Tokyo Reflections Part II

5/22/08

 It has been a tiring couple of weeks since I returned from Tokyo, so I’ve been neglectful of this story.  So let’s continue, shall we?

 

        Dan, Adam and I continued to wander the streets of Shibuya for an hour or so, before we left for our last destination of the night; the Government Building.  The south tower is always open late for a breathtaking view of the city.  The express elevator took us to the 48th floor.  From this vantage, the true size of Tokyo hits you.  The city never seems to end.  You think that that cluster of skyscrapers is on the outskirts of the city, but if you squint your eyes, you can see another cluster behind it.   Huge, neon signs lit up the cityscape in every direction.  Down below us, Shinjuku was the brightest of it all, adorned in bright orange, red and yellow signage.  Our curiosity satisfied, we went back to the hostel.  I tried to stay awake for a while, but the fatigue of the day was just too great.  I fell into a deep sleep the second my head hit the pillow.

       The next morning, I could hear rain spattering on the open window.   I was happy for the crummy weather, because it meant that I could just take it easy.  Downstairs in the kitchenette, Micheal came up to me and asked if I had felt the earthquake during the night.  We were both shocked that I hadn’t felt a thing.  At first, he thought it was Dan getting into the bunk above him, but when he opened his eyes, he could see the beds swaying in the faint moonlight.  After experiencing the Seattle earthquake in 2001, I was glad that I slept through it.  The news was saying it was a 6.8 magnitude quake, which I guess by Tokyo standards is pretty benign. 

      Later in the morning, Michael introduced me to Valeria, a beautiful Swiss woman, who was in Tokyo working for Ikea.  He convinced us to go the the Toto Super Space, which showcased all the wonderful robo-toilets, as I like to call them.  So back to the government building I went.  The Toto Super Space was on the 27th floor of another building in the same complex.  When we stepped off the elevator, we were presented with a great daytime view of Shinjuku, so we stopped to take some pictures.  Upon entering the Toto Super Space, Michael began to get giddy like a schoolboy.  He approached the first toilet he saw and when he got close enough, the seat opened automatically.  A broad smile spread across his face.  Valeria just shook her head.  Needless to say, these toilets were amazing!  Some were setup, so you could see how the little wash-let wands worked.  Others had wireless controlswith radio and MP3 capability built-in.  Michael and I were very impressed with the place, though the price of these royal, porcelain thrones were too rich for our blood.  

      Back down in Shinjuku, we stopped by a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.  The place could only hold about 8 people, but that was allowing for those of Japanese stature.  Micheal towered over most people at 6’4″, while I’m a bit on the wide side.  The three us took over one side of the counter.  Valeria was not a sushi fan, but we had her try some tuna and she was surprised by its delicate, clean flavor.   We had our fill and separated.  Michael and I wandered Shinjuku for some time and ducked into the red-light district for a spell.  Don’t worry, nothing happened, you perverts!  In fact, the red-light district is pretty tame compared to those in Europe, and besides, they don’t let many foreigners into these establishments.   The sky was threatening more rain, so we made our way back to the hostel and relaxed.  That evening, a large group of us went out to eat at a restaurant, where your cook your own food, (a style called, okonomiyaki)  We had these savory pancakes consistingof different meat and vegetable combinations.  You stir it up and pour the mixture on a griddle that’s inlaid into the table.  Eleven of us were sitting at three different tables, drinking beer and wine and enjoying many different plates.  We figured the owner secretly hated us, because we showed up with little warning, but we made it up to them by ordering about half the menu!   After dinner, most of us went back to ShidDaxfor another night of karaoke.  Clay, the Texan, had been hiding a talent for singing and impressed all of us with his rendition of “Desperdo”.   Emma, a British woman who had arrived a couple of days earlier, sang “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen  Stephanie.  My ego was soothed again as I created another half dozen karaoke fans that night. 

     Friday morning.  Dan and Adam were to be leaving this day.  Micheal had left in the morning for China.  Lonelinesshad crept back upon me.  I decided it was time to get out of the city, so I went to Kamakura, home to the Daibutsu, a giant copper Buddha that was built in the late 1200’s, and a multitude of temples that dot the mountain side.  It was pleasant to see life in a smaller town, though it felt more crowed that some areas of Tokyo.  

      The Daibutsu has sat out in the open air, surrounded by a breathtakingly beautiful forest, since a tsunami washed away the temple around 1495.  Now green from the weather, he sits with his legs crossed, hands folded on his lap, his eyes, half slits, are looking down in deep repose.   The remnants of the temple that once housed this giant were surrounded by various trees, which were populatedwith the most fearless squirrels I have ever met.  I had bought some shrimp crackers at the nearby souvenir store and stopped to take a seat and eat.  In front of me, pigeons began to congregate like street people at church soup kitchen.   From behind me, I could hear the tic-tic-tic of tiny paws running along the ceramic tile roof of the temple building.  I looked back and saw three squirrels dashing towards a tree to my left.  They leaped onto the branches in quick succession, and before I could react,  they had flanked me.   Their black eyes stared at me unflinchingly and their little snouts wiggled furiously, the scent of artificial shrimp simply too much for them to ignore.   When I tried to move, they followed.   I didn’t give in though, as cute as they were.  I left the Japanese squirrels after a few minutes and went back to the train station.  The ride back to the hostel felt very long and I found myself dozing off, my chin tucked into my chest, just like all the other commuters I had seen during my trip.   i didn’t think it would be comfortable, but I was wrong.

       Saturday.  Rainy and cold.  I borrowed a fleece from Walter, a Dutchman who I had met briefly the previous day.  His girlfriend, Chantal was staying at the hostel for a few days in between medical classes.  My day was spent relaxing and taking a quick trip back to Akihabara to do some shopping.  In the evening, Clay and Joost, another Dutchman I had met, were worried about accomodations for the next night, because the hostel was full.  Hiro showed us where a capsule hotel was, so Clay, Joost, Emma and I went out for some drinks and then went to the hotel.  The desk person was kind enough to let us go to the empty 7th floor to check out the space.   In one small hallway, there were 20 capsules.  I have to admit, they were pretty nice.  We got a great shot of the four of us crammed into one capsule.  I’m wating for Emma to post it on her Facebook.  The rain came back later in the night, so a few of us sat around the common room and talked.  My Spanish roommates were up, so I talked with them for awhile.  All six of them were from Madrid and 3 of them were cops.  Man, they were a riot.  Miguel was fascinated by my CPAP machine and asked if I would be in a  group photo with my mask on.  I’m waiting for that one to come back to haunt me on the Internet.  Alberto and Sophie are the only others I remember right now, but I should be getting an email soon with everyone’s name.  (No matter how hard I try, names seem to escape me so quickly!)  Sleep came quickly that night.

     Sunday.  My last full day in Tokyo.  I had a very active morning.  Valeria and I walked to the Sumo stadium to try to get tickets.  It was rainy and cold again, but I was still borrowing Walter’s fleece.  We arrived around 8:30am to see a significant line.  Discouraged, we turned back.  Thirty minutes later, Clay, Joost and Walter walked in to the common area, tickets in hand.  They claimed they saw no line, so Valeria and I set out again.  We got our tickets and then made our way to a Starbucks for a real cup of coffee, which is a sad statement in my mind.   There was nothing “foreign” about this Starbucks, expect for the Japanese on the menu.   I felt like I was back in Seattle watching a crystal clear broadcast of everyday Tokyo on a giant window shape TV.   

      In the afternoon, Emma, Joost, Clay, Walter, Chantal and I went to Shibuya to see what it was like on a non-holiday Sunday.  Holy geez, that place was packed!  What I had witnessed on Wenesday was dwarfed by Sunday’s turnout.  We mustered up and dove into the crowd.  Simple walking was akin to manuvering in a sold out stadium concert.   A few minutes in this sea of people and we decided it was time to eat, so we ducked into a noodle shop and took a break from the crowds.  Afterwards, we slowly made our way to Harajuku and Yoyogi Park.  Once at the park, we walked straight into a Thai culture festival that seemed to occupy half the park.  The crowd was so thick it took us an hour to get through.   Once on the other side, we were on a wide sidewalk populated by different local rock bands, tuning up for an afternoon gig.  Very cool stuff.  At the entrance to the park, we saw the Japanese rockabillies, who I’ve heard about for years.  The men are in leather, head to toe, their hair done up in a greasy pompadour.  There were only a couple of women in the group, one of which was wearing a poodle skirt.  They put on a loosely choreographed dance to music blaring out of a boom-box.  It’s strange if you think about it too much, but it was entertaining to say the least.  The park itself was beautiful, spacious and strangely quiet considering the traffic and congestion on its outskirts.  We walked a long loop through the trees and came back to the Rockabillies.  We just had to watch them dance one more time. 

    Harajukuis small to begin with, so when EVERYONE wants to come shop there, it’s an absolute crush!  We soon found that shopping was pointless, because you couldn’t even get into half the places, they were so packed with people.  Time was not on our side, because we had tickets to the Sumo matches in the late afternoon.  Pressing our way through the crowds, we boarded the Metro and returned to the hostel. 

    In my life, I’ve had only a passing interested in Sumo.  I thought it was a boring spectacle.  Man I was wrong.  I got my picture taken witha young Sumo and was taken aback by his size.  In a country where food is expensive, these men are made to eat and eat and eat for the entertainment of the masses.  Comparing him with the fans around him, I started to feel sorry for him.  Everything centered around people is so small in Tokyo, their life must be a constant struggle.  Obviously, once they reach a level of success, life can be very good for them.  Being in the medical field now,  their long term health after retirement can’t be good.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Sumo if anyone is interested.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo#Winning_a_sumo_bout

    Anyway, enough of that.  We rented radios inside, so we could listen to an English broadcast of the matches.  This was very useful as you can imagine.  Our seats were in the very top row of the stadium, but it did not detract from the spectacle.   The ring is in the center and high above it hung a canopy that resembled the roof a shrine.  Two sumos came out and began lifting their legs and stomping the ground, which was to scare away any demons.  (Radio hint.) Then they threw salt on the ring to purify the earth.  (Another hint)  More stomping and slapping ensued.  The rule is that 4 minutes must pass between the end of one bout and the beginning of the next.  While the sumos go through their ritual, the referee stands near the ring in various ritual poses.  When the time comes the sumos crouch down face to face, waithing for the signal from the referee.   The matches usually end in less than 10 seconds.  We watched over 2 dozen matches and there were two that really stood out, because they lasted more than 10 seconds.  It’s pointless to even try to describe any of these matches.  Go to YouTube and look for yourself.  When the last match was decided, everyone down below threw their floor pillows into the ring and cheered.  I had much more fun that I would had ever expected. 

      That evening, Joost, Emma, Clay, Walter, Chantal and I went to a conveyer belt sushi restarauntin the neighborhood.  We waited in line for about 45 minutes, but it was well worth it.  I was feeling adventurous, so I tried whole baby squid and an sea urchin for the first time.  Mmmmm…mmmmm…good!  The sea urching caught me by surprise, because it was very mild and had a fresh taste like clean sea water.  Here’s a picture of it: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3129/2491508539_13bc12f59d_b.jpg    10 plates of sushi and sashimi and 2 glasses of beer later, I was stuffed.  It cost me $46 in the end, but it was worh every penny.   We returned to the hostel and chatted for a while in the common room.  I was very sad to leave, but was also missing some of the comforts of home. 

      Monday.  I rushed around and bought some last minute gifts.  I said goodbye to all my travel compatriots and headed off to Naritaairport with Dave,  a San Dieogan, who had been travelling for a month in Japan.  He spoke fairly fluent Japanese and gave me a lot of insight into the language and culture.  As the plane took off, I took a great shot of all the rice paddies that cover the land.  The Japanese do love their rice.

      I plan to take a Japanese course here in the near future, so that when I return to visit this beautiful country, I’ll be better able to communicate.   Well, that’s my story.  I hope you enjoyed it.

 

Chad Czajkowski

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Tokyo Reflections Part II

  1. Japanese squirrels = pokemon? It sounded like something that would happen in a Looney Tunes cartoon (that’s a good thing).

    Good stuff all around.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s