Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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« fish market (part one) | Main | tokyo! (part two) »
Monday
Sep032001

Akihabara




(Sept.4 addition: Ack! The first time I typed this in, I was having a conversation with Alison and Jeff at the same time. I've corrected a number of typos as well as expanding somewhat...)


I am typing this while waiting for my laundry in the basement of Alison's apartment. Cost for a washer and dryer load is 100 yen each (about CAN$1.35). I'm on the wash cycle right now...the only tricky part was figuring out how to select warm water temperature rather than hot; the buttons are all labelled in kanji. I experimented a bit by poking different buttons and think I've got the right setting. We'll see how it turns out. :-)





A gray day with drizzling rain starting in the afternoon. We still had a great day, however...my dad had warned me that it rained a lot in Japan, and to always carry an umbrella. From what we could tell, every second store in Tokyo seemed to sell umbrellas. For cheap, too! We saw small umbrellas ranging from $2 and up. I suspect that some Japanese never bother carrying umbrellas with them since they can be easily and cheaply bought almost anywhere.


Sadly, the Imperial Palace grounds were closed today. Later, I discovered they are only open on Mondays and Fridays. I had a very brief conversation with the security guard (my first attempted conversation with a Japanese local!). Having Alison with us yesterday was wonderful...it must have looked odd to the locals, having a Caucasian woman be a translator for someone who looked Japanese. :-) Anyway, I did manage to ask the guard whether or not he spoke English (he didn't), and when the Palace grounds were open. His reply was indecipherable to me except for the Japanese word for Friday. I assumed this mean that the next day that the grounds were open was Friday, but it turned out later that he was telling me the grounds were closed every day except for Monday and Friday. Shows you how knowing a little Japanese can be more confusing than knowing a lot sometimes!





We walked through Kitanomaru park where I bought an interesting ice-cream sandwich which looked like a fluffy waffle filled with vanilla icecream. Yum. I also got my first experience with a Japanese public toilet (see above photo). The one in the Tokyo airport had Western-style toilets and sinks, but no paper towels on which to dry one's hands. My dad had warned me to bring handkerchiefs for this purpose, as other Japanese did. He also told me to make sure I had kleenex or toilet paper handy in case none was available (this advice also came in handy). Somewhat curious by these warnings, I actually did do some research online about Japanese toilets and how to use them. I'm glad I did, else I might have been a bit freaked by the unusual appearance. :-) There were copious written instructions in Japanese, but of course these meant nothing to me. For all I know, some of them could have said, "DANGER! Whatever you do, don't push the red button! Bad things will happen!"


The flusher mechanism took some figuring out. It seemed to have two settings; I took a wild guess and chose one, which seemed to work. I took a picture of the Japanese characters above each setting to show Alison; she told me that they represented the meanings of big and small, obviously to represent the amount of water flow I thought would be necessary for flushing.





We decided to walk up to Akihabera, an area packed with stores selling electronics. On the way, we stopped by any shops that looked interesting. And a TON looked interesting! One thing I love about Japan is that it is so completely different from Canada in many ways, making an ordinary stroll down the street pretty fascinating.





One area we passed was heavy on bookstores, including English books. Jeff and I are both nuts for bookstores, so we browsed many of these stores, even if we couldn't read most of the books. I was sorely tempted at one bookstore that had an excellent children's book section, with Japanese versions of Harry Potter titles, the Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien books, and even Philip Pullman's Golden Compass series. Most were fairly pricey, however, and I knew it would take the rest of my lifetime to learn to read even part of these novels. Jeff suggested that instead we buy Edward Gorey's Gashleycrumb Tinies in Japanese. I'm a big fan of Gorey, and am looking forward to learning to read the Japanese version.


One of my favourite moments today was when I saw an elderly bike courier carefully laying out breadcrumbs in a straight row on a fence railing, whistling. After finishing, he stood still for a few minutes as two sparrows fluttered down and began pecking at the bread. Then he smiled and left with his package, blending again into the whirlwind of frenetic activity that is Tokyo.





We knew we had reached Akihabara by the sudden onslaught of competing audio-systems and displays packed with every kind of electronics imaginable. Lots of cool toys, but Jeff noticed that some were priced higher than they would have been in Toronto. We ended up doing a lot of fun window shopping (the sheer volume of electronics and electrical appliance shops was fascinating), but no buying. Akihabera accounts for one-tenth of Japan's electronics and electronic-appliance sales.


For lunch, we stopped at a small restaurant in Akihabara that had a plastic food display of a simple lunch that cost 850 yen (about $12 Canadian). We took our shoes off to sit in our booth, and eagerly examined the menu. It was all in Japanese, zero English (see below). I asked our waiter if he spoke English, and he shook his head. Uh oh. However, I found that like my encounter with the Imperial Palace security guard, it was quite possible to communicate via sign language and broken Japanese. I was immensely relieved when he understood that we wanted the set lunch. Hey, and I even asked for a glass of water and HE UNDERSTOOD, woohoo! He pointed out that we already had ocha (cold tea) at the table. I said this was fine, so he brought over two cups.





Lunch was a bowl of rice, two small breaded pork cutlets, grilled fish of some kind, miso soup, shredded cabbage, a small piece of soft tofu with some chopped green onion on top, and some kind of blue pickled thing (radish, perhaps). The waiter pointed out two sauces and then carefully indicated which sauce was to be used with which part of the meal. He was very friendly, and also kinda cute (Jeff agreed). Anyway, lunch was even yummier because of our triumph in being able to get the food we wanted despite the language barrier. And then I asked for the bill in Japanese and HE UNDERSTOOD ME AND BROUGHT THE BILL. (Debbie does a gleeful Snoopy dance)





After lunch, we visited the temple of Senso-ji as well as Nakamise Dori. More info about this (and photos!) tomorrow. I'm dead tired, and Jeff and I are going to crash early tonight so we can get up super-early tomorrow to see the fish market.


Hey, we got e-mail from the Fossil Guy in B.C.!




Hey Debbie and Jeff,

Thank you for visiting the fossil shack and sending over the

image. Visited yer website today and couldn't believe it, that I was

there. Hope ya'll are having a great time in Tokyo. Nice to meet

good people. Thanks again. All the best.

Cheers,

Bill




More tomorrow...


Today's Blatherpics


- Me with green tea icecream (in a cone! never saw that before) in Nakamise Dori. The icecream was VERY yummy, better than the stuff back in Toronto.


- Japanese coins. My favourite is the one with the hole in the middle (50 yen, I think).


- A Japanese public toilet. Definitely unlike Western toilets, and needs a bit of practice before getting used to. No toilet paper or paper towels are provided, so you have to carry around your own. Most Japanese seem to use kleenex and handkerchiefs. Handkerchiefs seem to be very popular here, not just for drying one's hands but also for dabbing one's face/nose when it gets hot. As a child, I used to always wonder why I got so many handkerchiefs as gifts from friends and relatives in Japan. I usually folded them up and stuck them away in storage. Before the trip, I took them out again and put them in my suitcase. :-)


- Display case at the front of a store that sold brushes. Every kind of brush you could possibly imagine.


- Western children's books that have been translated into Japanese.


- Jeff in Akihabara.


- Lunch menu. Unable to read it, we asked for the set menu instead (through sign language and broken Japanese).


- Subway commuters at rush hour.


Today's Poll: (Thanks to Alison for this suggestion)



Have you ever seen the original movie, "Godzilla"?

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