Tokyo is, in short, best thought of as several cities grown together over time. This is because if you don’t it is very overwhelming and you will feel a bit lost in it as it is, after all, the biggest city in the world. In fact, I read a lot of science fiction and one of the popular subjects in them is a giant city that covers a planet and the like- I now realize a surprising number of those authors just described Tokyo!
To get around, Sasha and I made heavy use of the most efficient bus, subway, rail, and even monorail system I’ve ever seen- you never wait longer than five minutes for the train, though you are still guaranteed to be squashed together in tight quarters with everyone else. Mostly though we walked though parks and museums, across countless city blocks, seeing more in two days than some surely see in a week. My feet still hate me.
This is the view from the observation decks of the government buildings in Tokyo, located in the Shinjuku area. City as far as the eye can see, with the exception of Mount Fuji in the distance. Interestingly the buildings only go as high as the 45th story- the Japanese could build them even three times taller thanks to their technology, but can’t because of the earthquake hazard.
View of a park near the government buildings towards the clock tower building. The weather in Tokyo in January is similar to the weather we see in April, as evidenced by the daffodils blooming in the foreground.
View of the grounds of Sensoji temple, where we saw countless people making prayers and wishes and made some of our own. There was also a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony which was lovely to see.
View towards the Imperial Palace, which has a large rectangular parklike area in the front that reminded me of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
All aboard the sushi train! You see these places a lot; in short you see what looks interesting as it goes by and pull it off. Eating your fill takes about ten dollars, complete with a free mug of green tea.
Hmmm, I wonder what city this could be?! The miniature Statue of Liberty is set up by the waterfront where you get a great view of Tokyo- it also feels a lot less rushed in this area, so it was a great place to watch the sunset. (The sun sets around 4pm in Tokyo which is a touch annoying- it’s better in Kyoto, where it’s closer to 5pm.) Hoardes of Japanese tourists come to get their picture taken in front of Lady Liberty.
Sasha doing his best impression of the Backstreet Boys in karaoke. You get your own private room in a karaoke bar which makes me realize why it’s not so popular in the US- you sing in front of strangers! Because we are cheap students and such a life is universal, we smuggled our beer in from a nearby convenience store.
I should also make a note at some point about what a wonderful guide Sasha was, and how impeccably good at languages he is- three fluently, and working on German as we speak. There were only a few obscure phrases I needed to explain or correct (“James Bond is double-oh-seven, not zero-zero-seven”), though I confess I found a few of his phrasings so charming that I dared not correct them lest they stop being said.
Continuing on the Tokyo tour, some little statues in front of a shrine. I can’t remember their exact purpose except I’m sure they’re to bring good luck as most Japanese rituals at shrines seem to focus on this. I thought they were very cute!
Sasha and me in Ginza street, the most expensive and elite shopping area of Tokyo where Prada and Tiffany’s are commonplace. There was even a little store perched on one of the higher floors simply called “Tokaji” with a little Hungarian flag outside- I found this great because as some of you know there is still a small Tokay vinyard in my family, and I’m sure they’ll love thinking about how their wine makes it all the way to Japan.
Some Where’s Waldo practice, in what is possibly my favorite picture in Japan so far. We ran into these schoolgirls on Nakamise-dori posing with their schoolgroup, and they were kind enough to pose with us.
And last but not least, Tokyo lit up at night with bustle and lights that put New York City to shame. Streets like this are a dime a dozen, and you could wander your entire life and never see it all…
And that was my weekend- I am incredibly indebted to my hosts, as without them I would surely be lost and overwhelmed (I still was overwhelmed, but this way I wasn’t hopeless). I plan to meet up with them tomorrow however for my last dinner in Japan, when I return from Kyoto.
(Stay tuned for our next installment: life at a ryokan, geishas, temples, a French Canadian, and what they all have in common!)