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Archive for April 10th, 2012

Hello again! I’ve been pretty slow with updating this series of posts, especially considering the trip itself took place several months ago. This time I’ll have less words and more pictures. Now, I don’t have much in the way of pictures since I didn’t take my camera out of the hotel room. I had a variety of reasons for this.

First and foremost is the fact that I was traveling alone, and carrying a large DSLR camera around just screams “tourist.” My primary mission was to experience the city firsthand, and I find that having a camera in my face can get in the way of just interacting with the environment. Secondly, Tokyo is CROWDED. It’s pretty difficult to stand around and take pictures without either getting in someone’s way or looking creepy in some out-of-the-way spot. Thirdly, my toddler-level Japanese skills do not give me the ability to explain myself if someone were to object to my taking pictures. It’s considered polite to ask the shop owner if you can take photos, and I’m socially awkward enough in my own language, thanks. It’d have been different if I went anywhere rural with lots of scenery to document. That’s not to say I didn’t see lots of amazing and photo-worthy sights in the city, just that photography wasn’t my main objective and I didn’t particularly want to be that obnoxious foreigner in everyone’s way.

On my first full day in Tokyo, I woke up at about six AM, having slept a surprisingly normal eight hours. In the morning, at least, I wasn’t feeling the effects of travel very much. After a couple of hours waking up, getting ready and preparing my directions carefully, I was on the hotel shuttle bus back to Shinjuku station. The hotel provided this for free, though I later found that I could simply walk to the station underground, often in less time than the shuttle took. On the shuttle bus that first day, I observed how obvious the difference was between the Japanese travelers and the tourists from other countries. The difference was primarily one of volume, and by being alone I could pride myself on being the quietest and most unobtrusive foreigner on the bus. There was one Japanese man who looked somewhat embarrassed by his noisy American and European business partners…he smiled faintly and nodded a lot as they spoke, but I like to think I detected a significant level of “I am not amused” under his placid exterior. For the rest of the trip, I noticed that if you hear any loud speech on a moving vehicle in Tokyo, it’s likely to be an English-speaking one. Speaking on cell phones in public is frowned upon, and it makes a huge difference. I found public transport in Tokyo much more relaxing than in US cities, even though it was more crowded, simply because of the quiet.

The stations, however, can be overwhelming. Shinjuku station in particular is massive – it’s actually the busiest train station in the world. It took me a while to figure out where I needed to go once I obtained a Suica card, which is a prepaid smart card you can get from a vending machine. Once you’ve used all the money you originally put on the card, you can use the same machines to add more to it. Suica cards are even accepted at many convenience stores as currency – I used up my remaining balance at the airport when I left. Thankfully, large maps of the station are easy to find on the walls, and as long as you know what station you wish to leave from it’s simple enough to ask an attendant to be pointed in the right direction.

Akihabara, sometimes called ‘Electric Town,’ is pretty well known as the center of all that is geeky in Japan – if you like comics (manga), anime, games, music, and all the devices for watching your anime/playing your games/listening to your music it just might be the closest thing you’ve seen to paradise. A bright, shiny, flashy and noisy paradise that burrows its way into your bank account and threatens to leave it bereft of any hope for the future, but paradise nonetheless. I spent several hours there until jet lag caught up with me and I realized that the floor I was walking on, while plastered with decals of busty anime girls, was not actually tilted precariously to one side. I was just so tired my depth perception was off kilter. So I got on the train back to Shinjuku, grateful for a seat, hugging bags of goodies…and knowing I wasn’t done with Akihabara just yet.

Now, pictures!


Some of the aforementioned Akihabara goodies. The capsule toys (called ‘gachapon,’ which is the Japanese onomatopeia for the noise they make – ‘gacha’ for turning the crank, ‘pon!’ for when it drops down) were purchased from machines, and the boxed toys are sold in anime and comic stores and are often ‘blind boxes,’ meaning that the toy is from a series of several possible options and there’s no telling which one you’ll get. I don’t often care to buy blind-box items at anime conventions here in the US because the import prices are very high, often anywhere from $8 to $20 per figure when in Japan they’re more likely to be between 200 and 800 yen (about $2.50 – $10.) For a few hundred yen I was willing to take more gambles. Plus there were so many more series to choose from – you’re just not going to find cute figures of characters from a girls’ otome (dating sim) game in the US very often. Since I was visiting just before Christmas, gachapon toys were a fun thing to fling at friends for gifts, too.

Oh, no. Toothpick may hurt your finger.
I guess it’s good to know that ridiculous levels of safety labeling are a worldwide thing.
Also, Mr. Donut straw. Eating at Mr. Donut probably didn’t help with the fatigue I felt in Akihabara that day, but it was delicious. Also slightly disturbing, in that I heard a Justin Bieber Christmas song in there. HE’S EVERYWHERE.

This was the toilet in my hotel room. Yes, Japanese toilets are amazing in many ways, not the least of which is that they have little pictures of butts on them. The ones at the airport were even more mind-boggling (scents! sounds to cover up any sounds you might make!) but I did not take a photo of them.

I clean up after myself even in hotels, but I don’t typically line things up quite this precisely after getting ready in the morning. That’s right, room service did that. Incredible.

A lovely view of Shinjuku from my 18th-floor room.

Proof that I was indeed there! Wearing a hotel yukata and holding a very large shoehorn which I found amusing for some reason. (“Some reason” = probably the jet lag.)

Thanks for reading – more silliness to come, eventually!

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