Tokyo, Japan

Posted by on May 12, 2013

Japan - Tokyo

After nearly a month in Japan, we were very sorry to leave. It is a very easy place to be. In the interest of providing a broad overview, we’ve listed the experience highlights of each destination, along with a few random factoids regarding our impressions of the “Land of the Rising Sun.”


Stop 1:  TOKYO and the outskirt town of TACHIKAWA

What we did:

Enjoyed the cool temperatures by walking around Ueno Park, a hotspot for the gorgeous cherry blossoms.  It was in the high 50s and low 60s most of the time we were there… a welcome change from the consistent 100 degree days in Thailand.


There was a ton to see and experience in Ueno Park; we visited the Nature and Science Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, Yanaka Cemetery, and got our first taste of Japanese Shrines. At that point, shrines were still “new,” and we took tons of photos.


The Imperial Palace grounds were great, and it was very invigorating to walk around downtown Tokyo, to say the least. Standing at a major downtown intersection, and crossing when the light changes was like playing “sharks and minnows” with thousands of people.


The Ogawas’s “Global Village” party was a Tokyo area highlight, even though most people spoke little Engrish.  We were made to feel very welcome.  The food was incredible and as always, we were quite taken with the manner in which these folks throw a party.  There was a party-wide personal introduction portion during which each person had to stand up, introduce themselves and share some personal information, a skit written by Ayako Ogawa to frame and facilitate a discussion about intercultural tolerance, and a sort of talent show in which attendees shared original art, photography, and even played musical instruments and read poetry. We talked with Japanese people, a Peruvian, a Brit, and an American college grad who had been teaching English there for several months. There was much consumption of food and beverages of all persuasions. It was quite a party, and when the guests rode away on bikes, I feared for the area pedestrians.


We visited and l-o-v-e-d the Ghibli Museum, and re-watched a couple of Miyazaki movies as a result. Duke also bought a few puzzles, which we put together during our comfy stay in Takayama a few days later.


We barely made it to the Meji Shrine before it closed at dusk, and were tromping through the woods lit with Japanese lanterns. This large, heavily forested park is at the edge of Harajuku, and emerging from that deeply wooded park into the neon lights and dressed up young-folk was beyond interesting,


On our final day in Tokyo, we visited Asakusa, an old part of Tokyo that is more traditionally Japanese than the modern parts of the city, and went to an incredibly awesome temple, Senso-ji.  It was a great day and we tried lots of interesting new foods. (Actually, we tried interesting new foods most days..)  The vibe of this crowded place was international and interactive.  It was a beautiful day, cool and clear, and the energy of the thousands of people in the area reflected good feelings and fun.


Outside of two nights we stayed at a hotel across from Ueno Park, we stayed about 30 minutes out of town in the mini-town of Tachikawa, which was very close to the Ogawas.  We wanted a bigger room than the teeny tiny widdle biddy room we had in downtown Tokyo, which is famously pricey per square foot.


Some impressions of Tokyo:


This is clearly the New York City of Japan.  Businessmen are riding home from work at 11:00 at night, sleeping on the train. We counted, and over 60% of people on trains stare and tap like zombies into their personal devices. Super high consumerism, super high stress. Everyone is dressed to the hilt, and no one seems very happy. Not many smiles, not much laughter. On the flip side, people were super nice to us, and we were helped out on five different occasions by Tokyoites who could tell we were lost or unsure of where to go at the train station.


The housing “developments” we experienced outside of downtown were idyllic in many ways, but not necessarily in the American sense. Houses and yards were small and close together, but each house had something unique about it, and most people used the little bit of “yard” they had for an artistically designed and very precise garden, usually with a profusion of container flowers and sometimes a koi pond or small fountain.  Large empty spaces between the houses were gardens, with neat rows of flowers, leeks, onions, cabbages, and other foodstuffs beginning to come up. This must be what truly “local food” looks like. People walked and biked almost all around, even those in their 70s and 80s.  Solar panels on most roofs.. Just a smartly designed way to live, and clearly something they have been doing for a while. Loved it, and feeling new resolve to have a big garden wherever we end up settling down.


We cracked up a ton during the first week at how Japanese reverse R’s and L’s. Pictures are kept in ‘flames” and at the hotel, there were “File Exits” labeled. Everyone apologized for speaking not much Engrish. No matter how many times people pronounced my name, I was “Rolee,” and it wasn’t until Duke suggested that I introduce myself as “Rolee” that they finally pronounced “Loree” the right way. Hysterical!!! It was mutual though; they chuckled at us as well, as I tried to pronounce simple Japanese words, which are not sounds my American mouth has been trained to make.


Note: The Japanese public transportation system totally rocks, and should be a model for everyone. Trains like this would do well in the U.S., but probably only on the coasts, and maybe around some inner-continent cities like Houston.


On our last night in Japan, the Ogawa’s sent us off with a dinner of sushi and sake; next stop, Kanazawa.

After nearly a month in Japan, we were very sorry to leave. It is a very easy place to be. In the interest of providing a broad overview, we’ve listed the experience highlights of each destination, along with a few random factoids regarding our impressions of the “Land of the Rising Sun.”


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