Tokyo - Land of the Rising Sun
|Elmo does Tokyo!|
TOKYO - GODZILLA'S HOMETOWN
|Japanese Terry Wogan??|
July is HOT in Tokyo, not to mention also the rainy season, so it was no surprise to learn that our visit coincided with the arrival of a typhoon (an Irish mammy might argue that a typhoon is natures way of tumble drying the clothes on your line, bring it on!).
Amid the high winds and lashing rain we departed from the airport on a bus. There was one tip friends repeatedly told us of Tokyo, “don’t get a taxi from the airport”. For some reason the taxi takes the same time as the bus (90 mins) but cost 10 times the price! Downside, the bus doesn’t drop you at your hotel. The ignominy of walking 5 mins in the rain, how dare they ;)
Tired, wet and hungry, we lobbed our bags into our hotel room and hit the streets of Tokyo, now soaked in darkness, to find some food. It wasn’t dark for long, a turn here, cross the road there, down the right, round the corner, and the 24 hour city emerges, people strolling along, revellers and randomers. We found a nice spot to eat and shuffled in.
Much to my delight all the stereotypes were there like players on a stage. To my left a group of Japanese business men were drinking hard and sporting ‘manbags’, to my right a gaggle of young women on a girls night out intermittently burst into giggles which were immediately hidden behind well manicured nails. Beside me a family ordered family style, and behind them an awkward date unfolded in silence, flushed teenage faces hidden behind very large mobile phones.
|As good as it looks|
When it comes to paying in Japan it’s not a bad idea to have some cash with you, a surprising number of places either don’t take foreign cards or are cash only.
|the drama of it all|
Despite the heat, or in fact because of it, women everywhere were shading themselves with parasols. Even top department stores sold skin whitening creams. Unlike a lot of the Western world a tan in Japan isn’t in fashion, it seems the whiter you are the more delicate and refined you supposedly appear (clearly they hadn’t been to Ireland!).
The Imperial palace technically marks the centre of Tokyo. It’s worth a stroll around and gives you a chance to get your bearings in peaceful surrounds. It’s close to the business district which is like any financial hub anywhere. If you’re in the area, check out, Kitte, it’s a new shopping complex in the old postmaster building in the Marunouchi district. Kooky shopping for the Japanese middle class. I picked up some Japanese jelly shaped like a trout and some salmon crackers,beats a sambo from O’Briens!
The main shopping area is the Ginza district with departments stores etc, if you’re not a shopper I’d give it a miss.
|the Olympian takes to the rings|
|Putting the 'toil' in toilet|
|Temple of Doom|
One particularly rainy day I spent the morning ensconsed in our hotel staring slack jawed at Japanese TV game shows. They are very physical, very colourful and as with everything in Tokyo, not quite of this planet!
D’ye know, if I wasn’t Irish, I think I’d like to be Japanese. They are such a wonderful people, you will not find people more sincere, thoughtful, caring, respectful, happy and downright nice as these folks. The english words ‘happy’ and ‘thank you’ appear a lot on nicknacks, clothes, etc, these sentiments sum up the country perfectly.
I was very lucky to have a Japanese friend who lived in Tokyo. It had been 15 years since we met. We said we’d meet each other at Shinjuku station. The station makes Grand Central look like a bus stop in Skibbereen. I was panicked I wouldn’t be able to pick her out of the crowd, then I remembered I had a big Irish head on me, something told me she’d be juuuust about able to single me out ;) Hugs and squeals later we all boarded the train to Rumi’s home in Machida city (a suburb of Tokyo).
|skimmed milk, no sugar, please|
There was a funny moment when a family member bowed at me, in turn I bowed back, then she bowed and tapped her head, in turn I bowed and tapped my head, she repeated, slightly starting to laugh, I thought maybe she was saying my bow needed to be lower so I kept bowing lower and lower all the time tapping my head. 5 minutes later I’m like a jack in the box doing sun salutes when Rumi points out they are saying to mind my head as I leave through the door! Mortification.
The Japanese do lots and lots of bowing which I was impressed with, manners cost you nothing and get you everywhere. I mightn’t come from a culture of bowing but Irish people are experts at the short nod, which can mean everything from howaya, thanks a mill, good luck, I'm off, you’re off, can I get the bill, can you get the bill, another round and so on. Bows, nods, we’re all on the same page (well, usually, see previous paragraph, still mortified!).
On a high from a fantastic day spent with Rumi (her little twins are precious) we came back to our hotel only to be rudely woken up by an earthquake. I ran to the hotel lobby, rollers in my hair, Nora Batty slippers on, fag in one hand, hob-nob biscuit in the other, to find out where the evacuation point was (I’m kidding about my appearance but I did barrel down to the night concierge to find out what the hell was that). With a bemused look on his face the concierge did some googling and told me it was only a 3.5 earthquake, nothing to even comment on!). Shaken not stirred I returned to sleep.
|wedding in Meiji Jingu|
|Ready, Steady, Go|
We met dom's brother in law’s sister in law twice removed third cousin half sisters aunt for lunch in Tokyo. She lives and works in Tokyo so it was really interesting to hear about her life there. Dom asked intellectual questions about her thoughts on the move of Japanese politics to the right and the current policy of building up the armed forces. I had my own important hard hitting Q's...why doesn't anyone wear sun glasses? What's the deal with the face masks? (avoid pollution and also people don't want to get sick from contagious colds and miss work. I noticed people don't cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze so I'm down with the mask wearing).
She was a delight and kindly brought us for a traditional lunch where we sat on the floor. Róisín was delighted that we had finally succumbed to her 3 month old logic of why stand when you can sit down, why sit down when you can lie down (she might be on to something!). Like Singapore she was a big hit in Japan. We didn’t see many other blue eyed, fair haired babies so she was quite the exotic specimen.
We had to be a little bit more mindful of Róisín as smoking is quite prolific in Japan. A jarring “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment struck when a chap beside us in a restaurant lit up a cigarette. I was physically shocked, followed by revulsion, fury and contempt (all micro expressions lasting 5 seconds) within minutes we were out the door with mini-me and her tiny lungs tucked under her Dad’s arm. Nobody puts baby in the (smoking) corner ;)
For a more relaxing experience head to the Park Hyatt hotel, if you’ve watched Lost in Translation (even if you haven’t) you have to go to the hotel for a drink. The views are spectacular, you expect Godzilla to come bounding across the building tops at any minute.
Pricey drinks in flash hotels aside, you don’t actually have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Tokyo…
One of the top recommended sights is the famous Tsukiji fish market. I couldn’t identify most of the slippery googly-eyed articles but I was assured they are very fresh and tasty.
|who takes the first bite|
If you want a cheap and cheerful curry in a an unusual setting, go to The Curry Lab in the Toyko Tower (Tokyo’s answer to the Eiffel Tower). The amount of ‘Hello Kitty’ paraphernalia on sale in the tower is alarming!
Another spot worth a visit is Electric town, Akihabara, after World War II it became a black market for radio parts and ever since has been the go to place for gadgets. It was the Japan I'd seen on TV, lots of electronics everywhere, tons of arcades with kids playing futuristic games, reams of bookstores selling anime manga comics, explosions of neon, once again video screens everywhere talking to you. Go, to be overwhelmed and over loaded.
Tokyo is one extreme of Japan, having read Memories of a Geisha I was very keen to visit a more traditional setting. We jumped on the bullet train to Kyoto...
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