Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 16 - Shinjuku, and Tokyo's Catering to the Agorophobe

            This was our last normal day in Tokyo, and there were a few places in Tokyo still wanted to see, but hadn’t yet.  First was the Imperial Palace that sits right in the middle of Tokyo.

            The garden across the moat the public is allowed to visit was closed on Fridays (whoops) 

but we still walked around, and saw all those wide open spaces in the midst of this phenomenally crowded town.  Much like Buckingham Palace plopped down in the middle of London, but instead of high walls and barbed wire, the Japanese Imperial family begins their defenses with a moat.  

A very serious, wide moat.  

And then walls, and then all sorts of security measures invisible to me.

            As we walked around the island we could see the the castle and parks.  The walkway on our side is lined with cherry trees. 

It was interesting walking around the bare trees with their barely swelling buds, knowing that in just a few weeks, the trees would be in bloom, and the Cherry-blossom viewing parties would be in full swing.      

Agoraphobes Unite!

             As we moved on to our next destination, lunch, we began to notice a trend, Tokyo is impressively tunneled with pedestrian walkways.  We had learned that knowing which exit you want out of the subways is essential, as the wrong exit can land you far from where you want to be. 
            Today we learned that someone truly bothered by wide open spaces could construct a very successful life where they never had to have sky over their head.  There were apartment buildings with direct entrances into the tunnels that lead to the subway.  Same with office buildings.  And then there are entire shopping meccas in the buildings over to train stations.  Grocery stores, department stores (yes, there subway exits that lead straight into are depchikas), restaurants, electronics, clothing and doo-dad shops  If you don’t want to, you never have to go outside, and still have a life.  It was amazing in a rather surreal way.
            Tokyo streets are almost devoid of signs, and the ones I could find were nearly all in Japanese (well obviously).  But the tunnels are festooned with maps, directional arrows and information in romanji (Japanese words in the roman alphabet).  On the streets we are lost, and have to look out for cars.  In the tunnels we have maps, and only have to look out for hurrying salarymen.

            Using the tunnels we found our way to a sky-high restaurant,

 and ate lunch at the top of Tokyo.  Once again the waitresses had fun looking at Tavin’s chopstick boingies, and were amazed that he really enjoyed those noodles.
            And then we went outside and found the Sword museum. 

An amazing collection of honest to goodness samurai swords, some of incredible antiquity.  This was also a museum for the ancient methods of forging and building the swords.  The short amount of time we spent there (no photos allowed) introduced us to aspects of the sword we didn’t even know existed – the grain of the metal, the finishes, and then there’s a whole art around the handle, the creation of the cords used in the handle, and then there’s the scabbard.  It was beautiful and baffling.
            It was a long walk to find this little tucked away museum, but fun to see a regular residential neighborhood of the main streets.  And it was a long walk back, so Tavin and I were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel.
            But we perked right up when we found a new crazy Japanese game show.  The contestants were seated at a round table and served strange foods.  After tasting and examining the food they had to choose its price from 5 choices.  When they guessed wrong, their chairs were spun around the table rapidly.  And after that spin, they got another odd food, and had to guess again.  Our best crazy Japanese TV sighting of the whole trip.

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