and fellow Anime Auntie, Lynzee. Okay, bedtime!
Lynzee: I love a good horror story, but I don’t like starring in one.
I woke up Sunday with a lot of free time. I spent it cleaning up my room, shooting a couple more videos with Jacki, and cramming in some last-minute souvenir shopping for my dad. Fortuitously, the city council for the area I was staying at was in full festival preparation mode. The Sanja Festival makes its way toward the Asakusa District, and I had the honor of watching the local mikoshi in Taito-ku head down the street, carried by over twenty citizens in matching garb. Children also carried their own mikoshi as drummers kept the pace. Food and game stalls lined the streets on the way to the local Shinto shrine, where observers bought good luck charms and offered prayer.
The experience was amazing for a few reasons: I had spent over a week in the same location and never even noticed a shrine during my daily walks to the train station. It was tucked away, surrounded by trees and growth in what was otherwise an urban neighborhood. I could have spent my entire trip never realizing it was there. Some revelers wore yutaka but most were families out with their children, eating shaved ice in the heat or enjoying street food. There were classic carnival games, including knocking down stacks of old cans to win prizes or kids attempting to win themselves a goldfish.
I didn’t take pictures of the shrine, mikoshi, or festival grounds. The Sanja Festival is a lot of excitement and celebration, but it’s still religious in nature, and I was a foreign observer. It just didn’t feel respectful to snap photos of local celebrants; further, I already stood out like a sore thumb just standing on the sidewalk and watching. I could write a whole ‘nother article on how to be a good traveler instead of a tourist, something that was emphasized when I traveled with the People to People Student Ambassador Program as a teen.
Mitakejinja Mitsuminejinja Kotohira Shrine itself is beautiful, and I really liked the fox deity statues. I took the festival as an opportunity to buy my dad an ema wood plaque with the art of a bird holding a calligraphy brush. At a nearby local stand, I picked up a black fox mask. The shrine is part of the larger Ono Terusaki shrine, a site specifically honoring a Heien-era poet.
Ah, I was so confident. Little did I know that traveling back to the United States would be a gauntlet from hell. First, I successfully stuffed everything I had purchased into my suitcase, which ballooned to nearly 40lbs. Japan itself, especially its subway stations, isn’t disability-friendly. Elevators and ramps are hard to come by, which has the secondary effect of being difficult to traverse with luggage. I had already spent most of this trip in a state of perpetual sweatiness due to the humidity, but today I would become human liquid. Almost immediately, on my way down the steps to the station, I snapped my pinky nail back so it lifted off the nailbed. It would ooze for the next 24 hours.
Everything at Narita Airport was a breeze. They have a system that checks your luggage, scans the bag tag, prints your tickets, and scans your passport for you, eliminating lengthy, miserable wait times at check-in counters. All things considered, my nine-hour flight to San Francisco was a breeze, even though I can’t sleep on planes. When I landed, it was 11am Sunday; I had flown out at 6pm Sunday. I was already pushing 24 hours without sleep when the nightmare started.
Someone left an unattended bag in the food court of Terminal 2, near D Gates. Guess what gate I was flying out of in two hours? The entire terminal was evacuated, and C and D Gates passengers were corralled into a single hallway. More than a few times, voices swelled from the back of the hallway in anger as C Gate flights left the terminal, leaving stranded passengers behind. I was exhausted but didn’t have the opportunity to get too up in my feelings; a passenger flying out to Canada had decided I was her person to interpret updates from the single TSA Agent trying to keep this hallway from turning into a trampling stampede.
As an aside, this happens to me a lot. So much so that it has become a running joke, I have a horrible sense of direction, but something about my demeanor tells confused people that I know what’s going on, and complete strangers often approach me for explanations. I will be in plain clothes and no badge on the streets of Los Angeles, only for someone to ask me what this whole “AX thing” is about. So, in this case, I was re-explaining directions from TSA when I really wanted to cry. We weren’t held for too long, but the evacuation had a ripple effect on all the flights out of the gate. Planes were taxied to different areas of the airport in case this unattended bag ended up being a bomb (it was not a bomb). Instead of a few hour delay, multiple flights were canceled, and my own was (after a series of lackluster attempts at communication from staff) pushed back to 8pm PT.
I had now been awake for 30 hours. This was about when one of the plane’s crew members, who I had informed that I flew in from Tokyo that morning, thought it was cool to share how he could go back to his hotel and nap. But hey, the airline threw me a free $150, so I guess we’re square. I’m home now; my trip to Tokyo was amazing. I hate American airports.