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« tokyo! (part two) | Main | welcome zoe! »

tokyo! (part one)

(Sunday, September 2nd, 8:40 pm, Tokyo time)

Yay, we're in Japan!

Another two-part Blatherings follows (a Guest Blathering from our friend Alison on the next page)...

Because of the reading light problems I experienced on the Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver, I looked for a book reading light (the kind that you could clip on your book, or wear around your neck) as soon as we got to the airport. Despite the many shops, no one had one. And of course when we boarded the flight, I discovered that my reading light DID NOT WORK. Sigh. Fortunately our flight was during the day, so I only had problems reading when the cabin lights were off and window shades pulled. But I have vowed to track down a reading light before going back...I would not survive a 12 hour flight with no reading light.

The nine hour flight from Vancouver to Japan went by remarkably fast, considering that neither Jeff nor I were able to sleep very much. We both had books and magazines, plus the two movies were pretty good ("Spy Kids" and "Bullets Over Broadway"). Then about 2/3 way through the flight, a flight attendant brought a message to the passenger sitting next to me, beside the window. Turns out that his luggage was never put on the plane, so it would be delivered a day late.

We then got in a conversation with the guy, who turned out to be an Asian Studies student teaching English in Tokyo, who has been living in Japan for the past four years. He gave us tips on sights to see in Tokyo, where to eat, etc.

The food on the flight was pretty good, and included Asian-theme variations like green tea, cold Oolong tea, sushi, hot towels, Japanese rice crackers. Soy sauce in extremely cute clear plastic containers shaped like tiny fish.

We took a bus from the airport to the Prince Hotel, where we met Alison. Alison looked great and remarkably energetic/perky for someone who is four and a half months pregnant. We walked to her apartment, where we chatted and snacked on stuff in her fridge and watched some Japanese tv before crashing fairly early. I was extremely braindead, and fell asleep within a few seconds of my head hitting the pillow.

Here are some highlights of our trip so far, as well as some differences I've noticed already between the Japanese and North American culture:

- Japanese tv. A lot of the shows seem to be about food. Eating it, cooking it, examining it. One show we found was about sticky food. Two guys in lab coats were comparing the relatively stringiness of various types of Japanese food.

- Plastic food displays. They are all over the place, and remarkably realistic. I like these because you can tell immediately what the restaurant serves. Most plates have a small label with the price in yen. I figure that if Jeff and I have problems ordering in restaurants and Alison isn't with us, we can drag our waiter or waitress outside and just point. :-)

- My first Japanese restaurant experience. We went to a Starbucks a few blocks from Alison's place. Alison and Jeff ordered some frosty drinks (it's pretty warm here right now, around 30 degrees, which is a lot cooler than it's been in recent months). I wasn't planning to get anything, but then noticed PUMPKIN sandwiches in the case. Wow, very cool. I had to try one, of course. I reached in and started to pull one out, but then remembered that I had seen the Starbucks clerk take one out with tongs for a customer. Oops. I pulled back, but then accidentally knocked another sandwich (fortunately wrapped in plastic) on the floor. Mortified, I put the sandwich back in the case and took out my pumpkin sandwich (heck, I figured I might as well go all the way since everyone was probably looking at me anyway). Went to the counter, where the clerk smiled and said something to me in Japanese. Augh. I muttered something incoherently and looked confused, and then the clerk pointed to a sign which said "350 yen". I handed over a 1000 yen note, not sure if I was paying $1 for the sandwich or $100. The clerk handed back some change and said, "Thank you" with another smile. I marched out of the Starbucks red-faced but triumphant, having (barely) successfully made my first purchase in Japan.

- Clothes and doorframes are smaller. Jeff has to duck to get into Alison's apartment. I'm sure he's going to bonk his forehead at least once during our trip.

- Other differences I've noticed: More people seem to smoke. There don't appear to be non-smoking areas in restaurants, but perhaps I'm wrong. Right now I'm trying to memorize how to say "a non-smoking train car, please".

- People don't tend to wear safety helmets when riding bicycles, even when using child carriers. I was pretty horrified to see a father go by with a baby in a carrier on the back of his seat WITHOUT A HELMET, and a toddler girl sitting in front of him, also without a helmet.

- Flea market. The one Alison took us to apparently only occurs twice a month; our timing was lucky. Huge event, with all kinds of interesting items for sale including second-hand kimonos (yes, I was highly tempted! the prices were pretty cheap), Japanese swords, musical instruments, manga, bowls, toys, books, old family photo albums, tons more.

- People-watching. I am going to have a TON of fun people-watching in Japan. It's fascinating. Some initial observations: There are very few overweight Japanese people. Many Japanese (especially the younger generation) dye their hair different shades, including blonde, red, orange, brown. There seems to be a much wider range of fashion styles in Tokyo than in Toronto, from full traditional kimono get-up to new age goth to platform shoes to business outfits, etc. We spent some time on Takeshite Street, which is somewhat the equivalent of the hippie area of Queen Street in Toronto.

Another highlight today was seeing weddings at the Meiji Shrine. We were lucky enough to see several weddings in progress at the Meiji Shrine, where the brides and some of the wedding party were in full traditional clothing. Absolutely gorgeous (see above and below). (Note from Guest Blatherer, Alison....As we approached the Meiji Shrine, I told Jeff and Debbie...rather proudly... how very fortunate my husband and I had been several months earlier to happen upon a wedding party at the shrine. We felt so priviledged and lucky! Of course, there was a plethera of weddings going on today -- it was wedding central. Debbie even managed to get into a few of the group shots.)

Continued on the next page...

Today's Blatherpics

- Me with Water Salad, a yummy drink I bought from one of the zillion beverage vending machines all over Tokyo. There were also a zillion cigarette vending machines.

- Japanese TV.

- Plastic food display.

- Alison's apartment, which is larger than the average apartment in Japan. I was standing just in front of the inside entrance. Immediately to the right is the bathroom, and immediately to the left is the kitchen. The building kindly loaned Alison a single-person pull-out cot during our stay. I feel pretty guilty about Alison (our pregnant hostess!) staying on the cot, and am Immensely Grateful to her for letting us invade her space for 12 days!

- Pepsi promotional booth. There was a crowd of young men lined up along the sidewalk, not surprisingly.

- Wedding we saw at Meiji shrine.

- Another wedding at Meiji shrine. We saw THREE during the hour we were there. Obvious a popular spot. :-)

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