< Previous | Next >
Sunday 10th October - Tokyo
By Claire
Saturday, 16th October 2004 04:31

There are Subways in Tokyo, the best sandwich shop in the world. Haven't been into one since Darwin, so we had to have brunch there (too late for breakfast today!). The best thing about it, though, other than being very close to the Apple Store for email, was that along with all the normal Japanese people out for brunch on a Sunday, was a girl in a gorgeous kimono, the full regalia with what looks like a cushion tied to her back (haven't worked that one out yet), sending a text message on her phone and eating a dripping sandwich with the other. It was incongruous and would have made a nice photo if I'dhad the courage to ask, but I didn't.

Breakfast solved, it was a quick walk to check our email. It wasn't raining today, but the sky was a solid wall of white, looking very mean. But it gave me a chance to see a bit of Ginza properly. The main road had been closed to traffic and the ubiquitous Peruvian panpipe players in shopping centres the world over, were strumming and humming to that Simon and Garfunkel song they always play, the one about rather being something than something else. Has the word 'Condor' in it. That's the one. Anyway, the main street was really wide, four lanes of traffic and pavements, pale grey tarmac to make it look wider. And none of the buildings were more than about eight storeys high, so it seemed very spread out. In fact, Tokyo is much shorter than I was expecting, and quieter.

More people were out today, probably because of the weather. I was struck by how many women were in kimono, and most of them in their early twenties or so. It was a nice sight. We took a long walk through town to the Imperial Palace, which we knew we couldn't go and see, but which had nice gardens. At a few roads, we stopped at crossings for the lights to change and I noticed how silent the cars were. Really, really hushed. In fact, the loudest thing was the tyres on the road. And then a motorbik came screaming along and spoiled it all, but, generally speaking, the traffic here is quieter than anywhere else we've been. Weird. And, while we're on the subject, the Japanese people tend to walk everywhere quietly and sedately, talking in low tones and being calm. I've not heard a single mobile phone ring, either, come to think of it. So maybe it's only when they go abroad do the Japanese lose the reserve we've been seeing and become the pushy, boiserous gangs of noise that I've become so familiar with.

The road into the palace grounds was one of those fake Disneyland roads that isn't real, it's just a wide expanse of tarmac put there to make you think you're in another place, where cars don't go. It was surrounded by manicured lawns full of twisty spruce trees and signs that asked people not to camp. And I hadn't even considered it...

Entry into the park was free but we had to carry a little plastic tag with us. Although it was only mid-afternoon, it was dull and almost dark. There were ponds full of giant carp and terrapins, and little bridges and trimmed hedges. Ten minutes before the park closed, men on bikes started blocking paths so that we were all herded out. Short but sweet.

We went back to the station and took a train to Shibuya, the other area we might find Tokyo proper. We searched for a restaurant, past hundreds of little fast food stands in a street the guidebook said was devoid of such places, to the book's recommended place, which was closed. We gave in and tried one of the places we passed. It had a vending machine setup near the door, with pictures of food on it. You put your money in, select your dish and receive a ticket. At the large round bar in the middle of the room, you give the ticket to the man, he brings you a sizzling-hot skillet with your requested meat and vegetables, and you cook it with sauces to your specifications. We managed the whole process flawlessly, and although the waiters in the middle tried to help us a bit we didn't really need it - we learned the skill of watching other people eat weeks ago!/p>

It was actually a great meal and a fantastic experience. We had minced beef seasoned with pepper and garlic and onion, like a raw hamburger, with beans and carrots and beansprouts, an egg and a serving of rice. You just spoon on the sauce, turn over the meat or the egg and then eat it all with rice. Very tasty.

Suitably full we went out into the night and were pleased to discover people. Hundreds of thousands of them, all at pedestrian crossings. And there was no pushing or shoving, just organised chaos as eight sides of people come together at once. The neon here was bright and flashing and there was even the occasional TV screen with sound! But that was it. Nightclubs were obviously far above street level, and you have to know how to find them. We didn't, so we hardly noticed any. But everyone was dressed in typical Japanese fashion - either beatifully fashionable with expensive Louis Vuitton bags, smart suits, leather boots and gorgeous accessories, or the alternative where someone's raided a dressing-up box in a charity shop - anything at all goes. A very tall, skinny man in a blue velvet jacket sported a two-foot tall afro hairdo that would have given Mikey's early years a run for its money. There were pink boots and yellow trousers and an enormous variety of school uniform variations, and chains and straps and long lacy socks. Braces and tank tops and string vests weren't uncommon either, and a few women in traditional garb were mixed in too. All very eclectic.

We found a doughnut shop and were home again before midnight.

< Previous | Next >