Home sweet home

To Japan and back

Yesterday I got back from Japan after a 20 hour trip. And since I got up around 6:30 Japan time, and got home around 22:00 norwegian time (which is like… 29:00 (or 5:00 as we call it) Japan time) I didn’t care much for transferring pictures and blogging much. Today I woke up around 7 because of jetlag, but at least I got 7 hours. ;)

Anyway, this will probably be a long, long post, with a few pictures here and there. I won’t of course publish ALL the pictures, there’s about 1250 of them, but they who ask may receive.

The 19th of March we started our trip to Tokyo. We went from Trondheim to Oslo, then to København, and finally Tokyo. I didn’t sleep the night before to compensate for the jet lag, and it seemed to work. I slept on the plane after we got our dinner served, and woke up around 8 or 9 japan time when we were about to land. Perfect! So we landed in Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, and not much exciting happend there. We did notice however that a lot of japanese like to wear mouth masks. We got told later that many of them use it to not contaminate others when they’re sick, not to prevent themselves from getting sick. They’re quite considerate that way. Anyhow, we got on the bus for the hotel, Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa, a part of Tokyo. The bus trip was supposed to take about 1.5 hours. “Supposed to” is the word – it took about 4 because of traffic. It took so long that the bus driver eventually stopped to let us go to the toilet and so on. Nice of him. Once we got into the city area, it seemed we drove and drove forever, there was city everywhere. I then realized that Tokyo is a REALLY, REALLY HUGE city.

Arriving at the hotel 4 hours later (the time was about 15:00 or so), I was amazed of how clean the air was. I expected the stench of exhaust everywhere we went, but it’s as clean as here in Trondheim (at least smelled like it). It seems hybrid cars and public transport in form of subways and trains are quite popular in Japan. In addition, most of the cars are small, cubic-ish ones. The hotel was quite large, with the main tower 39 floors tall, and a couple of other towers as well. We stayed at the north tower, while we had breakfast the rest of our stay in Tokyo at the 39th floor of the main tower. Great view, by the way!

Two of the hotel's towers

After getting something to eat after our trip we went outdoors to explore the neighborhood. We didn’t really have any idea of where we would go, so we picked a direction and walked. The first thing we noticed was these:

Drinks!

The drink dispensers were EVERYWHERE! In every street, many back alleys where no one would have any interest of walking, in garages (!), in airports (of course), train stations… everywhere. After a while you’d be surprised if you had to walk 3 minutes  not to get to a dispenser. And they had everything. Some had juice, coke, ice coffee, tea. Others even had hot coffee, ice espresso, beer of all sorts. We even found a sake dispenser (Sake is a type of rice wine originating from Japan), which sold a can of sake for 200 yen (about 13-14 NOK). They also sold cigarettes in all sorts of variants (but who cares about cancer sticks :P ). They all took cash, and some even accepted a soon-to-be-loved Pasmo card, which is a kind of a cash card used mainly for transportation. You charge it with some amount (for instance 2000 yen), and then you can use it on all the railways/subways/monorails and (at least some) buses in Tokyo. Standarized method of payment for public transport! Yay! And the use was far from limited to transportation, you could use it in some stores, and as said, on dispensers. It should be mentioned that almost no stores or restaurants accepts credit cards. Cash is the way to go in Japan. I got used to it, now it’s hard to adjust back to using my visa. ;) … The coffee from the dispensers tasted crap, by the way. A mix of sugar and coffee, it tasted like 50% of each. Maybe a little milk as well. Eww.

Mads holding hot coffee on a can! ... from a dispenser.

The walk continued, and in some back alley we convinced some locals to take our picture. Not very exciting, it was just nice. We also found a huge pepsi bottle. Which was kind of strange in retrospect, since the rest of the city was clean like a hospital, even though we could hardly find a garbage can. It appeared the Japanese people are good at taking their trash with them.

We decided to continue our trip to Tokyo Tower. It’s a huge Eiffel tower copy, beautiful at night time. We walked, and walked, and had a nice time walking the streets of Tokyo on the way. We never got up there, the queue was so long we would be there until midnight if we waited.

Tokyo Tower at night, from a distance

Gunnar Inge, Cecilie and Torbjørn posing

Later, on the way back from the tower, it was time to get some food. Our tactic: Find a narrow shopping street and see what we find. At least that’s what we ended up doing. This is what we found:

On a more serious note, we found a so-called izakaya, which is a kind of Japanese bar and food place. No one, except from the lady sitting at a table near the door (which also happens to be the owner of the dog above) spoke any english at all. The mentioned lady spoke some english, although poorly and with a VERY reduced vocabulary. This seemed to be the case for the majority of the Japanese people – they are horribly bad at speaking and understanding english. Exceptions exist of course, though this seems to be the case. But hey, we got around. Anyway, we sat down, some on chairs, others on boxes. They came to take our order, and at least we managed to order something to drink. The food, however, was harder. First off, the menu was in Japanese. Second, none of the people who worked there understood english. We pointed at something, pretty much randomly, and asked “What is this?”. After a while the woman taking our order understood we wondered what it is. She tried to explain, but being unable to speak english it was a little challenging for her. She ended up flapping their arms indicating it was chicken. We nodded, and she went away. So we sat there wondering IF we ordered anything at all, and if so, WHAT we ordered. In any case, she came back to take our order so we figured we didn’t order anything yet. By pointing and getting a little help from the lady at the table by the door, we managed to get out an order for some fried stuff on sticks. Stuff being squid, some chicken, some vegetables and other things. It was quite good. One thing we noticed of the whole experience is how service minded and helpful many japanese are. Even though they didn’t understand a word english they really tried and never seemed to grow tired of us. ;)

The next day we decided to visit a part of Tokyo called Harajuku. It’s known for a thing called cosplay – people dressing up like <insert character in anime series or whatever here>. It also has a huge park, containing the Meiji shrine, which is some sort of temple / place for praying, and weddings. The first thing we did was exploring the area near the station. We got into some busy shopping street. It was so crowded I couldn’t believe it.

Next up we entered the park. We actually did encounter a Japanese wedding once at the shrine. Also the Japanese seem to love their wine.

Once in Harajuku of course we had to go see the cosplay-thing we had heard so much about. There wasn’t as many there as we thought there would, but at least we saw a few. And the thing about those people, they love to pose for the camera. I guess that’s why they’re there.

Finally in Harajuku we went to eat in some restaurant. This was quite special, for two reasons:

1. We cooked the meat ourselves on grills built in the tables.

2. The urinals had ice cubes in them.

The food was excellent (I had some pork of some sort with rice).

Next we visited a part of Tokyo called Akihabara. It’s sometimes called the electric town, and for good reason. Two things dominated the streets of Akihabara: Electronic stores and anime stores. It was FILLED with all kinds of stores. The electronic stores usually had around 5 floors. One floor typically had only TVs, another floor had perhaps only laptops, and so on. One thing we quickly noticed is how almost every store had some guy or girl outside yelling out on the street to get people to visit their store. We also noticed how huge anime is in Japan. If the huge signs all over with anime characters wasn’t enough, almost all TVs in electronic shops did NOT show movies, sports or anything like in Norway, but anime.

We went here on two occations as well, since we didn’t have a lot of time the first day there. This is what people sell on the streets. Don’t have a SNES? Buy one for a couple of hundred NOK or less. Games go for around 30 NOK. Notice the whole shop dedicated to selling various kinds of mushrooms.

New day, new area to explore. The next day we went to Shibuya to explore yet another area. We walked around, looked around. One thing worth to mention was the 6 story music and DVD shop. It’s called Tower Records, and it really was HUGE. And they had so much, music lovers wouldn’t have any trouble spending a day here. 6 floors, each of the size of a large Platekompaniet-store. One floor was DVDs only, while a 7th floor was only books. The remaining 5 was divided amongst various genres.

Note to any readers: I’m madly tired at the moment because of jet lag (The time in Tokyo at the moment is 4 in the middle of the night, I should be in bed! :p). Because of this, I make no guarantees on the quality of anything I write. ;)

The next 4 days, we mostly visited various companies. There’s not a lot of stuff interesting for the public, though a lot of the talks was indeed interesting. Though I think I should mention the visit to the Google offices. They were amazing. They had pool tables, places to chill out, and all kinds of treats. It surely seemed like the dream place to work. We also visited Yahoo!, Opera, the Norwegian embassy and the University of Tokyo, plus the Toshiba science museum. We also had a trip to the government building, where the top floor is open to the public. The view was nothing else than stunning. Unfortunately, we were behind windows so the pictures are so and so, but believe me when I say… first then I saw how huge Tokyo really was. 360 degrees view, lights and skyscrapers in every direction as far as my eyes could see. Truly amazing.

Friday’s over, and we’re about to spend the last day in Tokyo before going to Kyoto. One of us wanted to see the Square Enix store, so we figured why not. We went to Shinjuku to find it. The store was not all that great (It was tiny!), but hey, had a nice trip there. :P We even met a man selling (or renting out, who knows) houses. That’s what he said anyway. On the streets. What a concept. He was very helpful though in helping us find the way. He even posed for a picture, and what a great poser he was. Pictures is of course included below.

After this the trip went to the Imperial palace. Unfortunately they’re open only 2 days a year (I think around new year’s and on the Emperor’s birthday. But at least we got to see the outside, and it was quite beautiful.

Not sure what this is..

After dinner, some of us continued to Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo. We took the monorail (First time on a monorail! Yay! Although we quickly discovered it’s really only a train with rubber wheels – again, what a concept). It seems to be a fully automatic thing, which in itself is quite cool. Anyway, the view from the train was amazing. The whole island was amazing. First off, before you ask, yes, they do have a statue of liberty. They also has a HUGE ferris wheel, to get a great view. When we were there, they had some sort of laser/fountain show. They had fountains spraying water in the air, and projecting some video on the water drops. Amazing stuff. I have quite a few pictures, but most are in raw and I couldn’t really care to convert at the moment so I’ll just share’em later on. I have a few in jpeg which I’ll include here. A note on the last picture: Apparently the thing the Japanese think is most amazing, is the amount of colors of the gondolas in the ferris wheel.

That’s it for Tokyo this time. Now I’m REALLY ready for bed. I’ll write a bit from the stay in Kyoto and Okinawa later. Goodnight, folks!

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