TipToe Through Tokyo
Trip Start Apr 30, 2009
17Trip End Jun 05, 2009
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Ever done Tokyo? We tried. But today, Tokyo did us. And it was really quiet about the assault. Let me explain...
There are lots of adjectives that describe Tokyo, the usual lovely array of Japanese gardens, palaces, temples, etc. There were lots of tours on offer to acquaint oneself with the city's magnificent history, culture, parliament, the Arts... However, Brad and I decided no to 'do' Tokyo, but to simply be plopped in the middle somewhere with a list of 'challenges' and 10 000 YEN (about US$100), a bit like The Amazing Race on T.V. Part Kamikaze, part 'she'll be right mate'.
It's not like we didn't prepare for the Tokyo Tiptoe. There was quite a deal of thought put into this. For a start, our new friends Carol and Ian (from Dorset in England) gave us one of those fold-out tourist maps... in English. Handy. Furthermore, we have already learned how to explain that we aren't carrying drugs. So, prepared we were: 1 day, 10 challenges, 10 000 Yen. Take no prisoners.
Our challenges were self-devised in advance, based on interest, necessity, the Internet 'Trip Advisor' should-do list and some usual things we do in '1-day' destinations.
Get dropped off in the middle of Tokyo,
Find McDonalds (predictable toilet stop),
Find out what locals are doing today,
Travel on public transport,
Get Hard Rock Café shirt for Brad,
Go to the renowned Harajuku district and markets,
Find and use Internet Café,
Look through Sony Building display centre to see what cool stuff will be in Australia (eventually and will cost heaps more),
Get free souvenirs (legally),
Find supermarket to top up fizzy drink supplies in cabin fridge, and still have enough money to get back to the pier.
Sound easy enough? Let see how we went...
This megalopolis-type place with a squillion tiny little people is a machine. A really quiet machine. We called today the 'Tokyo Tiptoe' as our little salute to the fact that the people here don't make any noise. They barely speak. Perhaps it's the masks over their faces to protect from all manner of germs. But the cars, trains, bicycles and motorbikes are quiet too. The loos at Macca's have a button to adjust the flush volume. And although the city is huge, the people are really small, and mostly Japanese (not many foreigners or tourists). So, we nicknamed ourselves Giraffe and Hippo today, as the pair of us looked quite silly racing around, Brad hitting his head on things and me treading on people accidentally. Just like in China, we were gawked at. Ahhh, we've arrived.
Challenge 1 - to be dropped off in the middle of the city.
Ohhhh, easy peasy Japanese-y. NOT. There's no middle to Tokyo, just a heap of different areas all joined together. We found out that the only city centre was in fact inside the Imperial Palace. Rather than mark this as a 'fail', we were dropped off (via a free shuttle bus... very clever find...) NEAR the middle. Good enough.
Challenge 2 - McDonalds meal.
Cost - 900 Yen.
Quite frankly the reason these people are so small is that they don't eat, so it's not like there's food everywhere unless you're into hard-boiled eggs and noodle broth with weird floaty bits. So, when in Tokyo, get thee to the Golden Arches. After our Osaka experience we skipped all the lovely McPorks and got straight to the Fries. McDonalds is incredibly cheap in Japan compared with Australia. Our food bill was about 900 Yen (a bit over AUS$10 including drinks). Interestingly enough, this week is 'Golden Hamburger Week' at Maccas. We left those right alone. By the way, every Macca's we've been to in Japan so far has had a heated toilet seat. Hmm. Maybe tiny little bottoms get cold. I wouldn't know.
Challenge 3: Find out what locals are doing today.
Besides being very, very quiet, on the day we visited, Japan was very busy having a public holiday. The Japanese seem to treat a public holiday as an opportunity to get out and about, so there were people shopping, eating out, visiting the Panda and, by the looks of it, airing their doona over the balcony.
Challenge 4: Travel on public transport.
Cost: 1500 Yen.
Don't you think that public transport, especially trains, is a great way to get to know 'the people' of a city? Everyone on the train has a story and is going somewhere to do something, especially in Tokyo on a public holiday. We decided to tie in our train challenge with obtaining the Hard Rock T-shirt and exploring Harajuku markets.
For those who know Central Station in Sydney, the Tokyo system reminded us of that... on Speed. Naturally, there's no actual person selling tickets and helping random foreigners get on the correct line (let alone an English-speaking person), so we attempted to figure it out from the big boards with lots of coloured lines and destinations written in Japanese and the talking ticket machine. Eventually, after much laughing and pointing, a young Japanese guy came tearing over to us manically begging to help. The conversation went somewhat like this:
Him: Ahhhh... you Australian? (well, we thought, that Aussie cricket shirt of Brad's came in handy today...)
Him: I love you!! I help you!!
Us (with lack of other options): Ummm, that'd be great.
Him: Where you want to go?
Us: Hard Rock Café.
Him: Hmmmm... Ueno. Ahhhh... you press here, and here, and here and then... yen... here. Change come out here. Ticket. See!!
Us: Excellent. Ta.
Him: You like the green line, five segments, you like number ones or numbers twos. Threes and fours no good. Ueno.
Us: Ok then.
Him: I love you! I been to Brisbane! Good bye! (and left... in a hurry, being a public holiday and all).
Finding a 'green line' train is easy because it literally is green. Five segments = five stops. Done. We like 'number ones or number twos? What does that mean???? Ah well, we saw the word 'Ueno' written on a green sign and jumped on.
Giraffe was a bit of a celebrity on the public train, the subject of much (quiet) giggling and glances. He also kept hitting his head on the hand-hold stirrups, roof and the exit doors. I kept accidentally stepping on small people and saying 'sumimasen' (excuse me). We don't think anyone was maimed in the completion of this challenge but we can't be sure.
Challenge 5: Get Hard Rock Café shirt for Brad.
Cost: 2450 Yen.
Just to be clear, we're not Hard Rock Café fans actually. This t-shirt collecting started as a bit of a joke and became part of our 'going overseas' routine. Brad's now got tons of them, but interestingly (and I'm going to sound like my mother here...), they last quite well and keep their shape. Tokyo was quite a difficult place to get the Hard Rock shirt, and finding one in Giraffe-size was even harder. BUT, mission accomplished.
Challenge 6: Go to Harajuku to see funky stuff and markets.
Cost (shirt): 1000 Yen
Oh. My. God. Harajuku is definitely worth a look, and there are lots of girls there that look like they've been (or wanna be) in a Gwen Stefani music video. The markets are great... if you can get through the sea of people. We went with the 'moses' technique as we call it. When faced with packed foreign markets, hold hands, square the shoulders and walk forward. No deviating. No stopping. No eye contact. Whilst this technique did 'part the waters' in the crowd, unfortunately, it also precluded browsing. I did manage to find a great little shop that sold shirts with Kanji character writing, like 'peace' 'hope' and 'eternal love'. They also had more unusual ones and I bought a great (and very apt) shirt with 'leader of juvenile delinquents' written on it in Japanese. See? Ya just can't get THAT in Canberra!
Challenge 7: Look through Sony Building display centre.
Cost: Entry is free. The stuff: worth a fortune.
Snore, snore. We all know the Japanese make great electronic stuff. Brad ooh-ed and ahh-ed over TV's, tiny little laptops and cameras for a while. Next.
Challenge 8: Find and use Internet Café.
Cost: 850 Yen
Here's where it got reaaaallly interesting. I think you always have to raise a cautious eyebrow and be ready for anything when looking o.s. for an Internet café. There weren't many around, so when we saw a dodgy sign and a set of stairs going up the back of a building, we took the risk, albeit with our 'this'll be strange' radar on.
Turned out that this fine establishment wasn't so much of an actual café. It did have the Internet and we booked a computer each. The attendant was very attentive and led each of us down a blackened passageway to separate cubicles, not dissimilar in size to a caravan park shower.
The cubicle did have a computer, which was great. However, it also had a lockable door, a shower, a towel, a TV/DVD combo and a laminated plastic menu with a selection of... well... movies and magazines. Brad and I started calling to each other, stuff like "Where's the light switch?" "Has yours got a weird button on the wall?" "How do you turn it on?" "Do you want some hand sanitiser?" etc etc.
We managed to figure it out (and that's not easy with a Japanese keyboard!) without the need for a shower. We were due to have lunch after the Internet cafe, but didn't really feel the urge anymore.
Challenge 9: Get free souvenirs (legally).
Pffft. Easy. They give you stuff just for smiling in Japan. Even the taxi driver gave us a gift with our change. We also managed to snaffle such treasures as pens from Sony for filling in a written survey (it was in Japanese, but it was a checkbox sheet so we had a crack) and drink coasters for accepting a map. There's even a gift with purchase in the chewing gum bottle (post it notes).
Challenge 10: Find supermarket to top up fizzy drink supplies in cabin fridge, and still have enough money to get back to the pier.
Cost: 500 Yen for drinks and chewy.
Taxi: 1600 Yen (including gift)
100 Yen stores are great, because even cold drinks are 100 Yen, but they aren't on every corner like convenience stores (with great Japanese names like 'Lawsons' and 'Familymart'. There are vending machines everywhere also, like EVERYWHERE. Apparently Japan has the greatest concentration of vending machines per capita. Besides Pepsi Max for my daily fix, there were all sorts of interesting drinks that we felt obligated to try. The cloudy white 'protein water' looked appetizing (not), so we went for a herbal concoction full of stuff you don't normally find in a cold drink, like catnip. It was actually quite nice. Maybe one of those a day reduces your butt size.
So that's Tokyo. It certainly is an impressive work of engineering and social management. By the time we crawled back on board, we still had a couple of Yen, and we had covered some serious distance. We tried to tip-toe, honestly, but I think we kind of ended up trampling instead.
Cost of Tiptoeing through Tokyo? 7900 Yen.
And a day full of memories? Priceless.