Amazing Tokyo!

“Ritcey” made a comment on the previous blog that I posted about Tokyo, saying, “The thing about Tokyo, for me, was I never, ever forgot for even a moment I was in a foreign country (unlike, say, Germany). I’d love to go back – enjoy your stay!”

I certainly am enjoying my stay. And I couldn’t agree more. At first, as I passed quickly through Tokyo on the bus from the airport, I thought it looked like many other big cities. But when I ventured out into the city, I have found it so different from anywhere else I have ever been. It really is almost impossible to forget that I am a stranger in a strange land here.

Let me give you a couple of examples. First of all, pretty much all of the signs and written materials are in Japanese writing only, so it is impossible to know what many shops contain from their names, or the advertising outside. The train system is equally confusing, although look around carefully and you can find maps with tiny lettering that you can understand, if you can get close enough to squint at it.

I have been entertained by many restaurants, who really make an effort to overcome this dilemma faced by the foreign traveller, not by simply showing pictures of the dishes they offer, but by having full scale plasticized versions of the foods on offer, in show-cases outside the restaurant. Unfortunately, for me it often has the opposite effect to that intended, as it looks pretty unappetising, as it is so shiny and, well, plastic-looking!

One of the places I was keen to find is a store called Daiso, which is the Japanese equivalent of a dollar-store, although here is referred to as a hundred-yen store, of course. In San Francisco, Susan had introduced me to her local branch of her favourite Japanese store, gleefully showing me some of the amazing and entertaining items that can be bought there. She was so excited when she heard I was going to Tokyo, and insisted that I should visit the main store there:
Daiso – the website is in English too, but check out the intro animation first!
Yelp! reviews for Daiso San Francisco – well worth reading for an idea of the type of stuff you can get in this place.

So after my night at the capsule hotel, I figured out how to get to Harajuku, a trendy teenage shopping area south of Shinjuku, which is the busy central area where I had spent the night. It’s only a couple of stops on the underground, and it probably took me longer to get a ticket and figure out where the platform was than it did to make the journey!

Once there I quickly found the Daiso store, with it’s four floors filled with eccentric Japanese stuff you never new you needed,

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But I was soon drawn back out onto the street by the wonderfully dressed Japanese youth strolling the busy Takeshita Road. The shops are amazing, filled with eye-popping fashions and I wandered up and down the street a couple of times thoroughly enjoying a wonderful session of people-watching. Japanese youth seem very fashion-conscious and image-oriented. I know I have said this before, but unfortunately my pictures can’t really capture the amazing vibrancy and atmosphere of the place.

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Today it was raining, so I spent some of the morning on the phone and internet trying to piece together the jigsaw pieces of my next week in Japan. I have managed to book a few flights, and if everything comes together as I hope it might, I will have some amazing stuff to report. Fingers crossed.

Eventually I braved the weather and headed out to Machida, a big shopping area only two train stops away from where I am currently staying. I wanted to find out bus times from there to the local airport for my flight on Sunday, and also was keen to see the biggest Daiso in Tokyo!

At Machida it took me a while to find the bus station, and when I did there was no information booth, and not a word of English on any of the signs. Machida is a lot less touristy, and it took me quite a while to find anyone who spoke any English at all. Eventually I found out I was at the wrong bus station altogether.

More trudging around in the rain eventually took me to the correct station, and before too long I had the information I needed, with the assistance of a very helpful bus driver. He spoke very little English too, but through sign language we got there in the end. At least I hope we did, or I could end up anywhere on Sunday!

More rainy wandering took me to Daiso, which was almost impossible to find. When I did eventually get directions and found the place, there was no clue that I was in the right location, not a word of English on the signs, very different from Harajuku the previous day. I finally found a tiny hand-written star on a small sign confirming that I was indeed in Daiso.

There are five floors of wonderful Japanese bargains, and I soon found exactly what I was looking for, a computer microphone headset to replace the one I had just broken, for a bargain Y700 (about US$7)

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Leave a Reply 4 comments

David S - January 30, 2009 Reply

Those pictures of rainy streets look familiar – somewhat comforting to know that it isn’t sunny and beautiful everywhere else but my town! 😉

Ever seen the Bill Murray movie Lost In Translation? Really captures the foreign-ness of Tokyo.

My favorite export from Japan is the rock band Thee Michelle Gun Elephant (sadly now disbanded). Amazing music, almost unheard of in the States. They got their name from a loose pronunciation of The Damned’s “Machine Gun Etiquette” (which I cracks me up every time I think about it).

ritcey - January 31, 2009 Reply

Food-wise, you should try the awesome conveyor-belt sushi places – great for the Japanese impaired. The plates are color-coded by price, so just grab what you want & they'll add up your empty plates when you're ready for your check.

They'll understand that key bit of English, 'Super Dry' (for Asahi Super Dry beer, which is phenomenal; the stuff you can get in the States by the same name is brewed under contract by Molson and it's so bad it's criminal they even use the same name).

ritcey - January 31, 2009 Reply

Oh, and if you have some flexibility in your schedule, I’m still kicking myself for not making it to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo – the biggest seafood market in the world.

You have to get up super-early but the only way you’ll get fresher sushi is if you went out onto the boats with them.

Ian Usher - - February 1, 2009 Reply

Thanks for the tips Ritcey, but time is against me, and I fly out this morning to Okinawa – new goals await! I could happily spend so much longer here. The fish market sounds fantastic. I will still make efforts to find a conveyor belt sushi place, and try Super Dry though. Cheers, Ian.

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