Tokyo from a Year Away

It’s funny how your perceptions of home change after a long trip. We’ve been back almost a year now, but St. Louis still somehow looks different to me than I remember.

Things I will miss about Tokyo, in no particular order:

  • Warm robotic toilets.
  • Seeing people everywhere.
  • Convenient trains.
  • Cheap take-away sushi
  • The supermarket.
  • The convenience stores.
  • The vending machines.
  • Friendly people, all of whom are utterly dedicated to doing their job right.

Things I won’t miss about Tokyo:

  • Squat toilets.
  • Seeing people everywhere.
  • The smog.
  • The single-ply toilet paper (just who are they fooling?)
  • Expensive coffee.
  • The language barrier.
  • The fact that we would never, ever be accepted as a member of society.

Things I’ve discovered about St. Louis in virtue of having been away:

  • St. Louis is empty, going on deserted.
  • The trains here are small, infrequent, slow, and inconvenient, but at least we have them.
  • Americans can be surprisingly and frequently rude and obnoxious—much more so than I realized.
  • That the seafood aisle is desperately short of fish with any sort of flavor, but that otherwise the international grocers here stock nearly everything we’d begun to take for granted in Tokyo.
  • America is freaking huge.
  • Americans realize, rightly, that there is more to drinking than simply beer and sake.

Are you still here?

It’s been almost a year since Amy and I were in Tokyo, and we think about our trip a lot. We really miss the place. We can’t go back any time soon, so I’ve decided to construct a small model of a small part of Tokyo instead. I’ve begun a project to model Akihabara Station, and I’m blogging about it here.

More Photos!

Just to let those who don’t know in on the secret: more photos are going up at my photoblog, Artificial Science.

Back!

We are in Little Rock, to pick up Odin and wait out the ice storm in St. Louis. Unfortunately, somewhere in transit, my MacBook was stolen. Thankfully, all the photographs were on Amy’s iBook, which is still with us, and I have a backup of my harddrive that I made before we left—that’s something, at least.

Update: I just got off the phone with my insurance agent, and the loss is covered by our policy. Yay!

Portland, OR

More on the exciting evening of kabuki later. We arrived in Portland, OR a couple of hours ago (8AM EST—it’s now 10AM EST), and will soon be continuing to Minneapolis, Little Rock (to pick up Odin!) and then, after an evening of rest after the longest day ever, St. Louis. Assuming that the ice storm passes, leaving open roads, that is.

I say the longest day ever, because today is our own personal groundhog’s day. 8AM, wake up and clean apartment; 10AM leave for airport; 3PM arrive at airport in hurried frenzy of immigration and customs; 8AM, land in Portland; 10AM drink coffee and try to stay awake; 3PM arrive in Minneapolis, &c., &c. In the end, Saturday 13 January 2007 will be something like 40 hours long for us (to compensate us for the dramatically short 8 hour Christmas Day we had).

Say?nara!

Well, unless Amy ever writes a post about Kabuki (here’s the short version: man, that’s some freaky stuff. Freaky. If you ever get a chance, don’t pass it up, but be sure to ask if there’s an English-language audio guide to go with it, or you’ll never follow what’s going on.) this is pretty much it. I invite the interested to follow me to my main site, Artificial Science, as I post even more photos of Tokyo.

We want to thank everybody for reading with us and posting comments. Tokyo is a long way from home, but having y’all here kept that fact from sinking in too deep. Thank you.

Fukagawa Edo Museum, Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji, and the Imperial Gardens

It is Thursday evening, and we leave Tokyo on Saturday, so this will be my last blog entry. It’s been an incredible trip, and it’s sad to see it come to an end, but we are ready to come home. This week has been a bit more laid back because I am still sick. On Tuesday we tried running around like usual, but I felt too bad, so I decided to return to the apartment on my own so Don could do some photography around town. I went to the local grocery store pharmacy with a kanji book Don had purchased and pointed at the kanji for mucus in hopes of the pharmacist handing me something. Instead he spoke to me in Japanese. I finally gave up, said thank you and left. By the time I made it home I realized I didn’t have a key, so I left Don a note on the door of the apartment and waited for him in the McDonald’s. Don showed up shortly afterwards with a surprise for me. He had managed to explain to a pharmacist all my symptoms and buy me some medicine. I was so happy to see him and the medicine.

That evening we tried to dine out at a local soba shop. We thought it would be nice to experience a non-chain restaurant. It was expensive, not very good, and the service was bad. I don’t think we have refined enough pallets to tell the difference between a $3 bowl of soba and a $13 bowl. Oh well.

Wednesday we visited the Fukagawa Edo Museum. Edo is the period in Japanese history from 1607-1867 in which the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is considered a period of peace and enlightenment. Edo is also the old name for Tokyo. This museum consisted of a life-size reconstruction of a street in Edo. It was a great museum because everything was very realistic and you could walk around in all the little buildings and touch everything.

Here’s a view of the storefronts.

DSCN0726.JPG

And here’s a vegetable store.

Fukagawa Edo Museum

And here’s a tea stall. This was really neat. Apparently the water is heated up on the stove in an iron tetsubin, then some tea and hot water are put into a ceramic teapot. Each customer gets a little tray with a bit of embers in it, and the teapot sits on a holder above these embers and you pour the tea a little at a time into the bamboo cup.

DSCN0731.JPG

After the museum we visited Meiji shrine. This giant shrine was built in honor of Emperor Meiji in 1920, but it was firebombed in WWII and rebuilt in 1958. It is surrounded by a lovely green space with lots of trees.

Meiji Shrine

A cute couple with a little baby took this picture for us so we’d return the favor.

Meiji Shrine

After a nice nap we went to an Izakaya, which Don blogged about earlier.

Today we got up bright & early to go the Tsujiki Fish Market. This was exciting, not only because there was so much to see and smell, but because it was somewhat life threatening. This is a place of business, and its very crowded. You can get run over pretty easily if you aren’t careful. Tourists would never be allowed at a place like this in the U.S. because of potential lawsuits. People drive around on these things, which have an engine in the front and a pallet in the back. That big round part in the steering wheel.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Every kind of sea creature imaginable is here. I had no idea what most things were.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Eel is one of my favorite Japanese foods, but it doesn’t look too appetizing here.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Some of the fish are so big they cut them with a bandsaw.

Tsukiji Fish Market

After seeing the market we ate some of the freshest sushi ever. It was tasty, but again, I don’t have such a refined pallet that I prefer such fresh stuff.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tomorrow will be our last full day here, and we plan to see a Kubuki play. I am guessing we will also be stuffing ourselves with takeout sushi for the last time.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading the blog and keeping up with the trip. It’s been a lot of fun! We look forward to seeing many of you at our wedding reception in June!

Sh?ch? and Yakitori

Amy and I spent the evening in one of the local izakaya, a kind of bar that salariman (white collar workers) visit after work to decompress. These places serve a sort of Japanese tapas: you order a number of inexpensive small dishes to share over beer or whatnot. Mostly, these places deal in yakitori, skewered and grilled bits of chicken and sashimi, slices of (usually) raw meat (generally fish, but our menu also offered us, get this, raw horse meat. I was tempted…but I couldn’t do it.), plus a selection of beer, sake and sh?ch?.

We visited a chain near our train station called Shirokiya (???, which, as near as I can translate, means “store of unfinished wood”), which had nice picture menus and brief English descriptions of the dishes (most izakaya don’t have English, or even picture menus, and eschew Arabic numerals for pricing (e.g. ¥530) for Chinese numerals (e.g. ????, five hundred and thirty yen), which makes evaluating the menu—and ordering—very difficult). This guy—who looks familiar—is the chain’s mascot.

Who is he?

We ate some sort of “Korean pancake”, which was yummy, edamame (boiled soybeans), some strange deep-fried yam-and-cheese sticks that were fantastic, and a ton of yakitori. Now, you can get yakitori lots of places. There’s a yakitori stand right outside our grocer that’s tasty. But, really, it’s bar food, through and through. You order it either tare, with sauce (imagine a barbeque sauce made with soy sauce rather than tomato and vinegar. Yum!) or shio, with salt. Shio is best, I think, but both are delicious. Yakitori comes in varieties. I’ve had, to date, sh? niku—breast meat, negima—thigh meat with onion, nankotsu—cartilage (which is crunchy, not in a happy, crispy way, but in a disturbing, what-am-I-eating? way), torikawa—skin (tasty! but chewy), sunagimo—gizzards (not as tasty as the deep fried variety, and also with that sickening crunch), tebasaki—chicken wings (chicken wings on a stick? Now I’ve seen everything!), and finally, our favorite, tsukune—chicken meatballs. You usually order them in singles or pairs, and they are perfect with beer.

Sh?ch? is an interesting phenomenon. Tonight, I enjoyed a glass of barley sh?ch?, which was smooth and tasty. It’s served either mixed with hot water, or on the rocks, and it’s a very smooth drink, but not weak flavoured at all. As near as I can tell it’s the Japanese answer to vodka, though it’s not sweet like vodka. It’s a distilled liquor made from starch—any starch will do, apparently. You can get sh?ch? made from potato, yam, barley, even noodles. It’s an old drink, and until recently was considered an “old man’s drink”. In the past few years, though, it’s become all the rage. Sh?ch? now outsells sake in Japan, but from what I hear, it’s not available in the U.S.–yet. It will be soon, I’m sure.

More Small Things

As per some readers’ requests, here are some more small things we have acquired. The Gachapon (toy capsule) machine’s call is irresistible to us. These two guys are doing it “Frog Style”.

Frog Style

Everything in this country has a mascot; a cute, cuddly mascot. DoCoMo, the biggest cellphone network in Japan has Docomodake (If you can find them, there are some cute movies in that site, available from gachapon everywhere.

Docomodake

This is a 1/144 scale Scopedog from the anime show VOTOMS, just screaming for me to buy a ton more and play table top war games with them (1/144 being both Micro-Armor scale and Heavy Gear scale). I put it on a ¥100 piece (about the size of a quarter) to show how amazingly tiny it is.

Scopedog

Frog Style!

Frog Style

Odaiba

Yesterday we went to the man-made island of Odaiba. This island was built in the 80’s when the value of land in Tokyo was at its highest, and then, of course, the bubble burst. Now Odaiba is fairly developed, but it is a strange combination of tourist attractions and businesses. The train ride to Odaiba is very nice, as it crosses the rainbow bridge and circles around to give you a view of the island.

View from train to Odaiba- Rainbow bridge

There is a lot of greenspace on the island and a footpath following the beach. We enjoyed a nice sunny walk together. It was warm and not too crowded. It seems Monday morning is a good day to go to Odaiba.

Odaiba

Here is the modern looking Fuji building. It has that “trying too hard to be futuristic” feel to it. Kinda like dipping dots.

Fuji building on Odaiba

For some reason there is a little Statue of Liberty on the island.

statue of liberty on Odaiba

After lunch the clouds started rolling in and it got pretty windy, so we retreated to the shopping centers. One was this place called VenusFort. It is a Venice themed mall. (Why is it called Venus then? Good question. I don’t know) It was really gaudy, with this big statue fountain in the middle and a ceiling painted like the sky that changed from day to night.

venus fort on odaiba

We also visited a game arcade. The Japanese have such interesting games. This one I played has a treadmill and a dog with a leash. You’re supposed to walk him and make sure he doesn’t get hit by cars. I couldn’t figure out what to do so my dog got hit by a car almost immediately. Oops.

Amy playing dog walking game

Don played this car driving game. I got to be the passenger. It bounces you around as you hit things.

Don plays car game

The coolest thing on Odaiba is this giant ferris wheel. It was the biggest in the world at 115 meters in the 90’s, but bigger ones have been built since. Nonetheless, it’s HUGE. Each car is climatized and the seats are heated. And you don’t have to share your capsule with anyone if you don’t want.

Ferris wheel on Odaiba

We rode it at night so we could see Tokyo all lit up.

Ferris wheel on Odaiba

Here’s a bad picture of the view. Kinda hard to photograph at night when you’re moving.

Ferris wheel on Odaiba

It was pretty scary to be up so high, especially since we could hear the wind blowing. It didn’t move much though and the view was amazing. Here’s us in the capsule.

Amy & Don on Ferris wheel on Odaiba

We had a wonderful day. :-)