Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Tokyo Sandwich - The Bread

And so it was, we arrived in Tokyo at the Shinagawa Station on the evening of March 29th. After a brief huddle staring at the station map with a couple of other foreigners, a kindly American gentleman realized our concern and promptly directed us to where our hotel stood. (It's funny. A fellow JET who is Canadian once told me that when she encountered other foreigners in Japan, it was typically only the Americans whom she met that would offer any kind of "Hello!" or greeting, rather than just pass you by. In light of that, and what happened to us at the arrival station, I find her observation encouraging in today's world. Sometimes you'd think Americans are seen by others as the most snobbish, standoffish sort, and then you leave the country and find out things like this.)

The nightlife in Tokyo sure looks grand! However, this trip wasn't about bar-hopping (ugh! what a mindless occupation that is) or late night marathons doing karaoke, sipping sake in smoke-filled rooms (now that one I know, but it somehow loses its luster after the fifth hour singing nothing but anime theme songs). It was about long days, and even longer walks trekking from location to location. Needless to say, neither of us lost any sleep!

Looking out our window the next morning from the 28th floor of the hotel, we decided our first little jaunt would be Tokyo Tower. It was a 4 km walk one-way, and with the prospect of taxis turning our pocket money into chump change, we knew our legs could handle it.

As we walked the streets, my mom found it very interesting how so many Japanese men and women seemed to be dressed up. I told her we were in a business district, which explains part of it, but it's true: men, if not in a suit, were sporting neckties and black dress shoes while the women all strutted about in knee-high boots or heels and often very short skirts. And with rice and fish such a staple in the diet, finding a fat person in Tokyo was like finding an anorexic in McDonald's.

Soon we were in front of Tokyo Tower, a structure built on the same design principles used to erect the Eiffel Tower in Paris (though, a placard here boasted that while the two towers are of comparable height and similar build, Tokyo Tower weighs significantly less).

While there, we traveled up a cramped mass transit elevator to the first observation deck (about 500 feet up). At various locations near the base of the tower were shopping malls, an eatery, a max museum, an indoor dungeon maze, an arcade, and a gift shop. I took the opportunity to snap a few shots of the surrounding sights (below).

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a local Chinese shop (of which Tokyo has many, run by Japanese of course). My mom thought it remarkable how many Japanese food joints did not exercise restrictions against smoking. I nodded and wheezed, "Yeah, it sucks!" in reply.

Looking northwest from Tokyo Tower. The tall buildings here strike me as the type some nefarious executive might operate out of, like some megacorp from Shadowrun.
Looking east from Tokyo Tower. 
A view of an inner city area from Tokyo Tower.
A view of the area we traveled from our hotel window. The large empty space in the center of the shot is a massive open air switch-track and service junction abutting the Shinagawa Station where trains from all over Tokyo converge.

The next day we traveled by subway to Shibuya, a common tourist and shopping district where it is said one of the busiest intersections in the world can be viewed. I waited for just the right opportunity to catch the intersection when the frame was filled with as many Japanese heads as I could see. Both of us having visited New York City before, we agreed that Shibuya reminded us a lot of Times Square.

Next time we'll take a look at more of the specific places and happenings that we experienced on our Tokyo trip, delving deeper into the smog-choked urban jungle, and I'll pile on the good stuff as I endeavor to build for you the picture perfect Tokyo sandwich!