Day 4: In Gotanda TOKYO 1 May 2017

After my technological traumas of yesterday I have decided to keep it simple. I have sent a request to my provider so I will continue to write about our adventure. The purpose of these ramblings is to leave something of our lives behind for our grandchildren. We make a printout of it and paste it into a scrapbook, together with memorabilia, one for each family.

Today we planned on going to visit the emperor’s palace – the Imperial Palace. It is right in the heart of Tokyo. It is about 5 metro stops from our studio. We are now discovering all sorts of alternative routes to the metro station. The area we are in is sort of middle to lower middle class. Hotel visitors would probably never discover it. It gives us a very normal impression of life here. Our studio is small but has all we need. The entrance to our building slightly shocked us on arrival as it is dingy and dark and the domestic rubbish and recycling is kept on racks in full view of the entrance.

Most public places are spotless and we witnessed a man removing a cigarette butt from the pavement outside his apartment block. Smoking is bizarrely forbidden, except for designated areas, in public. But you can light up inside a restaurant. Some restaurants have smoking rooms. The pavement ‘designated areas’ are always full of very young black suited, many with collars and ties, executives, all puffing away! We are amazed by the number of young smokers here in Japan.

Another interesting observation (for us) is the number of DVD rental outlets. These also carry comics for rent! I wonder has Netflix not reached Japan?

What do I say about the Imperial Palace – very little really. His Royal Highness, the Emperor, keeps himself to himself behind very high walls. The Palace is only open 2 days a year, and then only to the nobility, I believe.

So we decided to have lunch which was delicious. While seated outside, in one of the only street cafes we have come across, the rain started. It came down in stair rods with thunder and lightening. Up to that moment we have had almost unbroken sunshine and 20 – 25 degrees. But we had checked today’s weather before setting out so we’re equipped with suitable light rainwear.

We also decided to check trains for Kyoto for Wednesday. Having queued for about 20mins we discovered trains up to 16hrs are all booked up because it is a holiday. However there are about 10 ‘non bookable’ carriages so we were advised to come early and queue. The trains seem to be miles long! It will be another adventure. Trust us to try to cross the country on the day when everyone is on holiday and travelling home or on holiday!!!

Tonight we are invited to an Airbnb sake evening. We will see what that brings. Then we are booked into a very popular Japanese restaurant in our area. Again we’ll see what that brings.

Day 3 Tokyo

We are very happy we stayed a couple of days here because it takes that time to get one’s bearings.

Today we decided to see an exhibition of Japanese architecture in the very fashionable Ginza area. This is just three metro stops from our studio. We don’t have a map of Tokyo as such an item would be pretty useless. Tokyo is divided into districts so you need a map for each district. We located the Panasonic Museum, where the exhibition was to take place, on Google maps. We thought we were sorted. However street names are often either only in Japanese or not evident at all! Sometimes they are on the ground and sometimes high up on a pole. Getting lost becomes a past time for visitors.

Having set off in the wrong direction we quickly realized our mistake, retraced our steps and found the museum. It was situated right next to the oldest railway station building in Tokyo. This railway line is long closed down and the (re)building sits dwarfed by the massive skyscrapers all around.

The Panasonic building is very impressive consisting of 42 floors. The upper two are occupied by restaurants. These are around the perimeter of the building so that one has to eat or drink there in, at vast expense, to get the view over Tokyo. We passed on this delight. The exhibition was on the 4th floor. It was very interesting showing wooden or polystyrene models of old and new Japanese houses. The expo had been put together by 4 French architects, one of whom lives in Tokyo.

We then took to wandering the very chic streets of Ginza. Every chic fashion house is represented here. At midday precisely police blocked both ends of the main thorougfare and the street became pedestrianised. Masses of people thronged on to the street. It was amazing.

Lunch was had in a beautiful small restaurant which had long open windows on to the street. There is no eating on the street, as far as we have discovered, so this was the nearest we could get to outdoor dining! We reckon it is the Japanese obsession with hygiene which prevents street cafes.

Small observation: does anyone know why  very many Japanese have turned in feet?

Day 2 Tokyo

This starts with last night’s dinner. A truly unmemorable affair. We had nothing planned and had not seen anywhere locally which took our fancy. So we meandered down the big wide street on which our studio is situated. We tried one place but it was fully booked. The next place was empty – we did not heed that obvious warning. It was Chinese not Japanese. We had to order from pictures. We had no idea what we had ordered and we’re still do not know what is was. The place was not clean but we were too tired to care and just wanted to get back to bed.

This morning dawned bright and sunny and we had both slept well. Our studio seating is Japanese style so with my wonky hip I cannot risk lowering myself to floor level. Hence breakfast has to be taken in bed!!

Our Airbnb host had left 24hrs of Wifi usage. This was running out fast. We also discovered that the plug adapter we had bought in London supposed to be for Japan was not indeed the correct model. We therefore needed to find a wifi provider who would give us temporary access and adapters for our appliances.

We set off for the shopping area just 2 metro stops along our line. This was some experience. Throngs of people and blaring noise. The famous “scramble crossing” is situated in this area. It is well named. Pedestrian crossings criss cross the intersection. When the traffic lights change people converge on the crossing from every direction. It is organised mayhem. However one is at no risk from motor vehicles, it is from bicycles that the greatest threat comes…. The are crazy and cycle on footpaths, the road or any available spot.

We were witness to the Tokyo’s police reaction to a very loud protest group. Several cars were broadcasting loudly as they drove along. The police closed in, threw barriers across the road. A Paddy wagon arrived, we assumed to remove the protesters.

We checked a suitable eating establishment for tonight. It was French. We would have preferred Japanese but as restaurants go this was superb. It was not expensive either.  Three courses for me, five for Barry and a 1/2 bottle of French wine cost about 80€. All well and good until we went to pay. Neither of our credit cards would work. This despite we had informed our banks we would be travelling. The restaurant owner phoned his bank but no joy. He told us not to worry we could come back tomorrow! In fact we were very near our studio so Barry hopped back and got cash. Meanwhile they fed me more delicious mint tea.

This is typical of Japanese people. I was waiting for Barry outside a shop today and the owner came out with a glass of ice cold water.

Day 1.5 of the Japanese adventure

Day 1 in Tokyo

This adventure began in Skibbereen on Wednesday 26th April. We boarded the bus at 11.15a.m for Cork. In Kent Station at 13h we discovered there was a bus directly (well sort of directly) to Dublin Airport at 14h. We had Pucchinio’s sandwiches and coffee and worked out which stand the bus was departing from as it was not the one indicated on the board. A bus for Clonmel was departing from there. We wondered how many visitors who wished to go to the airport actually made an unexpected visit to Clonmel.
The seat beside the driver was occupied by a woman who seemed to have been vaccinated with a gramophone needle. She alighted in Cashel to everyone’s relief only to be replaced in Cahir by a lady of the travelling community. This passenger wanted to share all her recent and not so recent family tragedies with us all. These included tit bits like “sure I can’t stay there didin I smash all them windaws the last time I was there” Since we assumed she could not read she demanded from anyone with whom she made eye contact “where’s this in the country?”. She remained with us to the bus station in Dublin. The remainder 30mins trip was uneventful. Into our hotel for the night. Our flight to London was comfortable and efficient. We had 1hr to transit to our Tokyo flight. All went smoothly. We boarded having booked aisle seats.
We were all aboard ahead of schedule but alas the walkway to the plane would not release us to the skies. The ground staff huffed and they puffed and the couldn’t pull it away. We were stuck fast… After about 40mins we were suddenly free and off into the beautiful morning sky we flew.
I was seated beside a lovely Japanese/English girl. The flight took 11hrs and was as boring as all other long haul flights we have ever been on. We arrived in Haneda airport at around 7 am. It took about an hour of queuing to have our visitors rail pass stamped. Once stamped we were free to start our Japanese adventure. We had booked an airbnb. The owner had sent us detailed instructions of how to get there. And with only one minor error (going two stations in the wrong direction) we walked to the apartment door. We negotiated the many locks and codes and flopped into our bed, thankfully not a futon, for three hours.
Flushing the toilet appeared to require a degree in electronics until we discovered a ‘normal’ handle on the side. All the other paraphernalia was just decoration. But there is one great design feature. The flush handle also turns on a tap over the tiny basin at the back of the loo, to rinse your hands. The water from there refills the cistern, simple.
We now have to brave the streets again and find somewhere to eat dinner. This should not be difficult as we are in an area called Gotande quite close to the city center.