Japan! Just typing the word puts me in a good mood. This is my second trip here, and the first for Teresa, so I get to be a little bit of a tour guide. What to do? Where to start? I feel like a kid at his birthday party, trying to decide what present to open first…while also two-fisting handfuls of cake into my face.
We landed in Narita in the early evening, and after activating out JR Pass, caught the oh-so-smooth train into Tokyo. Public transportation here is always impressively clean and orderly, despite the sheer mass of humanity it hauls every day. We checked into our airbnb just outside of Shinjuku Station and made a bee-line for dinner. We hit my favorite cheap sushi place (I love that I can say I have a favorite sushi place in Japan) Genki sushi, a growing local chain which takes kaiten sushi to a new level. Stuffed, we closed out the night taking some photos in Shibuya Crossing. It’s possibly the busiest intersection in the world and at peak rush hour over a thousand people can cross during one red light. Wading through the huge – but polite – crowds, or better yet, grabbing a coffee at the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing, is quintessential Japanese tourist moment. The statue of Hachiko is just outside of the station, a bittersweet tribute to the love and loyalty of man’s best friend.
We had two full days in Tokyo and I think we managed to pack a lot in. Japan is, to paraphrase James Brown, a first class city in all respects.. From excellent public transportation, to cheap food on every corner, it’s easy to get where you want to go and avoid any hunger-meltdowns along the way. The population density is impressive and one the highest in the world, but it doesn’t feel that way walking through the city. Over the years behavior patterns have developed and adapted to make living in such a crowed place tolerable. Respect and politeness are highly valued, and people acting outside of the norm bring shame upon themselves. Litter is mostly nonexistent, and the public restrooms are probably clean enough to have a picnic in. Almost.
We started the day at the Tsukiji Fish market, electing to avoid the auctions in the wee hours of the morning and instead getting there around 7:30. This gave us a good nights sleep, but got us there early, before the tour groups started to fill up the narrow shopping isles. I’ve been to the market before a couple times, and I think it’s a great place to visit, especially if you haven’t been before. Hundreds of booths and little shops selling just about everything that swims in the ocean along with anything you would ever need to cook them with.
We did lots of shopping, eating (including a restaurant where you catch your own fish and they cook it to order), walking, and ended the weekend with a Robot Dinner Show. It’s one of the most Japanese things you can do and it’s great. The premise is a little nebulous, but seems to revolve around a group of Amazonian-esque Japanese women under siege by evil alien robot…creatures, and their fight to free themselves from cyborg tyranny. It’s frenetic and bizarre and way too cute, leaving you to exit into Shinjuku with kind of a post-concert hangover.
Bill Nye. the Science Guy, was also in attendance. He sat right across from us and seemed to enjoy the show as much as we did. Tomorrow morning we leave for Kyoto, but tonight, we fall into bed with our bellies full of ramen and bank accounts a little emptier.
Where we stayed: Hotel Gracery – Godzilla Hotel and airbnb.
What we did: Robot Dinner show
Tsukiji fish market
Shopping in Akihabara and Shinjuku