In May, 2015 I was blessed to have been flown to Japan. I had the super rare opportunity to see the taping of my favorite show "Sasuke" (in the West it is better known as "Ninja Warrior") but I couldn't afford to go on my own. Fans of the show were super generous and raised money for me to fly out there so I could report back and eventually write a book about the show. I was able to "kill 2 birds with 1 stone" - See the show and visit Japan. Japan has always been on my bucket list. It is culturally the opposite of me (I'm Latina/Hispanic) and for the first time I was able to see it. I stayed for a week to see the show, meet some of it's competitors, and make new friends. I repeated this a year later in May, 2016 and the experience was quite different. Each time I was able to see a little more and I know I barely scratched the surface.
I traveled to Japan with my husband. As we approached Japan my husband (who was in the window seat) leaned over with the phone to get a glimpse of land. He turned over to me and said "I never thought I'd see the Pacific Ocean from the Japan side".. Neither of us had traveled much in our lives, let alone traveled to Japan. We were born and raised in the East Coast of the USA and never traveled out west. Now here we are staring down at a foreign country from 30,000 feet. It was a surreal and amazing experience. Let me tell you also of the culture shock. Things that are everyday normal to Tokyoites were so foreign to me. I desperately didn't want to look like a tourist although I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I never felt "watched". I'm normally self conscious so the thought of me being stared at for being weird looking was a trepidation of mine. I thought I would be by comparison after reading articles and articles about gaijin going to Japan. I guess it's different in Tokyo because they are so used to tourists. For the week that I was there I'm sure I could write a lifetime of articles on minute details that I found fascinating.
I had a sole purpose for being in Japan though, and that was to see the taping of the show. Traveling to the tournament itself was an adventure. I booked at a swanky hotel in Tokyo Harbor and while absolutely gorgeous, it was far from just about everything. Mental note.. you can book just about anywhere, including normally expensive places if you book way ahead of time. (I had 3 month's warning). The isolation though was compounded by the fact that we didn't know how to get to our next hotel destination. We ended up traveling "the long way" before we realized there were express trains to our intended destination. What could have been a 45 minute trip turned into an hour and a half trip with a bus to Yokohama and then a local train to Machida. Bonus for 2016, we didn't do that again. LOL But at least I could say I knew what it was like to travel with luggage on a busy rush hour local train standing the whole time.
The tournament itself was an adventure. Not just the actual taping and the events that took place (a historic win - only the 4th winner in 20 years and a really good friend of mine to boot), but the lot that is used, is literally surrounded by residential buildings and in the middle of nowhere in an area called Midoriyama (north of Machida where we were staying). Taking a taxi back and forth from our hotel to the taping for 2 days allowed me to see a lot of the suburbs of Tokyo. I also learned a valuable lesson! It is completely different finding addresses in Japan are compared to the USA! I know now to pick up business cards of every place I'm staying and make sure that it has a map! That's the only way our taxi driver knew where the heck to go! ♥
I stayed on Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay when I first arrived in 2015 and again when I returned from the two taping days until I left Japan. I learned for 2016 to find a more central location for the activities I had planned, but honestly I'm happy I did. It was such a cool experience that can't be duplicated elsewhere. Now of course when I think of the Olympic preparations going on for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is this place where they will end up stationing the athletes village. It's a neat place worth visiting at least once. It's not representative of all of Tokyo, but then again, nothing is.