Asia, Culture, Travel

The train is on time, and other updates from Japan

Some words to go with my spammy Instagram feed. 

I’ve finally had a moment to pause in my trip, 1 week in. There was definitely too much to do in Tokyo, and while many people just do a day trip to Hakone to try to get a view of Fuji (I failed–damn cloud cover), I viewed this as a nice pause from city life before going to the tourist hotspot Kyoto. And now I’m hanging out in a cozy hostel bar up in this mountain area, and life is good.

I’m not sure I can yet weave my trip here into any nice, coherent narrative, like I did in New Orleans. So instead, I’m going to list some observations. One of the things I want to do with this blog is boost awareness of the world, so in that spirit:

  • Golden Week is crazy. Golden Week is a week where many people have work off (but not the unfortunate folks in hospitality), based on several holidays starting April 29, including the emperor’s birthday, a children’s day, and a day commemorating the Japanese constitution. There were tons of people in Tokyo.
  • Tokyo is YUUUUGE.
  • I’m studying Japanese on the go, which I don’t recommend. In any case, I can begin to see how Japanese writing borrowed Chinese characters (known in Japanese as kanji). The character for “country”, for example, is the same.
  • I loved Meiji Shrine, but was intrigued by its dedication to “the deified spirits of the Emperor and Empress.” The high regard–or worship, I suppose–for Japan’s imperial rulers has often confounded me, but then again, I haven’t really reached that period in my book on Japanese history. (I’m working through warlords fighting for control of the country in the late 1500s. I guess it’s my stand-in for Game of Thrones for the time being; I just reacted to Oda Nobunaga‘s death the same way I did a spoiler about Jon Snow.)
    meiji
  • People are ridiculously nice. The Starbucks employees tell you when a seat opens up. Random people come chat you up because you look interesting (and I’m sure I look interesting…). You’re happy to wait for the next train that’s coming in ten minutes but the people working at the station encourage “Hurry, hurry you can make this one!” And that’s just big city Tokyo.
  • And you KNOW that train will be there in ten minutes, because the trains show up at the posted time. I can’t help but laugh at the trouble they’re having on the DC metro or cry at the thought of the California high-speed rail being a million years away.
  • I had an interesting day at the Ueno Zoo, which is enormous, and must house every land mammal in existence, and I didn’t even recognize several of them. One thing I noticed was the idea of exoticism–there were animals from the Americas that must have seemed so strange, like the California condor or other ‘murican mammals. But who am I kidding, everyone was in line for the f***ing pandas.
    okapi2  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Seriously, WTF are these?
  • Food is great. Ramen of course is on point, I had some awesome beef tongue the other day, and an amazing izakaya experience, in which I had this fantastic dessert, affectionately known as “boobs ice.”
    BI 1
  • The past and present exist in some strange harmony, side by side in a city like Tokyo. For example, Meiji Shrine is adjacent to Yoyogi Park, a place not unlike Central Park. A large temple was in the center of the busy neighborhood I stayed in. If Japan shows anything to other countries, it’s that tradition and modernity can coexist in a 21st century society.
  • It’s gorgeous here.

Follow my travel photography on Instagram (@globary).

 

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