Some people are beach people. Some people are city people. I’m a mountain person – nothing lifts my spirits like seeing a mountain in the distance, getting closer. There are a few big cities I like – London, Paris, Vienna, Lisbon – but I approach places the size of Tokyo (12.56 million people) with caution. In fact, I put it last on my Japan itinerary just so I’d have time to get used to the country before tackling it, and I was a little sad to see the rice fields give way to a rather depressing cityscape well before my train pulled into Shinjuku station.
Things started out well – my JR ticket got me as far as Ueno and I found it easy to buy a subway ticket the rest of the way to Asakusa. (But I had a lot more trouble with the subway “system” later.) I was sleeping on the floor again, at the Ryokan Kamogawa Asakusa, in an historic, if very touristy, section of town. I had eaten on the train, so after I cleaned up (the humidity was much higher than in the Alps) I headed back to Ueno to visit the Shitamachi Museum.
Getting out of the subway station was a real route march, worse even than the Moscow system, and I had even more trouble later getting back in from Ueno Park, as I needed the Ginza line section, and the Park entrance turned out to be just for the JR lines… I know it’s a big city, but three, THREE, independent subway systems? All serving the same parts of town? Sometimes from the same station, sometimes from adjacent stations, but not sharing a ticketing system? Hate.
The Shitamachi Museum turned out to be quite small, and with the second floor devoted to a special exhibition with no English explanations. I later discovered that the Edo-Tokyo Museum, much bigger, gave a better feel for historic Tokyo, although most of its exhibits were reconstructions (and it was a lot harder to get to).
In Ueno Park I saw the first dirty pavement of the whole trip, and the first homeless men. Also for the first time, I had the feeling, possibly quite wrong, that it might be better to be gone before dark. While I enjoyed the shinto shrine I visited (lots of torii and lots of steps), the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu was being renovated. I paid my respects to the nearby flame from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which earned me, to my surprise, a very strange look from a local.
I spent another, very wet, day mostly in the Ginza area. My first target was the Sony Building, which turned out to be having a massive promotion around the Charlie Brown cartoons. (I couldn’t help wondering how much Charles Schulz’ estate was taking in as a result). Its popularity was evident. The unpopularity of foreigners was also evident. On the top floor a 3D demo took place every 20 minutes. (It was a total waste of time.) Two prime front row seats, between me and another westerner, remained empty, even though plenty of people were standing.
Following the guide books’ recommendations I planned to eat lunch in one of the Ginza department stores, but found the selections both more western and more expensive than I had expected. I eventually wound up waiting around 30 minutes (the top floor restaurants were very popular on a Saturday) to eat at a place advertising its use of fresh, local, produce. And for the first time in Japan I enjoyed an actual salad bar and raw veggies!
I also enjoyed some quality people watching. I saw a grand total of six other westerners during my half hour wait, but plenty of locals. Further to the matter of skirts, more women were wearing trousers, and those in skirts were split between knee-length and dowdy, and fashion-forward frills. Fur (probably fake) and frills seemed to be the key-notes for the winter season in Japan.
Between my bad foot and the bad weather, I ate dinner close to home my three nights in Tokyo. I consulted the English-speaking man on the reception desk, and he actually walked me to neighborhood restaurants. I ate twice at an izakaya, feasting on excellent skewers of chicken, chicken liver, duck and shellfish, washed down with sake, and once at an okonomiyaki place that didn’t measure up to the one in Kanazawa – and was reluctant to seat a solo diner. I did learn that Tokyo has its own, sloppier, version of the pancake – I stuck to the provincial version.