Return to Tokyo

Trip Start Oct 18, 2005
1
5
21
Trip End Dec 15, 2005


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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Day 9: We went back to Tokyo (Chiba) by train. We spent the first two hours going along the Sea of Japan on the west coast. It was very beautiful. In some places the mountains come right out of the sea, so the roads are built over the water. Once we turned inland, we went through some ski towns. The runs at those places aren't very long, but they are very steep. Looks like it would be fun in the wintertime!

We have to admit that we broke down and split a McDonald's cheeseburger for a small snack before dinner. After nine days of Japanese food we needed a little kicker.

We ventured to Shinjuku that night to meet up with my friend Ayako from Iowa State. It was great to see her! Shinjuku is probably the busiest part of Tokyo, and we were there during rush hour. Amazing! It's just an endless stream of people going all directions.
It is impossible to walk in a straight line for more than five feet without running into somebody, and we had to "pull over" to the side to try to read signs or discuss where to go. Stopping in the middle is a very bad idea.

After dinner we took in the sights of Shinjuku. The whole place is crazy! There were so many lights it makes Las Vegas look like Omaha. Every turn brought something new. From girls with knee high leather boots with ridiculously high heels that make them walk like drunk sailors to Bon Jovi hair look-alikes (90's) wearing flourescent raincoats trying to get girls to go into their bars so the guys would follow. We wandered down one street where there was suddenly only men walking around. One of the bars was called the "After School Club" and the picture was of a teenage-looking girl. No kidding.

Chikako and Ayako both warned us not to take the last train, so we got the second to last train. I see what they mean! The doors opened and we were greeted by the overwhelming smell of booze and drunk people. It was extremely crouded for 10:30 at night. All the seats were full and there were three rows of people standing. Each train has about 12-15 cars and they come every seven minutes or so. Crazy!

Day 10: This was our last full day in Japan, so we had to make the most of it. We met with Hidetaka, my friend from KIT, for lunch in Chiba. He works for TDK, which is one of Intel's suppliers, although I'm not sure for what. Since most of the people I know here speak English and I can speak enough Japanese to get around, this is the first time I tried to hold a real conversation in Japanese since we've been here. I was pretty disappointed in myself, as I used to be able to hold a decent conversation without much help from a dictionary, but not anymore. I'll definitely make sure to practice before the next time we come to Japan. It was good to see him, and I hope to catch up with more people the next time.

We did some shopping and went to a few more areas of Tokyo, Shibuya and Roppongi. They are similar to Shinjuku, but not as crazy. Roppongi is where a lot of foreigners hang out, so we weren't the only white people.

On the way home, we were at a platform waiting to change trains and noticed a karaoke bar with a view of the platform. The people in there were having a ton of fun, which made us have fun, too. To their immense enjoyment, I even joined in with them for a round of Y - M - C - A. Anybody who worked at PIC in Saipan knows this song very, very well. Again, the train was extremely packed, even more so than the night before. At every stop people were pushing like crazy to get off the train. We got sandwiched between two pushers while watching a tiny girl manhandle some big guy to get off the train.

Day 11: Most of this day is spent fighting with Yahoo and a Japanese keyboard while writing this message. We'll be off to Singapore this evening!

Observations about Japan from a tourist's perspective:

The toilets are very interesting. They are usually either a decidedly low-tech squat toilet without a seat or a super-duper techno gadget that a NASA engineer would have trouble operating. They have a nice jet of water to clean you off, and some even have a dryer! Just make sure you know the Japanese kanji for "stop".

We found ourselves alternately collecting and getting rid of change. That tends to happen when it is a very cash based society and the smallest paper money is the equivalent of $10.

The Japanese are single-handedly keeping the American tobacco companies in business.

It's a very strange feeling being illiterate. You have to count on other people and pictures to order food and know how much it costs to take the train to a certain stop.

There are vending machines and convenience stores everywhere. You can get any kind of drink you want from a vending machine, including hot coffee, beer, rum and coke, sake, and a bottle of whiskey. However, it is considered rude to drink a beverage while walking down the sidewalk.

You could make a fortune here selling suits.

If you are considering coming to Japan, buy a Japan Rail Pass BEFORE you get here. You can only get them outside of Japan and you can only use them on the 90 day tourist stamp. If we had known that we could have saved a lot of money on transportation.

Some personal observations from Janell:

- I'm completely illiterate here. Jason is too, to a certain degree, but he can read and understand some. I can't even read a street sign! When something is written in Romaji (Roman characters), I get so excited and read it outloud just because I can! Not knowing what food will arrive is also interesting...
- We get stared at a bit. It is pretty funny though. I just smile at them...
- The trains are awesome, even the really crowded ones. I think it is so cool that there is an underground world here! I guess it is a little creepy too, knowing how much stuff is above you.
- We are pretty tall here. What a different feeling!!!
- Having fewer clothes with you means that deciding what to wear is a snap!
- I love trying all of the different drinks from the vending machines. I've only had two diet cokes so far!
- Jason's friends have been absolutely awesome. We have been able to experience more of the culture through them than we would have on our own.
- I think the school kids are adorable, most of them wear uniforms and walk around together. They wear the same color hats on school trips. It's very cute.
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