Japan 2003, Day 4 (April 1)
Since we had run around so much for the previous two days, it was decided that we would stay in Tokyo and have a slower day today. The plan was to sleep in a little, then catch breakfast and spend half the day touring as a group. In the afternoon, Jan and I would take off to do some shopping, and the rest of the group could take off to see cool stuff that Jan and I had already seen, or go check stuff out that Jan and I had no interest in.
The sleeping in part didn't work too well -- I was up by six easily. So, it seems, was everyone else. Folks waited until seven or seven-thirty before emerging from their rooms, so we did leave a lot later that day.
This had the unanticipated disadvantage of putting us directly into rush hour. Whoops. Since the first stop of the day was the Tokyo Imperial Palace, this meant that we were going with the commute into one of the majorly crowded areas. At least it was easy to get off the train.
We dug through the crowds of Tokyo Station, and emerged on the side that we wanted. (This is why I fear Tokyo Station less than Osaka or Shinjuku. I can usually come out the right side of the station at Tokyo.) After snapping a few shots of the station with cherry blossoms, we meandered down to the Palace grounds.
I have been to the Tokyo Imperial Palace several times, including once on New Year's (when the public is allowed to cross the moat and go into the inner palace), so I spent a certain amount of time admiring the trees and concentrating on conserving my feet so that I didn't get too worn out by the end of the day. "Critical foot management will be crucial to success in this day's touristing," I thought in a bout of silliness.
Once again, we were early enough to beat out the first wave of tour buses. By the time that everyone was done with getting photos, two buses had pulled up and the first assault wave was headed our way. We snuck off along the moat and made a break for the public gardens on the palace grounds.
Along the way we paused for a bathroom break, which lead to more cameras coming out. (Uh, by people admiring the Palace, that is. Not people photographing the bathroom.) While we were waiting for everyone to finish, a Japanese family came up and started chatting with Crystal and Jan's mother. They wanted to practice their English, so they struck up a conversation. It went on for quite a while, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed it.
This reminded me of a similar thing that happened on Day 2 (Matsumoto). While on the train back from Matsumoto to Nagoya, a little girl of eight (at the urging of her mother), came up to me and started asking questions. She introduced herself, and gave her age, and asked several questions like "where are you from?", "why are you in Japan?" and so forth. I was impressed at how much English she understood for one so young. I would expect that fluency level from a high school student, but I didn't think that English was taught down in grade school. Her mother was very fluent in English, and clearly thought it important for her children to get a solid grasp on the language as well.
But that was a couple of days ago. Back to the present. We walked around the moat, which had some gorgeous cherry trees lining it, and headed off to the gardens at the Imperial Palace. Surprisingly, this was one part of the palace grounds I had never been on. The gardens are open to the public for free, and we saw several office workers coming into the park with their lunches, obviously intending to spend their time enjoying some little piece of nature.
I had been looking forward to the garden. I thought that surely the Imperial Palace must have some spectacularly beautiful gardens. I had forgotten one thing. All the famous landscape gardens have one feature in common: large, open, rolling lawns. D'oh. So much for my hope of an intimate Japanese garden.
It makes sense, when I think about it. In a country where open land is at a premium, having a big, open, grassy area is a strong sign of wealth. It's just that coming from a country where open space is everywhere, a large lawn is just a sign that someone mowed the weeds. This is why I am not in any great rush to see the only remaining of the three great gardens, even though it's not a long trip out of Tokyo. I can see lawns at home.
The garden grounds did have one major feature of interest to me: the foundation of the main keep for the original Edo Castle. Being a Japanese castle aficionado, this did make the trip completely worth it to me. There was also another building from the original castle that I had never seen before, so this was good.
It being around lunch time, we decided to stop at Tokyo Station and have lunch. After some pondering, we selected a Chinese-style restaurant. (Chinese food, it should be noted, is not the same in Japan as it is in the US. There is usually a lot of ramen, and a lot of really tasty stuff that I can't identify in a wonderful sauce.) When we went in, the restaurant was relatively empty, and they were able to seat the six of us together with no problems. Not long after, a large group of businessmen came in. They sat at the next table over, but there wasn't enough room for all of them. Since there was still room at our table (and nowhere else in the restaurant), one poor, lonely businessman had to sit with the strange foreigners. He looked so uncomfortable sitting down with us.
After a moment, Dean (who loved to try and strike up a conversation) asked the businessman if he spoke English. "No," the businessman replied.
An awkward pause ensued.
The businessman asked Dean (in English) if he spoke Japanese. "No," replied Dean in exactly the same tone. The businessman laughed, and the table relaxed slightly. Dean pointed out that Jan and I do speak Japanese, and we exchanged a few courtesies, then continued on with our meal.
At one point in time, someone did something kind of strange/embarrassing (I think they were trying to transfer some noodles from one bowl to the other, and ended up with the never-ending noodle parade), and everyone -- including Uncomfortable Mr. Businessman laughed at the proceeding.
"We don't know them," Jan joked in Japanese. Uncomfortable Mr. Businessman looked amused.
Soon thereafter some space opened up at another table, and Mr. Businessman left to sit closer to his compatriots. I could almost imagine the stories he would have to tell when he got back to the office. "Hey Tanaka-san, you'll never guess what happened to me today at lunch..."
We finished discomforting the locals (and our lunch), and proceeded on to our next stop. There is a boat tour that goes from the mouth of the Sumida River upstream to Asakusa. Along the way, it gives a nice montage of different parts of Tokyo, and an excellent chance to sit and rest tired feet. It's a nice cruise, and a good way to see a lot of Tokyo that you otherwise would not. In the cabin (where we were not sitting) there are descriptions in English and Japanese of the various things you can see on the banks. We sat in the back, so as to have clear and unobstructed views for photography, and weren't able to really hear what was being said.
As we neared Asakusa, the strangest pair of things came into view. The first one was a tall, golden building with strangely-angled, silver glass at the top. Next to it was... Well, my mother had the best description when she said it looked like a giant golden turd.
I had seen the golden turd before on a previous trip (when I had thought it looked like a giant golden sperm), and knew that it was a piece of art designed by a famous artist (whose name escapes me at the moment) in honor of the Tokyo Olympics. It is supposed to be a golden flame, representing the spirit of human achievement. Hmm...
The strange-looking building next to it, Jan informed us, was the Asahi Beer corporate headquarters. It was designed to look like a giant mug of beer. Hence, the golden color and silvery, angular stuff at the top. From a bit of a distance (and knowing what it's supposed to be) it does look a little like a glass of beer.
We chortled over Beer Building and the G.T. for a while, disembarked from the boat (which had, by this time, arrived in Asakusa -- Beer Building is directly across the river from the subway Asakusa station, should anyone be in the area and wish to check it out), and then headed back to our ryokan to drop stuff (and tired ducklings) off. The plan for the day from here was to let the tired ducklings rest, the adventurous ducklings run off to tour on their own, and Jan and I were headed to Nakano for some serious shopping.
Walking long shopping arcade leading to the Nakano Mandarake, we passed by something truly ... odd. It was one of those UFO catcher machines. Only instead of catching stuffed toys (or an IniD lighter, this catcher had previously had on my last visit to Nakano), this one caught live crawdads. You could see them crawling around in slightly scary blue water through the glass. It was highly disturbing. I took a picture, so that I could share with the home audience.
Going up the escalator, we were rather unhappy to discover that Mandarake was closed that day. Since that was one of our major destinations for the day, we decided to wander around for an hour and check out the other stores, then head off toward Ikebukuro.
The Fujiya Avic anime store in Nakano has converted into being a tokuzatsu store. I was hugely pleased by this, since it was here I found the DVD set I most wanted to leave Japan with -- Kamen Rider Agito. Mmm, cheese. Mmm, angst. Mmm, the entire series as a set, used. Life am good.
I picked up little else in Nakano. Anime World Star didn't have a lot of the series that I'm interested in. I picked up one cute cel of Hishou and Ekidonna together (from Chouja Raideen), but that was it. The cel store up on the fourth floor that I had so liked on the last trip was completely gone. It was replaced by a store that sold expensive repro cels. While I have been known to pay about a hundred dollars for a cel, I have no intention of doing it for a repro. (This is why I know that I will never have a Youko Kurama cel, since even the repros go for a couple of hundred dollars.)
We left Nakano and headed off to Ikebukuro. In Animate, I picked up some trading cards, and the Witch Hunter Robin pencilboard that K-chan had been looking for, then headed off. I was somewhat disappointed that there was so little of interest for me there. I just have not been interested and/or keeping up on the newer shows.
I breezed through the card store, but didn't notice anything of particular interest. We skipped the store that I have painful memories of limping out of at mach 10 (it was upstairs, it was all boy-smut, and I had twisted my ankle earlier on the day we went there last time), and headed on to K-books. At this point I realized that Jan probably did not want to drag through doujinshi with me, so I gave her directions back to the station, and headed in.
K-books has completely reorganized their store since the last time I was in there. This meant I got to spend a while prowling up and down the aisles, looking for the sections I wanted. I picked up a few new Tachibana doujinshi (mainly Kuuga-related, since that was what I was specifically after), and a random IniD doujinshi that I thought would likely make my roomie twitch, but had Bandana Boy on the cover. I thought there was a chance it might not prove to be twitch-worthy, even though the back listed a pairing I didn't think she liked (Kyou X Taku. As it turns out, the dj was a novel, all written in Japanese. Oh well, that's the chance you take when buying dj's from K-books.)
After prowling over the doujinshi, I went downstairs. seshat had just come back from Japan a few weeks ago and had told me that all the boy-smut in the basement had moved out, and that they had some cool stuff in the basement. (Or at least that's what I remember her saying -- I might have spaced part of it!) Checking it out, I saw that it was largely devoted to used manga, though it had some used magazines as well. I grabbed a couple of Puffs that I had been looking for (they had Shigeno interviews that I didn't have before -- little happy dance), the ever-elusive Data 5, and a couple of IniD books that I didn't have before. After I got home and examined the loot, I realized that I have five new Shigeno interviews. *happy, feral grin*
Deciding that I had probably picked up enough weight to haul back, I returned to the station. From there, I decided to take a little detour. A restaurant in the area had been mentioned in an interview I had been translating, and I was curious to see if I could find it and maybe get a picture of what type of place it is. So, I headed through the station to the area I remember the restaurant being in on the maps I looked at. I had meant to write down the address before I left, but that had gotten lost in the drama of my laptop crashing just before leaving. So I was left wandering the area based on a vague memory of a map I looked at once.
No one's surprised that I didn't find it, are they? Good.
Tired, I headed back to the ryokan to see what a hot soak and jets of water on my feet might do for the aching feet, and to gloat over the loot.
Tomorrow: In Which We Discover That Broody Mountain Is Shy