The "Oh Sh**, I Traveled To 10 Countries In 2014" Review- Part 8 Kyoto & Tokyo (#9 Japan)

This is it (breathy MJ voice), the very last installment of my 2014 travel year review. I'm still behind two trips for 2015 and will be leaving to travel for 5.5 weeks next week. But I'm pleased to have gotten this far. I will not have this blogging lag... AGAIN! (in my mind that time I just sounded like Eddie Arcadian)

So I roll out of Tokyo and take a bullet train to Kyoto.

Welcome to Kyoto!

Now for some reason I immediately became turned around when I left my hotel. Lost, I wander down the street. What do I stumble upon? In true Machetes y Miel fashion, a protest. I don't know why this happens as often as it does. I think I'm somehow lured to all the emotion and passion of those fighting for a cause. This particular event was an anti-nukes protest in front of the Kansai Electric Power Company.


Anti-nukes protester. He and his sign are oddly super adorable given the circumstances.


My goal was to get to Guion and Sanjo for shopping and somehow I made it even though I was wayyyy further than I thought.

Teramachi Shopping Arcade

children in kyoto at mall

Can I just tell you that the vintage chain CHICAGO is pretty much my everything?? I hit up the one in the Teramachi Shopping Arcade. Do yourself a favor and make this happen when in Japan. They've got all types of vintage, from Hawaii 5.0 shirts, to 70s booty shorts, to fly ass Kimonos.


Now I'm not Japanese but I'm going to venture to say that this shit is insensitive. But maybe it's just me. 

Obligatory McFlurry Abroad Pic

Kyoto Tower

Yasaka Shrine

The next day I hopped on the bus and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo Castle. It was lovely, in spite of the fact that it started to rain buckets right after I arrived. 

The rest of the day reminded me of the potentially interesting turn of events that can transpire when you're wandering the world alone. I got on the bus to head to my next destination and heard two guys speaking English. Somehow we struck up a conversation and before I knew it we were hitting up shrines, cemeteries, temples and bookstores and dining together (Hey Calvin & Tony!). Our first stop was Nanzen-ji Temple.


Me at Nanzen-Ji Temple. See, new friends mean no shitty selfies! Hooray! 


Then on to Ginkaku-ji Temple

Me at Ginkaku-Ji

Me at Ginkaku-Ji

My awesome traveling companions, Tony and Calvin, interior design & architecture students hailing from China via Canada and Canada. 

My awesome traveling companions, Tony and Calvin, interior design & architecture students hailing from China via Canada and Canada. 

Next stop, Honen-in Temple

Internationally known




Colonel Sanders kyoto

I was fairly templed-out by this point (no offense). We hit up a bookstore which sounded interesting online, Junkudō










What would Colonel Sanders say about this? Hmm, probably something racist.

And speaking about race and racism, I was actually quite taken aback by what it felt like being a Black person in Japan. For one of the first times in my life I actually felt raced in an unfamiliar way. Now Japan is one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, so it's not as if I felt I belonged. On the contrary, I felt very much an outsider, but an invisible one (which I wasn't a huge fan of either). But walking around as a person racialized as Black is typically about more than just being different. It is this constant feeling of being perceived as othered AND simultaneously lesser. Obviously the degree of this is very location-contingent and based on your awareness of what's happening around you. My time in Japan was limited. But I came to sense that anti-Black racism might be a bit less pervasive there than in places I've traveled around the world. It might be experienced differently or revealed in ways unbeknownst to me, but it was nice to walk into places and not feel that my Afro-descendancy would automatically be deemed as categorically inferior. People were exceptionally nice. Of course they could've been talking shit behind my back but I appreciated the overt kindness everywhere I went.

GHANA chocolate sans cartoons of people from Africa. Kudos.

GHANA chocolate sans cartoons of people from Africa. Kudos.


Even the packaging of this chocolate, presumably derived from Ghanaian cocoa, caught my attention. Note how it's not simply called "Afrika Dark Chocolate" as the German company Balhsen did. According to them "In the heart of Africa you will find an incomparably aromatic cocoa bean." Where the hell is the heart of Africa? #AfricaIsNotACountry Note how there's no caricatured brown person depicted on the front to connect the person's flesh to the brown color of chocolate (I'm looking at you Nestle). It might seem minor, but these kinds of advertisements and packaging produce, reproduce and reinforce associations we have about attributes and groups of people. And it was refreshing not to be bombarded by such imagery, if even for a spell.  

I also marveled at the co-existence of cultural practices or ideologies that I would consider somewhat contradictory. For example, the scary/cute dichotomy pictured below. On the one hand you have a culture that has produced bad ass Samurai Warriors, a culture that has also historically been ruthless when it comes to combat and has practiced genocide. Juxtapose this with the obsession with all things hyper-adorable and I don't know whether to be worried or get my teeth checked for cavities due to all the sweetness. 

You don't want it wit' Samurai Takayama Hikokuro. 


I never thought I'd say this, but this is some cute ass rice -->>

Also fascinating to me was the fact that it's a non-tip society yet Japan had by far the best customer service I'd ever seen in my life. Maybe they pay fair wages. But even that wouldn't necessarily produce better treatment of customers. I also watched as parents appeared to dote on their children, yet you don't hear about Japanese children behaving overly "spoiled." A number of people discussed with me the way that Japanese culture has a particular affinity for all things new. For example, houses are not expected to be passed on to family members, but instead you are supposed to build new homes. Heirlooms are not favored, which is one of the reasons the markets are amazing because people are getting rid of awesome shit (also may be a function of limited space). So you have a culture where people don't believe in things lasting for a very long time, yet there is also this emphasis on quality and a tangentially-related value, a reverence for the elderly. I'm sure everything has a sociological and historical root that I'm unaware of but I found it all so interesting to dissect. 


In the cut in Kyoto


The night right before I met Tony and Calvin I ate alone and remember thinking how much I wanted something very basic like dinner conversation. So I was particularly pleased to be able to dine on some great Okonoiyaki with these guys. 

The next day I headed out early on the bus to Arashiyama, determined to find this bamboo groove I'd read about.

Women in traditional dress in Arashiyama

My fav pic of the trip

My fav pic of the trip

I'm lost in the woooooods (straight Bon Iver style) 



It's sort of tough to find your way when these are the guide posts. 





But eventually I somehow made it!


"Deep thoughts-Deep woods" selfie


Then it was back on the bus to the Shinto Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine where I climbed all the way to the top, like a G. 

I appreciated the hell out of these directions. Let's hear it for squats.


Long-legged in Japan problems



Back on the bus I went.

The next day I returned to Tokyo via the bullet train. Ya know what? It's fast.  


In Tokyo I hit up Toji Temple and Kobo-San Market.


The artist behind my beautiful handmade screen


The Japanese are NOT about that darker skin. Gloves, umbrellas, long sleeves, skin brighteners/whiteners, whatever it takes to keep it light. 

Japanese Brownness Prevention 

These products are from Muji but they don't seem available on the US Muji website. Don't know if whitening is supposed to be synonymous with brightening but it would appear that it's NOT just about brighter skin. 


I kicked it in Ginza, the 5th Ave of Tokyo.






I hit up the humongous Uniqlo in Ginza. My favorite part, this sign. ---->

After the ground toilet situation I know that sometimes you just need a little help with unfamiliar territory.




My last night in Japan I had a bit of a moment... 


A bag in Ginza that was talking to me.


It's been real, Nippon!!!

The "Oh Sh**, I Traveled To 10 Countries In 2014" Review- Part 7- Yokohama & Tokyo(#9 Japan)

Here it is (a groove, slightly bad, force of hip hop habit), the second to last installment of my 2014 Travel Year Review. Aw yeh, aw yeh (Rock dat! See what I mean...). 

So I made my way from Prague, Czech Republic to Tokyo, Japan via a 5 hr layover in London. Once again my short term goal was to sleep when I could in order to stay awake when I arrived in Tokyo at 9am and not lose a day. Because my conference was in Yokohama I had to make my way from Tokyo Narita Airport to Yokohama via train. There are various kinds of lines in Japan making it particularly challenging to navigate initially. Multiple train companies mean that if you decide to buy an unlimited card for one system it may not actually take you where you want to go because another company may operate that line you actually need. Not fun or convenient, but manageable. I stayed at a very bare bones spot called Hostel Zen, small single room with a shared bathroom. Nothing to write home about. The first two days I did the Yokohama and International Sociology Association conference deal. 


Yokohama, Japan






This is what the subway map looked like.

Japanese Subway Map

Lost in Translation, the Afro version 

Lost in Translation, the Afro version 





And subsequently, this is what I looked like. If you don't know what this look is, some would call it "confusion."

The conference opened with some sociologist zingers and Michael Burawoy dropping knowledge of sorts.

These performers did their thing. 


The next day I played conference hookie and ventured out into Tokyo. It was both cool and exhausting. And not exhausting necessarily because of how tired I'd been from traveling to four countries in Europe before my arrival, which was only made worse by my overpacking. And not just because of all the people dipping and diving around Tokyo, because come on, I live in NYC. But just what it took out of me to navigate such an unknown space alone. I think it's important to punctuate this a bit, not to cause travellers' panic, but because it's crucial for many as they venture out dolo in the world. I've discussed this before. Understand that it's not uncommon to feel a sense of unease. Just leaving the hotel takes a certain degree of courage, figuring out how to get from A to B, how to feed yourself, how to work through being such a visible outsider, how to be someone in a strange place. All of these feelings had been swirling around within me and at this particular point I really became officially over solo travel.

But hey, I was still fortunate enough to be in Japan. Gotta keep it moving. I did just that and ran around Tokyo. First stop, Shibuya.

Shibuya selfie



Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan


Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. I couldn't tell if these were those "Black Style" folks I'd seen footage on. Their color was bananas. Well I guess more like coconut shells technically but you catch my drift. 

All I know is that this woman's face behind them sums it up.

You never know what kinds of stories you'll hear when you're abroad. The nature of the circumstances leads you to converse with people you may not have otherwise. This is Catherine Fisher. She and I struck up a convo over accessories in a department store. The article I hold in my hand came out the day before we met. She'd just released her book, I Am Catherine Jane, which details her survival and fight as the victim of rape by a U.S. Navy sailor in Yokosuka. I told her I would share her story. 

Me with Catherine Fisher, author of I AM CATHERINE JANE

I ate then made my way on foot from Shibuya proper, I guess you could say, to the Harajuku section of Shibuya. I captured this video on the way because it is distinctly what I call a "sound of Tokyo" in all its cutesy and kind of annoying splendor. 


Before I went deep into the Harajuku neighborhood I went to the Shinto shrine Meiji Jingū, something completely opposite of the above video. It was this peaceful, green oasis in the middle of the city. 


Me with Barrels of Sake Wrapped in Straw at Meiji Jingū


These were the personal prayers and messages of gratitude for the deities enshrined at Meiji Jingū which I could actually read and stood out for various reasons. 


Shrine Selfie. Wait, that sounds disrespectful. I mean that is what this is though, but...I don't know. 


Then it was off to the fashionable and festive, Harajuku neighborhood of Shibuya. 


Smells like teen spirit, Tokyo


I call the next series of pics "???"

And these are from the "you're welcome" collection.

Women Only Subway Car in Tokyo, Japan

I rolled back to Yokohama on the "Women Only" car which I'd discussed in the article I wrote on street harassment for The Shadow League some time ago. It was a reminder of what things have been put in place to protect women from the sort of unwanted touching I'd experienced on the subway car in Chile.  


The next day I distributed my work at the ISA conference in Yokohama.

Pokemania lives on

Pokemania lives on

I'd always thought the Pokemon thing in Japan was exaggerated. Turns out, not so much. They really do STILL love them some Pokemon in Japan. It was everywhere.

During the wee hours of the morning I wrote the only blog post I would come to write while actually in Japan called "Scars." I think the shit is deep, but what the hell do I know? 

I always appreciate a good travel mash up. Meeting up with the Danish girl I met in Ecuador in Copenhagen. Kicking it with my Colombian crew in New York. Hanging tough with one of my New York besties in Cairo, Egypt. I had two great mash ups in one day in Japan. You may recall this lovely cast of characters from the Vienna, Austria trip only a few weeks earlier. We all met up for lunch at the conference. 

One of the things I noticed in Japan is how often I saw people wearing things that were written in some seriously grammatically incorrect English. At one point I thought maybe it was purposeful, but in the end I thought not. Here the urban sociologists are posing in front of the trendy Urban Research Make Store. Wait, huh? Yeh, I don't know either. 

Later that night the mash ups continued as I got to kick it with my fellow urban sociology, PhD hustling cool kid, Nelson, in Shimokitazawa and Shibuya (Soon we'll be in Italy! Woo hoo!). 







Next stop, Kyoto!!