My first 6 days in Japan: Tokyo and Oshima Island
Hello with a Japanese peace sign! This is me in the Tsukigi Fish Market.
As I type, I am staying in an old fashioned Japanese household. I am sitting on a cushion upon a tatami floor, using a computer on a short table. I hear birds chirping and I see Japanese artwork on the walls. It is all so… Japanese.
All the manga I read throughout middle school is coming back to me. The sliding doorways, the tatami floors, the noodles, the floor futons, and the sticky rice cakes… yummmm… sticky rice. Also, the kindness of Japanese people is overwhelming. They are so polite… ALL THE TIME! It is incredible. Yesterday I could not find a can opener in the shared kitchen of the hostel/guesthouse, so I asked a random person staying in the hostel. He began to search, then his friend started to search, and then out of no where 3 other boys were trying to find me a can opener. We never found one, but they opened it for me with a tool of some kind. Then they just returned to their own business. All I could say was arigato and an occasional domo arigato guzaimas! I also have learned sugoi, which means “great!”
Overall, Japan has been a great time. I’ll start from when I first landed in Tokyo.
My flight to Tokyo went swimmingly. I landed in Japan at 5pm and luckily made friends with a French-Canadian at customs. His name was Alex and I decided to join him to Tokyo that very evening. He had made a reservation to stay in a capsule bed that night, so I decided to jump right into tourist culture and try it out. Have you heard of capsule beds? If not, here’s a picture.
Image from this source.
They are rooms no taller than 4 feet. It was 6 feet deep and maybe 4 feet wide. Many locals use these capsule beds as places to sleep if they get too drunk at night and can’t drive home. They are also the cheapest option for sleeping arrangements in Tokyo. Overall, it wasn’t so bad. I actually think there should be more of these around the world. Realistically, all you need is a bed. I don’t need a huge room with a chair and a television while traveling. While, yes, that is nice, but in the end it is just a luxury. I enjoyed my time staying in the capsule beds.
The next day Alex and I went to the fish market (see first picture) and ate delicious sushi at a small hole in the wall restaurant. (Delicious is “oishii.”) We explored the whole market and found some small shops where people sell the world renowned Japanese knives. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_cutlery). They are very sharp and I learned that the way to make them takes a lot of time and effort. They fold metal over and over until it makes a very strong material that stays sharp for a long time. You should read about it, it is cool!
We then went to a park South of the market. It was pretty big and there were lots of blossoms. It used to be a hunting ground for the emperor’s family, so there was lots of fields, ponds, and hiding spots for the hunters. The male ducks themselves were very beautiful. They have long tails with black and yellow patterning.
There are plum blossoms blooming now, but I can see the cheery blossoms will be blooming soon! Aren’t the colors beautiful? (Beautiful is “utsukshii”)
We continued on our way to Shibuya district to explore another part of the town. There were lots of tall buildings and lots of lights. I can see why the world views Tokyo as an technological anomaly because it is full of advanced gadgets but also keeps a traditional Japanese attitude. For example, there are toilets with seat warmers and 10 different buttons, but there are slippers for specific use in the bathroom. Also, there are lots of flashing stoplights and stop signs, but a man stands in the middle of a busy road directing Tokyo traffic. All I’m trying to say is that Tokyo is a very interesting place for an aspiring anthropologist (Colleen?!).
We also went to Shinjuku district and went to the top of a government building to see the sunset and the Tokyo city-scape. It was all very nice. Here’s a shot of Shinjuku during the day. Lots and lots of signs and people.
Alex and I went our separate ways, but I made friends with a French girl named Anne from couchsurfing.com and a Hollander named Joren from WWOOFJAPAN.com. We rented bicycles for 5 dollars and biked all across the city. I was surprised how bike friendly Tokyo was. There weren’t too many trails or bike lanes, but the cars are courteous. I felt very safe. We biked to Ueno park, which has museums and grass. We biked to the Emperor’s palace, but it was closed. We then found a University and biked around there. Then Joren and I biked through the Akihabara District, this district is known for the girls dressed up like anime characters. I was impressed with all the flashing signs and dressed up girls, but what really caught my eye were these places called Pachinkos. They are the equivalent to casinos in America, but they are even weirder. They are 2-3 stories tall and have only 1 type of game called a Pachinko. I don’t really get the rules, but its a vertical pinball machine, pretty much. I walked through one and I felt so uneasy because almost all the machines were full and the people playing the game would not look away from their game. They just stared and had one hand on a nozzle, which directs the balls path, or something like that. It was so loud, yet so silent at the same time. I bet a Japanese horror movie has been made about Pachinkos.
I said goodbye to Joren and met up with Anne again the next day. We decided to take a ferry to an island called Oshima. It is famous for their summer snorkeling and whale watching, but during the winter/spring the island is quiet and much cheaper to travel in. So, we took a ferry that evening and slept on tatami mats with lots of other Japanese people.
I’ll make a second post for Oshima Island. Onward!