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[icon] Surprises from Tokyo - Jamey Sharp
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Current Location:Tokyo, Japan
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Subject:Surprises from Tokyo
Time:03:34 pm
Current Mood:satisfiedsatisfied
I was reasonably prepared for a place where people drive on the left side of the road (thanks, anime!) though it's still something of a shock to see oncoming traffic in the right-hand lanes. I was not prepared for a place where people walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I didn't realize how ingrained "stay to the right" was in me until I discovered that doing that means finding a lot of people in my way. I've been repeatedly having to remind myself to move over. Of course, it also didn't occur to me that as a pedestrian in Tokyo, it matters where the cars are going, too, so I've been surprised not just by my fellow pedestrians and the bicyclists and scooter-riders on the sidewalks, but also by the drivers around me when I cross the street. That's a potentially dangerous kind of surprise...

It's good to have an illustration that personal space is culturally defined. My fellow sidewalk occupants, whether on foot or wheels, don't seem to mind getting close to me as they go by, but every time they do I get a little more jumpy. Together with my confused instincts about which side people will pass on, this hasn't been entirely ideal for my state of mind. I'm getting used to it though. Going home will probably be briefly painful as I adjust again.

I would never have guessed I'd have trouble with doors. While automatic doors in the US are mostly found in large grocery stores, malls, and other major places of commerce, they seem popular here even in little restaurants on the street. And while American automatic doors either run all the time or use a motion sensor, I've encountered two other options here: the push-button on the door, or the pressure mat in front of the door. Embarrasingly, both have been a challenge for me.

Even on large, busy streets, cars routinely park in the outer lane of traffic. As far as I can tell, nobody minds much.

I found a line of parked cars today, mostly occupied by people sleeping, occasionally with door open and limbs hanging out. Taking a nap by the side of the road seems not uncommon.

There's an elementary school just outside our hotel! I'd wanted to see one, since I can't believe the depiction in anime is entirely representative, but this one escaped my notice until today I happened to be sitting in the hotel room when a bunch of children went outside for what I suspect was gym class. Particularly surprising to me: the reason I could hear them so well was that they were playing on the roof of the school. I guess when you don't have much land, you use every flat surface you've got? On my walk today I found a second school, with a large group of students sitting in orderly rows in the field listening to some sort of lecture from an instructor with a booming voice. He had a megaphone but he wasn't using it, and really didn't need to.

Yesterday in meandering around the streets of Tokyo I stuck to major roads so I wouldn't get lost. Today, emboldened by yesterday's success, I went for smaller side streets in the hopes of getting a better feel for life in this city. I suspect I'd discover a lot more surprises if I lived here a few months, but I found several in a few hours:

Many streets that look barely wide enough for one American car are two-way streets. When drivers need to get around each other they seem to be pretty good at getting out of the way and waiting their turn. It's common for pedestrians and bicyclists to be on these narrow roads too, and the handful of encounters I've seen seemed quite graceful. In fact I can only recall one driver honking, because a pedestrian stepped out in front of his taxi on a busy street. I've heard quite a lot of emergency vehicle sirens, though. They don't sound like the sirens in the US. They do sound like the sirens in anime.

Recycling and garbage are left at the curb, but at dedicated "Recyclables and Waste Collection Points", which I spotted every couple of blocks or so.

Tokyo is more hilly than I expected. Just another thing I didn't think about. I saw one woman about to bike up a steep hill I had just walked down; I thought she was crazy until I heard the electric motor on her bike kick in.

Am I in an area occupied mostly by rich people? (Near the Chinzan-so gardens, in Mejiro.) Few houses seem to be in disrepair, most cars I've seen look like what I would consider a luxury car in the US, and many houses have elaborate (if generally small) gardens. Or perhaps these are people of more ordinary means who place priority on having a car with leather seats?

Am I in an area occupied mostly by printing presses? My wanderings have taken me past more places with the sound of large presses running than any other single type of business I've noticed. Maybe it's just selection bias because printing presses are loud?

A token mention of the vending machines is in order here, because the only reason I haven't been surprised at the proliferation of vending machines on the streets is because so many other people have been surprised at seeing them. Like everyone says, there are vending machines everywhere. Most of the ones I've seen were for soft drinks or bottled coffee; some, for cigarettes. The more surprising goods have eluded me so far. I suppose I could be surprised that the tales of panty vending machines are exaggerated.

There are uniformed people on the street in quite a few places, who seem to be there mostly to direct traffic when needed, and I guess to give directions? I talked with one such fellow on the street in front of the hotel, in my stilted Japanese since his English wasn't very good. It turns out that he, at least, works for the hotel. I wonder who employs the rest, as I saw them on small back-roads in low-traffic residential areas. Once he'd established that I have a camera, he suggested a place I could go take pictures, but I couldn't understand the directions well enough, so I just walked down the street in the direction he pointed and found a nice pedestrian bridge to catch the traffic below from.

I think maybe I'm running late for meeting Sarah for dinner, so until next post... あとで!
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sizzferret
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Time:2009-05-23 11:17 pm (UTC)
TOKYO!?

Who what where when why!? :D

How exciting!

By the way, you'll find the really pervy vending machines deep in Kabuki-choo. That's supposedly where the red light district is as well as the mafia hangout. Yeep! Tons of love hotels on Love Hotel Hill, there.

^.^ Have fun!!
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solair
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Time:2009-05-24 06:29 am (UTC)
Hi Eric! The most recent USB 3 "SuperSpeed" Developers' Conference was in Tokyo, and since Sarah is working on USB 3 at Intel, they paid for her to attend. So we just bought a ticket for me too and pushed her return date off a couple of weeks, and here we are!
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sizzferret
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Time:2009-05-24 02:11 pm (UTC)
That's twelve kinds of amazing!! :D

Have you seen Yoyogi park yet and the temple thingy inside? Definitely go there! You can take the Yamanote line from Mejiro station down to Harajuku, which is another place you definitely should check out! I think all the cosplayers go hang out on the bridge near Harajuku station on Sundays. You can see them there sometimes other days, but not as many. If you leave the station, take a right (south) and a stone's throw away is the bridge. Right across the bridge you'll see a huge gravel entrance to a "forest." That's the path of the park that leads to the shrine. Go on in, it's open to the public. It's a long walk to the shrine but it's worth seeing! I saw a traditional Japanese wedding procession while wandering around there. On the walk to the shrine there is also a really pretty garden you can pay something like 1000 yen to see.

While in Harajuku don't forget to get a crepe!! They're so yummy and complete the experience. :D Do you know how to get to the street in Harajuku with all the cosplay shops and stuff? Google tells me it's called Takeshita street. When you exit Harajuku station, cross the street and turn left (north) and keep walking. On the right side of the street will be the (probably super crowded) entrance to Takeshita street. At the entrance will be a huge television on the left, and the building on the right says "Games games" or something. I think there was also a Yoshinoya restaurant. Have you had a greasy beefy rice bowl at Yoshinoya yet!? If not, dueet!! Soooo yummy. xD And cheap!


If you want REALLY GOOD ramen, take the Yamanote just one stop down to Takadanobaba station. When you exit Baba station keep walking east down Waseda street. Across the square on your right is the Big Box complex. I never really went in, it just has shopping, a gym, etc blah blah, it mostly just looks cool from the outside. So keep walking down Waseda street until on the right side you see a ramen shop called.. uhh... I can't remember. NOOOOES. I think it was "Fuugaku" or Fuu something.. Well, there is usually a line waiting to get in but it's worth it! Amazing ramen!
The Waseda/Takadanobaba area is known as a ramen "challenge zone." There are lots of really great ramenya and I highly recommend you try as many as possible! I really regret not having more ramen. Try starting with the hakata ramen!

Is everything blooming there now? =O You should go see the emperor's palace!

ZOmg and go to the Kabuki-za in Ginza!!
http://www.shochiku.co.jp/play/kabukiza/theater/index.html
I recommend just seeing a single show. Those tickets are on the fourth floor but it gives you a taste and they're super cheap. The show Kotobuku Shojo or Tenaraiko would probably be fun.

SQUEEEEE and the studio Ghibli museum!!
http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/welcome/

If you don't mind investing a day, I HIGHLY recommend you take a bus tour to the country. They're the way to go! :D Especially the ones that include fruit picking "tabehodai" all you can eat. I went on a bus tour that stopped at a peach orchard and let our whole group wander through it, picking peaches and gorging ourselves. It was so fun. My host mom had an allergic reaction though and swelled up like a balloon. That wasn't so fun. D:

Nikko is a really cool destination. That's the shrine where the "see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil" monkeys originated.
I dunno what kinda budget you're on, but the bus tour would probably be great fun.
http://www.viator.com/tours/Tokyo/Nikko-National-Park-Day-Trip-from-Tokyo/d334-2142TYO_F300_F308


Akihabara is another cool place to check out. It's the "electric" town. It's really just a light filled electronics shopping district though, so I wouldn't put it too high on the must do list. There are some great doujinshi shops around there, though they're kinda hidden away.


Ok I'm gonna stop bugging you. HAVE FUN!!!
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sizzferret
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Time:2009-05-24 02:12 pm (UTC)
Sheesh, just take me along next time and I'll be your tour guide!! xD
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-26 01:10 am (UTC)
I was reasonably prepared for a place where people drive on the left side of the road (thanks, anime!) though it's still something of a shock to see oncoming traffic in the right-hand lanes. I was not prepared for a place where people walk on the left side of the sidewalk.

Actually, it depends where you are in Japan. Tokyo is very left-side, but in Kyoto and Osaka you'll see very right-side and natives who are just as confused as you. "National" traits are a lot more localized in Japan than they are in the States. For instance, the different voltage/amperage of outlets in the east and west sides of the country.
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-26 01:21 am (UTC)
Am I in an area occupied mostly by rich people? (Near the Chinzan-so gardens, in Mejiro.) Few houses seem to be in disrepair, most cars I've seen look like what I would consider a luxury car in the US, and many houses have elaborate (if generally small) gardens. Or perhaps these are people of more ordinary means who place priority on having a car with leather seats?

If most people have cars, then yes you're in a rich area. (If you're living in Tokyo itself, then yes you're in a rich area :) In Tokyo you need to prove that you'll have a parking area for your car before you're allowed to purchase one; and the price of land is very steep. (I'm not sure how much that law holds outside of Tokyo, though car ownership is uncommon everywhere.) That said, if you can afford a car, then you might as well have the nicest one; appearances are everything. Also, emissions laws are extremely strict there, so when it comes time for renewal many people just buy a new car rather than fixing up the old one.

In some ways the Japanese are far ahead of us in ecological consciousness (e.g. the recycling bins everywhere in public), but in many ways they're far far behind. They have a very different mentality about it all, though. ("Nature is there to be used by man, and if something goes away we'll find a replacement, but you shouldn't waste it" or something to that effect. Very different from our "Mother Earth" ideology.)
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[icon] Surprises from Tokyo - Jamey Sharp
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