Today, we went on a semi-shopping spree. We had the morning off, so I persuaded Ingeborg to come with me to Akihabara, the electronics district. It took us a while to get started, then we took the subway in that direction. When we left the station, we went the wrong way, so we had to double back to get to the real electronics district.
It was fun to see all the stuff you could buy there. There were some shops that specialised in models of anime stuff (Gundam galore, but also Evangelion and other stuff). At the second shop we visited I found a model of the SDF Macross in it's transformed state and a Zentraedi cruiser. Of course I bought 'em!
Our next stop was a shop specialising in consoles and the associated software. I concentrated on the aisle with Gameboy Advance stuff. If only I could read Japanese, what many wonderful RPGs I could play! In the end, I settled for a Z.O.E. game, but the store clerk informed me that it would not work on a European gameboy. That's weird, since I know there is a large import scene in the Netherlands as well as in the US. When I inquired whether I could return with my gameboy and try it out, they flatly refused (which kind of makes sense), so they lost that sale.
By that time we had to go to the Asakasa Prince Hotel (semi-close to our hotel), where we would be picked up for the Tokyo Afternoon guided tour. On the way, we stopped at a small park-like installation underneath a huge building to eat our lunch: a set of delicious onigiri. You see these small parks often in little corners between office buildings: a few shrubs and some benches. I guess the salarymen need to relax once in a while too.
Lunch: Onigiri set
We went into the bus (a friendly lady was already waiting for us), and after a small delay at the Okura hotel (the people we needed to pick up were waiting in the annex, not in the main building as they should have), we were taken to the bus station where our tour began. Our guide was Daisuke Mori, a man with a brisk pace and a horribly nasal accent when speaking English. He tended to repeat himself three times, and kept talking to himself (or perhaps to us as well) when not engaged in any activity which required his immediate attention. First we were taken to the Seaside Top Observatory of the World Trade Center building. It's quite high and gave a very good view of the city.
View of a random intersection from above
Then it was onto a bus, to the Nijuibashi, or two-story bridge. That is a bridge that gives access to the imperial palace compound, were it not for the roadblocks, patrolling policemen and sentries. A few good photo-opportunities were had, but it was mostly obligatory rather than interesting.
Then it was back into the bus, through Ginza (there wasn't much to see there: lots of high-end department stores, which look the same all around the world) and to the Asukasa Kannnon temple, the temple of the Budhist godess of mercy. The shopping spree continued: right next to the main gate, I spotted a store which had some Ghibli goods in the window. We went in, and came out again with three cellphone straps: one of Yuu-baba of 'Spirited Away', with three figures (one in her 'normal' form, one with her black cloack wrapped around her and one when she has completely transformed into a crow); one with two Kodama's of 'Princess Mononoke' and one of the faceless one, also from 'Spirited Away', with a card for a medicinal bath. I also bought a pin of the faceless one, to use in my button-hole next time I wear a suit.
We went through the main gate and ended up in some sort of circus. There were little shops on each side of the promenade, selling all sorts of stuff: candy, souvenirs, yukata's, toys. We scored a bag of cakes, to munch on. We also spotted a stall selling Ramune (with the marble inside the bottle). We had planned to get a bottle when we went back, but we completely forgot.
The circus-like atmosphere inside the Asukasa Kannon temple
The temple itself was as loud as the shopping street in front of it. We did offer some inscence, for our grandmothers, but otherwise it was not as peaceful or majestic as the Meiji shrine. There were lots of women wearing their kimono to the temple though, which was a nice sight.
Lots of Japanese people were taking pictures with the cellphones. You see everyone with a cellphone. They all have a clam-shell like type (like the NEC 22i that we have in the Netherlands), constantly either typing a text message, reading webpages or taking pictures.
Then we went on a river cruise, which wasn't that interesting. We did get to see some of the constructions the homeless built on the waterfront. Like pretty much every aspect of Japanese society, these people too were quiet and organised. Their sheds were carefully constructed of cartons and plastic sheets, some even with a door and about 1.50 meters tall. I haven't seen a single beggar here (pretty amazing, considering that this is the capital and that it has a population of 12 million people), so I don't know what the homeless (and presumably jobless) do to get by.
Then it was back into the bus, back to the bus station, into another bus, and back to the Asakasa Prince Hotel. I cashed in a few travellers cheques (and like the guide said: it's a pretty speedy procedure in the big hotels) and we went in search for Yakitori Luis which was reasonably close by the hotel. It took a while to get there, but the walk was entertaining enough: lots of little eating places, lots of bars and lots of sararimen looking for some entertainment before heading home. We found Luis, and were enthusiasticly invited by the staff. Much to our surprise, it was the oldest man who spoke the best English. We ordered a combination menu and got extensive coaching in our choice. It was delicious (okras! ginku nuts! asparagus! beef in special sauce!) except for the chicken liver one... Ingeborg ate hers, but I just couldn't... When I leafed in the Lonely Planet guide, we were presented with lots of maps and a small tourist guidebook by the staff. Who said that the Japanese were unfriendly and uncaring? So far, we only met friendly people who wanted to make our stay in Tokyo a pleasant one...
There are other things here in Tokyo that I could get used to pretty easily back home:
- 24 hour convenience stores selling stuff like instant food, cooled or hot beverages, magazines and candy.
- Having an extensive subway system that is relatively cheap and mostly doesn't require you to interact with a clerk to get your ticket;
- Delicious and cheap food. Who said that Japan was expensive? Perhaps the accomodation is, but the food certainly isn't. The ramen on the first day cost us a little over Y2000 (that's 15 euros!), the yakitori of today was a little over Y5000 (E45), which got us two full meals and two beers.
- Vending machines. It's pretty neat to be able to get chilled drinks from a machine. And they're reasonably priced as well: half a liter of chilled green tea will cost you Y150, which is just a little over 1 euro -- that's approximately the price you pay for a 33cl can of coke! And they're everywhere, so it's really easy to get something to drink. Speaking of beverages, the assortment is pretty neat too: chilled teas and coffees, several brands of mineral water and, yes, the standard assortment of fizzy soft drinks.
- The courtesy. Yes, it's mostly a little play, but it's a good facade of maintain. Instead of shouting "Someone take this to table 3!", the cook shouts "Please! Will someone take this to table 3 for me?" Note the difference in tone... Yes, it's only a formula and it has lost any real meaning, but if you're going to shout something to someone, you might as well make it polite. Clerks in stores are polite as well, making the transactions speedy and courteous. Far better than some of the faces on the girls in the supermarket in the Netherlands!
It feels like we've been here for a week now, it's really easy to feel at home here -- if it weren't for the heat. Seems like it's better in the spring. Perhaps we should return then, in time for the hanami (watching of the cherry blossoms) season.
Note: these reports were mostly written on the day it happened. Also, the original reports mention which lewt we got for whom, but since that would ruin the surprise, I'll make a friends-only posting with the complete lewt-report.