Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Tokyo Experience: Day 1

My friends from Canada, Karie and Reid reached my house last Sunday and we all had a good evening in Fukuchiyama with me acting as a tour guide. They had rented a Nissan March and driven it from Takaoka in Toyama prefecture to Fukuchiyama, about a five hour ride. Needless to say, they were a tad tired and we all wanted to get an early start the following day so we went to bed rather early.

Several hours later, Monday morning arrived and we loaded up the car and headed for the city. The first minor emergency of the trip occurred five minutes from my apartment when the remote control for the car's navigational system glided across the dashboard and out my open window when Reid made a turn. Fortunately, the remote was fine. Our route took us through Kyoto, Nagoya, along the Eastern coast of Japan, and up into Tokyo. Now, I would like to take some time out to explain the Japanese view on roadtrips and distances.

Japan is not a huge country, with all of its islands combined, it is a tad bigger than California. As I said, not a big place. I have driven from Boise to San Jose in just about seven hours before. I have driven from Boise to Vancouver, B.C. in a total of ten driving hours. To me, roadtrips are fun and I have no problem driving for six and seven hour spans of time. To the average Japanese person, a six hour drive is a monster trip. The Japanese that I have talked to, for the most part, do not like driving for that long. A long trip to a Japanese person is about two hours. Beyond that, you are embarking on a serious outing that requires planning and frequent stops along the way. At least this is how the people that I have talked to seem to be.

The trip across Japan was a scenic one, this time of year everything is green. The expressways that criss-cross the country are very well kept and are generously dotted with rest areas. The Japanese version of a rest area makes North American rest areas look trashy. Japanese rest areas come in two varieties. First is the sparsely adorned, "Nap Area". Not kidding, the signs for these areas was a guy sleeping. The second variety is what we in the United States would deem more of a truckstop. These places are nice! There is tons of parking, huge and clean bathrooms, one or two restaurants, a gas station, and a shopping area. Some of them also have small parks or nature paths. As I said, these rest areas rock. Something like this in the United States would be exceptional but in Japan, you will find one of these every 50 or 60 kilometers, sometimes less.

Anywho back to our trip, we were on the road by about 10:30am and we reached the outskirts of Tokyo by a little before 9pm. This is a lot of driving you say, we stopped a lot and pretty much took our sweet time getting there. If one were determined, they could go from Fukuchiyama to Tokyo in just around 6 hours. The roadtrip was fantastic, the only drawback being that Mt. Fuji or "Fuji-san" as the Japanese call him, was hidden in clouds. Once in Tokyo, we headed for one of the more popular inner wards called Shibuya. The greater Tokyo area comprises of 23 wards. Shibuya is one of the more popular ones because of its nightlife and crazy shopping. You can't really tell where one section of the city begins and another ends, once you hit the outskirts of the city, you are pretty much going to be driving through about 30 or so kilometers of buildings, buildings, and yes, more buildings.

Once we hit Shibuya, it was a little after 10pm. Having a navigational system in your car is awesome and very helpful....when it speaks to you in a language you understand. Shibuya was a shock. Once we hit that part of town, I kind of flipped out. Think 15 year old schoolgirl seeing the Beatles walk through her mall in 1961 flip out, that was me. It was here that it really hit me that I was in a place that I had dreamed of travelling to almost my entire life. Everything that you see in magazines and movies that is Tokyo, is really Shibuya or a couple of other places. The center of Shibuya is essentially the place where you can take a picture, show it to someone who has never been there and they will probably guess that its Tokyo. It was amazing. Here are some pics, keep in mind that these were taken right around 11pm.

After the initial "this is badass" impression, some of the realities of vacationing in Tokyo hit. I am going to tell everyone reading this now, if you go to Tokyo, DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT TAKE A CAR! Tokyo has extremely limited parking and when you find a spot, its going to cost you at least the equivalent of $6.00 an hour. When you are staying in a place that doesn't provide free parking or you are planning on keeping the car in that spot for an extended period of time, be ready to blow a lot of money. During the day in some lots, its about $3.00 for 10 or 12 minutes. Yeah, more on that later.

Anywho, after finding a garage to park in, it was party time. Reid, Karie, and I had no hotel booked for Monday night because we planned on spending the night in a club and then retrieving the car the following morning. We wandered throughout Shibuya, stopping occasionally to look in a shop or watch people. We wandered by Shibuya's Love Hotel Hill and we ended up finding a club called, The Ruby Room. The Ruby Room is listed in Lonely Planet's Guide to Tokyo and the author spoke quite highly of the club, I am not sure why. When I hear the word club, followed by the letters D and J, I think two or three storey party with a DJ on each floor and three of four bars. The Ruby Room thought differently; it was essentially one room, one bar, and one DJ. The size of this one room is about the size of two of my apartment without the walls, not apartment building, apartment. It would be a really cool club to go to, sit on the sofas, and just chill but its not a dance club. Dance clubs usually have more women too, this club had an abundance of sausage if you get my drift. We each had a Jager and Redbull and each drink, while big, was $9.00. After that round of drinks, we left the Ruby Room in search of bigger, women filled clubs.

What we ended up finding was a place called Maruhachi. This was not a dance club at all but looked fun so we went in. Maruhachi is what Chili's would be like if it were run by booze guzzling, Jamaican wannabe, Japanese guys that collect a lot of weird toys. As I said, it looked fun. :) Once seated, we each ordered a couple of drinks and some appetizers. I ordered kaeru age, "kaeru" is Japanese for frog. It was fried frog to be exact and it was tasty. I had never eaten these little amphibians and figured that night was as good a time as any. That and I wanted to trick Reid into eating one by telling him they were chicken bits. He didn't bite, pardon the pun. Like everyone says, frog tastes pretty much just like chicken. It looks like chicken, smells like chicken, and tastes like chicken. It was very good, the only thing I have to say other than that, is that the poor frogs that sacrificed their green hides just for me, were freaking huge. I was eating chunks of meat that were seriously chicken leg sized.

By the time we left Maruhachi it was about 3am and I think the three of us were all thinking the same thing, why didn't we get a hotel? We wandered around Shibuya until about 5am when we headed back to the car to plan our next leg of the trip. This leg was when stuff really went downhill, the Tsukiji Fish Market trip.

At this point I am going to end this post. The Tsukiji trip took place around 6:30am on the second day of the trip, therefore, it will be in the Day 2 post. Anywho, Shibuya rocked, fried frogs rocked, little clubs did not, and we never did find a good dance club. Enjoy the pics, more to come soon.


At 7:41 PM, Anonymous dustin said...

Amazing stuff. I should post some pictures of downtown Hoquiam for a fun contrast. ;) I wish you would have gotten a picture of the frog. I've always been curious what that looked like.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Mogwai said...

Find yourself some fried chicken pieces and you have it. If you didn't know it was frog, you would think you were just eating chicken.

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Heather said...

Wow! That is SO cool! Shibuya... I was looking that up online the other day (my job and the agreements I send tend to originate heavily from Asian countries) and it basically said Shibuya = Tokyo. But it's more like Shibuya is to Tokyo what the Soho district is to London...?

Anyway, that's rockin' awesome! What a cool experience.


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