Day Two — A Tour of Tokyo
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2008
7:00 AM – Wake up and blog Day 1
8:00 AM – BUFFET-STYLE BREAKFAST
Now, I am a firm believer in eating sufficiently, just ask anyone who knows me and/or my brother. But as I mentioned yesterday, the whole ‘pinky-extended’ thing is so no me (or my brother). When it comes to grub, we want it as common as the common folk who make and eat it. But as I had hoped, Japan or more to the point, the Akasaka Excel Tokyu Hotel had a surprise waiting for us. Pancakes, and bacon. Now, before you think this is anti-climatic, this is Japan we’re talking about here. These pancakes were the best I’ve had in a VERY long time, and seeing as how “the zen-buddah-master”, also known affectionately as Dad – is no longer around to pass judgement on these, I figured I’d take the position and run with it. I think Michael agreed with me here. Bacon was here too. Now I had had bacon when Wendy’s had their “Baconator” sandwiches in their daily lineup, but this was asagohan (Japanse for breakfast). After finishing breakfast, I went to the 7-Eleven (they’re even more prevalent here than back home – when they say every other corner, boy they weren’t kidding) to get a MiniDV tape for the day’s video record of whatever happens that day.
9:50 AM — MEET KYOKO
After breakfast, we head down to the first floor to meet our tour guide. I was hoping it wasn’t the one we met taking the bus from the airport. Thank goodness it wasn’t. Enter Kyoko Fujii. As you’ll probably guess, she is totemo utsukushii (very beautiful), and totemo atama ga ii (very smart). Once on the bus, she tells us about herself, and how to remember her name (seeing as how not everyone on the bus has been to Japan before, or understands the various aspects of the culture here). She explains two of the possible reasons why the Japanese drive on the left-hand side of the road. Pay attention, because either one could be true.
REASON ONE: U.K. INFLUENCE
When Japan was assembling their highways and there was an Englishman who aided in it’s design and layout. The British drive on the left hand side, with the driver-side being on the right, just like the Japanese.
REASON TWO: FROM THE SAMURAI PERIOD
During the times of the Samurai, they wore their swords (katana) on their left side. This made it difficult for someone to grab the sword except them. Because of this, Samurai would always walk on the left side, and wear their sword on the left as well.
By this time we had arrived at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
10:00 AM – IMPERIAL PALACE
This is the most guarded, as well as one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Japan. This is where Japan’s monarchy lives on. And the gates that guard the building inside are only opened two times a year: Once on the Emperor’s birthday, December 23rd, and again on New Year’s. The people flood the inner courtyard, awaiting to catch a glimpse of the Royal Family of Japan so that they can convey their sentiments and wish Japan the best of luck under their rule.
Surrounding all of Imperial grounds is a moat that believed to be one of the deepest on Earth. There are ducks, geese, swans all swimming there, never to be bothered by man... ever. Not too long ago someone skinny dipped in the moat. Luckily for Japan, he was arrested after an hour without the Emperor ever seeing him.
Michael and I were included in a Japanese family photo while we were there. Funnily enough, probably due to the fact that, here are two kokojins (black people) in a country where we are TRUELY the novelty. But you know what? I could care less. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m glad to be an oddity to them today! They can show that photo to friends and family and they will wonder... “Who are these two?” After we took some photos, we headed back to the bus for the next part of our Tokyo Tour: a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
11:00 AM — TEA CEREMONY AT CHAYU CLUB KOOMON
What I saw today, even thought we were hours (about 3hrs I hear) form Kyoto – where most people say that “the Japan of Old” is still in full swing – was nothing short of the most elegant event I have ever witnessed. A tea ceremony is one of the MOST sacred of ceremonies still practiced in Japan. And with Miss Yukiko Fukami and friends doing their part to make sure that what has gone before is all but forgotten, this ceremony still survives.
You wouldn’t think that something as simple as tea has this much of a reason to have a ceremony, but all I can say is you’ll have to seek out an ocha sensei (tea master/teacher) where you are, or save your pennies and come to Japan to experience it first hand. When you see the reverence, the balance, and the respect shown by both the host and guest, you’ll only have a fraction of what Japan has experienced for many centuries. I am happy to be able to be here to experience this, and to experience this with my brother Michael, makes it even more memorable.
Every move, is so precise, and done with respect to each utensil. They waste nothing. If it’s not needed, you won’t see it here. Yukiko explains that the concept of “less is more” is one of the most important concepts we as humans can grasp. This leads to Feng Shui, and many many other things that I won’t elaborate on here. We also got to have the tea they made, and we were taught the super-short version of The Way Of Tea. Just so you know, a FULL ceremony is FOUR HOURS in it’s entirety.
12:00 PM – SENSOJI TEMPLE
After having the freshest green tea you could possibly have outside of picking the leaves yourself, we went to Tokyo’s oldest temple – Sensoji. You’ve probably seen photos or shots of it in movies, and if you’ve even entertained the thought of coming to Japan, you’ll recognize the gigantic red lanterns that hang from the roofs of the gates themselves.
We went to where you must wash your hands before going inside the temple. There’s a specific way to do this – as you may have guessed – but fun and interesting all at the same time. Inside the largest building – the temple itself – is artwork on the ceilings that were painted by hand and some of the most ornate furniture I’ve ever seen, and a large offering bin where people chuck a 100 yen coin or more to pray for luck, finance, love, and what have you.
Outside, heading away from the temple is the shopping arcade where there’s enough people to keep you from seeing the very ground your walking on. I say konnichiwa (good afternoon, or hello too) to those who gaze at me in wonderment, and when they hear me use Japanese their faces go from wonder to complete surprise. We bow and smile to one another to finish our conversation, with hopefully a better outlook on the encounter.
Words defy the beauty seen here, and it’s something you really must see in person to appreciate due it’s size, aroma (yes, you can actually smell the building’s age here..no I’m not kidding), and the people who come to make wishes, and pray for various things.
2:30 PM – SUMIDA RIVER BOAT CRUISE
Not being someone who’s into boats, and/or large bodies of water, I was amazed to see so much of a skyline from the water. There’s not much else to see there... I had some good conversation with some of the other people in the group, until we pulled over to get off. Next stop: Tokyo Tower!
3:00 PM – TOKYO TOWER
For those of you who’ve been to Paris, France and have seen or been up in the Eiffel Tower, you may find the structure of Tokyo Tower to be almost identical, with one exception. Tokyo Tower is 43 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, making it one of the tallest self-supporting constructions in the Japan. The view was amazing, and I took quite a few photos. From here, it was off to the world’s most expensive shopping district: Ginza.
4:00 PM – THE GINZA SHOPPING DISTRICT
Now, Japan is known for a great many things. Origami, Samurais and Ninja, sushi, and The Ginza shopping district. If it’s a large name brand like Gucci, or Prada, or a watch from Bulgari you can find it here. And, the Ginza Apple Store was close by, so Michael and I headed over. The reason this particular Apple Store is of great importance, is due to the fact that this is where the world’s longest line was recorded. I even think it may have made The Guinness Book of World Records, but I’m not sure. If not the world, certainly the longest in Apple Store history.
We walked in, and just like back home, it was buzzing. People typing, mausing around, but what makes this different from the store I work in and the one back home, is everyone’s respect for their own noise level. People were either speaking at their normal volume, or lower. There wasn’t anyone (and I mean anyone) who was so loud that you yourself couldn’t hear yourself speaking to the person next to you, or across a table. Now THIS was heaven.
I began taking photos when a guard ran up, and crossed his fingers indicating that there was to be no photos taken in the store.
“Sumimasen!” I quickly said while bowing. I went into my pocket, pulled out my corporate badge and showed it to him.
“Oh! Moshiwake gozaimasen!!” he immediately stammered. Now, I figured that I would have to be the one to use this phrase, but this was some thing I never thought I’d have said TO me. This is what the Japanese call “the emperor-sized apology”. It literally means: “There is nothing I can say, there is no excuse, and I am forever sorry.” The guard followed this with a few “Gomennasai” (which is the polite version of “ I’m sorry”).
“Iie Iie,,, daijobu desu.” I assured him. This is “No no, it’s alright.” I bowed, and he bowed back, and he immediately went and told the other two guards, who were on their way over to see what their counterpart was apologizing for. He informed them that I was an Apple employee, and was not to be disturbed, if I was taking photos, or video.
I went over to one of the Mac specialists, named Nao (Naoko on her card and pronounced Nah-oh) and asked if telephone cards from Japan can be used on an iPhone. She thought for a moment, and figured that no, you can’t. Now I had tried this earlier when we got to Japan to call home so Mom would know that we made it to Japan in one piece, and wanted to find out so if we needed to call home, we could do so without having to find a public phone someplace. This wasn’t me testing her, but trying to find out if maybe Mike and I had done something wrong as to why it didn’t work when we tried it.
Nao asked if this was my first time to Japan (Nihon wa hajimete desu ka?). To this we answered yes, and added “Nihon wa totemo utsukushii desu yo!” which means “Japan is very beautiful, and “Watashtachi wa tanoshii arimasu!” which means “We’re having fun”. She smiled, and said the phrase I hear most Japanese people I meet say when they hear me speak:
“Anata no Nihongo o jyozu desu yo!”
This means “Your Japanese is good!”. Now, for those of you who’ve talked to me about Japanese, this is one thing that I make sure I tell. Whenever someone who IS Japanese says this, and you’re NOT of Japanese origin, you only have one answer that you should use:
“Iie Iie, Nihongo wa totemo muzukashii desu!”
This, is “No no, Japanese is very difficult!” What this does is show your appreciation for their culture, their language, their heritage, and all that you have NOT experienced because you are NOT Japanese. Consider this “verbal-kneeling” if you will. You lower yourself, to show respect. Nao smilled, bowed and said “Thank you” in her best English. She excused herself (which is “shitsureishimasu”) and came back with the store manager who was working.
“Hello, I am Tanabata. Welcome to the Ginza Store.” he says immediately upon us shaking hands. We chatted a bit, I told him of the trouble I’ve had trying to e-mail them, and he assured me that if they had gotten them, they would have replied. Especially to a fellow employee. We ascertained that I had been given the wrong e-mail address, and he promptly gave me the right one. I mentioned that I would like to communicate with them back and forth to learn more from them as they could from us, and he agreed that that would be something we can discuss more after the holiday rushes. I got to meet a creative who was from America but was working here at the Ginza store. I gather that he must be a gakusei (a college student) here in Japan.
I thanked Tanabata for showing my brother and I around, and that I would be in touch soon.
Michael and I headed back to the bus, so we could hit the hotel before heading out for dinner. The trip has been great so far, and there’s even MORE to see!