Tokyo!!

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
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37
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Trip End Feb 04, 2008


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Monday, December 17, 2007

We arrived at Hiroshima airport to catch our plane to Tokyo and received a little bit of a surprise.  We walked along our gate, apparently to a 767 parked right at it... but no, hold on, everyone was going down stairs instead.  We looked towards where all passengers were headed, and out on the tarmac was our teensy, fifty-seat Ibex regional plane taking us to the big city.  You had to duck to get into the plane.  Even me, and I'm not tall.  Needless to say, it was a great flight, probably one of the best and you can even feel (or was that in my head) all the little maneuvers the pilots made, it was really cool.  As an additional bonus, we had fairly clear skies and got unobstructed views of Mt Fuji surrounded by delicate clouds around its cone.

Since we are so highly travelled and experienced now, or ridiculously unprepared, whichever way you look at it, we arrived at Tokyo airport with no accommodation or plan of action.  We headed to the info centre, booked a hotel in the Shinjuku area which we'd read was quite central and convenient, and off we went into the city via the train.  The language barrier finally punched us square in the face, as not many Japanese at all speak any English, and some signs are written only in Japanese.  Problem!  We did manage though, went out a few wrong exits, but finally arrived at our destination.

Now I can't believe how useful the tiny bit of Japanese I learnt working in Australia has come in!  Like I knew how to say the words ticket and photo and I could count a bit. Sayaka also taught me how to say a few phrases and words, such as days of the week, "I don't want a bag please", "Where is..." etc.  So, for example, much to my surprise, when we needed train tickets, I realized could say "Two tickets Thursday please".  Ha!  All people were so lovely also, they smiled a lot and really appreciated my effort at speaking their language, so it just encouraged me to try harder.  I had lots of fun doing it.

Tokyo is one eclectic, bright, hyper-active, pulsing city.  Clichés or images you may have of Tokyo are often real and it's so incredible to see!  Blindingly bright lights illuminate the night.  Teens dress outlandishly.  We saw a girl dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, and guys dressed like they were from a pop band, jeans tucked into black, pointy, chain-laden boots.  There is never a dull moment for the eyes in Tokyo and each neighbourhood just dictates what kind of animation you'll see!

Japanese television is also a crack up.  Language barriers do not apply for us to understand how hilarious it is to watch people in a studio audience watch a robot make a pancake (why was that on t.v.?  Who cares!  We couldn't stop watching!).  And the televised English lessons!!!  Why don't they have French or English lessons like that in Canada?  They are a riot, the silliest, funniest show you've ever seen.  I'm not even going to explain, just watch the video I've downloaded.  Scott and I had sore guts from laughing so hard.

Tokyo is a city which makes even the most ardent anti-shopper a bit weak in the knees.  You see things you don't need, but want, simply because you've never seen it before.  For example, we found a tap-dancing Mickey Mouse... funny!   But my absolute favourite where items such as face cloths, water bottles and pencil cases, all designed by a person named Shinzi Katoh.   The aluminum  water bottles were tops with captions such as "Gibbon is friend with banana" (yes! It's true, why didn't I think of it before!), and "Three ducks went out with three black umbrellas.  But it did not rain." C'mon, you must find that funny!  How much would it suck to be that duck?  Another one was "I'm a sheep and I don't eat paper.  I'm a goat.  Sometimes I eat paper".   Mwah ha ha!!  Japan is also not overly expensive as everyone thinks, we thought it was easily on par with Canada and Australia, sometimes cheaper depending on where you eat or shop.  Everyone, come to Japan!  It's awesome!  Hours of enjoyment just reading water bottles!  And that's free!

As for purchasing food and drink, we became fanatics of the coupon and vending machine.  For coupon restaurants, you go to a machine, pick the noodle bowl etc. you want, take the coupon in and they call your number when ready.  This is good food!  As for the vending machines, they sell everything imaginable, our favourite being hot coffee (lattes, black, whatever you want).  The taste was great and so economical.  Vending machines like this are everywhere in Japan by the way.  I mean everywhere.  Lobbies, alleyways, you name it, the machine of your needs or wants is there.

We covered a decent amount of Tokyo by subway, which we managed to master, and on foot.  Besides Shinjiku where we stayed, we visited the Ginza area, which is the mecca of designer shops and fancy restaurants.  In Ginza however, was the Sony building where you can go in and see all the latest technology, some of it not yet released, and many of the items are interactive and free to use.  They have phenomenal stuff, beautiful looking laptops, a strange robotic MP3 player called Rolly, cameras to make you drool (ok, they made me drool)... fortunately or unfortunately for gear-heads, many electronics in Japan are sold with only Japanese writing/instructions, and warranties are not international.

Other areas we visited were the Tsujiki (spelling?) fish markets, only the largest fish market in the world which was bursting with activity and well, seafood.  What a vast place, it covers acres and acres, vehicles zip around everywhere, fish mongers prepare their cuts, people shop for their dinners... an incredible place to see, really quite overwhelming.  We also headed to the neighbourhood of Roppongi which is where wild Saturday nights are to be had.  As we were there on a week day and unable to experience the night zoo, we walked the streets and went to another inner city onsen (not a sand one though, just water) to relax in the boiling waters.  We knew the onsen etiquette this time, and managed to pull the visit off all by ourselves.  I was also sick as a dog again, and sitting in the steamy water provided a bit of relief.  We also visited the royal palace grounds, which are stunning in winter, we could only imagine what they would look like in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom or in early autumn when the leaves are changing their colours.  Next was Shibuya, this is apparently the most famous crossing in all of Asia.  This is the perfect image you all have of Tokyo, a MASSIVE crossroads with too many people, too many billboards, too many giant tv's.  We literally walked facing up, our jaws gawking open.  Incredible!  In Shibuya you also find Harajuku street and Takeshita Dori street where mainly under 25's hang out and buy/display their outlandish outfits.  It makes for phenomenal people watching, and we weren't even there on the weekend when it's supposed to be in full force. 

I think it's important to mention that Japan has the friendliest, kindest, most accommodating people.  It doesn't matter who serves you, helps you or guides you, what job they are doing, how far they have gotten along in life, all people treat you warmly and are helpful beyond your expectations.  They display a pride and professionalism in all they do, and to also encounter that in a city, where people are normally colder and indifferent is an incredible surprise.

We LOVE Japan!

Canaussie rating:

Shopping in Tokyo (ok, window shopping for us): 5

Shibuya crossing: 5!

Coupon restaurants and vending machines: 5

Sony building : 5!

Atmosphere: 10 ++++ what a city!

 
 
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