Tour de Tokyo

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
1
37
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Flag of Japan  ,
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

 





The Japanese love their conveniences.  And what exemplifies convenience more than the vending machine.  Too lazy to go into the store to buy a Coke?  No worries, there's a vending machine right outside.  In fact, Coke is only one of about a thousand things you can buy from a vending machine in Japan.  Everything is available, from beer to liquor to cigarettes (no trouble with age limits here) to cans of coffee.  Did I just say cans of coffee?  Yup, for only 120yen (about $1.20) you can choose from an endless variety of coffees that come tumbling out, hot, in a can.  I had to try this, and it is actually quite good.  Now I don't even need to go into a coffee shop to get my takeaway coffee.

 
Tokyo is a massive city, with between 15 and 25 million people, depending on which count you believe.  Either way, that's a lot of people and with a lot of people comes congestion.  One of the ways the Tokyoers have come up with to counter this is building bridges.   Doesn't sound that original but they actually build the bridges along rivers as well as across them.  Multi-lane freeways are suspended above existing rivers, thereby creating much-needed traffic access without having to sacrifice any valuable land to get them.  The rivers still function below as normal so everyone's a winner.
 
We wish to see more of Tokyo today so we hire a couple of bikes.  They are excellent value at 200yen ($2) each for 24 hours, but they aren't exactly Tour de France material.  They are more like 'easy rider' pushbikes, with the spread out handlebars and a non-adjustable seat set to the lowest  possible height.  This configuration means we are both pedalling with our knees around our chests like circus clowns and going up steep hills is both difficult and ridiculous-looking.
 
Nonetheless, we follow the map down a main road, dodging the cookie-cutter businessmen on the sidewalk and pausing for English-script clues as to our location, until we reach the Imperial Palace, home of the Emperor.  Sadly it is closed on Mondays, so we vow to return another day and continue along, a little more randomly.  By chance, we happen upon a quiet little park, an oasis of calm in the bustle of the city.  A mother sits and watches her little pre-schooler play happily, while an old man, having earned the right to walk slowly and peacefully, does so under a row of Japanese pine trees.  We pause too, next to a small pagoda, for a sip of water.  An older couple, probably father and daughter, strike up conversation with us, as the gentleman speaks a bit of English.  He asks Jane if she would like to pray at the shrine and ring the holy bell.  She participates in the ritual, which involves some bowing and hand-clapping, and gets to ring the bell.
 
By the time we plough our way back up to Asakusa, it is about 5pm.  Our knees and arses are killing us from the un-ergonomic bikes, and we are starving so we duck into the first reasonably-priced restaurant we see.  We realise, once selected, that it is actually a Chinese restaurant, not Japanese, but we give it a go anyway.  Its most recommendable feature is that it has the funniest menu translation ever.  Some of the items we pass on include: "Leek Pig's Liver Fried", "Thing of the Sea's Soup" and the tantalisingly cryptic "Bad Makeup With Boil-It".  Tempting as these were, I opt conservatively for the "Tofu's Hot Taste" and Jane has the "Chicken's Cashew Natsu". 
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