Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tokyo, The Biggest City In The World

We spent a week in the biggest city in the world. We chose to save money and travel overnight by bus from Kyoto. It was a surprisingly easy ride, comfy chairs, the 8 hours passed by smoothly. We slept most of the ride, so it didn't really feel like a lost night. The first day in Tokyo was supposed to be a break. We spent almost two hours getting from the Tokyo station to the rented apartment in Roppongi. It used to be a hip and sleazy location several years ago, but now, with plenty of modern constructions, parks, museums and shopping areas, it became a central and fancy location. After getting some things from the local convenience store, I decided to look for a real supermarket. It ended being a three hour walking trip, part of it through a nice cemetery, finally finding a small grocery store and getting some basic supplies, rice, kikoman, vegetables, bread, butter, cheese and beer!
Park in Roppongi
Tokyo is the biggest city in the world, by some accounts it has 39 million people. Thirty nine million people is one eighths of the United States. It is almost double the population of Romania. How can somebody visit such a city, what's to see there? Why even bother? What would be for the children or for us to learn? We don't have the desire to collect records and hit the biggest and the largest and the tallest. There is no one unique monument like the Eiffel tower or the Sistine chapel, there is no world class museum that we heard of. Apparently, visiting Tokyo means going to different areas of the city to see what might be specific for a particular neighborhood. We could have avoided Tokyo if we wanted but we didn't want to. So we braced for the huge metropolis and we had a blast. 

We were going to Tokyo for one main reason: the Miyazaki museum, my family saw many of his movies. Ileana Ruxandra described the experience in a post. We also thought of taking a day trip outside of the city either to Nikko or to Kamakura, maybe go to Yokohama, but surely not to Disney. On my list was the fish market, the biggest in the world, soon to be moved to a different location. We went there on Saturday morning. We purposefully arrived there late, just to get a feeling of the place. Ileana doesn't really like fish and soon after getting in, she was starting to turn white. Her mother noticed and took her out, to a nice "quiet" shrine. She didn't want to say anything because she didn't want to ruin our experience! Her siblings went on with me, we watched how they were closing the place for the day, almost done at 11 am. The day here starts with an auction for the huge fish at 4.30 am and there after the catch is auctioned for smaller buyers, restaurants, etc. It was an interesting visit and I liked observing regular Japanese people at work, completely ignoring the few tourists that were in their way. We also saw the market for regular people, crowded but interesting. We then went to the Ginza district, the first apparently to modernize, in the second half of the nineteens century. They close access for vehicles on Saturdays and fancy ladies walk in the middle of the street. Supposedly. It was us, a few other people, we went to the Apple Store, "the tallest in the world", for no other purpose, just for fun. In the store they were selling the iPhone 4, but in the street there was a line for the iPhone 4S. 

The Ginza Apple Store
Leaving Ginza we saw a demonstration, people marching in the street, maybe protesting against nuclear weapons or what not. It was the first manifestation witnessed by the children, we first had to explain to them what that is. You don't really want me, with my sarcasm and with my more recent acquired dismissiveness for any politician and world government, to explain why people demonstrate. In the light of recent news from home, an Iraqi veteran being beaten and put in a coma by San Francisco police for participating in a demonstration, my first thought was to avoid the Japanese manifestation. The second impulse took over and we started to run after them, we caught them, smiled and waved and my wife and oldest daughter even signed their petition. I was impressed by the police, they were really preoccupied to block the cars, in front and around the demonstrators, they were putting their orange markers and moving them around. The only interaction with the loud demonstrators was to watch for their safety, some of them were so enthusiastic they might not have payed enough attention. You'd never see something like this in US, at least not now. I remember reading a few years ago that the demonstrators against Bush policies were assigned some special island when he went to Boston, just to make sure he wouldn't see or hear them. I would like to be able to imagine an obese American policeman loaded with his ton of equipment and with the nice/friendly/superior/arrogant attitude bending and bowing in front and after a group of demonstrators moving the markers to protect their space. The policemen here were small and slim, had a white cap, white gloves, no guns, tasers or handcuffs.

After that we reached the imperial palace, that is not something you can visit, but a small Eastern Garden is accessible and we made it there for a few minutes. Nice but short visit and we are in a hurry to make it at Shinjutsu, to meet with my old childhood friend Doru and his family. They are now teachers in an international school program and they have been in Tokyo for more than a year. It's been many years since we last met, it might have been before the birth of his now 15 year old son. We were so close to miss seeing his family! But we figured out a way to meet all, and spend most of the next 30 hours together. It was a little sad to say goodbye to them. They promised that they'll come and visit us for the 2013 Christmas!

Dinner together
The first day, after spending a couple of hours in the park and several hours at dinner, they convinced us to change our plans for Nikko with a trip to Kamakura with them. The next day was Sunday and the weather was supposed to be nice. Who cared about the weather, the whole day was amazing! I am amused that, just a few days ago, I felt that I had the best day ever. And now again. We talked for hours, so glad to discover or rediscover them after several years, so glad to see how amazing their children are and how well they get along together. 

After a couple hours on the train we got off at Kita-Kamakura station and we started a 3 km hike up the mountain, in the woods, passing by several shrines and having a great picnic.

Later we arrived at Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, a 11.4 m tall statue of Amida Buddha from 1252. We came down to touch the Pacific Ocean. It was raining now, but that wouldn't stop Ioan from taking his shoes off and starting to build some dams. We also visited Tsurugaoka-Hachiman-gū shrine and as it was getting dark, it was time to return home. We decided to have dinner again together, it just was hard to say goodbye. The restaurant was so crowded we had to wait outside to be seated. Then they said something that probably meant that they cannot accept us, they cannot place nine people together. We signaled that we are OK with two tables. Thirty minutes later, we were inside ordering and we spend probably another three hours talking, the adults at one table, the children at another table in another section of the restaurant. Amazing.

As we're getting home, we got out of the subway at the Shibuya station, apparently one million people cross here everyday. The busiest intersection in the world. It wasn't too bad at 9 pm on Sunday night, but we could imagine how it would be at rush hour.

After such a great day we needed a break, physically and emotionally. We only had two full days left for Tokyo and everything was complicated by November 1st. The start of Nanowrimo. My girls, especially one of them, lives for this day, she has been planning for months her new novel and was ready to start at midnight. A few years ago it could have been possible to negotiate a wake up at 3-4 am, but now they both wanted to start at midnight! We had two days left to "see" Tokyo, the October 31st and November 1st. They had to be light days, so the girls could go to bed early for their midnight wake up call. They would be tired the next day. We decided to take it slowly on Monday and to visit Roppongi.

Tokyo Tower, much nicer at night from a distance
We were getting toward the Tokyo Tower at sunset, hoping we would get there when the lights start. As it appeared at the horizon we started to head toward it and unknowingly we got off our planned route. The tower, a mid 50s immitation of an Eiffel Tower was so ugly we couldn't bear getting closer to it. The kids wanted home, Ileana decided to make the "sacrifice" to take them, I spent another couple of hours in the commercial district. I even went up the tallest building there, the Mori, it has an art museum and an observation platform. Expensive, but tempting, I decided I don't want to go alone. It worked out great because a few minutes later, Mink, our host, emailed me that she could get us tickets there for ¥3400 instead of ¥5500, a saving of $25. So we could go together, but on our last day, with a million other things to do and see.

I woke up the girls at 1 am, on November 1st, they started writing and I went to bed, they never went back to sleep after that. Even so, they wanted to come along and spend the day with us. We went to Ueno, the first of the big historical neighborhoods of Tokyo, where Ueno park has the greatest concentration of museums anywhere in the world. Just one objective for us, Tokyo National Museum, it seems that this is the Louvre equivalent for Japanese culture. A huge complex, it has a big central building where they have all the highlights of their collection. About 20 rooms, great information, even in English, and a few objects per room so you can see them all, read the explanation and still be done in 90 minutes. It was great, and off we went, hurry back to the subway station, the girls wanted to see the "Metabolism" exhibition at the Mori Art Museum, and this was closing at 5pm on Tuesday. Usually it closes at 10 pm, it's free with the observation tower, or vice versa. We had to rush through the whole exhibit, Japanese architecture and the efforts of several architects to develop concepts for the city of the future, the metabolism of a huge metropolis, challenges and solutions. 

Up, on top of Mori Building
They closed on us, they had to kick us out (Japanese style). In the observation tower the girls were more interested in the display of schoolchildren art for a google logo then in the huge Tokyo, lighted underneath us. We made it up the top on the sky deck where they have the heliport. It was nice but cold and windy and we decided to call it a day. Too tired to make it to a restaurant we bought some sushi and sashimi at a luxury deli and had a great last dinner at home. Next is China.

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