First of all, I am back with my best husband in the universe and that is extremely awesome. Don’t plan on pulling that ridiculousness again anytime soon. Second, we are living it up with our amazing friend Kumiko at her fat pad in Tokyo in the Shibuya district which is also awesome. And thirdly, Japan is awesome. (Yes, Gabe, that is three “awesomes” in as many sentences.)
We both arrived late on Sunday night from opposite directions, exhausted but happy and ready to hit Tokyo hard…..and that plan backfired. With my jetlag and not having slept the previous night, and with both of us having gone to bed at 2am after traveling for many, many hours to get here, our first full day basically got as far a dinner and a quick peek at the Harajuku girls on Cat Street. But by Tuesday we were ready to rock. Kumiko went off for a 48-hour work jaunt to Seoul, Korea, and we started pounding the pavement seeing everything there is to see in Tokyo. This place makes Singapore look like it was built in the 17th century as far as futuristic goes. Some observations after our first week here:
1. The Japanese clearly loathe inefficiency, unworkability, and mediocrity. Their weapon of choice for the battle against these three arch enemies is staggering, and seemingly insurmountable, complexity.
2. As far as personal presentation, the Japanese almost universally do not “do” overweight (Sumo wrestlers aside, of course). What they also don’t do is frumpy – unless it is an express, stylistic choice. They are the most put together group of people I have ever seen. Even in their running clothes they make the French look sloppy. And lest you think that dude that just walked by just rolled out of bed and put the crumpled clothes from the floor on, I am willing to wager my hat, ass, and overcoat that the hair is a result of some extremely pricey hair products and not an insignificant amount of time in front of the mirror, and the outfit was put together carefully from a collection of pieces that have been selected from some of the trendiest and priciest boutiques in town.
3. There is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay less English going on here than one might expect. The least amount we have seen so far in over 6 months in Asia. Even when confronted with no English menus and no English speakers in other places in Asia, we were always able to sort out a meal. When confronted with the same circumstances here, however, we starved. No ability to read Kanji = going to bed with no dinner. The maps in all of the transportation stations are also extremely unuseful for the Kanji-illiterate.
4. There is no better way to find out Obama won than sitting at a sushi bar in Japan downing delicious platters of sashimi and cracking up at the ridiculous animated pictures of Obama and Romney. From this American’s perspective, the Japanese TV coverage took the most important day in American politics in four years and reduced it to a video game . It was a super entertaining lunch.
5. The Japanese people are way taller than I was expecting. Completely un-relatedly, the cats here are HUGE. Like seriously. I would say they average twice the size of your average American housecat.
6. Going to a Yakitori dinner with Kumiko and letting her order for you in Japanese is highly recommended. So much fun to hear her speak Japanese like a local and treat us to a truly authentic experience.
7. Tokyo territory covered so far includes the Meiji Shrine at dusk shrouded in fog; people-watching on Cat Street and Takeshita-Dori in Harajuku (NOT to be missed if you come to Tokyo); Asakusa, Ueno Park and around exploration; wandering the mazes of ancient houses, shops and hidden Shrine gardens in the Yanese neighborhood; boating down the river at sunset on the water bus gazing up at the buildings and marveling at how the Japanese even keep the UNDERSIDE of all the bridges perfectly maintained and painted; fall colors in the Imperial Palace gardens including a nap in the perfect-temperatured sunshine of Japan in November; Electric City (Akihabara) geek-gawking; general mall wandering (and, for the first time in Asia, no A/C needed!); lots of weird food tasting.
8. Everything is beautiful here. It’s clean, manicured, well-designed, aesthetically pleasing in every way.
Today we are taking it easy until Kumiko gets back from a half day of work before we get her all to ourselves until Monday night. The three of us are heading off to Nikko tomorrow to get some outdoorsy time in (hiking and hot springs) and a little more traditional Japanese culture. Then it’s back to Tokyo for one night before we say goodbye to Kumiko and head to Kyoto for the end of our Japan trip and the very last international stop on this 14-month epic journey. We might be the luckiest people around. Looking forward to seeing everybody very soon!
Haley and Gabe
As is her duty when joining us during our travels this year, expect a blog post from Kumiko very soon. Just because she is technically “home” does not get her out of her obligations.
They have cat cafes here where you can drink coffee and hang out with cats, supposedly as a way to de-stress. You have to use a handi-wipe to clean your hands before you are permitted to touch these (germ phobic?) cats. They also have maid cafes here where you can get served by girls in over-the-top pre-adolescent maid costumes (we gave those a miss).
Tokyo is way less intense than I was expecting.
This is the first country on our entire trip where the drivers do not appear to have homicidal feelings towards pedestrians. It is quite a breath of fresh air.
If you ask a Japanese person for directions, more often than not they will walk you there. Even if that means leaving their jewelry store utterly unattended (!!!) for 5 minutes while doing so.
We know six words in Japanese: Konnichiwa (Hello), Sayonara (Goodbye), Arigato (Thank You), Hai (Yes), Ii-e (No), and Kumiko (Kumiko). As I mentioned, we also don’t read Kanji. This makes grocery shopping a challenge. “Hai” is my favorite Japanese word.
When anyone enters or leaves a restaurant, all the chefs and wait staff yell a loud enthusiastic welcome or goodbye/thank you. It is so fun. You feel like you are their favorite person ever and they didn’t even know it until you just happened to walk into their restaurant.
Kumiko’s apartment is not typically Japanese (at all). She has a king-sized bed (which she says is “amazeballs” – and yes, she still says “amazeballs”) which we are all sharing extremely comfortably. Not exactly the visitor experience she was probably expecting but whatev’. And the bed has a really hard mattress, which IS typically Japanese.
Gabe had to teach the Japanese chick how to use her rice maker.