Monday, September 20, 2010

8 Days in Japan: Epilogue

Just some random thoughts on the trip in general:

Food: Didn't help that I was sick the first two days but I really didn't get to experiment as much as I wanted. Realistically, there's a few random elements and a reality that tend to get in your way. Sometimes you're just standing beside something and tired of looking, others you can't find what you're in the mood for/want/afford (which often feeds back into point 1), and the killer is that there's so much of it in so many different variations that if, like me, you're just trying to hit your three squares there's no way you can get to it all without gorging. Often the best you can do is hit the highlights if you know what they are. One thing I found was that, while Wasabi there definitely hits like a truck, the thing I like about it is that it does it's damage and then it's gone. It doesn't sit there forever like most mexican pepper based hot sauces in common use here. One thing I should've done though was tried some stuff here first or asked more how you eat specific dishes; in the proper combination sense, not the "with chopsticks stupid" sense. I'm gonna teach myself how to cook some of the things I ate there too; they reacted really well with my system.

Anime: while I didn't build my schedule around catching some I didn't really see much on TV here before the morning kids block on my last day there. Really, just one; a high school horror drama from the looks of it. This likely comes down to channel selection by the hotels and timing 'cause I know damned well there's more airing here than that but you may find what's available on your room's 12 channel TV system is not what you hoped. Unless you like to take your Columbo nightly or you're willing to schedule everything else around your Anime urges.

Bring water with you or be prepared to buy some on the go from the many vending machines. Especially in Tokyo where it can be overwhelmingly humid and you are going to wake up in a hospital on fluids if you don't drink - a lot. I know a lot of people argue Japanese, and Asians in general, are skinny 'cause of diet - certainly the number I saw running around town who'd be considered "fat" in the North American sense... well, I saw more you could legitimately make the "big boned" argument about and even they were handful in number. But, I'd personally argue they're skinny as the penultimate proof of Natural Selection at work: 'cause if you were genetically predisposed to being 200-300 pounds of pure blubber, got that big, and then actually had to do any outside work in this climate, you'd die from heat exhaustion.

Don't litter. There are places, particularly cultural areas, with posted fines of up to 30000 yen that they have every intention of collecting. Understand though that, unlike Toronto where they're every 30', garbage bins are typically concentrated around vending machines. So, be prepared to walk a good distance without seeing someplace to offload if you're not prepared to sit there and drink it all - Fromers makes a big deal out of how that's a cultural norm - though you likely won't want to do this with a bottle of water out on a stroll.

Speaking of vending machines: there used to be a claim you could find anything there. These days, you're likely to only find drinks and cigarettes; the later of which, judging from signage, are only now starting to see the kinds of restrictions on public use you'd find here in Canada. Be prepared to deal with smokers if you've become accustomed to them being locked in a cupboard somewhere private with a big fan to keep them all from choking to death on their own collective output.

Even though lockers are frequently readily available every time you get off a subway and at many museums/malls, you probably want a good side bag too to free up your hands as you wander if you're going to bring anything - like bottled water. The less weight you carry in the humidity and heat the better and backpacks are massive sweat traps. One thing I'd suggest though is that, if you don't have one already, you should just wait until you get here and make an open-air mall/general shopping district your first stop once you've settled in. It's damned easy to find a functional one for 1000->2000 yen: even more so if you're female and don't have to pick through the gender neutral stuff.

It's easy to spend a lot of money if you're not careful because 1000 yen is like $15 but the illusion that you're not spending much kicks in especially when you're dealing in coins. You don't need to get Traveler's Cheques - there's ample places in town, at the air port, or occasionally in store all converting at the same rate as well as 7/11's to pull local money from your Credit Cards - but they do get about a 7 cent conversion rate bonus (cash was ~72 TC's were ~79 yen/$1cdn), because the house won't need to deal with getting rid of your physical cash.

Grabbed a very useful tip to set my watch ahead at the terminal to help avoid Jet Lag that was really effective. Once on the plane, a look at my watch told me it was approaching midnight and I should probably be asleep so I just forced myself to nap and from that point on, save some grumbling by my internal clock the first night here, I was running Tokyo time and largely hit the ground running.

Where in Toronto you're likely to see folks fiddling with their iPods/Music Player on the subway (and some phones, sure), in Japan you're far more likely to see someone playing games or texting on their Cell Phone. Usually some brand/model of flip phone that looks to be almost ubiquitous or has billions of knockoffs; likely because it certainly doesn't look particularly expensive from it's build.

Done again, I'm torn between bringing someone along to join the adventure and bounce ideas off of and the reality that my willingness and ability to travel by foot rivals that of some speed walkers and that's not a common attribute these days back home. That said, one of the bigger problems is finding things to do with yourself past 5 or 7 o'clock when you don't know the nightlife or speak the language other than shopping or eating because many of the sights, museums or temples you might otherwise want to see close early in the day.

Speaking of the Language, yes, you can get away with visiting Japan and not knowing a word of of it. The currency (except the 5 yen coin as near as I can tell), and prices are all labeled or displayed in roman numerals, there are some really good free guides to help you get around, and Train/Subway stations signage and announcements on the trains are all frequently bilingual and so are much of the local signage and area maps so you'll have no problem being able to purchase, find, or get to what you need. What you will have problems with is knowing what you're purchasing unless, of course, it's blatantly obvious. Although, you can be fooled there too. Mostly with food because some things - like sliced cow's tongue - look like other things when recreated in plastic/imagery. Also, I personally began to feel like a bit of a douche regularly forcing people to repeat what they just said to me in their default language in my own.

The transportation system in Tokyo, while I'm sure Locals might know of some flaws, is preposterously good. I don't think there's a section of the city you can't get within walking distance of via Subway or Train. Now that I've seen how an adjustable fare system works in practice, I wouldn't necessarily be against it being used in Toronto either. All that said, I'm honestly not sure how you'd get something that complete done in Toronto because, to a certain degree, the driving force behind it is just how car unfriendly Tokyo is itself. From the narrow streets that result from a failure/refusal to demo old buildings just to make room for roads and the associated maintenance of historical block layouts to the lack of parking it's a situation that just doesn't exist here where we've gone out of the way to make our cities car friendly - particularly out into the suburbs - and keep them that way.

All that said, I had fun. Would definitely do again. Might take some language lessons first though :)

No comments:

Post a Comment