Land of the Rising Fun

My biggest regret about Tokyo is that I'm not staying here longer. It's truly one of the capitals of the world in fashion, technology and just about anything else. It's as close as humanity could get to a perfect city. It's clean, people are friendly and polite, and there's even a crackdown on smoking to the point where its illegal on sidewalks except in very specifically assigned spots. My mom said that she is sometimes annoyed by everyone bowing all the time, but I think its pretty courteous and I could get used to it. Crime is also extremely low, and Tokyo citizens are so comfortable in their surroundings that most men leave their wallets practically hanging out of their back pockets without any fear of theft. (However, assassinations tend to happen here quite a bit, which I'll get to later.) We got up bright and early to watch the rising sun outside of our high-rise hotel window before getting on another tour bus for morning city tour. First stop: Tokyo Tower. Even my mom and I, who are both scared of heights, felt perfectly comfortable in Tokyo's tallest structure, as the observation deck is completely enclosed by windows. The city view was so crystal clear that we could see the snow-capped peak of Japan's highest mountain, Mt. Fuji (which I MUST go see next time in Japan. There will be a next time...)

mount-fuji-tokyo-tower

Then we drove through the Imperial Palace Gardens, where Emperor Akihito and his family live and he works everyday. However, the area was littered with Japanese journalists and heightened security because just the day before, the minister of welfare was stabbed to death by a lone assassin. Our guide didn't seem to convey the gravity of the situation in English, but it's all over the media here. Knives appear to be the weapon of choice in Japan, as I don't think citizens are allowed to own handguns. But then again, crime rates are still low.

After driving through several shopping districts, including an entire anime neighborhood that I didn't have time to visit on this trip, we went to Asakusa Kannon Temple & Nakamise Shopping Arcade, site of the oldest and most popular Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Crawling with worshippers and tourists alike on a bright yet chilly November morning, the area was a little overwhelming but definitely worth checking out. Afterwards we were supposed to go to some pearl showroom as every tour seems to have some kind of attraction selling you something, but the guide gave us the option of being dropped off in Ginza, which almost everyone took advantage of. 

When we arrived in Tokyo's shopping mecca of high-end department stores and designer labels, first and foremost, I had to find lunch. But that was a problem. While I mentioned before, there are places you can eat well and cheap in Tokyo. But would you ever find a place to eat cheap on Fifth Avenue...that was not a Subway or a Quiznos? Well you can't in Ginza either. Either the places we found were extremely expensive, business-lunch places, or they were American chains. And I refused to eat at a Subway in Tokyo. We eventually found a nice looking, affordable restaurant which had pictures and samples of meals outside the door, like most restaurants do here. As my mom says, its always best to eat where the locals eat, and this place was very traditional as we even had to take off our shoes before being seated. The lockers for our shoes were locked by large, square wooden keys. Incredible. 

But then when we looked at the menu, no more pictures. No more English. My mom and I stared at each other, unsure what to do. Then our waiter came by, who spoke a little English. My mom then tried to explain to him what we wanted, but the poor guy just looked completely lost in translation. He had that look on his face that I could almost see how hard his brain was working to understand us, sort of the same way I look when I'm trying to understand someone speaking a language I don't know. Finally my mom just said, "Ramen. Noodles. Chicken. Meat." Then our waiter nodded and smiled, and later came back with Chicken Teriyaki strips with Miso soup and sides of salad and white rice for both of us. I was very happy. 

Afterwards we walked around a bit and checked out the department stores. My mom told me she used to come here years ago (like 38 years ago. Again, pause and think about that.) on the weekends from Manila because she could get really cheap airfares. There was even a full-sized Printemps department store AND two Harrods stores (sized down into boutiques), which I've never seen outside of France and the United Kingdom, respectively. I also stopped in the Uniqlo (the Japanese version of Gap -- but BETTER), and I saw the cutest pair of dark blue plaid pants, but I didn't buy them. And now I really regret it and I can only hope that they have them at the SoHo location back in New York :/

To continue the tour of shopping districts in Tokyo, we headed for the trendy and hipster Harajuku District, which most Americans are familiar with now thanks to Gwen Stefani. They had the usual stuff I've seen on this trip: TopShop, Zara, and H&M, which must have just opened as the line was down the block and there were security guards everywhere. My mom remarked that the H&M bags were being carried around the neighborhoods like badges of honor. We walked around Harajuku Street, a series of back alleys like a lot of shopping streets in this western area of Tokyo, and most shops were tiny, expensive boutiques. My favorite, however, had to have been the second-hand American clothing store. I don't know where they get their stock. Tourists looking to dump their stuff before going home? International shipments from Salvation Army? Who knows.

harajuku-streetThen we made our way back east again to accomplish a goal I have had for years: to see every Disney park in the world. Don't ask why I have this goal. I'm not sure myself, but after I hit up Euro Disney in 2004, I figured I should just go all the way. Anyway, Tokyo Disneyland was my last target. After changing trains three times, we finally made it to Tokyo Disneyland. Disney sure gets people coming and going, as they actually charge a fee (250 yen) to take the shuttle from the JR Station to the park. Hong Kong didn't do that. Hmph. Anyway, we went this late in the day (already dark since sunset is around 4:30 p.m. right now) because at the foreign Disney parks, admission is cheaper after 6 p.m. by at least 50%. I don't know why they don't do this in the U.S. parks. I've never Disneyland park-goers look so good. EVERYONE dresses up here in Tokyo, everywhere they go. It's like New York and Paris, but then some. I brought my trenchcoat, but I even felt shabby with my Converse shoes. Very different from the usual sweatshirt and tennis shoes crowd in Anaheim. Not to mention the kids are all well-behaved here. No children screaming and throwing temper tantrums. Incredible.

After a few hours at the park, my mom and I were exhausted and decided to call it a day. The trip home was supposed to be pretty straight forward. Only one transfer. We couldn't even get that right. We were almost back at our station, when my mom asked if the one we were at was the right one. I said no, but then the lady next to me said it was "Iidabashi" (which was the station we were headed for). So my mom and I jumped for the door, but then the man in suit (well, every guy wears a suit here) who was standing in front of me said that it was not Iidabashi. I turned to stop my mom, but she was already on the platform. Then as I jumped to catch her, the doors shut in front of me. My mom and I stared at each other between the door windows, as we started to move away. I motioned for her to stay there, and I got off the train at the next stop (Iibadashi) and waited on the platform to go back. Then a young Japanese guy started talking to me (in Japanese), but I didn't know what he was saying. He was smiling and then said finally in English, "You want to go get something to eat?" And then I said, "No, I have to go find my mom." Poor thing must have thought it was a line, but it was true. Then the train came and I went back to the other station, collected my mom, and we went back to the hotel, stopping at the restaurant we went to the night before to get some yummy take-out.

Now I'm headed back to the United States, but with a few stops in California before back to New York. But I must, MUST, come back to Japan soon and explore Tokyo and the rest of the country soon. I am glad that I came now, however, and not 10 years ago, as I'd probably be headed back to America with a suitcase full of useless Sailor Moon souvenirs, which I actually didn't see any of...but there was no lack of Hello Kitty here...

*Thanks to my former fellow FC interns for suggesting this blog entry title previously.