Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Vacation: Tokyo

We had to be in Tokyo for our departure late-night on the 2nd of January, so when we found out the Emperor was going to be addressing folks on the 2nd during the day, we figured we'd just make a day of it. But we had to roll in the night before. We stayed with Alejandro that night.

But as you already know, the 1st is a big family holiday. Many people return to their family homes, making cities less populated than usual; in addition, lots of places are closed.

We stepped out of Tokyo station and I was shocked (well I was kinda hoping Tokyo would be empty) to see this.

Tokyo is an okay city, but I've decided that it just has too damn many people. It makes it really difficult to relax because there's just never any space for me to do it. I mean.. maybe you're out walking around, and your feet get tired, so you think, okay, I'll go have a drink or a snack in a cafe. And you find a cafe, but there are absolutely no tables free, or no chairs. So you get your snack, but then you have to consume it standing or walking. Or you can go find a bench outside (in the shade), where it's cold, and after a moment you really want to be moving, to keep warm, but your feet still hurt from before... and basically the opposite of relaxing for a moment is accomplished. Tokyo is cool, as a city, and lots of important things get accomplished there. But I would not want to live there and contend with that stuff every day. As a tourist, it's your own bad planning or bad luck if you have to ride a rush-hour train. But if you live and work there, then it's just your life.

Anyway, that night we walked around trying to find a place that was open for "dinner," although it was kind of late for dinner, and Miriam and I had already been eating all day. We finally found a place, and stayed til closing. Our other friends showed up shortly before closing, actually. But the restaurant guy gave us all mikan and little go-en in envelopes. To wish us a happy New Year and invite us back, I guess.. that's what a tie (go-en) means. The mikan, he said, was "Vitamin C!" .. so we don't get scurvy I guess.

The next day (January 2nd) we did go to the palace (after spending approximately ALL DAY finding a locker in the station in which to store our crap) and we did see the emperor's address. I had the presence of mind a short ways into it to turn on my video and capture a bit of the audio of the experience as well. That will be in the album right after this photo:

From Winter Vacation Part I

It was the kind of thing I'm glad to have done, although the experience itself is more something you enjoy talking about than enjoy in the moment.

After that, Alejandro took me to see the Budokan, which was having some kind of New Year concert/party that started rocking the place just after we arrived to look at it. Nearby to that is the infamous Yasukuni shrine wherein some of Japan's war criminals are enshrined. We poked around a bit, but the crowds were pretty dense what with hatsumode still in swing. We didn't have much time to browse through the revision-heavy history museum on the site. Your basic food stall assortment lined the street leading up to the shrine.

Alejandro and I did a presentation at Vandy for a Japan culture class about the Yasukuni controversy.. mostly it's a problem with China. In the museum, he told me, there's a mention of this incident in Nanking in which "more than 5,000" Chinese people died. Um. Way, way more than 5,000. But you know. We don't know the exact number, so..

From there, we visisted Asakusa's temple, to similar (if less horrifying, at least for historical reasons) effect. There's a long narrow (packed with visitors) street leading up to the temple, and I'd like to check it out again sometime, maybe snag some souvenirs. We saw a little monkey trained to do tricks, and then made for Ueno, where we were meeting for a yakiniku dinner with some other McTyeire alumni.

(Looking back, this whole trip was like a McTyeire reunion roadshow! I mean, we didn't get to see everyone, but almost everyone I did see/visit was my friend because of that place.)

We had crepes or creampuffs (fresh strawberry whipped cream omg BeardPapas) for dessert, then Miriam and I took our leave, off toward Haneda airport for the next leg of our journey into warmth.

Haneda airport, or "new Haneda" as I heard it called, is a nice airport. We stripped down in the international terminal and stored all our winter goods in a bag we'd brought along in a side pocket for just this purpose. We checked the bag at the counter with the friendly and endearing bag-counter people and proceeded to our gate. The atmosphere in the airport was quiet (I mean, it was like 10pm), kind of subdued, people just going about their business in a clean and efficient environment.

Then we got on the plane. Just for the record, Malaysia is not all that far west of Japan, so there is only one hour of difference in their time zones. We were departing at 11:30pm and arriving at 6:30am, for a total of about 7 hours inflight. We picked the cheapest available days on the budget carrier AirAsia. I packed my earplugs and eyemask. There were no movies, nor radio, nor legroom of any kind. There were screaming babies. Not whining, not whimpering, not even just crying. Screaming. Have a good night!

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