Tales from Japan – part 1
Our trip began well, with a long, but largely positive journey to Japan. We left Tallahassee around midnight on the 1st to catch our plane that was leaving from Jacksonville at 7:00 the next morning. We dropped off the car and got to the airport around 3:00 AM and it was empty. When I say empty, I mean totally empty. Not even a cleaning crew. We found a food court with some benches and hung out playing Uno for a while. The empty food court made me think of Dawn of the Dead and I wondered if perhaps there had been a zombie attack while were driving to the airport. Other (non-zombie) people soon arrived, and we finally made our way to Chicago where we changed planes for the 13 hour Chicago to Tokyo flight. We considered shelling out the money for business class, but opted to keep our economy seats. This might be the best decision we make on the entire trip as some guy sitting in business class smelled so bad that I suspect a stench is still lingering high over the Pacific Ocean.
So we land in Tokyo, go through immigration and hit baggage claim. What awaits us in baggage claim? PARIS HILTON. I was expecting a trip full of strange and random sites, but that took me completely by surprise. After a circus of people taking her picture, her posse had rounded up their (approximately) 30,000 bags and were gone. I spotted the first item on my scavenger hunt, a badly mistranslated shirt. This one said: “Bribe exist & the power which consists of reverse side is excluded”. The best shirt I saw, which we unfortunately did not get a picture of, was supposed to say “seeing is believing” but read “seeing gives you beliefs”. So true.
We caught the train to Ueno, had a nice walk through a super quiet neighborhood, and found our ryokan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels, and apparently part of that tradition involves screwing up reservations. They didn’t have rooms for us, so we scrambled to find a place at the last minute. After a LOT of calls, we got rooms not too far away.
We stopped at a small family run restaurant for dinner, where my commanding knowledge of numbers and the word for “please” was sufficient for us to get some food. The waitress dropped off a plate of prawns and lets us know that “you can eat all”, which I mistook to mean that the prawns where all you can eat. Turns out that it meant that the entire prawn was edible. And, just because I’m trying new experiences here, I learned that heads taste ok but are a little mushy with some pointy barbs. But hey, I washed it down with some beer.
We then went to our new ryokan, located right next to the railway and a pachinko parlor that makes random announcements throughout the night. Despite this constant barrage of noise, we were admonished by our ryokan owner for being loud. Our room was tiny and had such amenities as pillows that literally felt like they were filled with rocks and traditional Japanese toilet. My attempt to use the traditional toilet was hastily aborted as I could barely fit in the room and was not about to try new bathroom adventures with such a tight squeeze. I opted for the shared Western bathroom.
On Sunday, we took the train over to Shibuya, home to a very hip shopping district. Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection, has to be seen to be believed. The flow of people is amazing and surprisingly orderly. We took in the sights, had some noodles, and even popped into a Japanese Apple store. Tempura was on the menu for dinner, and we chased that with a visit to a beer bar. The beer bar was unfortunately out of about half their selections, but I had a Chimay Blue for the sheer novelty of having a Belgian beer in a Japanese bar. We drank our beers with a friendly little kitten who was in the bar, batting around string and the occasional pant leg.
In Shibuya, with Hachiko.