Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Lost in Tokyo

You might remember, a few posts ago, that I tired to find a particular ramen (soup noodles) shop for lunch, and failed, but ended up having lunch at a different one (I think it was the cherry blossom and supermarket post).  Well I decided to have another go at finding it, so I found them on google maps, took a photo of the map and went off in search of it again (all of this wouldn't be necessary if I had a proper mobile phone plan and I could use GPS to find it!  But that is coming soon I hope!).

I caught the train into Shibuya (that's the place with the crazy busy pedestrian crossing I have taken photos of), where the shop is.  Shibuya is right in the middle of downtown Tokyo and I will do a post about it sometime, but safe to say that this picture is indicative of the quantity of traffic that flows through Shibuya.



While in this shot the traffic doesn't look busy, the amount of concrete holding up that freeway is impressive.

So on I went, and eventually found it!  It turns out that last time I tried to find it, I didn't go far enough as it was a further 5 minute walk from where I stopped last time.  I was a little worried though as the time was approaching 3:30 and they take the last lunch order then so that the staff get the chance to sit down and have a break before the dinner rush starts.  I made it there with about 3 minuted to spare.  Now this is not a ramen place that a ramen purist would go to as it is not traditional, more like fusion ramen.  For those in Tokyo who are curious, here is their website (http://www.n-nagi.com/).  Here is a picture of their basic menu.



The soup is actually tonkotsu, or pork flavoured soup, but where they put their own twist on it is by adding flavour balls, or other ingredients that alter the flavour.  For example, the one I had is on the bottom row, second from the left.  This one is flavoured with black pepper and garlic.  I asked them to spice it up a bit, and did they!  It was great, and definitely got the blood flow going!  They even have a basil and cheese flavoured one (top row, right hand side)!

While I was waiting for it to come out, I had a bit of a look around the shop.




I agree with the second one.  "No Ramen, No Life!"  It was put out by the Japan Ramen Association!  

Pretty soon, it arrived



and content, I sat there enjoying my ramen, watching Tokyo pass me by through the window in front of me.



As I sat there, I saw a police car out on the street with lights flashing



waiting patiently for the traffic lights to change green.  Why hurry, I mean, this is one of the safest countries in the world!  There can't be much happening that needs them to get there in a rush.

Satisfied and with my belly full, I thanked the friendly ramen shop guys and made my way back to the station to catch a train to the location of my weekly adventure.  Riding trains in Japan is an adventure in itself.  If you are observant, there are so many interesting things happening.  I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the people of Japan using the trains as mobile napping spots while travelling to catch up on sleep missed from the night before.  Because Tokyo is such a big city, it is not unusual for people to have to commute for well over an hour to get to work, and then again to get home, so that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for sleeping at home.



I thought this was quite cute.  They weren't complete strangers, however as when one woke up, she woke the other up when they reached their station.

So I arrived at my station and got off.  I had been riding the subway, and didn't realise how deep the train had gone until I got on to the escalator to head back to the surface.



Talk about ascending out of the bowels of Mordor!  I finally got off at the other side and made my way through the ticket gate and to the nearest map of the area on the station wall to get my bearings.  I found the exit that I needed and set off.  The area was a whole underground labyrinth of tunnels and walkways, and I had to have chosen the exit that was furthest away!



After walking for more than 5 minutes (all the way underground), I found myself in another walkway that also stretched as far as the eye could see.




Luckily for me, my exit was the next one about 30 metres ahead.  As I was climbing the stairs, I saw something that I see quite often in train stations here in Japan.  On either side of the path was a little gutter with water running along it.




I don't know where the water comes from, or where it goes to, maybe that can be an adventure for another day.

I reached the top of the stairs and made my way out of my underground lair to see what lay around me.  I had arrived in Otemachi.  This area was the site of the ancient village of Shibazaki, the oldest part of Tokyo, and for many years, the land remained in the hands of the feudal rulers who used the land for their own residences.  At the start of the Meiji period (1860) the government took back ownership of the land and held it until selling it off to private ownership to raise funds.  It is now known as an area of Japanese journalism as all of the major Japanese newspapers have their offices in the area.  The area is now dotted with office buildings.



This older (European?) style building had another more modern building growing on top of it!




Otemachi is also right on the door step of the Japanese Imperial Palace which has some nice gardens to walk around and relax in, which was what I had planned for the afternoon.  I got to the gate of one of the palace gardens and noticed a closed sign on display.  I went to the security guard and asked if they were closing and he said yes, they close the gates at 4 and the garden itself at 4:30.  I had just missed out.  For a very brief moment I contemplated doing a Dawn Fraser (without the stealing of the flag bit).  For those of you who are not aware of what this is, here is the excerpt from the entry for Dawn Fraser on Wikipedia.  The following happened at the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo.

"She was accused with stealing an Olympic flag from a flagpole outside Emperor Hirohito's palace.  She was arrested but released without charge.  In the end she was given the flag as a souvenir from the Emperor."  She had allegedly swum across the moat surrounding the Imperial palace and stolen the flag.  To this day, she denies doing it saying that "there was no way I would have swum that moat.  I was terrified of dirty water, and that moat was filthy".

I had to settle for taking a photo from outside of the grounds.



Disappointed that I had missed the chance to have a look around the Palace gardens, I decided to have a walk around of the outside of the Palace grounds.  I remembered hearing about a bridge in the area that was quite historic.  I set off in the direction that I thought the bridge would be..

The area that I had to walk through was some of the most spaciest I had seen in Tokyo.





I eventually reached it, and it was a pretty impressive sight!



I headed back the way I had come wanting to wander over to the area around Tokyo station as I had heard that there had been a lot of work down on the station, and especially the exterior.  I walked back past the Imperial Palace and made my way through Otemachi.  I noticed a lady and her dog on the median strip in the middle of the road.  I have no idea what they were doing.  Maybe the dog had to go!  


A little while later they walked past me, and the dog was dressed up very nicely!



This statue looked impressive, so I stopped to take a photo.



Now that I am back home, I have been able to look up who he was.  His name is Kusunoki Masahige and he was a samurai warrior in the 14th century who served the emperor of the time and who is, and was, held in the highest regard as samurain loyalty.  He posthumously received the highest decoration of the day form the Meiji era government in 1880.  For more of a read on him check his wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kusunoki_Masashige).

Feeling a bit tired and in need of something refreshing, I spied the perfect vending machine.



The Haagen Daaz ice cream I had hit the spot and I moved on toward Tokyo station.

I always have a smile when I see these buses.



The word "hato" in Japanese means "pigeon" so I always smile when I see the "pigeon" bus!  

Pretty soon I arrived at Tokyo station.  It is quite spectacular in design and it's external appearance would not look out of place in a European city somewhere.  Tokyo station is also where a lot of the bullet rains arrive and depart from.




The reason I wanted to go here lay on the other side of the station.  The other side of the station is the suburb of Yaesu which is predominantly a business area.  Yaesu looks pretty ordinary , and not much to be impressed about, until you head underground.  Here is where it gets more interesting.  Underground is another one of those labyrinth like areas that houses a lot of shops and restaurants.  "How many restaurants" I hear you ask.  About this many!



It stretched out beyond how far I could see, and I have 20/20 vision!






The range of cuisines was pretty impressive too as you can see.

In Australia we have wine bars, in Japan they have sake bars.



An omu rice (omelette rice) restaurant.




Some of you might know that most restaurants in Japan have plastic models of the food they serve displayed outside of the restaurant, and that is what all of these photos are of.  There is a suburb in Tokyo that has factories where these are made, and one day I will visit there.  They are, unfortunately, pretty expensive as I would love to get one of my favourite food!

Next on was this place.  I think it is maybe different kinds of Chinese food (for my Japanese readers, if I get any of these wrong, please feel free to correct me).



This one was next, and looks like an Izakaya (Japanese dining bar) that serves different kinds of food.



A pasta restaurant.



Tempura.



Ramen.



I could have gone on and on, but after about an hour, I hadn't even covered half of the underground area and decided that it was time to head for home.

I found the nearest exit and headed out.  By this time, I was a fair way away from where I had entered and found myself in an area that I didn't know.  I figured that I would just start walking and would soon find a landmark that I knew, or a train station that would give me an idea of where I was.  I love doing this, just wandering around and exploring, and what better way to do it than by getting lost!  Looking down the road I had kind of an idea of where I was, and this was confirmed when I came across an imported foods supermarket.  I walked inside for a look and the first thing I saw was a $7 bottle of juice.



I was in Ginza, which meant that I was heading toward the suburb where I work, Shinbashi.  Ginza is one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world.  All of the high-end brands have shops here and it is known to have the most expensive real estate prices in all of Japan.

After seeing and buying an Australian staple food



I made my way out of the shop and continued on.

I cam across this shop and wondered if it was the inspiration for Billy Idol's hit song "White Wedding"



Pretty soon I walked past a subway station that confirmed that I was heading in the right direction.  Outside of a lot of stations, they sometimes have people handing out advertising material, usually tissues with advertisements for a product or shop.  Now most of the time they don't give them to foreigners.  The reason is, most foreigners can't read Japanese, and therefore their advertising message is falling on deaf ears, or eyes in this case.  Passing this station, however, the person made sure I took one and holding back my curiosity, I put it in my pocket to look at later, when I got home.

Nearer to Shinbashi station, there are areas around and under the train tracks that house small cheap eating places that are popular for the salary men who work in the area.  By this time, it was getting close to 8pm, so the area was buzzing with activity and salary men eating and drinking and unwinding after a hard day at the office.



Next on, I saw this guy outside of a bar.



You've just got to keep your eyes open in Tokyo because you never know what you might miss!
I stumbled across this restaurant and contemplated for a moment if I was feeling hungry before dismissing the idea.



It looked like the waitresses inside were singing and dancing for the diners.  Another time maybe.

I finally found Shinbashi station and got on the train to go home.  I figured I probably walked over 10km today, and found myself dozing as I took the train home.  I got home and napped for a little before having dinner.

In the next couple of days I am going to buy some tickets to the Japan v Australia  World Cup qualifying game here in early June.  Out of a party of 8 people going, I will be the only Australian supporter, but we will be in the Australian supporters area!!  Anyone have a Socceroos jersey that I can borrow?!!

So, what was the advertising that I was given walking past the train station I hear you asking?




No, I don't think I will.

What I did do, though was get online and organise to join a guided tour of part of the Imperial Palace.  That will happen on the 22nd of May, and I am looking forward to that!

That's it for another week.  I hope you enjoy reading and looking as much as I enjoyed getting lost in Tokyo today!

Until next time, Bye!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Adventures in Akihabara

Part of the work culture over here involves going out with your co-workers after a long day at the office and getting drunk (well, while getting drunk may not usually be the point of the exercise, it is, inevitably what happens).  It is not unusual at all to see people staggering around trying to find their train after a big night out (and this happens on weekdays too, so they have to make it back in to work the next day!).  It is not limited to the younger generation either.  I have seen both men and women in their 50's and 60's struggling after a big night.  It is not frowned upon as it is considered a quite acceptable way to unwind after a long day at the office.
Some of you may have seen a funny photo doing the rounds on facebook of a Japanese office worker (salary man) on a train after one of these big nights.  He has clearly gotten on to the train and thought (somehow) that he was back home already.  The photo shows him lying on the floor of the train in only his underwear and scattered around him are the rest of his clothes!  Well, about a month ago, some of the teachers from my school went out for a farewell party.  It turned out to be an all-nighter and when I woke up the next afternoon, my room resembled the photo of the salaryman.  My belt was in one corner, my trousers in another and my tie and shirt sitting in the middle of the room on the floor.  Later when I went to catch the train I realised that my headphones for my MP3 player were nowhere to be found!  I still have not found them, and I can only guess that I must have dispensed with them somewhere at some point during the night or morning as I was going home.  So I bought a cheap pair to keep me going until I get my first full pay (they pay monthly over here).  The cheap pair are really starting to get me down though as I love listening to music and any time I catch the train anywhere, i am usually listening to music, and the cheap headphones are spoiling the experience.  So I decided to head to a place called Akihabara which is an area filled with electronics stores where you can buy pretty much anything electrical you want.  It has also developed a subculture that caters to the manga (Japanese cartoons)/anime (Japanese animation) and porn market.  The place is filled with shops that have cartoon books and anime figures on the lower floors and the more seedy (or hentai) products on the upper floors.  Also a lot of "Maid Cafes" have opened up around the area, but more on that later!  But I was going to Akihabara for the electronics shops, honestly I was!
As you step out of the train station, you are immediately confronted by electronic stores as far as the eye can see.



The buildings are adorned with billboards advertising soon to be released anime, manga and also advertising what shops are in the buildings.  I'll let the pictures do the talking.







Now this is what a lot of people imagine Japan to look like, and it really does!

I saw this advertising board and couldn't help taking a picture.



Neither could the Japanese girl on the left.  She was riding along, saw the advertising and screeched her bike to a stop so she could take a photo.  It is actually advertising a male fragrance range and what is really cool about it is that where the girls are holding the bottles of fragrance, there is a small hole in the wall.  There is a motion sensor which detects when you put your hand, wrist (or armpit in my case) up against the hole and it then squirts some of the fragrance out at you!  As I was getting a squirt from the brunette, there was a Japanese guy and his girlfriend on the other side.  His girlfriend was covering his eyes and he was getting squirted in the face with the fragrance!!  He looked at me with a big grin on his face and said to me in English "Mmmm, nice smell"!  I had a great laugh at that!

A little further down the street there was a hobby shop with a huge model helicopter out the front.



It was huge and was probably nearly as big as my arm span!  Actually, the shop was only a hobby shop on the first couple of floors.  After that it turned into a "Adult amusement shop"

Anime is everywhere here.  Models in the shops, figures in the UFO catchers.  I don't know who or what any of these characters are, but they are photogenic!






And if you get hungry during your shopping trip to Akihabara, never fear, there are a lot of restaurants around, including Gorilla curry.



Before you start getting worried, I don't think they actually serve curry made from gorillas there.

Dan, who has joined me on some of my other adventures, had come along on this one too because he is the King of Akihabara (not the seedy side!).  He took me into a shop as I had told him I wouldn't mind seeing some Final Fantasy figures.  They didn't have much along those lines so we headed back downstairs.  Dan took the stairs and I took the elevator.  You can imagine my surprise as the doors of the elevator closed and I found this looking at me:



We walked into another building that had a number of different shops in it, including a book/dvd store.  A few of the aisles had these signs on the floor.



I promise I didn't.

Some of the other shops sold more traditional things.  There was a t-shirt shop there with some good shirts.




I liked this one.  Why not settle for second best?!

The next shop sold all kinds of figures (except the Final Fantasy ones!).








Back out we went and walked along to the next shop.  It happened to be a retro video games shop.




As you can see, not everything is Hi Tech here!

After having a bite to eat we sat down with an ice cream for desert.  Now, remember me mentioning maid cafes earlier?  What they are are cafes where you can go for a coffee and have a young lady dressed in a maids costume wait on you and pamper you.  She will call you "Master" to make you feel more important, and she will really take on the role of a servant.  Some of the maid cafes don't accept foreigners as the girls don't speak English, but some of the do and while we were eating our ice creams, I noticed a sign for one of them that was written in Japanese and English.



(Oh, I can just imagine the feminists reading this now.....!)

The maid cafes will typically send one or two of their maids out onto the street to hand out fliers and to try and get customers into their cafes.  One of them was talking to a couple of guys right next to us.  I don't know what the guys were saying to her, maybe giving her tips on how to better win over potential customers.  I can hear you asking yourself "Well did Jase take some photos of the maids?"  Well, unfortunately they don't like people taking photos of them (some do, but charge for it).  Fortunately I was able to turn off the flash on my phone and snap a couple of sneaky shots...





And one of her in action.



At night, a lot of shopping districts light up with neon lights and become quite spectacular.






Finally I was able to get around to my real reason for coming to Akihabara, the headphones.  The last photo above is of the massive electronics store we went into.  A lot of the headphones are available to try out.  You just plug your MP3 player in to try them out.  All different brands and price tags.  I put a lot of them through their paces and have nearly figured out which one I will buy when I go shopping for a new set.  As we were about to leave the store we saw this set of headphones:



That is a $1,000 set of headphones!!  The sound was incredible!!

Here is a shot of me listening to the headphones, lamenting the fact that I will never be able to afford them.



We left the store and headed back to the train station to make our way back home and as I was riding the escalator up to the train platform, Dan pointed out this sign that was stuck to the wall next to the escalators, obviously a warning to girls using the escalator to be aware of what the guy behind her is taking photos of.



And so another Tokyo adventure came to an end.  In case you were wondering, I am feeling a lot happier than I was in my last post.  I know and realise that people have to make sacrifices in their lives no matter what they do, and to be able to accept them is crucial to enjoying life.  I do accept that I have had to sacrifice some things close to me, but then if I didn't, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this and loving life.

Take care all, and see you again next week.