Wednesday, April 27, 2005
I probably have said this so many times by now, but I don't think I can adequately describe what a pleasure Public Transit was in Tokyo compared to Philly. I guess it's kinda like treating a man to a fliet mignon at Ruth's Chris Steak House one night after he's been eating gruel all his life. Coming from a system with an average of 9 minute delays to a system with an average of less than one, you'll forgive me if I hope that this accident does not impact that precision too harshly.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
The Return Home
Breakfast one last time at Pronto, then back to the room for final packing. One last luxury, we call to the front desk for a bell hop to take down our luggage. We check out, and we're on our way.
Things we'll miss: (in no particular order)
The two guys in suits doing exercises in the morning on the children's show we saw every morning
Those Yaji/Kita posters everywhere.
Richard Gere and Kiefer Sutherland pimping for some Japanese companies.
Breakfast Hot Dogs
Vending machines every 10 feet
The AM/PM and the vast array of food that we had no idea what was in it, but was tasty anyway.
Neon and flashing lights on every building.
The noise of the pachinko parlors as we would walk by
Finding random shrines as you were walking along
The juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, and the extravagant and humble.
The clean, efficient and punctual rail and subway system.
The tiny cars, that could fit in my back pocket.
Dividing prices by 100 to figure out what they really cost.
Tall buildings everywhere
All the boys and girls in school uniforms
The bold and creative fashion sense of some Japanese. ;)
All the Kogals who could be my sister's clones.
Saying "Sumimasen" at least 20 times a day.
Hearing bored boys and girls mutter or whine "Welcome" every time we wandered into a store, or they saw us for the first time in said store.
Hearing store clerks tell us in Japanese the price of something, how much money we have given them and how much change they are giving back to us.
And the "Arigatou Gozaimasu!!" as we leave a store.
Putting our money in trays.
Pausing every block to take pictures.
Sakura petals everywhere.
The impossibly clean streets
Multi-floored manga and anime shops everywhere we went.
Waking up every morning and realizing that we were halfway around the world in a foreign country.
Hanging out with Erica, Patty, Bruce, Kelli, Gideon, Janice and Lorelei every day.
The fabulous heated toilets with the deodorizer, the water pressure controls, the bidet and the "ass bidet". Their toilet technology is vastly superior to ours.
and of course: HOT COFFEE IN A CAN, BABY!!
Neither of us really wanted to go back, but we were out of money and didn't speak the language real well, so we really had no choice. Though, we definitely will go back, it's just a question of when.
I took pictures on the ride to the airport, trying to soak it all in to keep in our minds and our hearts. Both of us fell in love with Tokyo and it's spoiled us to all US cities. Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and even Philly are pretty, but they're pretty the same way your sister is pretty. Tokyo was gorgeous and beautiful and I'd do almost anything to see it again.
I think I truly understand the phrase "half a world away" now.
We got to Narita and the shuttle company employees unloaded our luggage. We checked in and had our luggage checked, all the airline employees were polite and courteous, almost apologetic, as they checked our luggage. Donna was afraid that we were over the weight limit with all the purchases we made, but our two big bags were just under. We were glad we bought that suitcase the night before. We had a bag of random snacks that we had picked up at the AM/PM the night before to bring as gifts for my co-workers, and we decided to carry that on, since it was very likely that they'd be crushed in a suitcase.
One of the things that had us scrambling was the prohibition of lighters and matches on airplanes that went into effect on the 14th. So, there went a bunch of gifts for Donna's coworkers.
Once we were through check in, we wandered the airport mall, looking for last minute gifts and found a few. And then it was off to our gate, first through customs which was efficient and quick and then the walk to the gate.
Our flight was a little late arriving so the boarding time was a bit delayed which was good, as we got to use the massage chairs that they had nearby, and stock up on some more Pocari Sweat and Blendy for the flight.
We finally boarded after a while and found ourselves at the ass end of the airplane, but with windows. The flight was also pretty empty and the 777s had personal LCD screens in the seat backs. So it was definitely an upgrade over the flight over, but the flight itself still sucked. Not only did we have crappy movies (National Treasure, Spanglish, Neverland, Shall We Dance), but we couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. Definitely business class, next time, at least.
The highlight of the flight had to be watching the sunrise over the Alaskan Mountains. That was really pretty, and I'm sorry that my camera couldn't capture the detail and subtleties.
We landed at O'Hare around Noon and experienced our first real culture shock. O'Hare was loud, and chaotic and the people were huge. And it was here that I also understood the phrase "Ugly, Rude Americans." Customs and Immigration was two guys checking four flights of people that arrived at the same time. People bumped in front of us, without saying a word.
We had some time, so Donna was able to catch a smoke and avoid being Cranky Donna for the flight back to Philly.
The flight back to Philly was packed, and it was full of businessmen who didn't seem to realize that they were flying coach with the masses. The steward assigned to our section was apparently on his fourth leg that day, and was clearly haggard.
Everytime I've flown back to Philly, I've looked out the window and marvel at how pretty the city looks from the sky, and I've always wanted to take a picture of it as we were approaching. It may have been the rose colored glasses of being in a foreign, exotic city, but arriving in Philly and driving home, it all seemed so bland and empty and spaced too far apart.
Finally we arrived home, hung out with Dallis a bit who was watching our apartment and we crashed hard when he left. And now here we are back home, and both of us still wish we were in Tokyo.
I guess that's why passports have lots of pages for stamps. ;)
The last batch of pictures are here and here. Final total, including the bad ones: 856 pictures, and I still think I didn't take enough.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
4/19/2005 : Final Day in Tokyo
We wake up early again today to do the breakfast send off for Patty, Erica and Kelli. Again, we go the Cafe Pronto and have our usual breakfast of asagopan and breakfast hot dogs. Again, we're the loudest people in the place, but it's OK. It's our last day in Japan together, so we eat and talk and reminisce. Erica mentions that she's ready to go home, and it's easy to understand why. This trip wasn't really much of a vacation for her, as there was a lot of stress with the event.
Today our plans are simple, try to see Tokyo Tower and shop for friends and relatives and make the last of our money disappear. This will actually be our first day of doing stuff on our own and trying to navigate by ourselves. but I think I've got it down.
We head back to the hotel after breakfast and the two of us begin to make plans for the day. First off we arrange for the shuttle bus trip back to Narita. Looking at the guides, Tokyo Tower is not that near Tokyo station, in fact it looks like it's smack dab in the middle between Roppongi and Ginza. Both of our Tokyo guide books give Tokyo Tower the big dis, but for us it has special allure, it figures in a lot of anime cliches and Godzilla and Gamera are always stomping on it. So, naturally we had to see it.
At around quarter to 11 we head down to the lobby to do the send off. Emi is there, too and there's lots of hugging, some crying, and "ja ne' exchanges. (You only say "Sayonara" - Good Bye when you have no intention of seeing someone again.) With Emi's help we figure out the best way to get to Tokyo Tower from Ikebukuro and then we wave as Kelli, Erica and Patty board the shuttle bus and head off to the airport.
Emi thanks us for our help and we part ways hoping to see each other again soon. And then it's off to Tokyo Tower.
Erica and Patty had given us their JR cards which had a little bit left on them, so to put them to good use we hit the Yamanote line toward Shinjuku.
I remember the first day at Ikebukuro station was really overwhelming, lots of people bustling everywhere, and at least 5 different lines all converging at that station, and not knowing which way was which. But, now, though certainly not expert at it, I at least had a clue. Which is good, as it was my job to navigate.
The ride to Ebisu station was quiet and we both just looked at the window marvelling at the sights, making fun of the Engrish, and people watching, which is always fun. The variety was fascinating, from obaa-sans in traditional kimono and happi, sararimen all wearing the same suit, to school girls and boys, kogals, OLs, etc.
We get off at Ebisu station and make our way outside to get to the Tokyo Metro station, since there was no direct connection underground. It takes us a bit to figure out how much tickets to Kaimyachou are, but we do, and we're on our way.
Getting off at Kamiyachou, there's a sign at the top of the stairs that says Tokyo Tower and points left, so we make the left and start to walk.
One of the things I particularly like about all the places we've been in Tokyo is that weird mix of the ancient with the modern, the humble and the poor, and the ostentatious and the rich. You could be walking down the street and next to that high rise building from the 60s is a tiny little shrine. Theres isn't that same kind of feeling here in Philly. Sure you have old and the new mixed in, but the old in Philly is not really that old comparatively.
Anyway, so we continue walking in the direction the sign pointed us and after a while of not seeing anymore signs, we stop at this pedestrian island in the middle of big street, so I can take out a map and figure out where we're going. Donna calls my name and points to the sky, and there is Tokyo Tower looming directly over us, not very far away. Erica had mentioned in the morning that Tokyo Tower could be surprisingly hard to find, and it was easy to see why. Tokyo Tower is not the highest point in Tokyo nor does it dominate the landscape in any way shape or form. It's not like Liberty Place, the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building, where you can see it from anywhere in the city.
So, we head in the direction the Tower is looming and go in. It's totally done up as a tourist/amusement park destination, with the tour bus parking, the group entrances, etc. A tour bus full of school kids pulled up as we were getting tickets, but it was hardly crowded at all. It must be a hopping weekend destination thing, I guess.
Besides the two observation decks, the main one and the special one, Tokyo Tower boasts a "Trick Art" gallery, a Wax Musuem, an Aquarium, a "Mysterious Walking Zone," and two informative exhibits, as well as an entire floor for shopping. Everything is separate charge for admission, but they have a special "amusement" package which includes everything but the aquarium and the special observation deck for one price. We add in the special obersvation deck and we're off. They politely herd us into a elevator with windows with other tourists and we head up to the main observation deck. If you've ever been to the observation deck of the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower, et al, it was setup exactly like that. The view was spectacular, but I wish it wasn't so hazy. We should have been able to have seen Mt. Fuji from here, and our hotel room, too , now that I think about it. But, there's always been some haze on the horizon, and today was no exception. Ah well, we have another legitimate excuse to come back. ;)
I end up taking a bunch of pictures, and I know I should have probably taken more, since all we both wanted, at this point, is to bring it all back with us.
From the main observation deck, we head to the special observation deck. We climb some stairs to get to a small platform to wait for an elevator. The Japanese, we discovered, like a little Vegas in everything they do. So they had a bit of a light show and some mood music for us as we walked up the stairs to get to elevator. The elevator was waiting for us, and it was tiny. They managed to pack a dozen of us into this tiny rickety elevator with windows and an operator and shoot us up to the special observation deck 825 feet above the ground. Donna was very glad to get off the elevator after it jostled us on the way up.
Coming down from the special observation deck we ended up on the second floor of the main observation deck with the souvenir shop, a cafe, and a stage for live music. We decided to get lunch at the cafe, and we picked a corner booth and looked out over the city in the direction of Mt. Fuji and started talking about the things we needed to buy and how we both don't really want to go home.
After lunch we started shopping at the souvenir shop and bought quite a few things for friends and relatives, then it was down to the roof of the main building which was intended as a kids amusement park. Though there was only a family of four enjoying a mini-train ride while we were there. Donna tried playing a shooting game, but we think it was broken, since the aim was severely off.
From the roof we hit the fourth floor for the informational exhibits put on by the Japanese government. We didn't linger very long here, since 98% of all the exhibits were in Japanese. They had some English titles, and it looked interesting, especially the bit about declining birthrates and the government's plans in this area, but we couldn't read any of it, so we moved on to the "Trick Art" gallery. The "Trick Art" gallery was basically a bunch of interactive trompe l'oeil paintings. It was neat in a very cheesy, silly way. The paintings were very well done, but the gallery's charm was pure kitsch.
3rd floor was the Wax Musuem and the "Mysterious Walking Zone" I had never been to wax musuem before, that I can recall, and I really had no desire to go to one before, but, hey, it's our last day in Japan, why the hell not. So we wander into the wax museum and I have a desire to take pictures, to share this randomness with everybody. Be sure to check out those pictures. The musuem goes from celebrity and historical figures to famous art reenactments to a special torture exhibit, and finishes with tributes to musicians who were huge in Japan apparently, but we had never, ever heard of before.
The "Mysterious Walking Zone" was just a exhibit of hologram pictures, some of which were actually impressive.
Finally we made it to the 2nd floor and the shopping arcade, we were shopped and bought lots of stuff for folks back home. We had experienced our first earthquake last week, and we were kinda hoping Tokyo would oblige us with a Godzilla stomping through the city to Tokyo Tower or that we'd be whisked off to another dimension to fight for justice, or save the world, or something. But, alas, no, all we got were gaggles of schoolkids to make us feel old. ;)
We decided to head back to the hotel with our swag, but on the way, we made a little side trip to this shrine we saw on the way, but was on the other side of the street. We also stopped at an antique store we saw earlier as well, where we saw lots of great things that we would buy for us, if we had more money, and weren't shopping for other people at this point.
This antique store also had something that really, really impressed us, besides all the old vintage Japanese antiques. There, in a corner, was a Victrola. A genuine, 1904, made in Camden, New Jersey Victrola with two horns and the hand crank, sitting there in an antique store in Tokyo, Japan. Donna really, really, really liked that Victrola. It didn't have a price tag, like verything else in the store, so we figured it must be really, really, really expensive. Donna couldn't stop talking about that Victrola for hours.
We drop stuff off at the hotel and I get the sense that we're probably not going to be able to fit our stuff in the bags we brought. So it's off to the Tobu department store to see if we can get another suitcase. Which proved to be more difficult than we thought. The Tobu store was massive and was more like a big mall than a department store and it was kinda confusing trying to figure out where we could have gotten a suitcase. Plus we were feeling the time crunch, and we still had some shopping to do for people, and we noticed that most stores started closing at 8pm, and it was 6:30pm
I'm not sure but I think we were in Tobu for half an hour before we found a suitcase. It was cheap, but it only really had to last us the return flight home. So we bought it, and then wandered Ikebukuro one last time, buying stuff.
It was 9:30pm by the time we got back to the hotel. Donna wanted dinner tonight to be special so we headed up to the Sky Lounge on the roof of the Hotel and had an exquisite 3-course dinner there. It was our last night, and we were going to live it up. There was a jazz trio playing, vocals, bass, piano and the singer had pretty decent English pronunciation. We lingered for quite a bit, again talking about our trip and reminisicing and again how we didn't want the trip to end. Finally, we wandered downstairs to the Oriental Express bar to use the drink tickets the Hotel gave us upon our arrival, and had our free drinks. The bar was also very upscale like the Sky Lounge, with lots of dark wood and very English drawing room kinda of feel to it. It made me wish I was filthy rich so I live like that all the time.
Finally around 11:30pm we wandered back to our room and began the long intense task of packing all of our stuff. There was a lot of stuff, I mean, really a lot of stuff. Our bags were not full on the way over, but they were certainly full now. Donna was worried that we were over the weight limit, but I think getting the extra bag relieved that. It took us quite a bit to get everything packed, and we were in bed by 2:30 am.
And as we finished packing, we realized that we were finally leaving and just as we were really excited to arrive, we were just as sad on the eve of our departure.
Today's photos here, here, here and here.
Monday, April 18, 2005
I can't believe we have to go home in two days, it really feels like we just got here, still. There's still plenty of the city we didn't cover. We never made it to Tokyo Tower or Ueno Park, we only saw bits of Harajuku and Akihabara. I guess, this means we have to come back. ;)
Ah well, at least today we head back to Shinjuku. Erica wants to look for some used manga stores that she sorta knows where it is. Again, we don't mind, since it's all new to us.
But, first we stop at Sekaido, the stationery store, which is also an art supply store and Kelli and I pick up a lot of screen tones, since they were all $3 a piece, instead of the $8 a piece they are back home. (As an aside; a pack of Marlboro Light 100s = $3, Gas: $3-$5 a liter -- no wonder a majority of the cars here are tiny.) I also pick up a book in Japanese on pen and ink technique and Kelli picks up a book of backgrounds that she plans to scan in when she gets home. She and I plan to scan in the screen tones and start a screen tone library for use between us.
After Sekaido, we start looking for these stores Erica wants to visit. The directions she has are not very specific, so it takes us a while to find the referenced starting point. We wander through some back streets and eventually find where they should be, but the stores we're looking for are no longer there. Oh well. We stop at an Indian restaurant for lunch and continue wandering. We find a Yellow Submarine store, which is hobby store (read: gaming) and Donna wants to stop in to get paints for the Kilik resin kit she bought last week. The Yellow Submarine is nearly exactly like gaming stores back in the states, they even had a floor for all the GW stuff. Though they had a lot of magazines dedicated to traditional role-playing (as opposed to online/computer roleplaying or LARPing) All the games and books, though, were all English language imports so that made me wonder about the popularity of traditional RPGS.
Anyway Donna and I buy stuff here, and then we all decide it's time for lunch. So we wander into this Indian restaurant and have big lunch. I have the spicy chicken curry that came with a massive piece of nan, which the guy was baking in the tandoori less than 10 feet from our table. I also had a mango lhassi which I haven't had in years. It was tasty, though later we'd discover that the meal didn't really sit too well.
We head back to the hotel afterwards to drop off stuff, and rest a bit. Then it's off again for some more shopping. Erica is in a buying frenzy as it's her last night here and she's picking up all the stuff she wanted to before, but didn't really have time for. That gets a little infectious and we buy a lot of stuff.
Tomorrow, after breakfast we'll begin our shopping for friends and relatives, like we said we'd do.
Today's pictures here.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
After brunch, we were of to Harajuku to wade through the mass of humanity. And yes, it was literally like wading. Sunday is usually the day when most of the Japanese have off. So, everybody was out and about. It was literally New York density everywhere we went. In Harajuku, especially, Sunday is the day show off and strut. Lots and lots of people dressed up to show off their uniqueness together. It's particular example of the Japanese emphasis on groups rather than individuals. Everybody traveled in a group of at least two, and they all dressed the same. So you had groups of Visual Kei, Goth Lolita, punk, raver, J-POP, kogal, hip-hop, etc. Only the tourists had variety among the individuals of the group. If we had more time, I would have loved to have just stayed and people watched the entire afternoon.
We started back around 3pm to meet Erica's friend for dinner, so we ended walking around Ikebukuro the rest of the evening. Janice, Lorelei, Gideon and Bruce leave for the States tomorrow, so tonight was our last night together.
Wow, I can't believe we're leaving soon. It feels like we just got here, and there's still so much we haven't seen or wanted to do.
I suppose that's what a return trip is for. Anyway, the plan for tomorrow might include Ueno park, but will definitely include shopping, as we need to bring back presents.
Pictures of today here and here
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Anyway, we started the morning a little earlier, and we decided to dress up a little, just because. And everybody had the same idea, it seemed, we were a relatively good looking bunch. We met in the lobby, where my job was carry Erica's large suitcase full of stuff for the event.
On to the Yurakucho line to Kojimachi and the A/Z cafe. Kojimachi felt like a quiet suburb, except for the really tall buildings. The A/Z cafe was situated off the main drag, and it was this tiny little place. It was strange that something significant was about to happen here.
Anyway, we show up and start to get to work to transform this little cafe into something more suitable for Yuri anime fans and afficionados. My next job was to stuff the programs with flyers, and when that was done, the Japanese staff was really taking care for the rest, so I ended up just standing around the rest of the time, trying not to be in the way.
12:30 the doors open and our first visitors start to arrive, and they're mostly Japanese, obviously, and women. At 1pm, Rica and Erica open the event with statements and we're underway, and I'm lost almost immediately when Koudan show begins. A koudan is a traditional style of Japanese performance, by one person. The stories are usually traditional folk tales, but in this case the story is adaptation of Cutey Honey. I wish I knew more Japanese so I could have understood what was being said, as it seemed to be really funny. Which would be pretty much be my experience the entire event. Fortunately, Trevor and Ivy, worked really hard to translate everything that was being said, with assistance from Matt Thorn, the pre-eminent shoujo manga scholar.
I don't have my program in front of me, so I don't remember everybody who was there, but there was Tadeno Eriko, the mangaka we hosted at Yuricon 2003, Mori Natsuko, author of sci-fi novels, Moguchi Akiko, a Yaoi scholar, and a few others, like the editor of the defunct Anise magazine, whose name escapes me at the moment. The big name was Ito Bungaku, who originally coined the term yurizoku (lily tribe), he is 73, and is kinda of like the godfather of Yuri, I guess.
The event itself was more like a seminar than a fan gathering, but it was successfull nonetheless.
The main gist of the event, what all the guests were really excited about, was reclaiming the term Yuri from porn. Which made Ito-san very happy, since it was his original intention when he coined the term. It remains to be seen what the upshot from this will be, but everyone who attended came away with hope and good feelings for the future, and that's certainly a good start.
We were done by 9pm, and the plan was to do karaoke afterward with any staff, guests and attendees that wanted to come. Donna wasn't feeling well and went back to the room. So, we went to Pasela in Ikebukuro and had a large room to ourselves. I guess I should have probably taken pictures of the room, so Rachel and Tom can see how the Japanese do it, but it's not something I really wanted a visual record of. For those of you curious, I sang White Room, Enter Sandman, and When Doves Cry. Afterwards it was clear why Shawn is the Lead Singer of the band.
One thing I noticed is that none of the people I was hanging out with were real partiers or drinkers. I got lots of zOMG stares, just because I was able to drink a pitcher of beer by myself. Which is no big deal, really. Besides I paid $37 to get into the karaoke place, so I was going to get my money's worth. And I'm certainly now not the kind of drinker I used to be.
Anyway, Erica, Bruce and I hung til about 3am and then decided we'd better crash if we wanted to do anything on Sunday.
My pictures from the event here.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Today is pretty simple. The only thing we have planned is a return trip to Nakano branch of Mandarake. So off we go, with the regular crew, plus a few from the list. We get there and it's pretty much we're left to our own devices. We stop at an arcade first as Donna gets jonesing for some action. And then, we're off to buy her shoes, then we hit the Mandarake, buy a few things, have lunch at the Lotteria. (Japanese Fast food.) I have this barbecue pork burger, Kelli has a fish and shrimp burger, and Donna has something we're not sure of. Kelli hates shrimp, so she gives me her sandwich and decides to get what Donna's having, and then we decide that we should go to Akihabara, the electronic capital of the world.
It's a stop on the Yamanote line so it was pretty easy to navigate.
Akihabara was crazy crowded, lots of foreigners and lots of duty free shops. Unfortunately, we only had an hour, as we were supposed to meet Erica and Pattie back at the hotel for the Yuricon staff dinner.
Donna found this electrical back massager and Kelli helped her find a hentai game that actually had some gameplay, instead of basically being an overblown Powerpoint presentation like most H-games. And yes, Kelli and Donna were the only women in the hentai game section.
After that we headed back to the hotel, to head out to the Shinjuku Niichome and the Cafe Cocolo where we have our reservations. There we meet Emi, Takami, Trevor, Ivy, Katherine, Dillon and the other Japan-side staffers that helped put Yuricon 2005 in Tokyo together, and we had a grand old time of eating and drinking and telling stories, until the restaurant kicked us out at 9pm to make way for another group.
Not a lot of pictures today, at leas not compared to yesterday, but be sure to check them out here.
So, tomorrow is the big event, and I mean big in a significant, potentially historical kind of way. In the footnotes section of the history books, anyway, not the main pages, at least not yet. Check out Erica's blog for the why's and wherefore's. My job at Yuricon is a very simple one. I lift stuff, squish bugs, and generally look intimidating upon command. Tomorrow I'm working the door, and carrying Erica's 70 pound bag full of stuff. Donna's job is to be the Yuricon booth babe, meaning all she has to do is look cute. Which is really easy for her. ;)
So, yes, this is why we flew halfway around the world for. More on this big day tomorrow. Now it's time for sleep.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
We roll early today, to get some breakfast before we meet up with everyone, since that maybe the only time we eat. Kelli shows up around 9:30 am and we wander down to the AM/PM to grab breakfast. It was pretty crowded in there, with all the people picking up stuff on their way to work and school. Donna and I each pick up these hot dog looking thingys; they're longer than the bun, thin, and the bread is this sweet pastry style bread that's at least half the length of the hot dog wide. Mine had just cheese on it, while Donna's had ketchup on it already. Oh and it was cold, and wrapped in very, very loose plastic. I also picked up this pancake thing, which was two pancakes joined together in the middle, with a cream filling. Donna had something else as well, but I don't remember what it was.
At 10:30 we meet Erica and Patty and Bruce in the lobby. Erica has some business to attend to today, as her hobby is threatening to become a legitimate business, so Patty is going to whisk us away for Inari Shrine hunting.
First stop Nezu, so off we go onto the Yamanote Line toward Ueno, get off at Nishi-Nippori and take the Chiyoda line to Nezu. Today, I started to get the hang of the transit system, just a bit, since Patty wasn't nearly as confident with the system as Erica. People density on the the trains was high today, but later on we'd find out what that really meant as we went back to the Ikebukuro during Rush Hour.
I'm not sure if I can articulate this properly, but Nezu felt like a stereotypical Asian city, at least the impression I got from watching movies. Multi-story buildings everywhere, lots of people, but it looked kinda second rate. I loved it.
Anyway, the story about the Inari shrine is basically this: A family of kitsune (foxes) gets caught out in a nasty, nasty storm, and the stumble upon the shrine of Inari and the beseech the God to let them stay in his temple to wait out the storm. Inari agrees on the condition that the kitsune guard his shrines.
What I really loved was the juxtaposition of these ancient buildings, or at least ancient looking in some cases, within spitting distance of the modern buildings. It's a contrast that I could explore all day.
The Nezu shrine was like the Senso-ji in Akasuka in the sense that it spawned a festival/commerce in and around the area of the shrine. I should have taken a picture, but one of the stands was selling realistic toy guns. Naturally, I immediately thought of Dan. But, we were off to the next shrine.
From Nezu we continued on the Chiyoda line to Akasaka, to look for our next Inari shrine. However, it's not as easy to find as we thought. Akasaka is the home of TBS and right out of the station they are building a new TBS tower. We wander down the street and see a large, beautiful gateway to a hilltop shrine. Not sure that's it, we decide to have lunch. Donna picks a sushi place and we have our first semi-traditional meal. Its only semi-traditional, since we have to take our shoes off, but the tables have a drop to dangle our feet, instead of being fully traditional and we have to sit on our shins. Again, the picture menus save us, since none of us speak well enough to order. Donna and I each have sushi sets and everybody is served miso soup with prawn heads in them, staring at us with their dead, delicious eyes. ;) Patty doesn't really like sushi, but was game for us, and Donna helped her out by eating the things she didn't want to eat.
After lunch we visited the "Hilltop Shrine of Justice" and Patty hears that the shrine we want to visit is just down the street we came in the opposite direction. So, we go in that direction, and soon realize that it's not the right way. Fortunately there's a map, and after a few minutes we figure out that the description in Patty's guide book, presumes the Akasaka-Mitsuke station on the Gina and Marunouchi lines, not the Chiyoda line. (Meanwhile, I discover the Anna Miller's restaurant in the area, and lament the fact that we didn't eat there.) So, to Kelli and her non-sensible shoes' chagrin we have walk to the other side of the city. On the way, we come across two smaller shrines.
Finally, we arrive at the shrine that Patty wanted to see, and I take lots of pictures, until fatigue begins to set in. Then Donna starts taking pictures.
After about an hour we head back to Ikebukuro and crash for a bit, and Kelli lets her feet recover in our room. The plan is meet Patty, Erica and Bruce for dinner, but Kelli's feet have exploded, so she's not coming with. We set up my laptop to play Kung Fu Hustle for her and we're off for dinner.
The plan is to go to Nakano and visit the original Mandarake there. They're in this mall of sorts, and as they grew, instead of taking up space adjacent to them, they picked places all over the mall, so there are little Mandarake specialty stores throughout the entire mall.
We actually stop to have dinner first at this nice soba/udon place, which was pretty good. We took our time at dinner and unfortunately, that meant that Mandarake was closed when we finished.
Tomorrow the plan is to go to Mandarake in the morning, but after that we're on our own. Which works for me.
I took a lot of pictures, today. 190 photos. Check them out here, here, here and here.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Not sure what's up for tomorrow, but I'm sure it'll be fun. More later.
Day 5: Asakusa/Kappabashi/Inaricho
Today is another beautiful, dreary day in Tokyo. And now it's starting to get tired. I'd like to see the Sun again, it makes my pictures better. But, I'll take an overcast day in Tokyo to an overcast day in Philly, all things being equal.
I still have about $25 in change in my pocket and it's starting to wearing a hole through my jeans, must take care of that today.
We meet the crew again in the lobby at 10:30am and off we go to catch the Yamanote line to Ueno and then the Ginza line to Asakusa. I don't really have a feel for the system yet, as I haven't had to really figure it out on my own yet, which I think hurt me today, when the JR Suica vending machine ran out of cards when I was buying some for Donna and myself. Not only did we have no idea what we were doing, but we were in the way, holding up other commuters. Erica hit the call for assistance button, before I could register what was going on, and we kinda just stood around like stupid apes waiting for help to arrive. Instead of someone coming up to us, a panel on the vending machine wall, opens and we see the head of JR employee who starts speaking rapid fire Japanese at us, wondering what's going on. The very nice obaasan who we were holding up, got it straightened out for us, when I started getting that glazed over look in my eye. Within a few moments the machine was back up and running and we were on our way, but not before we thanked the nice lady profusely. Being a stupid foreigner has it's advantages I suppose, but unlike Blanche Dubois, I'd rather not depend on the kindness of strangers, if I can help it.
So, finally we're off and running, and eventually make our way to Asakusa without much trouble. Once there, again, Erica has only a vague sense of where we're supposed to be heading. Which is fine with me, as getting lost would probably be more rewarding; we'd see things that average tourist never would.
We do find the shrine (the Senso-ji) and along the main road to the shrine (Nakamisedori) There are little shops on either side, selling all kinds of things, though it was mostly touristy kind of knick-knacks. The area surrounding the shrine caters to tourists from everywhere, though, so the shrine seems to have inadvertently become a shopping center. The plan is wander on our own for about an hour and a half and then meet up at one spot.
Erica, Patty, Laura and Erin immediately head for the shrine, Donna, Kelly, Bruce and I go in search of food. We wander down the side streets and find this tiny Ramen shop. And I mean tiny. It was slightly larger than one of those lunch carts downtown. It had a bar and about 7 stools around the bar and that was about it. We sit down, and Bruce deciphers the menu and we order our ramen. Hot, delicious and cheap, the way Ramen was meant to be, all for about 5 bucks a head.
After lunch we continue to wander around the side streets looking at everything and then made our way back to the temple to meet up with everyone.
I'm not sure if there was any significance to yesterday, meaning if it was a holiday or something, but it certainly felt like it. Though, now I wonder if it's just a cultural thing, We saw a lot of Korean and Chinese tourists here, as well as westerners, and it seems that the thing you do when you tour a temple, is to take a lot of pictures and pay homage to kami that reside there. So we did. First we purified ourselves with incense and water, then we entered the temple. We paid homage to the kami with come coins in my pocket, and prayed. We each paid our ¥100 and drew a fortune, Kelli and Bruce drew "Bad Fortune", while I lucked out and drew "Excellent Fortune." :-D Kelli and Bruce tied off their bad fortunes and we were off again.
Eventually, we all meet up and start walking to the Kappbashi, or the Plastic Food District. It's basically like 2nd and Front around Arch and Vine, the restaurant supply district, only much larger. Plus they have these stores that sell the plastic food that restaurants put in their windows to entice customers into their place. They are all very well crafted, and generally kind of expensive. I wasn't really interested in taking pictures of plastic food.
At this point, the chill in the air and all the walking is taking it's toll on our group, so we head back and I discover that I've taken about 90 pictures today. And I have to say the Lithium batteries I bought before we left, are amazing. I put them in the camera on Saturday when we arrived and I haven't changed them yet.
Anyway check out my pictures here and here. I've been playing with the contrast in iPhoto, so these will probably look better than the others.
**** EDITED 4/14/2005 : Added some names and the fortune stories, and fixed some typos. ****
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Today is another beautiful overcast, wet day in Tokyo, and today there are no Earthquakes. I found out that the second tremor we felt yesterday afternoon was actually its own quake and not an aftershock, though it was a small one.
So, we figured on an early start today, as we've been doing for the last 3 days, but we're on a different schedule now that other Yuricon people are here. 10:30 actually, so we had a lot of time to kill this morning.
I started to count the change in my pocket, since it was quite a substantial pile and discovered I had about $30 in change. I'm used to US change where the largest coin you might get is a dollar, and you dump your excess change in a jar at home and take it to the supermarket to get it changed into real money when the jar gets heavy. The Japanese coins start with a single yen (about equal to a penny) and goes to 500 yen (about equal to 5 dollars). So, in order to get rid of some of this change, I've been trying to start paying for little things with coins. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as using US coins, since I have to look at each one to see exactly what it is first before plopping them down on the little tray.
Doing the money count, gets me curious to check on my bank account, and see what I have left to play with. I'm starting to run low on the initial ¥98,000 I took with me, but I'm guessing it'll be either tomorrow or Thursday before I'll have to tap the International ATM in Ikebukuro Station.
Anyway, I notice that my rent check hasn't cleared yet and that throws up a red flag, since I'm pretty sure I dropped it off on Thursday night, before we left. And since withdrawals are always, always applied first and happen immediately, while deposits take days to process, I was sure that there was something wrong. So I contacted my brother through AIM, since his work day was winding down, while my morning was starting, and asked him to look into it. Though, now as I write this, I've checked my account again and the check has cleared. So, now I can now withdraw everything from my account for the rest of the trip, if I so desired, without worrying about the rent check clearing.
We had stocked up on convenience store food from the AM/PM by the hotel, and had ourselves a somewhat decent breakfast. I still don't know what half the stuff is that we eat, but I haven't had anything I dislike yet.
Kelli comes knocking on our door at 10 am and we hang out a bit, before going downstairs to meet the rest of the crew in the lobby. Donna and I dressed up a little bit, since we're going to be heading to the Takarazuka show this afternoon. Donna had asked Erica how she should dress, and was told she could either be the gaijin in the audience, or the well dressed gaijin in the audience. Donna chose the latter. ;)
Now we were in a group with fellow geeks, but really, looking too good for the rest of our company.
We start the tour with a return visit to the anime and manga stores in Ikebukuro, and we don't buy anything, After Mandarake in Shibuya and Animate in Ikebukuro, we want to consume in other types of stores, get a little variety in.
Around noon, we break from the group to head to the Takarazuka Revue. It's four of us, Erica, Bruce, the Donna and me, Patty doesn't go because she apparently has a low tolerance for musical theatre. I, too, don't generally like musical theatre, the only musicals I liked were Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, and I had a musical theatre major as a roommate for a couple years back in college, whose favorite show was Les Mis. And just like my sophomore year roommate who poisoned folk music for me, so it was for musicals.
This, however, was different. Musicals, as everyone is well aware, are very gay, but Takarazuka is very gay in a completely different way. ;) Mainly, all the actors are women. So you have musical theatre performed entirely by women. :-D Erica had described Takarazuka as fabulously cheesy, and that we shouldn't look at each other during the show, because we probably just laugh our heads off and that was a serious, serious faux pas. Takarazuka's audience is primarily middle aged housewives and we're probably going to be the only foreigners and Bruce and I the only men. Takarazuka is extremely popular in Japan, among middle aged married women. The theory is that the otokoyaku ('male roles") present an ideal male image as an escape from their dull and crude husbands. I'm sure if you asked them, though, they'd say anything else but that. But, all the Takarazuka stars, including the musumeyaku ("daughter roles" or female roles) have large devoted fan bases of these women.
So it's off on the Yurakucho subway line and with Erica's vague sense of where the theatre is, we journey forth. The subways, are just like the trains, clean, efficient and on time. We end up buying a pass, since we expect to use this line again. we pay a certain amount on the pass, $10/¥1000, and use the card until the money runs out. Other random observations: If an escalator is two people wide, stand on the left, pass on the right. Go up stairs on the left, down on the right. the Japanese almost universally prefer the cane style umbrellas. Only us foreigners had the automatic, fold out kind. Japanese schoolgirls actually do wear the sailor outfits, but the only color I saw was Navy Blue. Japanese women, no matter their age, tend to be very girly. Which is actually a beauty ideal here. In the states we generally prefer women to be women, even if they do have unrealistic body types, while the Japanese prize youthfulness to an almost obsessive, (read pedophilic) degree. But, that's a rant for another day.
We find the theatre with the help of a nice policeman and a nice random passerby, and we enter the theatre. Sure enough, all I see is middle aged women. Oh wait, there's a man, no he's staff. Look, look, look. Ah, there's one, with his wife, and he looks really excited to be here. He has this "I so don't want to be here" look in his eye. Scanning the crowd again, oh there's another, he's alone, and the ol' gaydar starts pinging.
Donna, Erica and Bruce feel courageous enough to try and snag a program, which is important as it contains the libretto, so we'll have some idea what's going on. They wade into the pack of obaa-sans (old ladies), and return a few minutes later. Donna comments it was like being at a fire sale at Walmart, and Erica said she had to take things out of people's hands if she ever hoped to get anything.
After getting the programs we head for our seats. We were seated in section 2-1, (2nd level, stage left, see this chart.) and while Erica was sure we'd have bad seats, the design of the theatre was that there were no bad seats. We were pretty far from the stage, though, so opera glasses would have been nice. There were several concessions stands outside the theatre proper doors, and I saw several of the obaa-sans eating while waiting for the show to start. I haven't been to any Broadway shows, ever, but it's my impression that you don't eat in the theatre. Dave tells me that it's same here, people do eat in the theatre, but not during the show. Which was exactly on time, at 1:30pm.
I wish we were allowed to take pictures, because the show we were watching, Elizabeth was absolutely fabulous. Erica made it sound like a really campy, unintentionally funny, half assed production, but what we saw was a fabulous, elaborate production that I'm pretty sure would be right at home on the Great White Way. There was a cast of 70, a huge elaborate stage, with parts that raised and lowered, and all the set changes were quick and smooth, the period costumes were mostly accurate, I don't think they used a lot of sequins in the 19th century, they all had really great singing voices, the music wasn't altogether great, but it didn't suck out loud either. It was really quite impressive, and there were often times when I completely forgot that everybody on stage was a woman.
Anyway, we were all so impressed that we had to visit the gift shop afterwards, which was packed to gills with obaasans and I felt like I was 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Donna picked up a picture book and some stickers, and I paid for it, since I have all the money. I'm pretty sure, the impression is that Donna drags me along and makes me pay for stuff, but really, I was the one that wanted to see this show, though I really wasn't feeling any of the merchandise.
I'll probably scan some of these pictures in when I get home, but you really need to see the show to get the full experience. And it really was worth it. Oh, check out the seating chart above once again, right now. OK. Final count 16 men, not including Bruce and myself in the audience.
We head back to the hotel afterwards, and then meet up in the lobby at 6pm for a quick dinner at Italian tomato, for some more Japanese "Italian" food, which was good, and then back to Erica's room to geek out and watch the Live Action Sailor Moon omake and the new Dr. Who episode 3.
Tomorrow we might hit Tokyo Tower, but depending on the weather we might do something else. Since, there's no point in going to Tokyo Tower if you can't see very far. Though, there's always the possibility that we might be whisked away to another dimension, be stomped on by Godzilla, or be at ground zero for any sort of calamity or event that always seems to center around Tokyo Tower. ;)
More tomorrow, but check out the handful of pictures I took today, here.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Again I started the day obnoxiously early: 6am. I had gone to bed around midnight, woke up at 2am, fell back asleep and then I was up again at 6am, this time for good. I'm guessing I won't get the hang of things until next Wednesday, when it's time to leave.
Anyway, we experienced our first earthquake this morning around 7:30am. Donna and I were just laying in bed, when the room started swaying back and forth. At first Donna thought it might be the wind blowing, but even though we're on the 22nd floor, I didn't think the wind could knock around a building like this unless it was at least hurricane strength. We weren't quite sure what to do at that point, we weren't being knocked around violently, just the room was swaying back and forth, like we were on a boat, only sped up quite a bit. Halfway through the quake, which lasted about 5 -7 minute, I got up and went to the window. On the street below I saw people walking and cars driving as if there was nothing going on, so we figured it wasn't that big a deal. The hotel soon had a message broadcasting in the hall touting the earthquake resistant design of the hotel and that the building suffered no damage.
The earthquake hit outside the city, about 50 miles, according to this, and registered 6.1 on the Richter scale. Erica estimated that we got a 3 here in Ikebukuro. Clearly, nothing to get all worked up over.
****UPDATE: As I finished this paragraph, we just felt what I'm guessing was an aftershock. A quick little thing, about 30 seconds.****
Since we were all up after the earthquake, we went out for breakfast. Today is rainy and overcast, and we're expecting more rain tomorrow. The Japanese sense of style carries over here too, we saw a lot of the clear plastic umbrellas and lots of colorful and patterned ones, not a whole lot of black umbrellas. When you enter a store on a rainy day, you're expected to either leave your umbrella in the umbrella stand outside the store, or use the "umbrella condoms" as Donna coined them. The bigger stores, since they expect more foot traffic, all have these little machines where you stick your umbrella in and puts a plastic bag around your wet umbrella so it doesn't drip in the store.
We ate breakfast at Cafe Pronto down the street from our hotel. Donna and I had this eggs on toast deal and a chocolate filled pastry, both of which were delicious. The 7 of us, Janice, Gideon, Lorelei, Erica, Patty, Donna and I all sat at the front of the store by the entrance. Most people don't pay us any mind, even when we're being loud, and as Americans we are generally loud, because nobody else is talking at all, but we saw two older Japanese businessmen come to the front door of the cafe, see us there and then walk away. Erica tells us its usually the older generations that have the most problems with foreigners.
After breakfast we all decide to go wander the streets of Ikebukuro, and we end up in what Gideon tells us used to be the red light district, and generally we got the sense that we weren't supposed to be there. There are a lot of Pachinko parlors in this section of town, at least one every 50 yards or so. And we see plenty of signs of the area's past, mostly soaplands. There was one Pachinko parlor we passed that had a line forming outside for when it opened.
Erica had some business to attend to in setting up for the Yuri Revolution event this Saturday, so we split up at this point.
Donna was in the mood for shopping so Janice and Gideon suggested Shibuya and the Mandarake (WARNING: Some pages on this site may not be work safe.) store there. So, off on our first trip using Tokyo's public transit system. As most of you know, Septa sucks, but what you don't know is how much it really sucks compared to a first rate mass transit system. Everything runs on time, the trains are spotless and high tech -- above every door are two LCD screens giving you information about the system and other information like weather forecasts or commercials, and best of all, there's no urine smell.
Tokyo's transit system is at least two orders of magnitude more complex than Philadelphia's, but you can get anywhere by using either the trains, or the subways. and I mean anywhere, All the neighborhoods have a train station on one of the gazillion lines in the city and if you know where to transfer, you can get anywhere, unlike Philadelphia which only serves some places and isn't 24 hour, and is more expensive.
Ikebukuro is on the Yamanote line which is the largest and most heavily trafficked line in the city, since most of the popular areas, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, etc are all on this line. Our waiting time for a train, non-rush hour, was under 5 minutes.
The trains weren't crowded at all, so we didn't encounter any gropers. Not that I have to worry about it at all, but the girls were all concerned about it, naturally.
Outside of Shibuya station is that famous intersection with the giant TV screesns; everytime you see a shot of Tokyo, if it isn't Tokyo Tower, it's usually Shibuya and this corner with the giant screen TVs. Check out my pictures to see what I'm talking about.
Remember how I said it was easy to get lost? We got a bit turned around in Shibuya looking for the Mandarake store, but we didn't really mind, there was just so much going on and so much to see that we were just entertained trying to soak it all in.
We eventually made it Mandarake just in time for it open for us, and we spent about an hour or so in there shopping, but honestly it felt like six. This place was in the 2nd basement floor, and took up the entire floor, and it was pretty large. I'm guessing just a bit smaller than Springboard in size, and it was chock full of anime and manga goodness.
Shopping for stuff is weird, as I mentioned before, I have a hard time reading titles, and I tend to use the "I'll know what I want when I see it" method of shopping. Plus, most of the manga and doujinshi are sealed in plastic so you can't thumb through stuff to see if you really want it. So, it becomes a guessing game, and frankly that makes me less inclined to buy something, especially if it's expensive.
After Mandarake, we head back to the hotel, mainly because Lorelei is starting to get a bit cranky and hungry. Which suits me fine as I'm also a bit tired and hungry. Instead of going to a restaurant, we go to Tobu's food court in the 2nd basement of the Tobu department store at Ikebukuro station. We pick up some prepackaged food, which I'm not sure what it is or what was in it, but it all looked very tasty, and headed back to our room.
Right now Donna and Kelli are sacked out on the bed, Donna because she's Donna and Kelli because she only just arrived yesterday afternoon.
More to come later.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Mahou Sentai Magiranger is a sentai or team show. If you ever watched Voltron or G-Force as a kid or recently any of Power Ranger incarnations, you've watched a sentai show. Each team member is a primary color -- Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Pink (OK so pink really isn't a primary color, but you need to have at least one girl on the show) and they usually get mechs which will almost invariably combine to form a large robot. Not to be geeky or anything, but most of the Power Ranger incarnations use footage from several different sentai shows, with footage of American actors in place of the Japanese ones.
Kamen Rider or Masked Rider (Kamen literally means mask) would be familiar to anyone who ever saw Ultraman as a kid. Regular guy transforms into superhero when trouble is afoot. Kamen Rider doesn't fight giant monsters like Ultraman did, but the result is the same. Though Kamen Rider appears to have a very complicated and ongoing plot with many characters, it was hard to follow really. Both of these shows were aimed for young boys as evidenced by the commercials we saw attached to them, and when Super Hero hour was over, on came PreCure for the girls, anime, of course. PreCure is a magical girl show, (think Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura) about two junior high girls who transform into magical girls to fight bad guys who create evil living appliances. I couldn't make this up if I tried.
After these show came the variety shows, which were basically the talent talking about something for a while then breaking into song. These really are the quintessence of Japanese TV, earnest yet fabulously cheesy. I think we could probably stay in all day and watch Japanese TV and be thoroughly entertained.
I was watching this when Erica called and we made plans for breakfast and walking around Ikebukuro. So 20 minutes later we met up in the lobby with Janice, Gideon and their baby girl Lorelei and were out the door and walking around the area of the hotel.
Check out the photos here.
It was really a splendid day, bright, sunny and temperature into the 70s I think, with a stiff breeze that really picked up later in the day.
I really think I need to take more pictures, because I think I should really share what I'm seeing here, but Donna told me to lay off since I started to seriously lag behind the group.
Anyway, Ikebukuro is a shopping mecca, just one of several in Tokyo. And while it wasn't crowded when we started our little journey, by 3pm it was pretty packed. One of the things you notice about the city and shopping is that it's kinda 3 dimensional. In the US, most stores usually only occupy the first floor of a building. Here it's rare to see a building that isn't a least 4 stories, and busy shops on multiple floors. If you only look at the ground floor, you'll end up missing a lot. Some of the bigger stores, like department stores and the like usually end up occupying several stories. And every large department store has a food market in the basement. We saw line of people waiting for the Seibu market to open at 11am while we traveling through the Ikebukuro train station.
Ikebukuro train station was pretty packed, if you've ever wandered around Suburban Station in Philly, it was kinda like that only bigger, much, much cleaner, and really colorful. That's another thing you notice about Tokyo, it's really colorful.
We ended up at this little cafe, I forget exactly where, and have breakfast. And looking at the menu was the first time today I felt like an illiterate brute. I mean, thank god it had pictures on the menu, otherwise I probably would have stared at it for hours trying to figure out what was on it. As it was we just pointed to what we wanted and the staff took care of the rest.
Another thing to note about shopping in Japan, at every place we visited someone always said the equivalent of "welcome" and when we purchased anything they always thanked us, and always said goodbye when we left. Again, this was at every store, Ev would love it. ;) Other retail quirks: At the registers there is usually a little dish by the clerk in which you are supposed to put your money, the clerk will then hand you your change and your receipt with both hands and usually say "Thank you very much for shopping with us" or something to that extent. If you move from one floor to another you are expected to pay for the stuff you picked up on that floor on that floor, other floors won't ring up items you picked up on a different floor.
After a light breakfast and a heavy geek conversation, (Stephen Chow movies and Dr. Who) we headed to a part of Ikebukuro with 3 anime stores for our first, of many, shopping sprees I expect. It was kinda overwhelming and difficult actually, again I felt a little frustrated by being nearly completely illiterate in Japanese. The Animate store in particular burned me out, as it was 8 floors of anime goodness and I couldn't hang. Though I expect it was the lack of sleep that was doing me in.
Around 1 pm I was feeling exhauste, and while Patty was shopping for Yugi-oh yaoi doujinshi, Donna and I waited outside soaking in the sun and people watched. We could have probably done that all day.
We ran into Janice, Gideon and Lorelei on the way back to the hotel and went with them to Shakey's which is apparently a West Coast pizza chain, and we followed them there for lunch with Japanese "American" pizza. Some Japanese pizza toppings: corn, mayonaise, potatoes and seafood. And of course, the all American dessert pizza, with custard and chocolate. Other ubiquitous American chains we saw: Wendy's, McDonald's, and Starbucks.
As I mentioned earlier, around this time the streets were packed, midday Manhattan packed, but a big difference is that I could see over most of the crowd.;) We headed back to the hotel after Shakey's as I was beat, and I crashed hard, I managed to nap for about 2 hours, before waking up and starting to write this. We had intended to go with Erica to Shinjuku to meet Kelli who was getting in today, but I was really in no shape to do so. When we got back to the hotel, I was having trouble breathing, so took some meds and had that nap. I felt much better after waking up.
Other random observations in no particular order: It's ridiculously easy to pick out foreigners. Janice and Gideon's daughter Lorelei attracts the most attention out of any of us, usually elicting a delighted cry of "kawaii" from girls or "She looks like a little doll." Comparatively, nobody really gave us a second look, which is not surprising since I had heard that most Tokyoites are used to seeing foreigners. Cars can be ridiculously tiny here. Bikes are everywhere, and nobody locks them up when the park them. Everybody here has a sense of style, I don't think we saw anyone who looked bummy or slovenly. No homeless people or panhandlers and no pigeons. No street numbers or any sense of addressing like we're used to either, it would be pretty easy to get lost, and no one is quite sure how mail gets delivered here.
All right, it's quarter to 9, time to meet up with Janice, Gideon and Lorelei and do something about dinner. More later.
***Update*** Janice and Gideon are following Lorelei's sleep patterns and stayed in. We wandered down to second floor and had dinner at the Italian restaurant there. Very upscale, but not as expensive as you would think. Very delicious. Donna says the mussels were better than Monk's. Another observation to note here: food portions are small compared to back home.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
It's 8:30 am and I'm at Gate D11 for United Flight 883 to Chicago, where we'll be catching our connecting flight to Tokyo. There is a free wireless network provided by Cingular, but for some reason I don't bother figuring out, it won't give me a DHCP lease, thus, no web surfing. Oh, the indignities. (Update, I figured out what it was later, when I had trouble connecting to the Crowne Metropolitan's free wired network. I had set a location to be 100baseT full duplex and it didn't like it, setting it to auto made it happier.)
I'm actually surprised we're here and through all the stuff this quickly. I was sure that I'd be singled out for the "extra" security procedures, since, as Donna likes to say, I'm the "guilty color."
I'm still kinda nervous that something will prevent us from taking this trip, but so far so good. Despite the server meltdown at TJU that Donna warned them would happen if they didn't do something to fix it, I think we're as ready for this trip as we can be. Donna's sitting next to me, reading The Rough Guide To Tokyo boning up on how not to offend an entire city of people. ;)
I've gotten about 6 hours of sleep the last two nights, I might've gotten more the night before, but they called Donna at 5 am because her deathly ill server flatlined for a bit. She ended up going to work early and I never got back to sleep. Not that I needed a lot of sleep yesterday, as I was basically just killing time at work.
They're going to start boarding in a few minutes, so I'll continue this later.
It's now 9:37 pm Saturday Night in Ikebukuro. We touched down in Japan around 2:30pm. The flight was really long, duh, and I did manage to doze off for a bit here and there, but nothing really sustained. There was no power plug on the 747 in coach so, my laptop sat in my bag the entire trip. I thought about breaking out my comic pages to work on them, but that would have been really impractical, as I had an aisle seat, and it was kinda cramped. Next trip, I save up the extra to fly business class at least. Neither of us were really comfortable in those seats, though they did feed us and water us a lot. With no laptop to entertain us, we were stuck with the in-flight entertainment, two good shows from the Discovery Channel about the Swedish Ice Hotel and one about the last Egyptian Warrior Pharoah, whose name escapes me now. We also saw Bridget Jones 2: Electric Boogaloo, the Incredibles, and Ocean's 12. Well, OK, they showed those movies, but I really wasn't paying that close attention to them.
I still can't really believe I'm here. I mean I have the stamped passport and everything is bizarrely different, yet still familiar, but I still find it hard to believe that we could actually afford a trip like this, and yet here we are.
Customs was easy, like everything else Japanese, it was efficient, even though the line was huge for incoming flights. The same line in the States probably would have taken 2 to 3 times the 30 minutes to get through it.
There was a brief scare with our luggage, when we couldn't find it right away. Turns out that they disgorged the luggage from our flight while we were in line, (efficiency again, oh, and I noticed that the guy operating the luggage belt would pause it now and again to let the new luggage coming out come down without hitting any other bags. That and they had a woman whose job was to make sure the luggage was clearly arranged on the conveyor. ) and were holding it at the luggage desk that I've never needed to be at before. (Oh, and to compound things I thought we were still Flight 883, when actually we changed flights at O'Hare earlier and were now Flight 881. Eh, lack of sleep will do that.) They had all three bags on a cart for us, and we thanked them and rolled that to the "Exit" lobby.
From there our next hurdle was getting to the hotel. We had three choices, taxi, shuttle bus or rail. This is where our friend's advice came into play, the taxi would have probably cost us about $300 for the trip, supposedly, and while the rail was infinitely cheaper, it meant lugging our luggage around, and then trying to navigate through the streets of a city we've never been to before. The shuttle bus, ended up costing us $60 for the both of us, and we didn't mind the longer drive, since they'd drop us off at the hotel's doorstep. They loaded and unloaded our luggage for us, and we sat at the back of the shuttle, because we're cool, and just soaked in the scenery.
This is when I finally broke out our digital camera and started to take shots out of the window. The ride to the hotel is also when it really began to sink in that we had just flown half way around the world to a place we've only ever seen on TV. The area around Narita was more rural than suburban, and the development starts to pick up the closer we got to Tokyo.
The pictures tell it better than I could in words about how different, yet similar things are. But, even the pictures can't really convey the awe I felt as we got in Tokyo. The big thing is how crowded everything is, the two lane highway runs right through the city, and there are apartment buildings and regular buildings not far from the highway. And the way the highways are suspended and crisscross each other, is not something I managed to capture in the photos. There was large sections of crisscrossing highway that were over water, supported only by the concrete pillars anchored to the bottom of the river, I guess. By the time we got to downtown Tokyo, the crowd had thinned out quite a bit, but it was kinda like being in downtown Manhattan, people density wise, only everybody was Japanese.
We finally arrived at the hotel around 5:30 ish and as luck would have it Patty was wandering outside, as we pulled up. The Crowne Metropolitan is a pretty upscale hotel, as we discovered, and that meant full service. In the US, if you wanted to handle your own luggage, they'd pretty much let you. Here, they politely insisted. So, several helpful hotel employees directed us to the registration desk, taking all our of luggage, including my laptop bag, and waited while we registered. Once registered the bell captain took us up to our room, and unloaded our luggage for us. Meanwhile, as the staff is herding us along, we were talking with Erica and Patty, doing a bit of catch up, and bit of planning for the night.
Two things to note here, most of the Japanese staff people we encountered had really good English skills, and the ones that didn't had enough sense to point us the direction we wanted to go. I have yet to speak a single word of Japanese, but that may be for the best. Second, tipping is considered an offense here. It's like saying, "I think you suck, so here's some money to help you get better." Which is a bit weird, since I'm generally generous with tips, so I felt a bit awkward just saying "Thank you very much" when people are doing all these things for me.
We reserved a "King Bedded Deluxe Smoking Room" and except for the King bed it's about the same size room as a standard back in the states. But fortunately for me, the Internet Access is complimentary. Apparently if the day is clear enough we should be able to see Mt. Fuji from our window, which would only compliment an already spectacular view.
Donna turned on the TV and there was anime on. Go figure. Specifically, the actual TV broadcast of Gundam Seed Destiny which I've been watching through BT, both the raw and fansubbed versions. Though now I get to see the commercials that get cut out of the downloads. Japanese commercials are wonderfully and fabulously over the top and cheesy. I'm pretty sure that if our commercials were like this, less people would TiVo past them. We also saw most of the premier of Tsubasa Chronicle,which looks to be just OK, but that may have been because I was distracted, by BEING IN FUCKING JAPAN!!
We spent the rest of the evening chilling in Erica and Patty's room, with Sparkle and Gideon, telling stories watching the weirdness that is Japanese TV and making each other laugh with our stories and antics. We did go out and hit the 7-11 equivalent called AM-PM, (ironically, there's an actual 7-11 in the opposite direction) and picked up coffee in a can for me, chilled, unfortunately, to keep me going until this "late" hour, and lots of food stuffs that we weren't really sure what they were, but ended up being tasty. Emi showed up around 9pm to drag Erica away for a special Yuri-Revolution related event, and we retired to our rooms.
It's 11:15 pm right now and I'm pretty much done. Judging by the little time we spent with our friends, here, this trip is going to be an exhausting, fabulous time. I'm off to bed now, more, hopefully, tomorrow.