I just got back from a week in Tokyo. Mostly work, but we had a couple of days to wander around, see a few sights and take a few pictures.
Tokyo is an amazing place. At once it is so remarkably similar to any big city in America and yet so completely different. Many of the stores are the same, the electronics goods sold in the impossibly large and bustling Akihabara neighborhood are the exact same ones I can get at home for more or less (usually more) the same price. Many of the signs have English on them as well so it is reasonably easy to get around the city either on foot or using the trains.
Then the differences jump out and smack me on the head. We sit down to lunch at a restaurant with no English menu and play "Let's guess the entree". The cars come at us from the wrong direction and we're expected to walk on the sidewalk on the left side, not the right. Walking down the halls of the hotel, the cleaning staff bows to me and says something. What is the right thing to do in response? Do I bow too? Am I supposed to say something in response? There are more vending machines in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world. They are everywhere and sell just about anything you can imagine. While we’re on the topic, what the hell is in Pocari Sweat – besides several ounces of yucky?
The city is immaculately clean, which is even more amazing given that there are no garbage cans anywhere to throw anything away. I imagine that the locals arrive home each night and immediately empty their pockets of the garbage they have accumulated that day. I know I do. Someone told me that they were all removed after the Sarin gas attacks in 1995 but since those all happened on the trains and not in garbage cans, I am dubious.
The most amazing part is the absolute vastness of the city. Not too surprising given that it has over 12 million citizens, but it seems to run smoothly even given this heavy load. The subway network is huge but well designed and assuming you can get past the occasional language barriers (in some stations, the maps are all Japanese) it is easy to get around the city pretty quickly. We had dinner on the 52nd floor of a building across the street from ours and in every direction, as far as we can see, is more city. Buildings and lights and cars and streets. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building right outside my hotel window is so big it could easily hold the entire population of several New England towns. It is also a very impressive complex and very cool to photograph at night.
We visited the Shinjuku-gyoen garden which has some gorgeous areas. Calm and serene but with huge buildings often towering in the distance over the trees (see?). It was a lot like Central Park in that way. There is a green house in the park which was a great place to take pictures of flowers. This would have been a good time to have my macro lens, if I owned one.
The food was wonderful. We’ve had a variety of Japanese cuisine, including teppanyaki, sushi and tempura. Phil wanted to go to a roboyaki restaurant but since I was reasonably convinced that roboyaki was just teriyaki made by robots, we chose sushi instead. The highlight has been a place called Gonpachi in Roppongi. Gonpachi is said to have inspired the restaurant set in Kill Bill. The sushi and Kobe beef are outstanding, as is the sake. Even though Josh didn’t get our waitresses phone number (long story) we went back a second time just to savor the beef. Yum!
So now I am nearly finshed with my 41 hour Friday - flying back across the International Date Line is always interesting. Some pictures are posted, more are on their way.
There are some pictures at the link below.