Wednesday, November 01, 2006

FIRST DAYS. As most of you know I decided to take the job in Shimanto, the small town on the Pacific coast of Shikoku island.

I flew into Tokyo Narita airport Saturday evening and left for Kochi (the prefecture I live in) on Monday night. Tokyo was frikkin awesome and totally insane. After stepping off the plane and getting my bearings I found the tourist information booth and the ladies there were kind enough to call around and book a reservation for me at a hotel just north of the Ueno and Asakusa areas...

Let's backtrack for just a moment. I took the maximum amount of luggage that the airline would allow with no additional fees. My large bag weighs 67lbs, my backpack around 35, a large carry-on weighing in around 20 and a shoulder bag stuffed to the gills. The night before my departure I had a going away party at my house instead of packing.
At 3am I began stuffing my belongings into these bags and I finally went to sleep at 5 for two hours...

So I leave the comforting smiles of the information booth and lug my bags from one extreme of Narita to the other and board the train sweaty and delirious and embark on a two hour commute to the hotel. It was at Ueno station where I made my first transfer to the Tokyo Metro that I realized that the Japanese must not have any equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act since there were no elevators but lots of stairs. It was at Minami-Senju station on the Hibiya line that I realized buying the clearance luggage set may not have been the best idea, for at the bottom of the stairs when I tried to start rolling my load along I found that one of the wheels had not survived the trip down the steps. It's approaching 9pm at this time, and what was supposed to be a seven minute walk from the hotel to the station turned into a half hour of half dragging an enormous amount of crap. Much to my relief I finally find the hotel, check in, take a shower and go to bed.

The next morning I awake at 6am and jump out of bed, excited to explore Tokyo. I hit the streets by seven, grab a hot can of coffee from a vending machine (?!) and walk to Asakusa. After kohi and tosto (coffee and toast) I wander around the Senso-ji temple grounds before meandering to Ueno park, which, aside from its fame for cherry blossom viewing and its high concentration of Tokyo's homeless population, it is also the location of many of Tokyo's major museums, several temples, graveyards and the Tokyo Zoo. Here I saw a Buto performance and ate my first real meal in Japan, which was octopus pancake balls topped with shaved fish flakes and mayonaise sauce...yummy! (My boss told me that the taste grows on you if you don't like them at first) I returned to the hotel in the afternoon to book a bus to Shimanto and arrange for my bags to be shipped separately, and then I headed out for Shinjuku in the late afternoon. This place is absurd and wonderful. It's like a carnival f***ed a shopping mall and the baby mutated into godzilla stuffed with people and was then decorated in neon from head to toe. If you've ever seen a photo of "modern" Tokyo with bright lights and loads of people it was probably Shinjuku. Just off of the main drag is a gigantic red light district, which I wondered into half accidentally. I quickly realized where I was when scuzzy looking dudes in black suits began approaching me asking, "Massaji? Sekkso?" or giving me the "look, I got your nose" gesture. I was a bit unnerved by this and quickly headed back to the main drag where I had the best sushi I've ever eaten.

Of course there's really no way that I can communicate to you all of the incredible things that I experienced on my first day. I don't think that more than five minutes went by without something completely blowing my mind, but here are some pictures (which you can see full sized if you click them):

Clouds and my first glimpse of Japan


Hotel New Azuma

Octopus Pancake Balls!!!!

Temple In Ueno Park

Butoh Dance in Ueno Park

Oh Yeah...Pocali Sweat!


Panorama from my hotel rooftop

Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa

JAPANESE LAUNDRYMAT The sign on the awning reads,
"Coin Rondori"

Look Who's Boss? No, not Bill Murray.

Asakusa Cityscapes

"Stop looking at my nipples!!

Women Only rush hour car.





On Monday, my last day in Tokyo, I visited the Tsukiji Fishi Market where all of the seafood in the city goes before it is sold and made into sushi. It was really busy and I was one of hundreds of tourists wandering around gawking while small diesel vegetable carts whirred up and down the narrow isles and workers sliced, chopped and boxed their wares. At one busy intersection just outside of the market I watched a traffic cop directing traffic, but I couldn't tell if his whistle blowing and and signalling was having any effect for there were delivery trucks, vegetable carts and pedestrians crossing the intersection at every possible angle in a rather chaotic fashion. After this I returned to the hotel to check out, and then went to Tokyo station to buy my bus ticket to Kochi, which departed at 8:30pm. After stashing my bag in a locker I headed out to the Emperial Palace to see the famed East Garden which is open to the public. Unfortunately, I found out when I got there that the garden was closed on Mondays. This whole afternoon was a fiasco and, because of the jet lag, I was having a difficult time navigating central Tokyo on a business day when all I really wanted to do was take a nap.

I had wanted to check out more neighborhoods but by time all was said and done I decided to head back towards Shinjuku to seek out the Aikido World Headquarters (aka Hombu Dojo). After stopping in for some sushi I walked several kilometers to the part of Shinjuku where the dojo is located. Once I was off the beaten path I realized how heavily I'd been relying on the bilingual street signs, and that they are only bilingual in the tourist areas. Luckily, I had a pretty good map of the area and found the street it was on pretty easily. The funny thing is that I walked right past the place without noticing. It's on a completely unassuming street in an unassuming building with just a small sign marking its existence. When I arrived the 4pm class had just started, so I walked around the neighborhood for a while and headed back to observe the 5:30 class taught by Yasuno Sensei. IT WAS AMAZING. Only three of the thirty or so attending the class were not wearing black belts. Yasuno Sensei's technique was unbelievably clean and powerful and most of the students in the class were top notch Aikidoists in their own right.

After this I wandered back to Shinjuku station for one last taste of the bright light madness before taking the Marunouchi line back to Tokyo station where I hopped on a bus, put on my complimentary pink slippers and went to sleep.

eels...Unagi anyone?

Who painted Falcor?


Nicholas Carey said...

fart: An audible discharch of intestinal gas from the anus.

Sovereign Nation of Jamerika said...

You are absolutely right about it being mind-blowing, and about it being the same but like an alternate universe or something. Your pictures are amazing, and your comments hilarious. We're amazed at how you managed to do and see and photograph all that you did, take everything in, and sleep too. The fish-flake pancake balls with mayonnaise sauce looks nutritious, but perhaps ambiance-specific? I don't know if we could handle them here. eww. ditto for the eels. We'll be looking forward to pics of the country and your school.

Rachael said...

It's funny how much I rely on English street signs too. Well, more than anything ones that use a similar alphabet and photnetics. Funny I never even noticed before. Go figure. Really. Go someplace and do some math or something.


tyson said...

"For the sea is wider here,
the air more poignant,
and the wind a blanket of souls,"
she whispered as she handed me my octopus dog, a fantastic creature covered in seaweed, mustard, and soy sauce.
"Arigatou," I said, looking at her sideways, half-bowing in my confusion.
"Toodles," she said.

amy said...

so glad you are having a swell time navigating and all...
tyson is scary. bye.