Wednesday, January 30, 2013

24 Hours In Tokyo

By now you might have heard that we were lucky enough to get a couple of visits to Tokyo on our way to and from Canada.  Our first visit worked out at almost exactly 24 hours: a late afternoon arrival from Australia and a departure to Canada 24 hours later.  We had a great time, and this blog post is a very abbreviated selection of some highlights, some of which are very much from wide-eyed gaijin, while others are our thoughts as we compare this trip to other travels and experiences. 24 hours - here we go!

Tokyo's international airport has this real-time road traffic map. Neato, as it lights up based on congestion on main routes. Undoubtedly adopted from a Bond villain's world-domination toolkit. Conquering Tokyo should be quick today...

As your Friendly Airport Limousine bus leaves, the staff see it off, bow. We were impressed at how often in Japan there were people doing things that neded to be done, rather than service gaps or automation. In the land of robots, the people-focused customer service was something we noticed everywhere.

We liked the sign! Clearly 'Super Million Hair' has a much stronger positive connotation in Japanese; however it was useful, too. Look for the large red billboard and the hotel's right behind. (Bev: And a chorus of 'Super Million Hair!' rang out as the weary walkers found their way home. I am sure the locals thought we were Weird Tourists. But it was fun.)

We were staying in Shinjuku -- famous as the neon-sign centre.  Liked the multi-story pea restaurant sign, didn't try it, though we were getting desperate! (Bev here; I thought all of Tokyo would be all neon, all the time. Kinda like Bladerunner. Silly me. T'aint so. But this little bit was fun-fair Saturday night especially when viewed through jetlag... we hit the street to see what we could see.)

Very interesting shop sign; the pastiche of the Leica logo, and the date of 1940. (Think back to your history classes, kids.)

After a couple of failures, we found a great place to eat on the 7th floor of Shinjuku station.  Here's the fed traveller. (And don't I look knackered? I had just successfully negotiated, on 2 hours of sleep plus jet lag, purchasing two very delicious tonkatsu dinners with a vocabulary of about six Japanese words. And it was delicious!)

We thought the plastic food at the cowboy eatery nearby was interesting, but not attractive. (Gahhhh.)

Our hotel (the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku - recommended) had a mascot of a koala.  Ahhh. (And the staff were almost as sweet. No, no irony, this was the most helpful hotel I have ever stayed in.)

Two gingko leaves.  The gingko leaf is the symbol for Tokyo, later I spotted the simplified leaf as an arc design integral to some railings.

The following morning we were off out of Shinjuku Station, two stops to...

Takeshita Street, where (much later in the day) the lolitas hang out.  But we weren't there for that, we were after a place with...

... some pretty impressive lamp standards (we'll have two on the gate to our gaff, please).

... Barrels and barrels of sake...

... and barrels and barrels of burgundy...

Plus a scaffolding arrangement (which will reappear in a future blog post). (Bev: yes, we even debated what this might be. 'Ritual purposes', any Time Team fans?)

Yes, our objective was the Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine.

Before entering, it is appropriate to cleanse by washing hands and mouth, at the Temizuya, which we did...

Noting it's a common tourist photo op, according to the couple beyond us!

It is a beautiful place however one relates (or doesn't) to the religion or concept of spirituality.  We really enjoyed the craftsmanship of wood in Japan, here in the wooden bamboo ladles at the Temizuya, and the Torii gates and the buildings. (Bev: This place was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan in the first place. Studying art history all those years ago and looking at the Japanese architecture, a real curiosity was sparked. Being there was a privilege and I will never forget its serenity and great beauty, set in a huge forest.)

One of the main activities at the shrine is weddings.  Having been snapped by Japanese tourists when we were at a Scottish regimental wedding in Edinburgh, we enjoyed (with many others) returning the favour in Tokyo.  It was fascinating...

In hindsight, what was most intriguing was the mix of familiar routines (the wedding photos, the processing about, with family in tow) and roles (proud father, and the variety of family members) in an alien (to us) context and with very different outfits. (Bev: We felt we knew some of the context but missed whole chunks of the social and significant meaning. Which is essentially what it is to be a traveller, isn't it? Standing on the outside, wondering and curious. For me that can be a position of great happiness as it brings back some of the mystery and wonder at the real diversity of our world.)

Most interesting was the bride's outfit. (Bev must find out more... Look for later blog post.)

(We wish them the best. Bella fortuna!)

We really liked the use of and care for wood in Japan, with the shrine being a particular highlight.

Bev: I kept feeling like we could fall through a gate in time.

Fabulous finery for the wedding party guests.

Oops, there's that gate in time again.

We liked the juxtaposition of 'traditional' and 'modern' in checking your phone while in a kimono. (Bev: But look how quiet it is, and how peaceful. The buildings are all in such perfect proportion.)

One of the obvious aspects of Japanese and other eastern architecture is the use of curves, rarely seen in similar contexts in the west.  Here emphasised by the wide-angle lens.

The popular thing to do in the younger set was collecting acorns, even in your best uniform or kinder-kimono

I liked the gnarled roots, like old knuckles with their fingers in course sand.

The park's sweepers were using the long, balanced besoms and lifting the leaves off the gravel (if you don't think that's a neat trick, you try it).  Their buckets and trolley were all beautifully made wooden construction too.

(Bev: Ginko leaves and winter sunlight. Butter yellow black and slate. You can almost smell the earthy loam.)

(Bev: Aaaand... no, it's not Roots Canada, it's some sort of Wild West drinks machine, check out Mr Cowboy at the top. Yee-haw.)

(And the tourists, you know, they take photos of manholecovers n stuff?!)

(Like photographing their lunch - what's with that? Actually, this was photographed with a sense of pride, as the difficult task of negotiating finding food became easier. I was motivated by the certainty that there is amazing food out there and I will just have to find the right places and negotiate the language barrier to get to try it!)

Sake bottles behind the bar. 

This is an excited quilter at Okadaya. (Bev: Okay, so of course I did some research into the fabric shops all quilters and dressmakers go nuts about. Because of course we know that Japanese fabric can be Really Good Stuff. This shop looked unpreposessing but seemed to get the most 'squweeeeee!' reviews from quilters. It was worth hunting for in the confusing alleys behind Shinjuku station, and I did score some few meters of Japanese fabric I would never find elsewhere. Stay tuned for photos of the first apron I have made with some of this gorgeous, heavy weight, beautifully milled cotton.)

While Bev rummaged among the sevenfloorso'fabric, I strolled around the local area...

...including this violin shop where a young member of the family was getting fitted for a violin.

(Bev: Back in the fabric shop, James and I had one of those travellers' conversations, whispering in consternation; 'what if they only take cash?' -An amazing number of places in Tokyo don't do credit cards. How shall I ask? So I approach the till trepidatiously, say my one phrase, 'sumi ma sen?' pointing to the symbol on my visa card. Big smiles, yes, yes, you crazy western fabric addict, we will take your credit card... All was well, bows and smiles all around.)

After extracting Bev, credit card and a reasonable number of bags of fabric, we strolled a bit further and we glanced in to a game-room where two kids were beating out the rhythm.

Then it was time for Tokyu Hands! Department store heaven.

This is a shop for all those things you didn't know existed, but suddenly really, really, have to have. Like penguin paperclips. Being just before Christmas, it was fourteen floors of flat out.

Calligraphy brushes.

We had to get to the airport so we had FIFTEEN minutes in Tokyu Hands and then it was whoosh, back to friendly hotel and whoosh, onto friendly bus...

As good tourists do, we saw some other things on the coach ride to the airport.  One was a solar powered petrol (gas) station.  You either find that odd, or you don't.

And a driving school looking nothing so much as like one of those kids playmats (or a certain nephew's quilt).

At the airport, last minute gift opportunities were seized gently but firmly by the hand. (And one of those, and one of those, and one of those... Chris, Pam, Mel, these are your gifts in their natural habitat.) 

And flying out.  In the departure lounge we were able to re-hydrate very nicely.  Not every airline has their own soft drink.  Japan Air Lines (JAL) do, and we very much liked it; it's a citrus drink, like a lemonade, but with a citrus fruit, Shīkwāsā, from the Okinawa prefecture.  Of course 'Sky Time' echoes a certain attempt to make an advert from the film Lost in Translation - We toasted each other, like Bill Murray - 'Suntori Time'. Cheers!

James & Bev


eileenr said...

The little girl in the kimono was so cute. And how I would love that department store even more than BHV! Can't wait to see the fabric creations you make. Post, post, post!

Taccola said...

Eileen, I swear you would keel over in a flat faint at the fabulousness of Tokyu Hands! I hear we missed some of the other stores specialising in stationery, but that's okay, we are definitely going back!