I arrived safely in Tokyo last Wednesday evening into Narita airport. The airport is about an hour and a half from where Tiina lives. The city is that big that it takes such awhile to get from the airport to the part where she lives. I think I was in shock when I was riding the bus from the airport through the city. I've never been in a city as large as Tokyo, some 12 million people. I have no way to describe the size of the city other than it is MUCH larger than New York City. After riding the bus from the airport I arrived at the Shinjuku bus station where Tiina picked me up and then we took a quick cab ride to her "mansion" or apartment.
Thursday, my first full day in Tokyo, Tiina took me to the Metropolitan Government Building, which has an observation deck on the 45th floor in which you can view the city from every side. From every window I looked out as far as I could see was covered in buildings and not much grass. After observing the striking view from the building Tiina took me to another part of the city, Shibuya. Like New York City with Queens, Brooklyn, etc, Tokyo has various neighborhoods. Tiina also took me to one of her favorite sushi places on Thursday, which was amazing. It was one of those places where the sushi goes around on a conveyor belt and the chefs are in the middle placing new dishes onto the belt. And if an item has been on the belt for longer than 10 or 15 minutes the chef will take it off as it is no longer fresh enough to serve. Talk about fresh fish.
Tiina and Alef have taken me to several other delicious restaurants. Friday evening we went to Gonpachi which is well known for having served presidents Clinton and Bush and part of the film Kill Bill was filmed in the restaurant as well. Last evening we went to a Korean barbeque place in which you are served raw meat and then you cook it on a little grill in the center of your table. I'm being spoiled with all this good food!
There are several things about Tokyo and the Japanese people that strike me. First of all everything is so efficient here! The bus that I took from the airport into the city was scheduled for 7:40 pm. The bus arrived at 7:35, we were all aboard at 7:39 and pulling away from the airport at 7:40. Furthermore, the buses, trains, and subways all run so efficiently. What a change after often struggling with the Metro in DC which is being fixed or worked on half the time. The city is also so clean! While there are limited trashcans on the streets (something Tiina said has occurred since 9/11) there is no trash in the streets or the sidewalks. The public transportation is so clean as well. The Japanese are a very friendly people. While there is a limited number of Japanese who speak English, everyone who I've encountered has been very willing to help me, even if they can't understand me. The Japanese are also very into appearance and fashion. I feel underdressed walking down the street in jeans and a sweater, as most girls are wearing dresses and high heels. The oddity of fashion choices also gets me. There are so many girls here who border on being the Japanese version of Lady Gaga. On Sunday Tiina took me to a park where several people dress up in extremely extravagant outfits and then pose along the sidewalk. Each of them had a cluster of people around them taking their photographs, which of course the person posing loves. Some more funny little things that I've noticed are the kitchens are tiny. Japanese often eat out, so there is no need for a massive kitchen. Tiina has a washing machine that also doubles as a dryer, however most Japanese air dry their clothes, so the dryer is rarely used. And most interesting of all is the heated toilets. Yes, the toilets in public restrooms and in houses have the ability to heat up, like a heated car seat. A very odd first experience indeed.
I caught the tail-end of cherry blossom season here in Tokyo. I think the Japanese may have given the United States the puny version of their cherry blossom trees, as the trees here are about twice the size of the ones in Washington. Cherry Blossoms draw a similarly large crowd here as well. Often young Japanese people will spend the afternoon drinking and socializing under the cherry trees in the park here and stay late into the evening.
I have another week here in Tokyo, so much more excitement to come. Wednesday is Tiina's birthday which I'm very excited about as its been several several years since I've celebrated the big day with her. I'm also hoping to see Mt. Fuji at some point! Saturday evening I'll depart Tokyo and arrive back in Wellington Sunday afternoon. I can't believe how quickly time has flown by!
Hope everyone is doing well on the other side of the world!