Ok, where were we?
Ahh, yes, in Atsugi! In the wild suburbs around Tokyo. No seriously, I mean it: WILD. EXTREME. SUBURBS.
Let me just tell you that the diameter of the urban area Tokyo alone is easily over 100 km. So when I say wild suburbs i’m talking about distances that for us Italians could easily represent the next region’s main city. eek.
However, we arrived in Atsugi in the evening and operated following our usual protocol for big cities : a dip in the hot springs, a visit to a coin laundry to wash literally everything we had with us, having a suspiciously long dinner in a restaurant using all their plugs to recharge cameras, computers, mobiles, external batteries while working on photos, blogs and vlogs. And then lastly, pitching the tent in the first excuse for a park we came across and sleep like logs.
The following day, we finally had the very important encounter I mentioned in the last blog post: we visited the headquarters of Specialized Japan to meet the people that, along with all the guys at Specialized Italy, made this adventure possible and that helped us literally a million times during the travel: Kenta and Shuhei!
It was awesome to finally be able to meet them in person, along with all the staff of Specialized Japan! After chatting a bit about the travel so far, we all had lunch together; once we got back to the headquarters, we gave them one of our Babel Line t-shirts each and said our goodbyes. We left Atsugi and started cycling towards Kouenji, one of Tokyo’s most central neighbors, our home for the following 6 nights.
The the Specialized Japan headquarters to our hostel in Kouenji we cycled roughly over 60km. Sounds pretty easy right? No. It wasn’t.
Those 60km were most probably among the worst we had to cycle in the whole trip. Traffic, lots of cars everywhere, biking lanes that end up nowhere, lots of car only streets that made us find new paths and routes constantly, heat and, huh, did I mention TRAFFIC? Like in: TOKYO PEAK HOUR TRAFFIC.
But hey, one way or another, we ended up arriving in Kouenji in time to check in th hostel that was recommended to us by our awesome friends in Nagoya : Manuke.
Ahhh, Tokyo! At last! Just 6 days to visit the so-damn-full-of-awesome-things Auber-famous capital of Japan (that neither of us had ever visited before!)! Needless to say, we ended up doing pretty much none of those things. Well, almost. But let’s start from the beginning…
Why did we want so badly to stay at Manuke? Well, the answer’s pretty simple: because our friends in Nagoya explained us that, by staying there, we would have had the chance to run the bar of the hostel for one night.
I mean, seriously. RUN THE BAR FOR A NIGHT. Do you really think we would have needed any other reasons to get us convinced?
Exactly, NO. We needed no more. And to prove it, the very first thing we asked while doing the check in was : “Hey, when can we run the bar?!”
Matsumoto, the owner, quickly checked the calendar and told us the only night available for the week was the following day. “YES WE’LL TAKE IT” is what we screamed at the same exact time, without even letting him finish the sentence. Excited much, do you reckon?
Filled with all the excitement a human body could possibly bear, we unloaded our Specialized Tricross bikes of all the gear, took a shower and left to hit the city and to, most importantly, meet with Pei, yet another of our University classmates and radio co-host, that now lives in Tokyo. Commotion arose: big hugs were given and even bigger travel tales and life stories were told (guess we had a bit of catching up to do, years had passed since we last saw each other). All while drinking delicious Spritz (yup, we ended up drinking in a Venetian bar. In friggin’ TOKYO). It was a great night!
The next day, Sio jailed himself inside of a Starbucks Coffee to work and I set off, armed with my lovely Fujifilm X-Pro1, to explore Shinjuku with Pei.
Around 6 o’clock that night, I went to meet the owner of the hostel with Sio. He showed us the bar, gave us the keys and left saying “good luck”. With the keys to our-own-bar-for-a-night, we headed to the closest supermarket, bought ridiculous amount of booze to fill the fridges for our guests, cleaned the whole thing (and I shall never tell you from WHAT we cleaned it), drew the bar sign, told every single people we knew in Tokyo about it and… opened!
Without a little bit of surprise on our side, the bar started pumping literally straight away, new and old friends started coming through the door, along with some random people from the streets (at one point we literally grabbed from he street an adorable old lady that was passing by and offered her a couple of rounds of drinks. Because: why the hell not?)
In hindsight, maybe the reason why so many people showed up on such short notice was the fact that we priced everything so stupidly low compared to every other bar in hundreds of kilometers. Regardless, it was a massive success and we had a hell of a night, one of those ones where all you hear is the sound of glasses bumping onto each others and laughter, a lot of laughter.
The next day we woke up bright and early to go and finally visit the Gibli museum, the place where Hayao Miyazaki gave birth to all of those legendary animation movies. Now, a clever person might think that such a touristy spot might require pre-purchasing the tickets, right? Yup, but we never said we’re clever people. And we’re officially not, since we didn’t think twice about simply showing up there, just to be told we couldn’t get in without tickets. In a last attempt to save the situation, we ran to the nearest convenience store, hoping to find a couple of tickets for the day… Well, it was all booked out. For weeks to come. WEEKS.
Utterly defeated, we walked back to the nearest station, but without spending a good half an hour playing with squirrels and guinea pigs in a nearby zoo because, well, animals are awesome.
After not only the animals overload, but also riding a swan-like paddle boat in a lake (because yes), we went back to the hostel, just to find a freshly delivered surprise by Specialized: a box with 4 new tires, new shoes for Sio and a bunch of tubes for our bikes, all delivered by the guys at Specialized Japan that, right after meeting us and hearing our stories, understood what we needed the most and decided to help us stock for the rest of the travel.
At night, we met again with Pei and Alice (yet another old university classmate), for a good night of party and banter around Shinjuku.
The next day, we split. Sio went again into hiding in a Starbucks to work (or at least, that’s what he wanted me to believe, as that night he came back with yet another full box of video games from Akihabara) while I spent the day in Shibuya, shooting some street photography with my Fujifilm X-Pro1.
Later during the day I visited the Fujifilm Japan Headquarters in Shibuya, invited by the commercial director to visit the facility and to share with them my opinion and experiences with their cameras.
That night, we hung around Roppongi, the chaotic messy heart of Tokyo’s nightlife: hundreds of neon signs, thousands of people, loud music and drink. Oh, so many drinks. A proper saturday night!
After sleeping like logs, we spent the next day doing nothing. NOTHING.
A day of rest and good ol’ laziness, fighting the previous night’s hungover with 2 massive Pizza Hut pizzas (we both lived in Japan for over 2 years but neither of us had ever tried a Japanese pizza. And we couldn’t just leave without having this particular experience)
And so, our 514800 seconds in Tokyo flew by. The next morning we checked out from the hostel, loaded our Specialized Tricross with all of our gear and left. Next stop : Niigata, behind the japanese “alps”.