Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Now It's on the Pinnacle of Evolution!

Day 4: Wednesday morning my rail pass and I jetted off on yet another shinkansen, this time to Hiroshima. Feeling bold, I didn't bother to look at any maps and went madly off in all directions. Two hours of wandering in what may or may not have even been Hiroshima, I found my way back to the train station and took the tram to the Peace Park.

Twenty days and three google searches later, I just found out that I really wasn't in Hiroshima city anymore (although I was still in the Hiroshima prefecture).

Wherever I was, they had some frogs there.

At last! Incontrovertible proof that I was here. Photo courtesy of a guy from Westchester. Strange alienation of head from neck courtesy of me.

The A-Bomb Dome. Formerly a public works building, it has been preserved exactly as it was after the morning of August 6, 1945. Everyone in the building was killed instantly.

This tricycle belonged to a little boy who was hit by the blast of Little Boy while riding it. He died that night and was buried with his tricycle. Forty years later, his father dug up the tricycle and gave it to the Peace Museum. The museum is very informative and definitely worth the trip. It's also pretty gross (skin and nails on display), much to the delight of the bazillions of schoolchildren forced to do homework assignments there.

On the way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto, I almost missed my stop because I was in such a reverie about my railpass. Besides the bullet trains and select subway lines, it's also good for one of the ferries going to Miyajima, the island-god. Which I didn't visit. But I could have. For free.

Day 5: I woke up to discover that my watch was smashed:

Which is a little odd considering that the day before I had seen this picture of the watch that stopped at the exact moment of the detonation of the A-bomb.

And then I discovered this:

This is my leg and it is gross. I never felt a thing. For the two pictures to be related, I would have had to fold myself in half while sleeping, twist my arm so that my watch faced inward and then vigorously smash my watch against my leg.

For breakfast, I went to St Marc's coffeeshop.

I thought this was an interesting juxtaposition.

I got to thinking once again about the differences and similarities between Iceland and Japan, the second- and first-most-expensive countries in the world, respectively. I wondered for example, why, if Japan is the most expensive country, are a coffee and a chocolate croissant in Japan

a. $3.50 and
b. very good

whereas in Iceland a coffee and a bagel are

a. $7.50 and
b. also very good (the coffee and bagel were a bad example) BUT
all other foods in Iceland are disgusting and even more expensive?

This photo is a parenthetical--this is food in Iceland (and if you can't tell from the picture, let me assure you: It was really really bad). Now observe food in Japan:

In your face, Iceland! At least you have your looks to fall back on.

D returned and I got to speak to another human being. It was very exciting, not least because I got to stop using air freshener to wash my hands. We went strolling.

This is somewhere.

Pretty maids all in a row.

Coming up: paper shredders and Brad Pitt.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

No! Nude! No! Rip! No! Touch!

Day 3: I woke up at 5am to take the first subway to Tsukiji, the fish market. It was too early, and I had to wait until 6am for the first subway to run.

Heading into Tsukiji.

Tsukiji.

Soon-to-be breakfast.

Ow, my head!
Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.

I was determined to have fresh sushi for breakfast, so for some reason I sat down at a noodle stand and had a large bowl of tempura soba soup (not photographed because I didn't want to embarrass the gaijin sitting next to me). Having consumed about half of my soup, I paid and proceeded to a sushi bar, where I had salmon and tuna sushi and was mocked for looking like a fisherman (I think) and for dipping my sushi rice side down in the soy sauce (big no-no).

Remember: fish side down!

Market streets around Tsukiji.

To recap: 6:35am. One major sight seen. Two breakfasts consumed. Can I go back to Kyoto now?

I took the subway to Ueno, the location of a large, lovely park that contains the Ueno Zoo, the Tokyo National Museum, homeless people and their tents, and a bunch of other stuff. The Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo says the zoo "can be safely dropped from a busy itinerary." I went to the zoo. I had to kill about two hours before it opened so I sat in the park, doing crossword puzzles and eating Pocky (and talking to the Main Man on my fancy yellow cell phone).

The lady on the right is homeless. That's why she's wearing track pants. What's your excuse?

Note to potential perverts (in the park and elsewhere): When approaching women, I suggest opening with something less obviously creepy than "Are you alone?"
Note to women: Answering "No!" when the answer is obviously "Yes!" throws potential perverts into confusion and causes them to retreat.

I took this picture so that Blanqui could see that even homeless cats clean themselves. Ahem. Wait--does that cat have a collar? These homeless people are amazing. We should ask the Japanese government if we can borrow them to fix up Iraq. Or at least organize its umbrellas.

At last! The zoo was open!

Lil Baji, this panda's for you. His name is Ling Ling and he loves persimmons.

Schoolchildren marveling at Ling Ling the panda.

In Japan, they call this a "wild dog." I call it a "dog."

Hello, my North American buddy! I don't think I'd ever seen a porcupine before.

Time to hit the gym, dude.

Madonna and child.

Monkeys horsing around.

Lions monkeying around.

Penguins in monkey suits.

I took this picture so Blanqui could see what will happen if he persists in refusing to groom himself.

Totally undignifed llama behavior. This animal is obviously not indigenous to Japan.

Forced to share living quarters with the drunken llama due to an administrative error, the tapir founders in a melancholic state.

There's nothing funny about polar bears.

Elephants yeah!

I went to the Tokyo National Museum:

This building reminded me of the Reykjavik City Hall. Figures the two most expensive countries in the world would have a lot in common. Iceland has clean streets too.

Then I took the shinkansen back to Kyoto. But first:

Just your average everyday train station food. Except for one thing. What was it? Oh yes: IT'S SUPERFANTASTICALLY AWESOME. I miss my little bento box.

Coming up: the mysterious incident of the watch in the night.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kompasu O Motte Imasu Ka?

Day 2: Monday morning I took the 8am shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo. It took a little less than 3 hours and would have cost me around $250 round-trip, had I not spent just that sum on an unlimited 7-day Japan Rail pass (which you can purchase at JTB USA).

Shinkansen.

Cute little Japanese coke bottle. It got off in Yokohama.

I walked around Ginza (the shopping district) and saw some Louis Vuitton and Prada stores. Over an ice coffee, I tried to map out my walking route across Tokyo. I was planning to walk from Ginza, through Roppongi (the nightlife district), then to Harajuku (the shopping district) and Shibuya (the shopping district), ending in Shinjuku (the shopping district), from where I'd take the subway to Asakusa (one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tokyo, and the site of my capsule hotel). There didn't seem to be any main roads, just a million teeny roads going in all directions. So I hit upon a brilliant solution: I would buy a compass and walk roughly northwest! I cursed myself for not having bought one before leaving the states.

I went into a drugstore and asked the cashier, "Kompasu o motte imasu ka?" ("Do you have a compass?"). She replied, "Kompaktu?" (as in makeup compact, I'm guessing). "Ie, nishi, higashi...", I said ("No, north, east..."). "Kompasu! Ie" ("A compass! No"). Then she pointed me in the direction of the Matsuzakaya department store.

At the Matsuzakaya information booth I asked, "Kompasu o motte imasu ka?" "Ie," the woman said (and for the record, I find it hard to believe that they don't carry compasses in that big department store). She brought out a map of Ginza and started circling places, probably places someone as insane as I should immediately head for, like say the police station, or the nearest mental hospital. I thanked her and moved on. I did not go to the police or the mental institution. I just wanted a kompasu! [*Update: I should have followed that woman's instructions. I just googled the places she circled and it turns out that the police station is actually a stationery store and the mental institution is another department store.]

I went to a third store and asked again, "Kompasu o motte imasu ka?" Something to the effect of "Where do you want to go? I can help," came the reply. Sigh. Unfortunately, my Japanese is not at the level where I can communicate things like, "My problems are so great you could never attempt to solve them in this lifetime." Instead I just smiled and left. I gave up on the kompasu and just took the subway. (I did finally find a compass in Kyoto, but of course I didn't need one anymore. I still bought it, just in case.)

Chikatetsu (subway).

I took the subway to Omotesando, the Champs Elysées of Tokyo.

Omotesando stop.

I passed a game parlor. And no, Baji, I did not play the dancing game.

I had a snack.

Tokyo fashions on Omotesando, the shopping boulevard.

Tenuous evidence that I was here.

More evidence that I was here. Still tenuous.
This is my private internet cubicle in the women-only wing of an internet cafe.

Shibuya.

This guy had great hair.

Still Shibuya. Still great hair.

This woman reminds me of someone.

I took the JR line (free! thank you, JR Rail pass!) to Shinjuku, didn't like the look of it, went back to Shibuya. There a miracle occurred: I showed a lost American tourist how to get to Shinjuku. I'm surprised the apocalypse didn't happen right at that moment. Turns out I am subway smart, but not street smart.

I took the subway to Asakusa, and checked into my capsule hotel, the Hotel Asakusa Riverside. I had to leave my boots in a locker downstairs.

Yeah, that's right.

Me in my hotel-issued pajamas.

The capsules.

My capsule (the green slippers are mine).

My neighbor down the capsule way.


Inside the capsule.

Coming up: the long-awaited monkeys, too many breakfasts and fish who make bad jokes.