It is January 18th, 2012 and tonight I find myself in Tokyo.
I arrived yesterday afternoon with surprisingly little fanfare. No reporters? No cameras? Strange. I guess I haven`t caught on in Japan yet – they don`t know how big of a deal I am. My hostel is in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, which is an older area and home to many cool alleys, small shops and not so small temples. Across the river from my hostel is the Asahi Breweries headquarters. I came out of the subway when I first arrived, saw the building, noted its strange architecture and checked my map/guidebook to see what it was. When I found out it was a brewery I was pleased.
After settling into my room I promptly investigated Asahi HQ. To my disapointment, it is merely the headquarters, and not an actual brewery (darn). I did see some nice restaurants in the plaza though and a cool 1000 yen barber shop, which I promptly took advantage of. The Asahi brewery fiasco, as I`ve taken to calling it, will no doubt have its own chapter in my auto-biography (a work in progress) that will certainly be titled; Tom goes to worldwide brewery headquarters – ends up getting haircut.
The rest of yesterday was spent exploring the Asakusa district surrounding my hostel. Particularly of note is the Nakamise shopping street – a cobblestone street lined on either side with shops selling everything from tourist souvenirs to kimonos to swords. At the end of the street is Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Tourist brochures claim it dates back to 628 AD. There is a massive gate at the entrance and the huge temple itself, a very impressive sight. On the grounds surrounding the temple there is a five story pagoda, a pond, multiple Japanese style gardens, statues, small shrines and a massive old tree that must be a couple of hundred years old.
It is an amazing place and I wish I had video to show you, but my camera has run out of batteries and I cannot seem to charge it anywhere (all the outlets are western style, and the voltage seems to be 125v. Even though my camera is designed to be charged by voltages between 100v and 220v, it does not seem to be getting any juice from Japanese outlets). Needless to say this is extremely frustrating because A) I love taking video of things to show you and B) because its impossible to describe this stuff with words.
Today I had all day to explore Tokyo. I started out by taking the subway to Kyobashi, and from there it was a short walk west to the Imperial Palace. Most of the palace grounds are closed to the public, but there is an outer area open for tourism. The place I saw was pretty impressive, it was a huge, flat, open space – dotted with trees and bushes. There is something impressive about seeing huge amount of open terrain in the very center of a city. Its a really effective display of wealth and power, in my oppinion to use up so much real estate just for your own front lawn. It reminded my of the forbidden city in Beijing. The palace itself is located in a fortress with stone walls that drop straight into moats on all sides. I saw one of the main entrances – the Nijubashi Bridge. I could also glimpse the palace itself and several other building on the inner grounds. The whole place was impressive and beautiful, and you can bet I kicked myself constantly for not having my camera.
After the Imperial Palace I turned south and explored Hibiya Park. Hibiya is just a small park space near the palace, but it dates back to 1908 (when it officially became a city park) and even early when you take into acount its former use as the southern most fortification of the Imperial Palace. It even had a pond at the base of a hill, which turns out to be the remnants of the moat which used to be at the base of a wall. Today the park has tennis courts, gardens, trees and statues. It was peaceful and full of cats.
After the park came the Sony building. Remember who you are dealing with here –> you didn`t think I`d go to Tokyo and only see shrines and temples did you?! What drew me to the Sony building is their showroom, a 6 story display of corporate dominance showing off the company`s latest and greatest products, ranging from laptops and mp3 players to big screen TVs and (of course) Playstation. There were even two floor devoted to up and coming technology and the latest products Sony is developing. Most of them were typical science fiction stuff, like a virtual reality system where you lay face down on a chair and watch a 3D video of a person paragliding (been there, done that). There were a few other interesting things that I thought had potential though. For example, there was an exercise bike hooked up to a 3D tv. The tv showed a first person perspective of a cycler in a park. As you cycled the video progressed based on how fast you were going – if you peddled slower, the video slowed down, faster and it sped up. The future of home exercise?
There were also a pair of binoculars that digitally zoomed and sharpened whatever you were looking at, which would be perfect for my voyeurism – I mean….. bird watching.
After the Sony center I continued east and found the Tsukiji fish market. As you know, I`m no stranger to fish markets – I`m still trying to get the smell of Jagalchi Market in Busan out of my clothes. This market was way, way more industrial however. It was more of a warehouse than a market. Most of the buying and selling was done by auction and the fish were sold in bulk. I toured around for a while but felt a little out of place and was unnerved by the signs that asked tourists not to get in the way of the people trying to buy and sell.
I rounded out the day sitting on a bench near a river reading my book. I am on vacation afterall, and I see no point in stressing myself out trying to squeeze in too many sights. In fact I`ve found during this trip that one of my favorite things to do in a new city is just walk until I am really tired, then just sit with a Pepsi or coffee and watch and listen for a while.
I am going to take one last crack at charging my phone tonight. If it works I will spend a few hours tomorrow getting video of the Asakusa area. If not, then I will spend the morning in transit to my next destination – Kyoto. I am pretty sure I will not have an internet connection in my Kyoto hostel, so this may be the last update until I get back to Busan on Saturday night. Otherwise I will be sure to update you on the happenings in Kyoto. One thing you should be aware of (just so you can be as excited to read about Kyoto as I am to visit) – my Kyoto hostel is in the Gion district of the city, which is apparently an area known for its Geishas. I have seen a few Geisha in Tokyo already and let me tell you, they are pretty darn cute!
Thats all for now.