Just Another Beautiful Day in Japan

Ii o-tenki desu ne! It was a beautiful and sunny 52°F in Tokyo on Monday, and I started it off with changing my train and hotel reservations so that I can leave Tokyo one day later than originally planned. (This, of course, means that I stay in Osaka just one evening before I depart, instead of two—which, of course, would make the Osakans very, very sad indeed—but that’s fine by me!) I got to Tokyo Station just before 7:00 a.m., hoping to beat the rush hour and, you guessed it, the rush hour had already begun by then. A swarm of Tokyoites rushed to and fro around me while I walked rather leisurely, with a distinct skip in my step akin to an ebonics-speaking brotha. I was able to change my train ticket without incurring any additional fees, so that made me happy. While at the station, I also inquired about and ended up purchasing a Tokyo Free Pass (which isn’t actually free—it simply means that I have unlimited use for one day of all the train, subway, and bus lines in the 23 wards of Tokyo). At ¥1580 yen (approx. $12.00 USD), it was certainly a bargain because I was a train-hopping freak today! Plus, there was a certain type of power involved in being able to flash the Pass at the station gate attendants, which elicits honorific bows as I egress. Well, at least I believe they were bowing, although, for all I know, they could’ve simply been looking for a coin that they dropped at exactly the same time as I am passing through their booth window. However, for that to happen as many times as it did today would be too much of a freaky coincidence even for my tastes.

A trip to Tsukiji Fish Market was entertaining. The open-air market featured merchants selling fresh seafood and variety of Japanese cooking/kitchen utensils and wares. There were several sushi restaurants within the network of alleyways that encompassed a 6-square-block radius, and a couple of them were already open and serving freshly made sushi, sashimi, maki, you name it (at 8:00 a.m.!) I guess that would be typical Japanese breakfast? Actually, I think it’s just one of many “typical” breakfasts in Japan. One such is what I had prepared for me by an attendant at the executive level at the hotel in Osaka several days ago. It consisted of miso soup, pickled vegetable, some sort of soft-gooey rice lightly flavored with a dash of a soy sauce/sweetened water combination, some soba noodles, and, of course, green tea (referred to as o-cha). It wasn’t as filling as the American way of feeding oneself when or before the sun rises, but I certainly enjoyed the experience. Although, breakfast every morning after that had involved a helping of Special K or any “All-American” fare (including, ahem, any of the tasty sandwiches at McDonalds). When I’d had my fill of the sights, sounds, and smells at Tsukiji, I headed toward the International Arcade, a (supposedly) recommended spot at which to purchase inexpensive souvenirs. To put it simply, I was gravely disappointed. But, that also meant that I saved some money. The rest of the morning was spent wandering around the beautiful Hama-rikyu Gardens, located only several blocks from the hotel, where peace and tranquility—amidst a rapidly awakening city—surrounded me.

Next stop was a trip to Roppongi to visit the landmark Tokyo Tower, which is featured in many Japanese films and has certainly attained iconic status worldwide. Fashioned after Paris’s Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower stands 333 meters (approx. 1,092 feet), and offers magnificent views of the Tokyo landscape and its surrounding topography, including a beautiful, albeit faraway, sight of Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji). The day was incredible for photography, and Tokyo never looked more impressive and amazing to me as it did while viewing it from the “special observation” level, located 250 meters (approx. 820 feet) from the base of the Tower. From there, I could also see the most recently developed area of Odaiba, where the architectural wonder, Fuji-TV building—again, a Tokyo icon—is located.

Then, it’s off to Harajuku at the famous Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Shopping Street), which is home to storefront-after-storefront of merchandise designed to appeal to Tokyo’s hipsters and the general “youth” public. While walking this street, I was surrounded by young people wearing today’s Tokyo fashion, and by oodles and oodles of Japanese, um, students. (Boy, they make those skirts really short…ahem…) Thankfully, I walked out of Takeshita-dori with nothing in hand, or I would’ve been ridiculed elsewhere for wearing whatever I would’ve bought there.

My excursion took me to the famous Meiji Shrine Park, wherein the famous Meiji-jinja (Shinto shrine) sat awaiting my visit. It was amazingly peaceful and the scenery was breathtaking. It was then that my camera battery decided to no longer work, and I had to contend with the “still photos” feature of my digital camcorder to (try to) document the area’s awe-inspiring appeal. I said a little prayer the left just before the garden closed at 4:00 p.m. Then, it was off to Shibuya, another trendy, youthful hangout, just south of Harajuku. (I swear I’m not a perv…) Shibuya was just like any “downtown” location, but definitely had a much younger feel. There were still the suits and the business dresses all over the place, but there were more Japanese teenagers still in their school garb swarming around the area. I didn’t last long in Shibuya before I headed back to Roppongi Hills for a quick beverage at the Hard Rock Café. (Sorry, I had to stop into one…)

Dinner was at a mom-and-pop place in Ebisu (south of Shibuya), after a brief visit to the Ebisu Garden Place, an upscale mall developed by the people of Sapporo Beer. Unfortunately, the Beer Museum Yebisu was already closed when I got there. (Oh, well…I’d rather have real beer anyway, which is what I did at a pub called “What the Dickens,” which was recommended by the guidebook. I had the katsu-kare (which is breaded pork loin served with rice and curry sauce), which came with a bowl of hot miso soup and pickled vegetables (a staple in Japanese meals). Then, I hopped on Hibiya Line, got off at the Higashi-Ginza station, and made the two-block trek back to the hotel.

My feet, leg muscles, and lower back are still killing me right now, and it’s already Tuesday morning! Today, I’m thinking about going to Kamakura (about 1 hour by train from Tokyo) or to Yokohama (about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo). Or I might just tool around the city for a bit more, since I still haven’t seen the Edo Castle or a kabuki play. Well, I guess it depends on how my feet, leg muscles, and lower back feel in a couple of hours. Ja mata ne!

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