My adventure began on September 23rd in Tokyo, Japan.I have always been fascinated with Japanese culture. Surprising to most, this fascination extends far beyond any generalization depicted in American pop-culture, such as ninjas and Mr. Sparkle. On the contrary, Japan has a deeply-rooted culture reflecting it's extensive and momentous history that has captivated my interest. I was anxious to see if the country lives up to my expectations.
The flight from Seattle seemed a lot shorter than the 10 hours it actually was.Our flight landed around 3pm, but by the time we went through customs, got our luggage, took the "airport limousine" (aka, shuttle bus"), and got situated in our hotel, it was about 8pm. Our hotel, The Park Prince Tower, was really nice.My first impression was, "where are all the city lights?" I've always heard Tokyo was a bustling metropolis, with tons of lights paralleling Vegas. It was nothing like that! I would soon realize that I judged a bit too soon.
The next day we woke up at 6:30am, obviously impacted by the 16 hour time difference. Right next to our hotel was a huge temple and shrine that we were unable to see the night before. After a morning jog around the hotel, we headed out to see some of the sights. We went to the Ginza district, which is a large shopping district, the Imperial Palace, and Roppongi Hills, which has a great view of the entire city. We took the subway everywhere, which was a lot easier than I was previously told. There are a ton of subway lines and the stations are nearly impossible to pronounce, but we made our way around just fine. All of these sights were interesting, but we still hadn't seen anything resembling any pictures we'd seen of Tokyo. Maybe tomorrow.
We decided that we wanted to experience more cultural sights than those found within the city. So, we headed to Nikko, which was a 2 hour "slow train" ride from Tokyo. I always enjoy riding the train in countries I visit. It's a great way to see the countryside. Nikko is exactly what I was looking for: a more rural (although touristy) town with great scenery (gardens, mountains, rivers, etc.), Buddhist temples and shrines, great food and nice people. We ate lunch right when we got there and had the best gyoza and soba noodles I've ever had! We then headed out to Toshugu Temple and the other nearby shrines and temples. The architecture of the temples is amazing! I love the pagoda-style design. Within one of the temples lye these huge gold statues standing about 30 feet tall. Because of the religious significance of these statues, pictures were not allowed. A lot of the temples required us to remove our shoes before entering. I thought this spoke a lot of Japanese culture: respect and reverence for religion. I am not Buddhist, but I believe the underlying values and doctrines are peaceful, ritualistic, and parallel most religions.
The next day we stayed around Tokyo to see more of the city.We started with the fish market. Although this market is a popular destination, it was nothing like Pike Place. First, this thing was huge! It was like you were out on the old fish docks...forklifts and trucks running everywhere. You can't help but feel like you're in the way.They did have a few shops where t-shirts were sold, but it really didn't cater to tourists. We decided to eat lunch there, which was one of the best decisions we made all trip! We noticed a few sushi restaurants (when I say restaurants, I really mean whole-in-the wall shops a little large than my college dorm room, which was terribly small) that had anxious customers lined around the corner. We looked at the line and about 99% of the awaiting customers were Japanese…we figured they knew best, so we got in line with them. We stood in this crammed line for about 45 minutes, but I would've waited all day if I knew the meal I was about to have. The "sushi set" was comprised of about 8 different kinds of sushi: mackeral, sea urchin (a little like vomit), a few types of tuna, eel, shrimp, and salmon eggs. We also had miso soup with clams and tea. The table around the sushi chefs sat (read: crammed) about 10 people. There was barely enough room to pick up the food with the chopsticks. Well, let me tell you…this food was amazing…best sushi I've ever had! Now we knew why the line was so long (the "restaurant" next to the one we went to had a line twice as long…some people were in line for 1.5 hours.) The whole meal cost about $30, but the experience made it a bargain. Eating sushi at fish market in Tokyo…can't get more authentic than that.
We spent the rest of the day…well, very full! We went to Akihabara, an electronics district that was unbelievable…anything you could ever want could be found within the 10 square blocks of electronics stores. There were thousands of people there! In all the stores they played the funniest circus-type music, which was appropriate considering the environment. After the electronics circus, we headed to Shibuya, which is the city scene we were looking for. We finally found that crazy intersection (like Times Square) that is in all the movies and pictures.It was seriously breathtaking. As we stood in awe of all the bright lights and thousands of people, I leaned over to Patrick and said, "This makes Manhattan look like Tacoma!" We spent a few hours just walking around…as I mentioned earlier, I did judge the city too soon. This was one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen! Oh…I forgot to mention that the women here were unbelievable….Patrick and I fell in love a few times in a manner of minutes!
The people here are very friendly…I wanted to hug everyone as they smiled and bowed. They are very quiet and conservative (a little too quiet and conservative in my opinion). Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed the experience. So that was Tokyo…tomorrow we fly to Bangkok!