Harajuku Autumn

I was a chikan virgin no longer.  Being at the receiving end of a chikan incident is essentially akin to having someone feel you up while travelling by train. I had heard stories from my female friends that this would happen to them  while they were asleep or otherwise inattentive, but, they would assure, this would never happen to a gaijin girl. I have unceremoniously proven them wrong. Now, I did not intend for this to happen, but when it did it was so quick and so incredulous that I was only able to shout a quick insult as I saw a blurry uniformed teenager–most likely a college student–rush ahead of me and exit the train. Perhaps it was my fault for wearing black leggings and travelling alone to Harajuku with my headpones plugging my ears to outside noises as I listened to Black Jesus by Lady Gaga.

I met a friend for coffee. As we talked about art and complained about work, a group of pastel colored lolitas snuck through the back alley with lace parasols in hand. They laughed loudly, echoing against the buildings as we were surrounded by the common sounds in a cafe: plates knocking against each other, steel silverware jumbling together, and the exhalations of smokers.

The Design Festa Gallery, tucked in a secretive alleyway and surrounded by restaurants and cafes, stood out among the standard buildings in its red scaffolded structure and bright colors. Within it held the trappings of local artists who displayed their work in rooms that were just large enough to hold three people and skinny hallways that forced you to tuck in your arms so as to not risk bumping the walls. We stepped into a white room where styalized photographs of decrepit and overgrown buildings hung on the blank walls. An open glass window revealed a cafe just behind the building where thickly trunked trees were allowed to grow through the floorboards, tables built around them. A low hum of conversation fed through the walls and a light scent of Lark cigarette smoke.

As we exited into the adjacent streets, there were stores setting up pumpkin decorations. Halloween in Japan is celebrated primarily among teenagers who migrate to a fancifully adorned Harajuku. On the day, the train on the Yamanote line is decorated within with black and orange streamers and gruesome decorations. Teenagers dress in costumes and hang out on the train until the it stops in the early morning. The main street becomes like a scene from Halloween Town in A Nightmare Before Christmas where all is surrounded with pumpkins and flashing lights. So too will adults use the western holiday to hold parties, as clubs and bars are transformed into a monochrome setting complete with themed drinks and desserts.

During this season is when certain delicious sweets are sold: Pumpkin Anpan in which the sweet bread is filled with a pumpkin custard,  Acorn Baum,  roasted squash, or maple coffee fill Family Marts, Conbini (Convenience stores), and open markets.

Catori Sarmiento Written by:

Ms. Catori Sarmiento was born in the town of Bremerton, Washington, a short ferry ride from the city of Seattle. Her interest in writing and travel came early, having a photo-journalist as a father. In her many experiences with tagging along on father’s assignments, to actually becoming his assistant, she realized that exploring the world interested her greatly. Upon graduating High School, she eloped and found herself in Great Falls, Montana for a short time until her husband received orders for an overseas assignment to Italy. It was at this point where she began to acquire the knowledge and skills to become a writer. During her many years in Italy, she attended the University of Maryland Europe Campus where she earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. While she was vigorously attending classes, she also travelled to many European destinations. However, her time in Italy came to a close when her husband received orders to move to Japan. Excited for the new adventure, she gladly went with him and now lives in Tokyo, Japan. Ms. Sarmiento currently lives in Tokyo, Japan where she works for the University of Maryland overseas campus. She has been working on her Master of Arts in Education with the University of Maryland and a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction in a low residency program with the University of San Diego. If you would like to contact Ms. Sarmiento, please direct all correspondence to catori.sarmiento@hotmail.com