Tokyo: The Eastern Capital

Trip Start Jun 24, 2005
Trip End Mar 24, 2008

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Sunday, December 4, 2005

In Chinese, Beijing means the Northern Captial. Nanjing means the Southern Capital. Tokyo using Kanji (Chinese Han characters) means the Eastern capital. This capital is certainly worthy of the name. Tokyo is big, vibrant, metropolitan, modern and chic. I have many interesting observations of this country and I will share them with you in the next few blog entries.

I arrived in Tokyo Narita airport with my friend Gloria. We will be staying with Kiyo who has been working in Japan for the last 4 years. The three of us studied and hung out a lot in University. For myself, I was not too concerned with what I saw in Japan. I was mostly just looking forward to spending some fun time together.

At the airport, we were greeted with the most polite customs officer I have ever met. If American customs officers are pissed-off hot mashed potatoes, Japanese customs officers are sweet polite rice dumplings.

Our first taste of Tokyo was a 2 hour commute from the airport to Kiyo's apartment. The commute was on the local trains during rush hours. We had to do 3 transfers lugging our luggage up and down stairs. We got the full rush hour experience unabridged.

Kiyo's apartment is very compact with a kitchen along a small corridor and separate bath and shower rooms. The entire place is only about 400 sqft but is officially called a 'Mansion' in Japan. This is all you get in expensive Tokyo. The best thing about the 'Mansion' is its insulation. The place was always warm surrounding by concrete walls. I read somewhere that the Japanese government has an unofficial policy of keeping housing prices high. High prices has the desired effect of keeping Japanese workers working as long as possible to pay off their horrendous mortgages. As you walk around, you will notice very few high rises. Just one of the ways to keep the supply of housing low.

We spent the first four days of our two week trip in Tokyo visiting the various districts:

* Chuka-gai - China Town located in Yokohama (part of greater Tokyo) and is the largest China town in Japan. It is the cleanest China town I've seen and the majority of restaurants were high end.

* Shibuya - A fashionable shopping district. Also where some of the most expensive real estate in Japan is located. At the busiest intersection, pedestrians can cross in 12 different directions. The Starbucks here occupies the most expensive square footage in Japan.

* Harujuku - Infamous for the Japanese girls with Pyro-dyed Pink hair, French Maid meet Dracula clothing and Ozzy Osbourne makeup. They often pose for pictures with tourists....if you are Caucasian. Gloria wanted a picture of a group of Harujuku girls and approached them with her most sincere smile. She anticipated an enthusiastic 'Yes' but instead got an Ultraman cross-armed-Laser-beam 'No'. What is Ultraman? Google it. This arm movement combined with a polite nod of the head is how the Japanese say 'No'. The arm movement is very important because the Japanese do not shake their head sideways.

To be fair, I got an Ultraman laser beam 'No' myself at a temple when I asked if I could take a picture of a young lady who worked at the temple dressed in a white and red costume. It hurt.

* Shinjuku - On one side of the rail line are skyscrapers and government buildings. On the other side is Tokyo's notorious red-light district. The streets were crowded with Black suit hustlers looking for the next client. Polite nonetheless.

* Akihabara - Home of the Japanese Mega Electronics store Yoshi-Akihabara. This 9 floor mothership contains every electronic imaginable. You want it? You'll find it here. I wanted to buy earphones but testing all the ones available would have taken 2 lifetimes. Sometimes too much choice is not a good thing.

* Ginza - a posh shopping district. High end stores of all sizes. From Tiffanies to LV, there are here. Bright neon signs line both sides of the broad streets. A nice place to just stroll around.

* Roppongi Hill - An overrated new shopping mall. Outside in the courtyard, Christmas lights were set up for the enjoyment of shoppers. A pair of tourists asked me to take pictures for them. They didn't like the first one that I took and had the gall to demand I wait for the lights to turn purple before taking a second one.

* Roppongi - The clubbing district of Tokyo. Suprisingly not as busy as I expected. Here, we had dinner with my old friend Colin at a fantastic Isakaya. At the middle of the street, I saw my first robot traffic controller. No joke. Check out the picture.
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