Monday, September 13, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 2: Tokyo Underground... and Above

I'm doing some extra running around today 'cause me throat's being a little bastard. Unfortunately, the doctor at the clinic was sick but I've managed to find a pharmacy where I should be able to get some familiar meds later so we carry on valiantly for now...

Because my throat's bothering me, I grab an "Original" Hot Dog from a small specialty shop in the basement of the Tokyo Midtown building. It's a Hot Dog with onions underneath and some sort of spice on the top that I can't remember where I've had before. Its... edible and the first food I've had since I landed so I downed it with a Ginger Ale - we'll get back to this later. With regards to this, my Hotel is functional but if I ever do this again I'm probably staying someplace that serves breakfast - or at least doing some research as to what breakfast is here. There's very little obvious available in this regard within the vicinity that's easy to find with many restaurants not opening until 10 or so for brunch.

Wandering through the streets around Roppongi early in the day is like walking through a ghost town: the only people I saw with regularity were construction and street cleaners. It's surprisingly empty considering there's office towers all around me. We'll also get back to this later.

Apple Store Ginza is just like any other Apple store. The replacement cable is also $20. Fuck that: the battery's barely being drained as I'm using the device as an alarm so it can wait until I'm wandering through Akihabara later this week and likely find a knock off for a trivial amount. Ginza's the "boutique" district and it shows - there are tons of major brands with huge stores here and more than one department store. It's also populated with young professionals and old money and thoroughly alive.

As I meander the area - getting completely turned around in my efforts to try and get to the right Subway for Odaiba - I quickly learn that cars aren't your enemy in Tokyo; bicyclists are. The major thoroughfares don't subdivide the city in the same sense that every street in Toronto does so once you're off them cars are most frequently found traveling down single or two lane side streets at a leasurely pace that makes them easy to avoid. Bikes, on the other hand, "own the road" and despite almost always having bells are vary rarely noticed or bother to make their presence known, if at all, until they're siting in your peripherals and just about to run you down anyways. They're silent assassins. The transit system here is also so good you just don't see the traffic loads you do in Toronto within the city proper and a good percentage of the cars you do see are Taxis and delivery vehicles. The truely hard part in both cases is retraining yourself for the reality that the trafic flow is reversed when looking left and right to cross the streets - here the car that's going to kill you instantly is now on your right while the one you're going to walk into is on your left.

About this time, I'm regretting bringing my laptop bag and coming to the conclusion that Tokyo's a nice place to visit but too humid at the moment for my personal tastes; not that I should really expect different from an oceanside town to be fair. I'm going to be showering 12 layers of sweat off when I get back to the Hotel - though the real stress on the system is going from hot, humid, and slimy to full air conditioning (where that gets extra chilling), and everything inbetween on a regular basis - and the bag is extra weight draging me down in the heat. Tomorrow we're cleaning the baggage requirements up a bit.

Odaiba is a man-made extension into Tokyo Bay originally expected to be a business district before the 90's property crash and now home to a variety of condos, outlet malls, beach complex, maritime museum and, most importantly, The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation or Miraikan: where ASIMO comes out to play on a schedule. It's a fun little display but spoiled by the the robot's failure to chant it's general wish to "destroy all humans!!!!" Bender style.

Also neat is an LCD globe that displays near real time video of global weather patterns and the Earth itself alongside surface maps of the Moon and Mars.

You can lay on little Ikea psychiatrist couches below it and look up as others rotate the globe and show you different areas while relaxing music plays in the background. The rest is general science centre stuff; though you probably would't have Doraemon delivering a feature exhibit on future Robotic technology at yours. In the middle of this I grab some stewed beef and rice for lunch alongside another Ginger Ale - the waiter serves me Canada Dry in some little beer bottle like it's fine wine. Interestingly I've not seen this at stores anywhere, despite actively looking for it to throw at my throat, yet restaurants seem to have it in spades which makes me wonder if I'm being elitist not asking for Coke.

If you're going to go to Odaiba though; be sure to figure out how to get a day pass - Tokyo Round Trip Ticket - for the metro. The Yurikanome line into there is stupid expensive and will justify that by at almost half just getting in and out. Where regular lines are frequently 160 to 250 a trip to cover a fairly significant part of Tokyo - espeically if you're not jumping between the two companies a lot on the way - it will run you 160 to go one stop, then seemingly jump to 300 and add close ~10 yen per stop from there on out. Your best bet is to pay to simply get on to the island and then walk; it's not that big a place and, despite some construction going on, is rather nicely landscaped overall with lots of green space.

Also on Odaiba is a massive ferris wheel like the one in London - I'm not sure where the driving force/tradition for these in major urban centres has come from lately - and a comparitively minute replica of the Statue of Liberty.

From the western side you can see the Rainbow Bridge: so named because it apparently lights up through the night though, getting increasingly tired, I didn't stick around to see this like I hoped too.

Heading back into the metro I note that, like driving, escalator pathing is frequently reversed (left up, right down), and this also follows suggested traffic flow within the paths and sidewalks. Stairs and walkways into Subways and PATH-like underground areas frequently have signs telling you to stay to your left, arrows on the floors suggesting traffic flow - which no one really pays attention to hardcore when the hallway is clear - and yellow strips dividing the path like road painting.

I go to Tokyo Station, book my train to Kyoto for Wednessday, then proceed to get completely lost within the complex trying to get out on the north side of the building to get to American Pharmacy - where they sell some imported drugs from back home. The station itself is under heavy re-construction so a lot of signage is missing and the place is a maze the size of the Eaton Centre only without the simplicity of being one long hallway with multiple floors. Finally getting out, I walk a couple blocks north and catch the Imperial Palace area. I'm probably gonna have to find a better spot to grab some pictures 'cause all that's readily visible from this side is the public park, gatehouse complex and the outer moat. On the list.

That done, we head back to Roppongi which is where you want to go if you're looking for "normal" food and don't want to risk pissing off your stomach while your throat is already squawking at you; there's a ton of US chain restaurants stashed around here like The Hard Rock Cafe, TGIF, and Outback Steakhouse. It also becomes readilly apparent on second glance that, apparently being the Club District, this area only really comes alive at night. Now surrounded by people dressed for a night on the town, I make my way to the Hard Rock Cafe and stumble upon the Canadian and American Business Associations holding their joint Labour Day party for local contacts. Settling in to wait for my meal, the steady feed of classic rock is suddenly interrupted so that the US Representative can run off his welcome speech while closing with a reminder to everyone that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming soon and there's still seats available. Apparently lacking a card like this play, his Canadian counterpart gets up and proceeds to 1) note that he's researched the issue extensively on the Internet - by Googling Labor with a U - and proceeds to take credit on behalf of Canadians everywhere for the creation of the Holiday itself in Toronto before an American latched onto the idea and took it south and 2) play to stereotype and comment on how we probably would've created a holiday for sitting around and drinking beer by the cottage even if it wasn't called Labour Day anyways. Seriously. You can't make up stuff like this. I do wonder if they flipped a coin to decide which one had to remind the invited guests that, once they'd burned through their drink tickets - and apparently most had - drinks were 500 yen at the bar. At least the American lost that...

Heading home at a little after 7 - oh, they don't seem to do DST so sun's up at 5:30 and going down about ~6:30ish this early in the year - is the first time the subway feels crowded; though more in the morning/evening Toronto Rush sense than the absolute chaos sense. I also figure out how I missed my stop the first time I was heading to the hotel - there's express trains to the the Keisei line to Narita Airport terminal that don't stop here. Read signage; change trains.

Showered and back in the Hotel, we're done for the day.

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