• Tokyo, Japan

26th September 2008

Tokyo, Japan

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Tokyo by nightBright Lights big city describes Tokyo better than any phrase I could think of. The evening train journey from the airport to the hotel seemed endless; endless buildings, endless hordes of passengers, endless arrays of neon light, advertising and billboards. Tokyo is home to more than eight million people and covers a vast area, the prefecture is home to upwards of twelve million people. Very little remains of old Tokyo, architecturally it is an extremely modern city with an extensive, efficient though at times confusing public transport system. The streets are crowded and the sidewalks are more so, due to the fact that pedestrians share the sidewalks with bicycles. We spent several days wandering the streets, avoiding bikes and people; seeing the sites and acclimating to Japan.
a quiet placeAt the top of most people’s sightseeing list is the Imperial Palace and Garden, located in the heart of Tokyo, the palace itself is not opened to the public (except by prearranged tour) and only a small section of the extensive gardens are opened. The palace, although mostly rebuilt after it was destroyed by bombing during World War II, is still an impressive site. Sitting on a hill overlooking an extensive park and surrounded by a moat on all sides, the palace commands the landscape. The east garden is opened to public and is a wonderful escape from the noise and bustle of the city. A traditional Japanese garden with many interesting features, especially a small stream, waterfall and pond as well as the immense walls of the original palace.
exploring diamaruIf one was to ask me what I thought the national past time in Japan was I would have to say it is a toss up between shoppingand eating. Japan is consumerism at its most developed, there are advertisements, stores, department stores, malls, designer stores and boutiques, everywhere in the cities. In Tokyo people seem to be constantly on the move except for when waiting in long long lines to enter newly opened or trendy stores. Ginza, Shinjuku and Shibuyu are the main shopping areas and each has its own unique identity, catering to specific section of Tokyos’s population. Competing for space with the shops are the restaurants and cafes. They are in train stations, malls, on the street and these are good restaurants with high quality food, not the usual fast food poor quality one would expect to come across in such places.

sumo on displayIf eating and shopping are the national pastimes of Japan, Sumo Wrestling is its passion and its pride. Our time in Tokyo coincided with the Autumn Sumo Tournament, sumo tickets are not cheap and they become very expensive if you wish to sit near the ring so our tickets were rather high up in the stands but still afforded a clear view of the action. Sumo is an extremely ritualized sport, from the entrance of the participants to the tossing of rice powder to the four corners, drinking of water and the ritualized posturing and stamping before the action begins. Sumo wrestlers are separated into different categories according to experience and skill, the days fights begin with the least experienced and lowest ranked Sumo and progress to the highest ranked.the ceremony As the matches progressed the stadium began to fill. The low level bouts were followed by the entrance ceremony for the mid level sumo wrestlers and then for the highest ranking wrestlers. These wrestlers wore the traditional Sumo kessho-mawashi, an apron like garment that displays their colors and are woven with many threads of precious metals thus they cost upwards of 10,000 dollars. Each of the top ranked Sumo wrestlers are introduced before their match and the flags with the titles they have won as well as their sponsors names are paraded around the ring. Most of the matches we watched were over very quickly with the victor forcing his opponent out of the ring usually in under two minutes. It was a unique and exciting experience and well worth the expense.

A trip to Tokyo would be incomplete without a visit to the Tjukisi Fish market. It means an early start as most of the action at the market is over by 9 am. Tjukisi Fish market is the central distribution hub for fish all over Tokyo, Japan and beyond. In these enormous warehouses with narrow walkways between stalls you stumble upon row after row, aisle after aisle of a seemingly endless variety of edible fish and seafood, it is simply astounding. Some are easily identified, the large tuna, the octopus some are harder to identify the Geoduck and some are just impossible to identify, for me at least. One wonders how there are still fish in the sea if this seafood selling extravaganza takes place six mornings a week, fifty two weeks a year.

street popAnother Tokyo landmark, Yoyogi Park is famous for its alternative culture, on the weekends this lovely park is filled with young people hanging out, families picnicking, and musicians putting on shows. The sidewalks around the outside of the park have different stations set up where musicians come and perform live, selling their CDs and passing the hat. The performances range from Rockabilly to Pop to acoustic numbers to Japanese hip hop. Though most were not to our taste the spectacle was well worth the subway ride and the walk. Across the street from Yoyogi Park on the weekend we were in Tokyo was an Indian Cultural Fair, there were live arts demonstrations, music, food stalls and tourist information booths with colorful brochures about destinations all over India.

In Tokyo we discovered Daimaru for the first time. Daimaru is a chain of department stores located throughout Japan and they are much like any department store in any country with one exception. Daimaru, and most major department stores in Japan, have a food department.those cantaloupes are how much This is like no mall food court or ready packaged food section of an American store; this is an entire floor, sometimes two, dedicated to the glorification of Japanese food, sweets especially. The Daimaru in Tokyo is possible the most amazing as the Japanese sweets section is on the ground floor at the main entrance, with the non sweets, pastries, sushi, a grocery with $63 cantaloupes and $30 apples, bento boxes and much more on the floor below. Japanese sweets are seasonal works of art and in Daimaru they are displayed as such, each different company has a separate counter where they display their creations to their best.  We spent more an hour wandering, pointing, gawking and trying the free samples offered by some of the counters. After discovering Daimaru we spent many happy times in other Daimaru in other cities all over Japan, it was also helpful that in Daimaru many people speak some English thus enabling us to ask questions and get answers instead of just smiles.

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