Tuesday, March 2, 2010
MIM Trip - Hajime Tokyo
I believe the sign as you walk down the stairs to customs at Narita Airport says "おかえりなさい," which means "welcome home" or just plain "welcome." After spending the last two months of class with the spectre of the Asia trip over our program, getting lined up at PDX to begin the journey felt like a huge relief and a reason to be excited.
Good grief, though, 11 hours on a flight was one of the more mind-numbing experiences I've ever had. At least with a similar day spent on the road, the scenery changes, you (usually) have more leg room, and at least you can roll the windows down. Airplanes feel like air-conditioned death after about six hours; 11 feels like a marathon.
It wasn't until well after I arrived in Japan that I felt like I really arrived in Japan. Riding to the hotel from Narita, checking in, everything else felt incredibly similar to the United States; walking down the street, past vending machines offering packages of cigarettes for a few hundred yen, to a ramen-ya right across from Shinagawa Station (one of the big rail hub stations in Tokyo) that I felt like I was in another place.
After a couple of meetings this morning (you know, business stuff - the reason we're on this trip) we had the afternoon to run amuck in Tokyo. A decently sized group of us set off to Akihabara and scattered from there; me and my group spent the afternoon wandering up and down the main road, staring up at glittering neon, poking our heads in back alleys and dodging the dressed up girls looking like cosplayers passing out flyers to get you to go to the maid cafe they represent (I pray those links are safe, they're both to Wikipedia so you should be fine). I really want to go back at another time and look through a couple of stores.
Exhausting the possibilities in Akiba, we hit the Yamanote line again and shot over to Shibuya.
Take note of that crosswalk - it's absolutely unreal to really fathom the mass of humanity in there. If you've been to Times Square in NYC it's like that...times a lot. It's amazing. So is the selection of shops there, too — from huge department stores like Tokyu, Shibuya 109, Bic Camera, and more, to tiny holes in the wall like one we got roped into, which had the tightest freaking spiral staircase of all time.
The train system has been amazing to get to learn, Japanese toilets are awesome, I've had two great ramen meals and bought a hot drink out of a vending machine (they're even labeled as "warm") and am starting to see the sense of equivalents to $1-$6 coins and a more cash-based society (good god a Post Office ATM was kind of a pain to find, but I do know where it is in Shibuya now). I can't wait to explore more of the city and get into the subway proper, even. Shame none of the cool clothing I've seen will fit ever...
The full Flickr set (which will be updated) is available here. Mata ashita.