Sci goes to Japan, Part the...Last.

Jul 21 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

Because I can't remember what part we're on. But this is the LAST, I promise! Sorry it took so long, photo sharing issues plus other things like jetlag. 🙂

Day 9: Back to Tokyo!

We had a little time before we went back to Tokyo in the morning, and so we headed off to the To-ji temple, Japan's largest pagoda. It's got this thin multilayered spire on the top, and you can't help but wonder if they put those last inches there to get that "tallest pagoda in Japan" heading). No pictures are allowed inside the temple complex, but there are beautiful gold Buddhas and temple guardians inside. I also looked a little closer and noticed, on the gold painted Buddhas, that a lot of them have thin mustaches painted on. Not like graffiti, like Buddha, in Japanese tradition, had a mustache. Hey, you never know.

There was a little pond right a the front of the pagoda filled with adorable little turtles!

There we had something rather hilarious happen. Usually the small Japanese children in tour groups would come up to me and practice their English, or just shout out "HELLO!!" and try to get a response. But this time, a group of middle school/high school BOYS came running up to MR. S. They were all excited. The teacher explained how they all played baseball, and the kids kept telling Mr. S their positions, etc. Mr. S is like " played baseball too..." (as in Little League). And then they started begging for pictures. We never figured out precisely what happened, but we think Mr. S may have been mistaken for a famous baseball player. We really didn't have enough Japanese to explain the mistake. Oops...

We then bulleted back to Tokyo. After all the ceremony in Kyoto, with so many people dressed traditionally to visit the shrines, Tokyo has much more of a bustling metropolis feel to it (and I suppose it helps that it's also bigger).

A note on dress: work clothing is generally very boring in Japan, especially for the men, white shirts, black pants, tie. Yawn. Women similarly get pretty buttoned up for work. But WHOA the stuff they wear outside of work! A lot of it is in the latest fashion, but it often looks like they put on the most fashionable things they had to wear that day, with matching merely an unanticipated bonus. There's a LOT of layering, something which was pretty surprising to us, since it was both REALLY hot and REALLY humid the whole time we were there, but tights, shorts/skirt, tight shirt, slouchy sweater, hat, and arm covers or gloves (to protect the skin) is really what it takes to feel dressed in Tokyo.

I also noticed the vast majority of the women wearing heels. And I mean HEELS. 3-4" at least. We saw lots of women wearing these and climbing mountains. Not just casual heels, many of them are the kind of sparkly deals we associate only with weddings or prom. I suppose after a while you get feet of steel, but still.

I found the fashion here very interesting particularly because the clothing, and everything really, was so EXPENSIVE. If you're wearing of the moment fashion, you must have to switch it out a lot, to pay for it all?

The young women in Tokyo also appear to wear a lot more makeup than I usually see in the US or other parts of Japan. Fake eyelashes are things you put on to wear to the grocery store. I have to say I really ended up feeling very grubby. Also LARGE.

We got back to Tokyo only in time to head to dinner in the Ryongi district, an area near many of the embassies and which has a pretty good nightlife. The restaurant we headed to was very popular with tourists and apparently the decor reminds people of the fight scene in Kill Bill (but not me, not nearly enough floor space, or little girls with morning stars).

Weird food items of the day: Shochu, which is I guess like Japanese vodka? It didn't taste like much. And chicken BUTT!!! I mean, "chicken tail". But it was roasted chicken butt, let's be honest.

Last day: I has a sad.

There's so much to see in Japan, and always too little time to see it. But we really did want to make it an actual VACATION, as Sci, you may have noticed, doesn't get many of those. 🙂 I am very sad we didn't have time to fly north and see Hokkaido, which apparently has beautiful hiking.

We spent the day touring around Tokyo. First thing in the morning we headed to the Edo-Tokyo museum, which focused entirely on the history of the city. It has a very wide layout and was much more modern-focused than I was expecting, but there are a lot of explanations in English and it's well worth it. I particularly found the modernization of the country and the coverage of WWII there interesting. They also had an ENTIRE Kabuki theater in there.

We snagged lunch at a 7-11 (honestly, we ended up doing this a lot, food is expensive here, and there are 7-11s EVERYWHERE, and you can just grab two onigiri and a fruit cup and call it lunch), and then we found our way to the Japanese sword museum. Unlike many of the shrines, temples, and museums here, it was actually FREE, and tucked away on the second floor of...a condominium. It's nothing but a big room filled with swords. Not scabbards. Not armor, not even HILTS. Just the SWORD, the blade just sitting there, with a little note below it saying "sword, X period". So it's not necessarily for everyone. But if you're the type of person who appreciates a finely made blade (and I do), it's a great trip. It's very cool to see the entire blade up close and be able to look at the marks in the hilt, comparing makers, to look at the blending of the softer and harder metals in the blade and how that changes with different blade lengths to create something that it both sharp and not brittle, to examine the curve and imagine how that might change the weight...yeah, never mind.

We then headed to the huge park (very nearby) surrounding the Meiji shrine, the shrine of the Emperor that ended the power of the Shogunate in 1868 and opened Japan to trade (at the somewhat threatening "request" of Commodore Perry from the US). Emperor Meiji then swept Japan into modernity, cutting his own hair first (traditionally high ranking Japanese men wore their hair in topknots, he but his off), and introducing Western dress, food, culture, and technology (good thing? Bad thing? Not for me to debate). The shrine is in beautiful gardens and is very much an ideal of Japanese understatement. To really underline how Western Emperoro Meiji was, along with the traditional huge barrels of sake left at the shrine, there are also huge barrels of WINE. Apparently Meiji loved Bordeaux, and when he died some of the Japanese who lived in France donated the barrels.

(Those things under the tree there are prayers, you buy a little wooden plaque and write your prayer on it, and hang it there under the tree)

We then looked at some of the gardens to the side, and found a beautiful one with an EXTREMELY cold well in it. The guard at the well told us the well had been dug in the 13th century, and that if you wash your hands in it, you'll be very lucky.

(Observe Sci's hands at right trying to get lucky. You see what I did there)

If you go out the front entrance of the Meiji shrine, you'll basically run into the neighborhood called Harajuku, which is famous for people who dress really wild (an example of this were the girls that Gwen Stefani had following her around for a while). Dressing styles include things like the gothic lolita (I think you can come up with what that is on your own), goth, and people cosplaying (costume-playing) their favorite TV shows or movies. My favorite outfits sighted were: the guy wearing a furry top hat and carrying a giant purse shapes like a coffin, and the girl wearing a full lolita Victorian outfit in burgundy. She looked FABULOUS. Sci may or may not have done some extensive shopping in this area.

We headed to Roppongi for dinner, an area where things are more likely to be open late, and in honor of our last night, had conveyor belt sushi again (minus the raw horse)! And then early the next morning, it was off to the airport and home again.

Things I enjoyed/miss already:

1)the SCRUPULOUSLY CLEAN public toilets. They were everywhere and they were free. They might have been the squat kind, but they were ALWAYS sparkling.

2)The lack of litter. I realized when we got back that I automatically associate train stations in the US and Europe with the smell of urine. In Japan, NEVER. Boy do I miss that.

3) The food!!! So many fun weird things to try. But getting onigiri in the US? Impossible. 🙁 Been craving one for a week now...

4) Public transport in general. Frequent, cheap, ON TIME, and clean. *sniff* *single tear*

Things I do not miss/found difficult:
1) Squat toilets. Those things are HARD. I managed, but WHOA.

2) Some of the social customs were restrictive, and particularly difficult in that no one ever TOLD you about them (lucky for us we got a crash course). No showing tattoos in public (especially around religious sites or older people). No blowing your nose. No eating while walking, etc, etc. When you grow up just not noticing these things, suddenly noticing you do them can make you REALLY self-conscious. But I know it's that way whenever you spend time in another culture.

3) Feeling like the largest person there, by a foot in height and 5 sizes or so. Most of the time I was unable to buy clothing, and I shudder at the idea of trying to find SHOES!

Overall? A fantastic trip, would go again!! So much left to see and try!!!

2 responses so far

  • Janne says:

    There's a thriving second-hand market for famous brands, and there's places you can rent accessories such as handbags for a week or two at a time. But yes, some young women do spend a lot of money on fashion. They're typically unmarried and live with their parents (which you're supposed to do until you marry (see "love hotel" for how you cope with your SO until then)), so pretty much their entire salary is disposable income.

  • Gary Godfrey says:

    Thanks so much for sharing - I really enjoyed reading about your vacation. Even inspired me to try a little bit of Japanese cooking.