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First Day in Tokyo: 9.23.2009

October 8, 2009
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I first explored Asakusa, walking down to the famous Kaminari-mon, where I passed under the giant red lantern and walked down Nakamise-dori, a street full of souvenir shops, though not the kind I am used to. The shops sold distinctive Japanese things, and were thronged with people, especially girls buying ice cream. At the end of the street I found Sensō-ji completely shrouded by scaffolding and canvas, to my great disappointment. I ambled through the grounds and found a stone inscribed by Bashō and two other poets, and many Buddhist statues. In one building I watched a monk chant and pound a carved wooden drum. People gathered around the incense burner to waft smoke onto themselves, and others stood in line to buy ema, votive tablets. Prayers were written on them in various languages. I wandered out of the temple district and sat in a bar where I ate green tea and tofu.

At the Sumida River I walked through Asakusa Park and saw a bustling raised expressway and the strange Asahi Beer Hall, topped by the Flamme d’Or. An old dilapidated wood building leaned over the river beside the red bridge, under which were moored pleasure craft, ships with tatami floors and cushions, like floating restaurants. I used my iTouch constantly to look up words and unfamiliar kanji. I rode the entire Ginza subway line from the terminus in Asakusa to Shibuya, where I crossed the famous intersection where traffic stops in all directions. I walked off and ate a salad at a place called Thanks Nature, where I sat upstairs among a crowd of young women. I don’t say much to the wait staff and cashiers I deal with; speaking Japanese with my limited vocabulary and slow comprehension takes tremendous effort, and in the city it’s easy to get by without saying much to anyone. I walked through Harajuku and spotted two hilarious neighboring shops: “As Know As” and the “Walkin Store.” I followed a procession of people wearing red and black robes to Yoyogi Park, where a performance in support of Tokyo’s 2016 Olympic candidacy took place near the giant torii. A group of male performers raised racks full of lanterns on bamboo poles and balanced them on their palms, hips, shoulders, foreheads, and even mouths. One would balance for a while, then another would relieve him and add a link to the bamboo pole. The red and black group came out next and danced with clappers and umbrellas, then a group of women of all ages danced, then a large Okinawan group performed. After every performance the MC would say, “Subarashii!” Splendid! The last performance bored me after a while, so I walked under the torii and along a wide gravel path through the trees until I reached the Meiji Shrine: a reconstruction, like everything else in Tokyo. I washed my hands and mouth with the wooden dipper in a stone basin and made an offering at the shrine. I bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed again. On the way out a distant voice sounded over the intercom, reminding us not to smoke in the park.

I walked north to Shinjuku, where I craned my neck at ugly buildings. I crossed busy streets and walked “Mosaic Street” a shopping avenue that led into a white ziggurat-shaped shopping mall. I ended up underground for quite some time, and finally emerged by the Metropolitan Government Building in Nishi-Shinjuku, where I read the public can access the observation decks until 11 PM. I couldn’t find out how to get in, and instead headed across the street to a sunken food court in front of a black monolith. I descended a spiral staircase into the court and ate salmon, miso soup, rice, seaweed, white mush, etc. at a restaurant that was not as good as it looked. I took the Japan Rail line in the wrong direction, but returned to Shinjuku and eventually made it back to Asakusa.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Katherine Maynard permalink
    October 17, 2009 10:44 pm

    Interesting! It’s fun to see where you’ve been.

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