Ana Prundaru gives a tour of many Tokyo neighborhoods, each with their own unique attractions and residents.
Upon exiting the JAL plane and walking toward passport control, I have my first encounter with Japanese signs in form of a signboard featuring the word “Okaerinasai” (Welcome home) in Japanese Hiragana at the entrance hall.
Joining in a group picture with the welcoming signboard, I try to convince myself that I really am in Japan –- the country of samurai, mangas and sushi.
Although I had plenty of time on the plane to get myself accustomed to the idea that I would be spending three weeks in Japan with a cultural exchange organization, I still could not realize that I had finally made it to Tokyo.
On the way to Yoyogi Memorial Youth Center, where my group mates and I would stay for two weeks, our bus crossed Tokyo from east to west, giving us an extraordinary first impression of its monstrous size and its versatile architecture.
While entering the city from Narita Airport gave us the impression that Tokyo hosted quite a number of smaller and older buildings, as we progressed into the busy city center, those buildings became a rare sight, until completely vanishing in favor of an urban landscape.
Taking in the exoticness that irradiated from outside our bus, I was as dazzled as the other group members, although this was technically not my first time in Tokyo.
It is true that I spent a few years living and going to school in Tokyo, but that was too long ago and all I remember are fractions of memorable events.
When I told a friend I would be going to Tokyo, he told me I would either hate or love Japan’s largest city. He was convinced of this because, first of all, unlike other cities, Tokyo, its people and their mentalities are not at all easy to comprehend, posing a challenging task for those who want to integrate themselves into Japanese life.
Further, one has to like, or at least not mind, crowded subways, tiny apartments and dizzying modern skyscrapers, to mention a few matters. However, right there in the bus, it was obviously too early for me to decide if I loved or loathed Tokyo and I pushed a creeping fear of the second option aside, by focusing on snapping pictures of oddly intertwined buildings along the road.
The Yoyogi Memorial Center only hosts groups so individual travelers cannot book rooms there. Located along the Yoyogi Park and close to both Shinjuku and Shibuya, it offers various possibilities to explore the city. Once there, my group was greeted by an equal number of Japanese participants, who were waiting for us to start the welcome party.
Although very tired, we cheerfully celebrated the start of the program with a Japanese meal of fish, rice and vegetables and mingled around. We also received the program schedule, which included daily trips to tourist attractions, as well as multi-national corporations and International organizations.