Tokyo is the largest city in the world at 33,200,000. Just like the bamboo in Kyoto, the tulips in Holland, the glaciers in New Zealand, the chocolate department in Harrods…something about vast volume of anyone thing hits you over the head. This is this way with Tokyo- its massiveness is a site to see. The subway map alone boggles the mind.
It was not a love affair with Japan for me when I first arrived. It snuck up on me unaware. The 1960's cigarette culture and weird food from the sea really turned me off. I love sushi- but cannot eat it at every meal… especially when I think consuming it daily is equivalent to an x-ray. Besides, it gets tiring having my visual senses recruited to sneak attack my palet. Having things that look like pasta on your plate to find they are sea worms in your mouth, or beans reveal themselves once dancing on your tongue as fish entrails..it just gets old. No wonder these guys are brilliant advertisers- they can sell anything to your eyes- even jellyfish. But Tokyo is diverse enough you can grab the glory of Japan but leave the fish guts behind. In addition to finding whatever you need it gives you innovative, intelligent, logical and cutting edge. Quality is dripping in every detail. I would live here in spite of the earthquakes, and that is saying alot. It's just that kind of place. They are candidates for the 2020 Olympics- they would do a GREAT job.
I think I know the exact moment the Tokyo hook was set in my jaw. It took place at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation aka Miraikan. Unfortunate for my lifeline, reality is more important to me than optimism so you can believe me when I say this museum is the best I have been to anywhere in the world. It is worth paying for a flight to Tokyo just to come and experience this place.
It all started with Asimo, Asimo, Asimo………
Rosie, DANGER-WILL-ROBINSON, C3PO, R2D2….I petition to add Asimo.
The acronym stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility. My boy is cool as hell. The kids thought it was a human in a costume until they got a good look at the hip joints. Asimo travels all over the world, if you get the chance- go and see it- you wont be sorry. The smoothness of the movements and ability to balance really jolt you into imagining the possibilities. HONDA created Asimo imagining those possibilities- using robotics as quality of life preservation, enhancement and support is core to their mission. I was so moved that I got caught up in a robotics for the betterment of humankind convention taking place at the museum while on my way to the bathroom. I sat amongst them trying to blend in eavesdropping on the nerdy attendees with sparks in their eyes talking about their latest projects. In my mind we were going for drinks later. There is something about nerds gone wild I really love. Here are some clips of Asimo in action.
Post Asimo the museum continued to blow me away. They simplified difficult subjects in a way I have never experienced. They took me into space and made me both timeless and a witness to the birth of the planet earth. Then integrated humanity into science with positioning the universe as a great leveling dimension we share as humans- we all have the same Birthday (which was the name of the 3D experience). I left the learning experience astounded at the Japanese ability to break things into logical steps and use technology and imagery to help digest and envision a learning objective. Oh my God my kids would be so smart if we lived here and by proximity and osmosis things could permeate into them.
Everything in the museum had an award winning visual model that was always interactive and tactile. The internet was expressed in balls and runs, the earth model seemed to breathe as it spanned 3 floors and had a life-like atmosphere. We watched our friends and family sleep in the dark as our side of the world was in light then jetted into time to see it reverse. To see from the throne of zeus really cements things you just can't experience the same way in 2 dimensions or your minds eye. On the ground under the beautiful blue planet were numerous interactive simulations of geological phenomenon, weather, global temperature, ocean currents and things like that. Each had its own little super high tech worktable with really smart ways kids could make things happen and observe patterns. That is what is so damn powerful about this place. It doesn't tell you information- it facilitates you having fun and seeing information in SUCH a CLEAR way that you feel you have uncovered a truth that has not yet been discovered by humanity. You have seen the data and pieced together the puzzle. You can almost taste the Nobel Peace Prize.
The kids then dashed to the human body section and placed their hands on a tray for a microscope to magnify it to the cellular level of their skin. It continued turning up its microscpic power and at some point simulation seamlessly took over magnifying it to nucleus then DNA level. It positioned each layer of magnification in a way the kids felt like it was their body they were being given a look within. They all wanted a picture with their double helix.
Science made digestable by mortals and balanced with humanity and emotion. Not only was this threaded throughout this place but there was whole section on fun and friendly sociology and psychology. Large screens were living books and kids performed different actions for the characters to enter, words to appear and stories to unfold. Emotions were dissected- their creation, storage and how they impact our memories and perceptions. The process of decision-making was explained in a way that every teenager needs to hear. I especially loved the board room discussion between the data analyst (lateral prefrontal cortex), the corporate executive (medial prefrontal cortex) and the salesperson (basal prefrontal cortex). Another display took my eldest's hand and brush stroked it for 2 minutes as she both felt and watched it happen on a screen, then disturbingly the screen showed her hand being poked almost to piercing with a pencil. It's crazy what is felt and instinctively done as you deal with the confusion of visual and physical in your brain. Again, it doesn't tell you what the learning objective is, just gives you an experience and problem to solve then supports you in your exploration of finding out why. I LOVE THIS PLACE.
There was a slot machine set up to teach Dunbar's number. This number suggests there is cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Can you guess what the Dunbar's number is?
It is between 100 and 230, commonly assigned 150. The kids could'nt imagine they knew that many people but the Dunbar's slot machine kept bringing up different groups they have social membership to showing just how many people they really associate with and know. The museum was just so unique and balanced/grounded. It is all I would need to home school on this trip.
Nippon. Hai, hai, hai. Say it with some A-C-B sing songiness and follow it up with DynoMITE (JJ from Good Times…anyone?). The translation is Japan. Yes, yes, yes. Yes, we are getting used to the Japanese ways. The bowing is a bit overdone but it really makes a lot of sense- it is germ free after all. The running still catches me off guard. You seriously see on a daily basis a several of these displays. A waiter or clerk in a department will actually start sprinting to go find an answer for you. It tickles my flight instinct- I keep looking for Godzilla. On Japan Airlines the preflight safety movie does the same thing. Animated people run to the exit and pause huffing their lungs one by one into their life vests before jumping out the door. My money is on they studied just how many times you need to see this to imprint the knowledge onto your brain because there is a solid 15 animated participants in the pause-blow-jump before they move to the next topic. Those same characters jump down the slide and demonstrate you will be committing a major faux pas if you try to lay back on your way down. You must sit up and never, I mean never, go down head first or in heels. Then, the familiar Japanese gait, the run for your life exercise away from the plane as if the mighty Godzilla monster has just cleared the horizon and is headed your way. It's a compelling movie preflight.
Did you know the Japanese were never a British colony yet drive on the left? Strange world, eh. It got even stranger when we went out looking for ninjas. There was a dark lair with secret passageways and a smoky bridge. We were escorted into jail by the black-masked master assassins and given a scroll to choose our last meal. Our food came in little wooden boxes and other assorted odd vessels. Tokyo has it all.
Our last full day my husband got up at 3:30 am and went to the largest fish market in the world to check out the tuna auction. Some of the fish went for over $1,000,000 USD. The rest of us had a more leisurely start to the day and met up with him and a kimono-clad woman at a decent hour for a cooking class. We learned to make sushi and gyozo. Sadly my guy sucked the air out of the room at the end of the class by trying to tip the teachers. Who has time to read guidebooks when you are on a world tour?! It was quite a buzz kill. When you are in Japan- just don't do it unless it is a bellman at a hotel. Tipping is a big slap-in-the-face reduction of the quality of your relationship and statement about their motivation. Before we slapped them it was WAY cool to roll Maki, Nigiri and Gunkan with them. I had NO clue there was sugar and rice vinegar in that sticky rice. We kept spraying it down, and ourselves with a spray bottle of water and rice vinegar to keep it in its playdough state so we could mold it. It is SUCH a fun thing to do with kids. The gyozo was so simple. I can't wait to experiment filling those wrappers with different things when we get home someday. We shared the meal we made with the office workers and teachers. It was the best rubbing elbows with locals and chatting about life and things. I feel so bad we reduced them to seagulls on our way out. We were so moved by our foody day we ended up wandering aimlessly on Kappabashi Dougu Street looking at steamers and wooden rice buckets, hot pots and dishes. A rice spatula is all we got. Still too much travel left to cart anything but clothes.
Lastly, there are some special friends I meet up with in Genoa City, Wisconsin from time to time I need to tell this to. Imagine my surprise to find our hotel in Tokyo was located right next to the Mitsukoshi department store. I did a browse to look for Jabot and Beauty of Nature cosmetics. I may have seen Victor, not there, but at the Ninja place.
From Tokyo at 35.6833° N, 139.7667° E.