A light hearted trip report on Tokyo.
Here is an abridged account of my 12 day trip to Tokyo last year. I had an overnight stay in Taiwan. I loved every minute of my stay, even getting lost! This account is reported from the view of a nerdy middle aged woman on a tight budget who loves museums, art galleries and amusement parks so keep that in mind if it’s not your idea of a holiday! This was my first solo trip.
I stayed at the Aizuya Inn, 2-17-2 Kiyokawa, Taito-ku, in the smallest room you can imagine and sleeping on mats on the floor but I found it all surprisingly comfortable and ‘freeing’. Very cheap at under $50 Au a night. Had it not been for the financial crisis, it would have only been about $35 Au. It did have a TV and air conditioning and I highly recommend it and its friendly staff. I have no wonderful recommendations for fine dining as the trip was done on the cheap and I mostly ate at the 7/11 with the occasional authentic meal, including some genuine Japanese Maccas.
I slept reasonably well at Taiwan Airport. It was very bright. The lights overhead had an interrogation feel to them. It was a bit noisy too. You know the story - the old guy shouting into his mobile phone because he still can't believe that anyone in the next town can hear him through this wireless contraption so he had better talk extra loud so they can hear him even without the phone! Me and several other transetters bunkered down on surprisingly comfortable padded benches and slept as best we could. Next morning I observed another old guy pull out a hospital type urinal and go off and empty it. Glad I didn't see him use it! Obviously a prostate sufferer as the toilets were a 30 second walk away! Had a delicious chocolate biscuit breakfast and booked in for the flight to Tokyo.
As I get older the actual travelling/airport thing is getting less appealing. I feel more like just sitting down rather than lugging all my stuff around everywhere I go. No matter how little you try to pack, all your stuff becomes an albatross around your neck very quickly.
Oh hang on - my love of airports has just been revived! I have just spotted a lovely Chang Kai Chek and Madam Chang Kai Chek wedding day coffee mug. Now that's something you can't get back in Australia!
Those Wacky Japanese!
Day One begins and I don't know where to begin my sightseeing so I think I will just stay in and watch TV. Only kidding, but Japanese TV is everything I hoped it would be. Those wacky Japanese!
On one show that I watched, two plump guys were standing next to a fridge. After stripping to their underpants, they had to take out a frozen solid jacket and jeans and somehow put them on! Further humiliations ensued for the hapless pair usually involving food and trying to impress women, all rated by a panel of attractive celebrities. Hilarious!
Show two was some sort of a guessing contest. Four people started off with Guess the Weight of my Steak in ounces. That was the easy part. After that it was ` Eel or no Eel `where contestants had to guess what they were eating though the audience knew it was Eel but cleverly disguised by various cooking methods. In between, the contestants were forced to drink a mysterious liquid that resembled urine. Anyone that got sick lost valuable points. After that they had to eat some sort of a mushroom. At least I think that is what is was, as , in its uncooked state it resembled a penis. All this occasioned much joking and mirth among the contestants though some did look a little flustered when they found out what they had actually eaten. The contest closed with the contestants picking a card from a box with a picture of an aging pop star, usually Japanese though the only woman got Michael Jackson, and then doing an impression of the pictured celebrity. No one scored on that one. Hilarious!
But my favourite was a team of male celebrities wearing women’s wigs and bright, tight jumpsuits with cute little satin skirts who had to sneak into someone’s booby trapped bathroom without setting off the alarms and getting caught. If they did, which was usual, a fat man dressed as a giant pussycat leaped out on them and licked their ears or pretended to maul their genitals. This caused much laughter and some trepidation amongst the celebrities. Hilarious! After that, they had to sneak into various other rooms, all without alerting the giant catman. I kid you not! You couldn't make this sort of thing up now, could you! I have pictures to prove it for all you doubters out there.
I also briefly observed that, as I had been told , no one eats or blows their nose in public as this is considered very impolite, though I did see a teenage schoolboy blow his nose on the subway, But I guess that as teenage boys are not yet considered human in any society ,that was OK.
However, everyone sleeps on the train so I guess that is perfectly acceptable.
Well, after writing this, I think I may go to another museum on day 2.
Polite society and Japanese manners
Day 3 and I am off to Disneyland. I have had a great day visiting the Natural History and Western Art museum. ( Ueno Park area)
I am still observing the niceties of Japanese society. It certainly does seem to be that no one eats in public. At one stage I was starving and could not find where to eat and my sandwiches were burning a hole in my pocket. I finally found an outdoor spot where one couple were picnicing though every one around them just seemed to be sitting. Just to be certain my barbarian ways did not offend, I ate quickly with my back to the general populace. Just when I thought that I would never see it, I observed a well dressed man eating some chocolate on the train! Obviously some anarchic rebel out to corrupt society. But it was a quiet revolution as he was at the back of the train and certainly not making a big show of thumbing his nose at the rest of the world! However, I finally saw a teenage girl eat a WHOLE lunch on the train! She did look like the type of girl who really didn't care for the niceties of polite society.
I saw a couple of Japanese men with a sign saying Workers of the World Unite! Back on the train I wanted to get up and shout Eaters of the World Unite! but thought better of it. As half the train was asleep, I didn't want to cause alarm.
Disneyland is NOT the happiest place on earth!
Me and Disneyland are destined to be a bit of a failure though-First Paris with the transport strike then Tokyo. Oh, I got there this time OK but it rained! You think everyone would go home but they didn’t! As it’s pretty crowded anyway, I left early rather than line up in the rain. But I did get to go on my favourite ride Pirates of the Caribbean twice which has amazing animatronics. All complete with a sulky looking Johnny Depp look alike signing autographs! What could be better!
Miraikan Science-- National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Nippon Kagaku Miraikan
Saw Asimo the robot today! He truly is amazing. You almost think there must be a person inside! The rest of the interactive science museum was a bit of a let down as it was all in Japanese with little English so I indulged in a lot of indiscriminate button pushing - as you do- and still only managed to work the interactive floor plan. I should have collared one of the many school children there as they would have known what to do. But it was all worth it seeing Asimo. I got there early and stood at the front of the stage so I would get a great view of him. I began to wonder where everyone else was until an attendant motioned to me to move back and I saw I was standing out like a shag on a rock with a large crowd behind me standing behind another barrier and all getting a great view of my back! Talk about embarrassment!
I then went to the Maritime Museum ( a short walk away) which had some excellent models and displays but again all in Japanese. The building itself is amazing. Shaped like a huge ship. Rather a flash foyer too, resembling a luxury liner. Complete with an out-of-place, moth-eaten stuffed dog!
I am eating well at the 7/11. I have a salad every day and at least 2 packets of mini donuts. Just discovered a great meal - Beef curry in a plastic pack for a $1Au! Not bad either so I guess I will be eating a lot of that.
I am on friendly terms with the police here. There are two police stations in this street and we give each other a friendly nod as I pass. It’s a great idea here that the police stations are right on the street and the officers are often standing right outside. Should do that in Australia.
Kerry and the Tokyo police
Well another episode to add to my novel’s longest chapter on my run-ins with the police. I am now officially known to the Tokyo police who have my name, address and age on record. However, I hasten to add I have done nothing wrong. I passed by an old man lying in a car park who I suspected was drunk but decided to tell the police in case he was hurt. After doing my best impression of a drunk for the three officers at the local station, one policeman asked me to show him where the victim was and, as this officer was unusually, a great deal bigger than me, I trailed after with him, all the while trying to look very smiley in case anyone thought I was being arrested. As it turned out the old man was hurt though not badly, and another officer was already on the scene. The police officer asked for my name, telephone number and my age, which he first wrote down rather flatteringly as 45 rather than 55. After this, he bowed to me and then saluted me! I bowed and saluted back rather awkwardly before going on my way. Since then I discovered that he was not so much impressed with my civic mindedness as just very polite as I was also saluted after asking directions of other police officers!
After this, I got horribly lost and sat down in a small playground to collect myself. Looking over, I saw a man sitting on a bench holding in his arms, a white cat , just like it was a baby, which was lying on its back and looking up at the man with adoring eyes as he stroked it. Very cute so I took a photo. Then I saw a pet shop with a cage full of cheerful Aussie Budgies chattering away, so much heartened by these lovely sights, I went on. The Japanese seem to love animals and you can see every breed of dog from French Poodles to Welsh Corgies. It occurred to me that there is no racism between dogs and people. Admiring someone’s pet is also a great way to meet people!
I had a wonderful time at the MOT or Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (Tokyo-to Gendai Bijutsukan) ,when I finally found it. I particularly liked photographer Shimabuku`s work such as "Tour Of Europe With One Eyebrow Shaved Off" where he explained that he shaved off one eyebrow in the London Underground then toured Europe, shocking many people but also making many friends. His short film" Then I Decided To Give A Tour of Tokyo to an Octopus from Akashi “was a tour de force. He caught the octopus, put it in a plastic bag, took him on an all expenses paid , reserved seating, no smoking railroad ride to all the tourist hot spots in Tokyo. Unfortunately people he met wanted to eat the octopus. But after introducing it to a local Tokyo octopus that the seller warned was very high spirited (unlike the octopus from Akashi), he eventually released it back into the wild. Some of the art was far less comprehensible so I was not surprised to read a previous comment on the gallery in the guest book from a Japanese visitor-"I couldn't understand it". Obviously he hadn’t been to too many modern art galleries as they all like that.
I next went to the Bridgestone Art Collection which was one of the best small collections I have ever seen. A must see as it has a bit of everything from Egyptian antiquities to French Impressionism. But all paled into insignificance compared to the wonderful toilets. The electronic panel next to the toilet boasted pre recorded flushing sounds where you could adjust the volume to very loud, presumably to disguise the sound of actually going to the toilet. The heated seat was comfortably warm but best of all was the inbuilt bidet where you could control the water pressure. The strongest jet of water was- how can I put this delicately- somewhat intimate, some might say intrusive, in its intensity and direction. I could barely keep myself from laughing out loud but tried very hard not to, as even the loudest setting of the pre recorded flushing noise would not have drowned me out once I started! I have actually seen some very clever toilet ideas here in Tokyo but this took the cake. However, there is another gallery I have yet to see which the guide book says has a toilet designed by some famous artist which is a must to see, so I am looking forward to that one!
Just been watching some more wacky Japanese TV. The show is called Macho Ado about Love where a group of men dressed as women try to win a date with an attractive, real girl. Presumably they are trying to prove that even dressed as women, they are still macho. The men are already behind the eight ball as far as looks go but combine blond ringlets, French maid outfits, Little House on the Prairie bonnets with beards and five o clock shadows, and well- its none too pretty!All of this is accompanied by much laughter, joking and guwaffing gufawing? (Spell checker now working-it is guffawing!) Wish I could speak Japanese so I could get the jokes! It seems to be hilarious here to cross dress though the dressing up is less Drag Queen and more Pantomime Dame.
Anyway, that is about all for now. I have just discovered there is a 100 yen shop nearby so I am going to check that out tomorrow where I hope to be in discount heaven.
Looking for La La land
I am still on good terms with the police. They seemed pleased to see me this arvo. I stopped and shook hands with the smiling officer on duty before heading off to yet another museum. I still haven't done any shopping yet. I was told there was a good 100 yen shop at La La land or rather La La Terrace but I am yet to find it.
Kerry finds happiness in La La land.
Well, I found LaLa Land so I will be bringing home do-dads, knick knacks and assorted wigwams for gooses bridles for you all . At last ! Shops as I know them!
Another Day, Another Museum.
Saw two beautiful gardens yesterday. Hama Rikyu Garden Koishikawa Korakuen Garden - I can certainly see why the Japanese are famous for them! Both are well worth seeing.
One museum, the Fukagawa Edo Museum, had a full scale mock up of a street in Tokyo 150 years ago. There was an animatronics cat on one of the roofs who kept on letting out a most plaintive cry every so often - a bit disconcerting but added to the realism of the place.
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum .I had a great time at the architectural museum today. They have moved houses there that have cultural or style significance, mostly from the 30s to 50s and its like being able to wander through someone’s' private home when they are out and have a stick beak. Very interesting!
Everywhere here in Tokyo, they play lively little tunes- at the station, in the shops, when you cross the road etc. But last night as I was crossing the street, the signal tune that is was safe to cross was that old ‘Japanese favourite’ - Coming Through The Rye! Sure beats those beeps we have at home so blind people know when to cross! Some of the tunes are so catchy .There is one they play at the 7/11 and sometimes I just want to dance up the aisle between the biscuits and the packaged noodles! I did find at Disneyland that the relentless cheery tunes did get a bit depressing, especially lining up in the rain. Disneyland is definitely not the happiest place on earth then!
Out of it with the in crowd
After a cheerful exchange of waves to the police as I passed, I had a wonderful time visiting Mt Fuji. Magnificent! And it was only one of the 60 days a year where you got a clear view so I was very fortunate. Beautiful cruise on a volcanic lake and amazing cable car ride too. Lovely autumn colour here that was not yet in Tokyo. It would be criminal not to take a day trip to Mt Fuji!
On the way the guide told a joke about the Japanese Prime minister .He spoke no English and practiced saying -"Hello ,How are you ?" -when he was to meet Bill Clinton, then president. He was told Bill would say -"Very Well" and the Japanese Prime minister was to reply "Me too". But instead the Japanese PM asked -"WHO are you?" Bill jokingly replied- "Oh, I am Hilary s husband" -to which the Japanese Pm enthusiastically said- "Me Too!"
We also passed a dog park where Tokyoites take their dogs for a romp and, if you are in an apartment and can't have one, you can hire a dog by the hour for about $7! Great idea - I think I might start a small business and hire out my dog Amy! Cut rate for a naughty dog, maybe? I'd like to hire my cats out too but not sure if there would be much demand.
I went to a popular shopping center last night. It was surreal! I felt like I had stumbled into an MTV Music Video! Everyone was uber hip and trendy. It's like an extreme sport here to be super cool - I was a middle aged frump surrounded by pop stars and rock gods. I sat in McDonalds where fortunately at least the staff still looked like your average teenager but the toilets had been transformed into a hairdressing salon for teenage Lolitas and I felt really disoriented and out of place. Then a sweet little old Japanese Granny and Grandpa walked in and I knew I had not been transported to another, more superstar world. Or had I? Anything can happen in a music clip. I am off to more shops later where I hope I will be able to buy less trendy items. So far, most women’s' accessories seem to be trimmed with cat fur! Where do the old people shop!
The subway is quite involved and very tiring. If people are not endlessly playing MP3s, PSPs and Ipods , they are sleeping! I propped up a schoolboy yesterday who was sound asleep on his feet. If I hadn't stood where I was, he would have fallen over!
The Thunder Dolphin-Scarier than it sounds!
Well my last day in Tokyo and I decided to do something major and ride the huge rollercoaster here known as the Thunder Dolphin. Now I know that doesn't sound as terrifying as say, the Thunder Tiger or Thunder Dragon or some other more macho name but believe me it looked terrifying! Its unusual in that it is part of a shopping complex in the Tokyo Dome. You walk into the shopping mall and look up high - very, very high, above you and there it is. It also goes right through the centre of a giant Ferris wheel, apparently the only one of its kind that has no centre hub. What turns it around beats me. I nearly chickened out but, when I saw some older people than me front up, well, I couldn't resist the challenge! It was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be and, if it hadn't been so expensive, I would have had another ride. But at about $15 Au for about 15 seconds of exhilaration, it was a bit much to spend more money on. What I liked was that the attendants do a little dance and cheered you off when it started and then applauded when you returned!
It’s a small world. On my last day at the hostel, I am sitting next to an Asian girl whose Aunt is living in my hometown of Wollongong and a young guy and his mother just left who also come from Wollongong!
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Tokyo by a nerd who loves museums, art galleries and amusement parks.
A light hearted trip report on Tokyo.