Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tokyo - Part 1

I've just got back from the Tokyo conference, which actually turned
out to be one of the best times I've had in Japan so far. The
conference itself was a lot more interesting than I thought it would
be, but it was the people that made it - I rarely get a chance to see
JETs from other prefectures, so it was great to just chat to people
and find out how life's treating them in their corner of Japan.

However, before the conference started we had a whole weekend to
explore Tokyo - and we damn well made the most of it. The seven hour
overnight bus from Fukui dumped us unceremoniously at Shinjuku station
at the eye-wateringly early time of 5.30am on Saturday morning -
perhaps not the best way to start the weekend, but certainly the
cheapest. (You'll be pleased to hear that the money I saved by taking
the bus instead of the the train was put to good use in Tower Records
later on in the day.) Now, as you can imagine, there's very little to
do at 5.30am, so someone had the bright idea of heading to Tsukiji
fish market in the south of the city, described by the guidebook as "a
photographer's paradise".

Of course, it WOULD be a photographer's paradise if you were the kind
of photographer who likes taking photos of dead things, but, being a
strict vegetarian, it wasn't exactly up my street. In fact, after
about ten minutes of wandering around piles of fish guts and still
wriggling tentacles I was feeling distinctly green around the gills.
The industrial fish saw was the last straw - clutching our mouths,
Flick and I were forced to make a dash to the nearest restaurant for a
much-needed early-morning beer. Inevitably, it turned out to be a
sushi restaurant. [Sigh.]

Things picked up after that though, and we spent most of the day
strolling through Ginza (high-class shopping district) and the
Imperial Gardens, which dominate most of central Tokyo. Unfortunately,
a large part of the gardens is closed to the public, presumably so the
Emperor and Empress won't be short of room if 2,000 of their closest
friends pop by unexpectedly for a game of lawn tennis. Still, the
parts you're allowed in are impressive, and the Tokyo skyline looks
all the more spectacular when it's silhouetted against ornate gardens
and temples.

Shibuya was definitely the highlight for me though - as far as I'm
concerned, Shibuya IS Tokyo. For one thing it's got THAT pedestrian
crossing - you know the one I'm talking about. Plus there are more
bars, clubs and shops than you can shake a rather large, neon-lit
stick at. I highly recommend a visit to Tower Records - the layout is
so clever that I have absolutely no idea why music stores in the UK
don't copy it: the whole ground floor is dedicated to listening posts
for new and recommended music, and each featured album has albums by
similar artists on the same listening post. I could spend hours just
touring round that one floor, listening to any album that peaks my
curiosity. And I did.

After a CD shopping marathon in Tower, we headed to the capsule hotel
we'd booked in Asakusa, which was where we met a travelling Belgian
osteopath called Michel.

As you do.

And that just about wraps up the first day - Part 2 coming soon. And
Michel, wherever you are, godspeed.

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