A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo-Boring Museum but Good Food

Yesterday, I woke up, had breakfast and took the metro to the Tokyo National Museum, which is the best museum in Tokyo. I know so because that is what the guidebook says. I have been to a lot of museums-not because I like museums but because I like to learn about countries I am in.

This museum, which was roughly an hour train ride away (after I got on the wrong train), was very big. I saw statutes from a Buddhist Japan. I saw Samurai swords, and the large murals depicting Japanese art. It was actually quite boring-I was looking forward to learning about Japanese history.
The highlight is a calligraphy course, where I paid $1.00, and drew a symbol on a fan-I forgot what the symbol was. There we're about a dozen people drawing symbols, with more waiting. The instructor said I did well. I don't know if he meant that or if he was just appeasing me to get me out of there.

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After a few hours at the museum, and taking a nap on a bench, I walked out, and wandered around the surrounding neighborhood, which was interesting. It was more of a traditional Temple neighborhood, with narrow streets, and temples on the side of the street, along with stores. The temples had cemeteries with traditional Japanese graves.

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When I was in the musuem-I was looking for something to do for later, so i used the museum's free wifi to sign up for a $70.00 food tour. Although it was expensive-i was looking at meeting others. I was nervous that I would be the only person on the tour-so I wouldn't have the opportunity to meet others. i even emailed the office saying that if I was the only person-please tell me and i could reschedule.

So I made it to the meeting point right at 7-the start of the tour. which was in Shibuya-the neighborhood I was in the day before. I found the guide. i needn't of had to worry of being the only person on the tour-there we're two of us (and the guide). When we met-i asked the other guy on the tour-a math professor from Oregon who was in Japan for a conference-if he wanted to maybe do it another night when others might show up-he seemed to indicate he was fine-so we decided to go on. And I felt sort of like a jerk for suggesting another time.

The tour was pretty good-it exceeded my expectations. We went to three restaurants-the first one served us beers promptly-but the food never came. After waiting 45 minutes-it seemed-the waitress said the food would come in 20 more minutes-and we had to get to the next restaurant. The tour guide said he would speak to the restaurant, about what happened. (I am not sure how that would help me, and the other participant on the tour).

We went to two other places-the first served some type of sushi with meat and dumplings, and beer, and the next chicken, and sake. It was a good time, and I learned about Japanese. It was nice conversation.

I made it home on just one subway train-(the trains are majorly complicated-it's hard to find my way around).
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Posted by DavidPearlman 16:10 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo-Curiosity Must Have Killed The Cat

Yesterday, I broke the filter for my camera when I was cleaning the lens here at the hostel. So the first thing I did was take the metro to the freak area of town with camera stores (in addition to anime and other stuff) to buy a new one, which is called Akihabara. I saw an inexpensive new lens I liked as well, when I was there the other day (around $60.00), so I meant to go there anyway.

The store opened at 11:00, and I was there roughly around 10:30-so I wandered around the street, looking in different stores. Again I found the capsule machines, aka the gumball machine look-a-likes that have stuff in them. I found the one I was intrigued with-the cat with the pineapple cap. It was roughly $3.00 for this little kitten. So curiosity got the best of me, and I put the money in.

Out came the little capsule-and there was no cat-just a cheap pineapple hat. I didn't know the cat was separate. i thought I would get a furry little pet-I could take as a souvenir to my own cats. Just a hat. I'm not sure if the hat was for real or fake cats. In my experience, cats aren't always willing to try on new hats.

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The store did open, and I bought the lens which was fine. I then took the train to one of the busiest corners of Japan, if not the world which is called Shibuya. The corner was sort of like Times Square, with lots of stores, lights, etc. I had an issue of Time-Out Toyko, which listed some interesting stuff to do in town, one was a Hedgehog cafe, where you get to play with hedgehogs for 1/2 an hour or an hour. I thought the guy at an information desk, which i found, told me it was $2.50 to play with the hedgehogs for an hour, or $1.60-but I had the conversion rate wrong-it was $25.00 for an hour and $16.00 for half an hour. I wasn't about to pay that to pay with a rodent (or lookalike)-but I was able to look around. it wasn't very exciting.

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When I got back out, Time Out Tokyo said there was a large information center with lots of brochures in the gigantic subway station. When I got
there-I noticed there a concert was coming up in two hours, complete with flyers. I was always up for free-so I decided to come back.

I walked around more, and looked at the various stores. There was a department store with a large book department, electronics stores I looked around, and other stores. I then took a nap in park and fell asleep.

I then went to the giant station looking for the free concert. It was by exit 13-which I had trouble finding. Eventually I found it and where the concert was. This wasn't the usual subway station concert. There was a roped-off section, with chairs. Guides wore suites and ties. Programs we're handed out. A well-dressed woman announcer announced the concert-I guess. She didn't use English. The performers came out-a string quartet performing Mozart, and other classical. They we're dressed in suits and gowns. They we're very very good. What i noticed, in addition to the performers, was the audience. They we're following the performance-actually watching and listening. Nobody was filming with their phones, I only saw two people take out their phones to look at. It was incredible.

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After each piece, the performers talked for a while-then people handed back a perforated portion of the guide, and they wrote things on there. I guess we we're encouraged to give money-but I will never know for sure since all the talking was in Japanese.

After the concert, I left the station, and it was dark out. I looked at all of the lights and walked around some more. I found a sushi place with sushi for less then $8.00. Then I took the metro back to the hostel. I am beginning to know the metro a little better-so I got back a little quicker. At the hostel, it was movie night-so I saw the middle to end of a silly flick called Housebunny.

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Posted by DavidPearlman 16:31 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

2nd day in Tokyo, expensive lunch, lottery winners and sex

Yesterday I went to a different part of Tokyo again-for another walking tour. This was an expensive part of town called Harajuku-which had lots of expensive stores and restaurants. Although I had breakfast at the hostel, it was afternoon by the time i reached the tour location, which is near all sorts of expenisve stores, and I was early, so I looked for a place to eat.

I found a cheap noodle place, but i would have had to wait for a spot to eat, and pay first, which I didn't feel comfortable with, so I kept walking down the street, and found a small shopping mall with some restaurants near the top floor. On the top floor, I saw what must have been at least 20 people waiting in line-for Starbucks. I asked people on line if Starbucks was giving away something for free. The one non-Japanese person said "no-we're just thirsty".

There was one other place to eat. I waited on line here as well-but only about 15 minutes. I was talking with the folks in front of me on line, an African-American couple and their young daughter. The man, who was in his 20's or 30's, said he has been in Tokyo since December, travels all the time, and when i asked what he did for a living, he replied something like - "I won the lottery. I aint workin no more". I guess he was telling the truth-it didn't seem like he was joking.

After the short wait, I had lunch at the counter. It was a typical place for tourists (1) Small artsy-fartsy lunch of smoked salmon, grapefruit on a piece of fancy bread, and (2) Stupidly expensive-around $15.00. But I was hungry and couldn't find a place without a look wait.

Then came the walking tour, run by Dai, same tour guide as the day before. I didn't seem to learn as much. It started at a place called Meiji-Jingu. Meiji was a ruler who came into power at age 14. Under his leadership, the capital of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the government became more westernized, and more democratic. The Shinto shrine was dedicated to him. The shrine was large and impressive. A couple of weddings we're going on there as well, with long processions. The shrine also had many Saki barrels in front, as a lot of the saki brewers sponsor the shrines/temples. We had to wash our hands the traditional way-with left hand first, than right, than washing our mouth with water from the left hand,

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After the shrine, we took a walk down some other streets.including Takeshita-dori, which is a street crowded with teens. The tour guide who was in his 30's mentioned that when he was young-there we're lots of small locally owned boutiques and restaurants, and it was a place to hang out. Now the local places have been driven out by high rents, and big chains like Mcdonalds we're occupying the street. But crowds of teens from all over the country still walked over the streets, hoping to be discovered by agents to become actors and actresses.
Dai also talked about the Olympics come to Toyko in 2020, how he and lots of young people didn't think it would have any economic impact.

Then the tour ended in park-where I watched some Elvis impersonators dancing, and I took a nap.

After a little while, I took the train to a place where the night free walking tour was due to start, a few stations away-Shinujku. First of all, there was a
parade going on. The folks seemed to carry around a large chariot or something. i'm not sure. Nobody would tell me. The tour started at 7:00 at the Shinjuku train station-which is a busy station. Actually the busiest station in the world, with millions of people using the station, to exit but also to transfer to connect to other trains every day. We took a look at Tokyo nightlife.
I learned-
There are many bars around

- which are just small enough for 10 people to sidle up to each other, namely friends.
- Couples generally meet each other by special parties, where 3 girls will hang with 3 guys, set up by two of the people.
- There are lots of bars around, again only 10 folks can sidle up, that cater to special interests, such as Godzilla enthusiasts, American Jazz enthusiasts, etc. There are alleys and alleys of these bars.
- There are 5 types of illicit services in Japan, although prostitution is strictly illegal. These range from message parlors, where everything but intercourse is ok-places which will wash you up and down to escort services (or escort service look alikes). There are "information counters", which are clearly marked In Japanese, which will direct you to the service you would like.
- There are host/hostess rooms, where people will go to be with cute boys are girls. These boys and girls won't have sex, but treat you like their boyfriend and girlfriend. They will go out with you for drinks and dinner, and charge you thousands of dollars for the privilege. Hiroshi, the tour guide, mentioned that people have gone broke being led on-because folk fall madly in love and think the next step is definitely coming up. There were billboards all over Shinjuku advertising these host/hostess rooms.
- Finally, there we're love hotels-hotels where folks rent a room for as little as 2 hours. Because of the high housing prices of central Toyko, taking someone home which could be an hour away was out of the question. The love hotels we're there. Contrary to perception, these places actually looked quite nice, and almost like regular hotels-but didn't have windows. Hiroshi mentioned that many rent costumes, and have hundreds of movies to watch.

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After the tour-it was about 9:00 pm. I went back to the hostel-which took about 1 1/2 hours on the confusing,convoluted metro system. I was planning on going to bed early-but upon walking into the hostel-one of the woman i met at the meet and greet the other day was-one who was Japanese, and she insisted I sit with her and others and have a drink (we got some type of grapefruit alcoholic drink and seaweed from the supermarket. She went home, and I played a card game with some others. Then I got to bed around 12:30 or so.

Posted by DavidPearlman 17:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo-Nerd and Freak Town

Yesterday, i left the hostel early as per usual. I had a walking tour scheduled for 01:30 pm-but was anxious to explore Tokyo. The first thing I wanted to do was change my room for part of my stay from a 4 bed dorm to a 8 bed dorm, which saves $6.00 per night. I just want the cheapest room possible. The girl at the front desk told me it could be done-but she said it was a complex transaction since I did part of the booking online, and extended my stay with the front desk while I was here, involving refunds and recharging, which I couldn't understand. I said I would talk to the manager when he got in, which was later.

So I left the hostel, and took the train to the starting point for the tour, which was in a part of town called Akihabara. This was a fortunate starting point, because although there was over 3 hours to the start of the tour, there we're lots of camera stores I could explore. I walked around the area, looking at various camera stores.

The area also had casinos, dealing with a game called Pachinko, one had a line that wrapped around an entire building an down the block-which was exclusively guys. The folks admitting them into the parlor we're women in short skirts.

Otherwise, the people on the streets we're freaky. There we're a lot of white folks wandering around, including a couple where the guy had a all-black cowboy outfit and the woman a gothic long dress. A lot of stores we're selling anime, which seems like high-tech cartoons. It seemed like thousands of stores we're selling this anime stuff. A lot of these stores had dozens of boxes in front of them, which you would put money in for a little character in a round container, much the same as the gumball machines the supermarket had when I was little (and maybe still does)-except there we're many many of these boxes, and they we're for adults. I found a little character with a cat with a pineapple top, which I sort of liked but didn't buy.

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I had two lunches, of salmon pizza (I was hungry), and then ramen noodles, which wasn't that great at a raman place. Then I went on the free walking tour.

There we're about 30 people on the tour, and the guide was most interesting and informative. I learned that before the 1800's Tokyo was called Edo, and the entire country of Japan was led by Samurais, who reported to the Emperor, and the Samurais, who led different parts of Japan, we're required to come to Edo, bring gifts to the Emperor, and spend their money. I also learned that there was an isolationist policy until the mid 1800's-when the US came with a modern new ship, and that is when trade opened up, and the Samurais culture was voted against in favor of a democracy, and samurais we're ordered to stop carrying their swords.

I learned about the religious in Japan-mainly Buddhism and Shinto, which is indigenous to Japan. Shinto is centered on the natural world. Most Japanese aren't religious, but go to the Shinto temple during life, and for funerals, go to the Buddhist temple. In front of the Shinto temple, a group was doing Tai-chi. I learned about bathouses, and tatoos forbidden because they usually indicted someone was in prison. (although it wasn't always enforced).

I learned that Japan is slowly dying off. The birthrate is largely 1.46 per adult is below 2, which would be required to keep up it's population. The population would half by 2060, it was predicted. Also, because the Japanese (A) go to school within Japan, and (B) only travel to Hawaii and Paris, and always in large groups, their English is by and large terrible or nonexistent, and because of this, they are falling behind in the world. I wanted to know more about why Korean and Chinese kids greeted me in pretty coherent English, and these people could barely speak it. When I asked, a large Russian woman on the tour snapped at me repeating the tour guides answers, and I snapped back at her, and she accused me of being rude.
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I felt bad about bad vibes, and snapping at that lady, and I walked alone to the starting point of the tour, and had sushi off a conveyor belt sushi place for dinner, which came to $12.00. Another thing the guide explained is that sushi restaurants vary in price and quality-from $10-$12 to over $300 for dinner. I ate at the cheapest one, in fact one he used as an example, and it was good.

I then went back to the hostel, returning about 7:30. I straightened out with the manager moving to a less expensive room,and receiving a refund for some of the money already paid. I talked to some others in hostel, including a Swedish guy who was also alone, and a group of folks from Canada and the US. One was 24 and mentioned he liked my energy, which I don't hear often. It was his last night, so I had some rum (I Believe) and beers, and got to bed around 1:00 am.

Posted by DavidPearlman 15:52 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Busan to Tokyo-at the Cruise Ship Hostel

Yesterday, I left South Korea. I enjoyed my time here-but I felt my time in Busan was over. I didn't think there was more to see from the city and more to get from the country. The folks there tend to dress very well-I noticed. And it is hard to find a garbage can. If you have trash very few are looking to take it from you. But I had a good time here-the food was good, and the people are very friendly. I never mastered the language. Hello is something like ansenio, and thank you is a word like konsumida-but it was hard to master those two words.

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So I went to the airport to get the flight to Tokyo. I checked in and found my checked bag was over the limit by 7 pounds, which would have meant paying $35 for my bag. The check in agent offered to let me put stuff in my carry on/camera bag-so I took my pants and a pair of shoes and put it in to my carry on bag. So that is what I did-plus I had an additional plastic bag to bring on the plane. The two hour flight was uneventful and we we're served dinner of some type of pork which I usually don't eat but I tried.

After landing in Tokyo and getting my bad, I looked at my phone for directions to the hostel. Somebody on Trip Advisor wrote that getting to this exact metro station near the hostel took only one change of trains, after an hours-ride near the airport. I took a picture of the post with my phone, and showed a ticket agent at the airport rail station. She said that those trains stopped running for the day, which I found hard to believe-it was around 5:00 pm. I asked her how many of those trains we're-she said 20 every day. When I further questioned her, she said another train would come in an hour-so I just had to wait an hour-or in 24 minutes, a train would come with an additional change of trains across the platform. I made that change, and after a long train ride to the city, I was at the hostel by 7:30.

The hostel is a big hostel, in a outlying neighborhood of the city. It had an escalator and a giant lobby. I checked in, paid to do a little laundry, and learned there was a meet and greet in the lobby at 8:00 pm. It was announced on the loud speaker, aka cruise ship style. I decided to go-7 folks we're there-including two Japanese folks, a freshman in college and her mom, who weren't staying at the hostel, but came by to help with their English skills. I talked to them, with another guy from Canada. I learned that the English taught in Japan isn't speaking, but reading and writing, and the classes are horrible-the student's class was boring. I learned Mcdonalds is called something like Mcs-call Japanese people can't say Mcdonalds. I also learned the girl was learning French in school, but her French actually seemed worse then mine, and I don't know much.
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The meet-up lasted about 2 hours. I still hadn't had dinner-but there was a supermarket next door, and I had what looked like salmon sashimi, but it was a very salty fish, and what looked like potato salad-but was actually about 50% wasabi, so I had an extremely salty and extremely spicy dinner. Then I walked around and went back to the room, and went to bed.

Posted by DavidPearlman 15:11 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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