Friday, 14 January 2011

Life in Tokyo: Days 1 and 2

For no apparent reason, I'm spending a month in Tokyo. I feel really lucky to be able to take a random trip like this to somewhere I have never been before and thought I may never get the chance to go to.

I got a great deal on a flight from Birmingham to Tokyo via Amsterdam and everything goes well. I get my vegan meal on the plane (trust me, go vegan when you fly, you always get extra salad and fruit, plus you always get your meal first which is my favourite thing ever!). I get to Watch The Social Network again and it is just as good second time around.

Arriving sleepy in Tokyo, I have the friendliest bag search of my entire life, with the customs guy laughing at everything I say and my four guidebooks, as he inspects my bag thoroughly. He is highly amused by the six Dairy Milk chocolate bars that I have brought along to give to people I meet or stay with. When I arrive in the US I am always tired and scared of saying the wrong thing and being turned away or getting back roomed, but arriving in Tokyo is a pleasure.

I manage to work out the best train to get to my hotel and am on my way. I had trouble trying to figure out where to stay but I went for a hotel with hardly any reviews which is in the middle of a tourist free suburb - Arakawa. A strange choice perhaps, but I can get my own room for little over the cost of a bed in a hostel. They have wired internet in each room, a kitchen, a communal Japanese bath and it is not too far from a train station - a ten minute walk through the sleepy suburb.

I worried about the lack of reviews, but after spending a couple of nights here, it seems to be completely fine and I'm very happy with my decision. I have little energy when I arrive so after a short stroll around the area, I retire to my room, going to sleep at about 8pm.

You are given flip flops when you arrive for walking around the hotel with and when you go to the bathroom there are special toilet flip flops you wear. It takes me a while to move around at more than a shuffle.

Day Two

As my body clock is all wrong, I wake up at 4am. I kill a bit of time reading and waiting for the sun to rise and the trains to start running.

At 6am I head off towards the Fish Market. I walk through Arakawa neighbourhood to the station and check out the surroundings. It's unremarkable, but the great thing is that even at 6am there are three convenience stores en route that are open.
Japansese convenience stores, 'combis', are awesome, you can buy all kinds of stuff in there and they are on ever corner. I buy myself a kind of roll of rice with a tangy curry sauce in the middle. Of course, I had no idea what is what going to be, but I was pleased with my gamble.

With minimal confusion, I manage to buy my subway ticket and I am on board with the very early morning commuters. The train is crowded but not too bad. I have almost already been tricked by the gates at the subway stations here. There are ticket barriers but the doors are open and sometimes you have to go through a couple to get to the platform.

Yesterday I made the fatal mistake of trying to just walk through one. There is a sensor that closes the gate at the last possible moment, meaning I walked into it with a clunk. Then a guy came and shouted at me, politely of course.

The subway is quite confusing with lots of private lines with their own stations and tickets. You can get an oyster type card, but I haven't figured out how to go that.

The fish market is crazy. The powers that be have decided that at the moment, members of the public aren't allowed into the tuna auction itself, but in the market next door there is still a lot to see.

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Little carts zip around everywhere picking up and dropping off orders, meanwhile traders show their wares and prepare them. Generally it seems to be more of a wholesale trade, I guess to restaurant chefs and so on, but a few traders sell to individuals and I pick myself up some fresh tuna for lunch later.

It's pretty crowded in there and you need to be careful not to get run over by the trucks. At one point I take an evasive step back and bump into a giant tank of live crabs!

Outside there are a little alleyways with sushi restaurants. One in particular has a large queue of tourists outside at 7am. I guess that is the one in Lonely Planet.

After hanging out for a bit longer I take a walk into the Ginza area. I guess it seems to be the high class shopping type area which is just waking up. There are not many people around but the window cleaner is pleased to see me.


It is pretty cold outside so I decide to have can of coffee from a vending machine. There's a massive choice on offer and I decide to go with the Aromax Premium Gold. The can is lovely and warm and I use it to warm my hands for a while before beginning to sip.


It is still before 9 and after taking a stroll through a small park, the only thing I can find open is the atrium of the exhibition hall, a huge and quite cool glass structure. So I take a seat and eat some convenience store sushi for breakfast whilst watching the steady train of commuters on the way to work, queueing one by one for the escalator.

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At 11, some museums and galleries open, so I check out a couple of cool little photography galleries, one upstairs in a high end camera store and the other downstairs in a department store. I walk further around the neighbourhood and eventually get tired, so retreat to Starbucks (yeah I know) and watch the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop on my netbook which I enjoy very much.

In the afternoon I have my first couch surfing meet up of the trip. I meet a girl called Akane at the coach station. She has just taken a five hour coach trip and is in Tokyo looking for work, she has a train booked to Saitama and two hours to kill, so we go for a coffee in a Japanese coffee shop this time and talk about our respective travel experiences and lives.

"There is no anti-social behavior in Japan" she tells me, "because you will be shunned by society and your family" - Whilst that is perhaps not entirely true, it does say something about the role of the family within this country. She is currently working one day a week and looking for more work. It seems Japan doesn't really have unemployment benefit and it falls on the family to support their unemployed relatives. Akane is not a fan of the social welfare systems in places such as the UK, where she lived for a while and Sweden, where she studied for a year.

At 6 I get a little sleepy so I head back to my hotel, stopping at the convenience store 'Lawson' on the way home to pic up the all essential noodles in a cup and edamame beans for snacks.

I again turn in early, but not before I upgrade to a bigger pair of flip flops for the larger footed gentleman.


Paul said...

Yay :-)

Also, I put endamame (sp?) beans in most things I cook.

Keep these coming pls kthx

Graham said...

Awesome to hear your stories and see pictures.

One day you should have your own travel series on TV.

JOCELYNE said...

thanks for your lovely diary: I feel I am there withe you. You are definitely an ace writer. Have a wonderful time and keep us posted...Much love Jocelyne:-)

chrisjp said...

Love the need to get a contract to be on the Travel Channel in the US.