Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monday October 4th

Started the day by going towards the Asakusa district to see the Asahi brewery (or so I thought).
It turned out to be their headquarters only - and some Asahi owned resturants. The building looked cool enough though:
In the background you can see the new broadcasting tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, being built. It's already Japans tallest building, but it will reach 634 m when it is finished in Spring 2012.
It will replace Tokyo Tower which broadcasting capabilities has decreased due to all the skyscrapers that has risen around it since it was completed in 1958.

After this I planned to go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, but apparently it was closed today so instead I went to Akihabara.
The Tokyo district famous for the Kirsten Dunst music video "Turning Japanese" (search for it on YouTube, they usually remove it after a while so no meaning of me linking it).

Oh, and it's also famous for the Electric City - a place where you can buy almost everything electronic; from capacitors to refrigerators.

I bought some small stuff, then went to a "Maid Café" and got me an ice cream that looked like this:
Cute. :)

After Akihabara, I decided to wait for the darkness of night (which comes early, about 6pm) by eating dinner, then head for the Tokyo Tower to look at Tokyo by night.

Tokyo Tower is Japan's copy of the Eiffel tower (but a little bit higher of course - 8.6m to be exact).

The view from the main observatory (at 150m) was great.

And then you could also go up another 100m to the special observatory. Heading up there, a voice on the elevator speakers said, "You may hear a cracking sound, but this is perfectly normal".

You could pretty much see the whole Tokyo from up here!

After this, back to my capsule hotel. I am really tired.
I think it's jacuzzi time (the hotel has both a hot bath, cold bath & jacuzzi - I tried them all).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday October 5th

Something I have been noticing a lot here in Shinjuku is the many young couples walking around - and several hotels renting rooms not just per night - but also per hour.
I get the impression that Japanese youth go here and have sex in the hotels (since they are still living with their parents).
If this really is true, I don't know, it's just a feeling I get.

Anyway, headed out to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which is in a very different building that some say look like a AT AT, but I personally think it looks more like a Space Invader.

The museum shows how the small fishing village Edo got to be the capital in Tokugawa's Japan, how it grew and changed during the centuries and at the Meiji Restoration was renamed to Tokyo 1868.

There were also exhibitions about 20th century Tokyo (like the western influences, Kanto earthquake 1923 and the WWII bombings).

After this I walked a little in Tokyo City
and then went to the Imperial Palace and its gardens.

The main part is closed, since the emperor lives in here somewhere:

But the Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public.

It was like a normal park
and maybe a bit nicer in some areas.

You could also see the walls and moats from the old days when the Shogun (and later the Emperor) lived and conducted their business here.

Then it was time to head back to my little hotel room again.
And here the Shinjuku station hits again! Now, I don't normally have problems finding my way, but this station is just insane. If I ever get to be overlord of some sinister organisation, this will be the first place I will destroy so they can build it up again - and this time do it correct.

So I went from the station to the hotel. And figured after a while that something was wrong. And no map could set me on the correct course.
I finally gave up and took a taxi. The trip took about 15 minutes (~100 SEK), but then I was at home at last!

But before getting inside, I bought a ticket to the Ghibli Museum, where I will go on Thursday. Only way to get a ticket is to buy it in advance. And that can only be done in a ticket machine - where all text is in Japanese.
Seriously, you can not understand a thing. Fortunate, I got a clerk to fix the ticket for me.

Anyway, back at the hotel, quick dip in the pool and then I figured I try some massage.
Now, I am not sure how you imagine Japanese massage, but in my best dreams it goes like this; a beautiful young Japanese woman (preferably naked) walks with her small feet on your back and you are having the time of your life.

That was not what I got...
I had a female sumo wrestler, who seems to have had some kind a trauma in her life where a Westerner had done something horrible to her or her family.
This was one of the most painful experiences of my life - I thought I would be finishing this blog with my mouth, paralyzed from the neck down.
It took me 10 seconds from wishing I had choosen the 30 minute session instead of the 60 minutes.
Afterwards, I had to feel that my eyeballs were still in their sockets and not hanging out of all the intense kneading.
Fortunate(?), but a bit surprising, was that the whole massage was done with me fully dressed (in the hotel pajamas that is) + some towels as a special precaution.

Edit a bit later about the massage for clarification; she pressed (hard) with her hands and elbows , more than a normal kneading. And she didn't seem to care that there were (unbendable) bones and especially vertebrae where she did her work.
She did tell me afterwards that she was from China. Does that mean this was not a Japanese massage? No clue - but I will not try it again to make sure. At least not on this trip.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wednesday October 6th

Moved from my small Capsule hotel to (another) high-end hotel, the Dai-ichi Annex Hotel in Ginza.

Smart move by me to make sure my last stay is a nice hotel - and for four night.
Because it will be very nice to stay at the same place this long and no more carrying heavy bags around. And they are heavy; I am not sure how to manage the maximum luggage weight. I was only 2 kg from the 20 kg limit on my way to Japan...

But lets worry about this on Sunday! :D

The view from my hotel room:

Didn't do much after I settled in. Went and bought a ticket to a Kabuki show for tomorrow afternoon and had dinner (The Yebisu Black was good, but the Half & Half I had in Kyoto was still better).

Another Japan reflection; I have yet to see a place that sells sunglasses (and I have looked). Strange.
Maybe the Japanese don't want to hide their eyes? I don't see many (if anyone) wearing sunglasses here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday October 7th

Found a fun thing last night; I have buttons on my bed that opens & closes the curtains to the window! I wanna stay here for a long time! :)

And now for a not so funny thing; somehow my phone got under a pillow during the night and I didn't hear the alarm = I overslept and missed my slot at the Ghibli museum. :(

So now I will have to buy a new ticket - and I bought one for tomorrow. At 16:00 just so I don't oversleep tomorrow as well.
Unfortunate this also mean that the few things I have left on my ToDo list here in Tokyo got squeezed in tighter. And that tomorrow will be a day filled with running around to have time for it all.

Anyway, here's a little something for you to think about;
Why does the numbers elevators in Japan look like this?
Instead of going:
9 10
7 8
5 6
3 4
1 2

They go:
5 10
4 9
3 8
2 7
1 6

At least I think that the first example is how it looks at home.
The Japanese way make me have think a microsecond longer than normal so I think it's different anyway.

OK, back to business.
Since I all of a sudden had a half day off, I just strolled around in Ginza - and bought me a little something at the Sony Building, which has a four story showrooms. More stuff to weigh down my already too-heavy luggage...

In the afternoon it was time for the theater to see some kabuki!

A picture of the Shimbashi Enbujo Theater where I went.

Not the best picture below, but taken during the play:

It was fun to have done it and it wasn't too bad. But without the special "earphone-guide" in English it would have been impossible to understand the plot or what happened on stage.

Now almost time for bed. It's going to be an early - and long - day tomorrow.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Friday October 8th

The alarm is set to 3:30. AM.
I am going up real early (after just about one hour sleep). For what? Believe it or not, for a fish market - with a tuna auction.

Not that I am that interested in fish really, but supposedly this Tsukiji fish market (largest in the world) with it's auction, is something to look at.

It has become so popular that they had to limit the tourists to 140 per day (imagine that many people go up this early!).
You have to get in line at an office that opens at 4:30. The first 70-group gets to see the auction from 5:00-5:40 and the next 5:40-6:15. I was there exactly 4:30 - and was #65 in the queue.

Then you moved to this cold warehouse where the tuna is laying on the floor (frozen) and they cut it up a little to reveal the meat.
Men look at it...
...and after a while several auctioneers shouts a lot of stuff. And a few minutes later all the fish has been sold.
This place has been selling fish since the early Edo period (16th century) and is still going at it.

It was really a huge place outside the auction house (which was just a small building).
But was it worth going up this early? Hmmm... ask me again in a few weeks when I have forgotten the pain of going up this early, then I might say yes.

After this, back to the hotel again, sleep for an hour - and out again.

Well, about a week ago, I realized that it would be fun to go to an aircraft museum. I've been to a few, but it would be interesting to see a Japanese take on it (with Japanese aircrafts!).
So I looked it up and found one museum, the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum, just outside Tokyo.

And this is where I was headed now (as the only Westerner I could see :)
Apparently Tokorozawa was the place of Japan's first airfield, which started operations 1911.

It held a lot of exhibitions on the theory behind flight and simulators, which was fun, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed.
Pretty much all signs was in Japanese and there weren't that many airplanes - and certainly not many Japanese.

I especially was hoping to see the famous Mitsubishi Zero, but there was none to be seen. :(

Should you be in Japan - and interested in airplanes, I would still suggest you skip this. If you have been to other similar museums, this is just a waste of time.

This short visit also meant that I had a lot of time before the last thing on my list for today, the Ghibli museum (also situated a bit outside Tokyo) at 16.

I still went there to see if I could get in at 14 instead and save a little time, but no such luck. :(
So I had to kill three long hours, doing nothing.

I did take some pictures on the outside in the meantime:
But eventually the clock finally became four, just as I discovered that the batteries on both my camera and my phone had run out. Grrr!!!

So these are all the pictures you get.

Not that I was allowed to take pictures inside, but there were still incredible places where you could take photos.

So how can I describe what's inside this museum? Simple - I can not.
It was amazing - and details everywhere that just stunned you.
I honestly had tears in my eyes, walking around in some of the places just because it was so brilliant.

The theme for this museum is "Let's lose our way, together" and it was just that. Strange and wonderful things to see, do and discover.
Some exhibitions on how film making come to be - and their take on it. How a painter/writer/drawer's office can look like and everywhere there are characters from the films of Ghibli.

They also showed a special "museum-only" short film (15 minutes) about mice that did sumo wrestling (they have several movies that they swap around with with two weeks intervals, about five or six in total).
A small negative thing was that all was in Japanese (also the movie, but you understood perfectly well what happened anyway - I think they thought about that when they made it).
But it didn't take down the overall impression of this museum.

If you are in Tokyo and like any (or many) of the Ghibli movies, you must go to this museum.
It's a bit complicated to get tickets, but it's all explained here.

One problem can be that it's a little expensive. Not the ticket itself, but the shop inside.
I spent easily 1000 SEK here - and I wanted to buy a lot more.

Coming home to my hotel, tired after a long day with almost no sleep, I noticed that my lights have stopped working.
They came up and fixed it (took them long enough) and were very, very sorry. The reception guy came up a bit later with some free tickets to the Spa they have here (not sure I have time for it though, I am too tired today for instance). But a nice gesture.

Anyway, this ties neatly in my Japan fact of the day. Something interesting is that all hotel room I have stayed in (not counting the capsule) has had a flashlight:

My only guess is that it's a precaution if there is an earthquake and the lights go out, but I am not sure.
Interesting though. I don't think I have ever seen it in any other hotel room I have stayed in.

Another thing is that if there is a Bible in the room (as many hotels have), right next to it, there's another book; "The teachings of Buddha".
I like that. :)

Anyway, tomorrow is my last real day here - and I have one Must thing left to do:
See Mount Fuji.

I didn't see it from the World Trade Center nor from other places in or around Tokyo where you usually can see it - and not even from the train going to & from Osaka/Kyoto.
All because of the weather (too much clouds) .

So as a final attempt, I have decided to do the dirty and go on a tourist tour to the mountain itself. Unfortunate the tour takes me to other places I have no interest on and worse; takes a whole day (12 hours) + it costs like 1200 SEK.
But I have to see the mountain! So this I will do tomorrow.
I figured I can always sleep or read during the couch ride.

That is tomorrow. Now is sleep.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday October 9th

Last (full) day in Japan and it rains. :(

Todays activity has been debated a lot in my head and since I really want to see Mount Fuji, I decided to go on this whole day tour to Fuji & Hakone.
Unfortunate it was not worth it (due to the weather).

You couldn't see anything really because of all the fog, rain and clouds.
It mostly looked like this:

We went up Fuji to it's "5th Station" at 2400 m (out of ten stations, where ten is the top of Fuji). This is the highest place you can go by buss.

But unfortunate you could not see more than 50 m in front of you so while I have been on Fuji, I can't say that I have seen the mountain properly. Very frustrating. :(

After this we went towards Hakone and had lunch at the Hakone Lake Hotel.
The view from the restaurant was great. Or should have been if we had been able to see anything.

Then at Hakone, we took a cable car (Hakone Ropeway), which also were suppose to have a great view of the Hakone area, but... :(

We came to the Owakudani, which has a lot of sulfur cave and such (and the smell that comes with it).
If you are observant, you can make out the sulfur clouds from the normal clouds here:

Then it was time for a cruise of Lake Ashi - in a pirate ship.

Now, I never could figure out the connection with pirates on a Japanese lake, but I am sure there was one.

And to add to the whole strangeness (absurdness?) of this, we went with a ship called "Vasa".
Yes, that's right. For some weird reason they modeled and named the ship after the most famous ship in Swedish history.

I wonder if they know the story of the original ship, which probably was the greatest fiasco (not to mention embarrassment) of the Swedish Navy?
(For you foreigners, you can read the story here).
I did go on board, but it was not with ease in my heart.

The ship ride (about 35 minutes) was OK, but it rained so you could not be outside for very long.
And the fog was still there, making sure you didn't get to see too much of the view.

After this, the bus headed home. Came back to the hotel around 19:30.
I finished Count Zero - and started on the last book in this trilogy; Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Last night here in Japan. Time to do some packing and stuff.
Tomorrow awaits 21 hours of travel to get home. Yay.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sunday October 10th

Time to go home :(

Had two alarms to wake me up at 6am - but somehow I managed to go back to sleep and instead of my planned 1½ hour preparation for leaving, I got 20 minutes.
Luckily I started packing last night so I did make it to the bus to Narita Airport, but not by much.

I went home in a big Airbus 380 with Air France. Not sure I have travelled with them before, but I got a good impression of them - and the dinner was big and tasty. I would survive travelling with them again.

Transferred in Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the French military had sealed off part of the terminal. Not sure what it was all about - maybe a bomb threat? Or a hint of terrorist attack?
In any case, I got out of there alive and was finally back in Gothenburg just as I finished reading Mona Lisa Overdrive. I got home about 23:00.
It's been a long day... And a long, nice holiday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reflections of Japan

I have been home now a while and it's time to look back at my trip - the one I have been dreaming about for so long.

Was it all I ever hoped for? Yes, pretty much.

I got to see a lot of the old castles, temples and other buildings that I have only read about since I was young. But I also got to see the modern side of Japan which was a lot of fun.

I think I still have a lot more I could see, but what I saw this time was plenty and then some. It was 2½ weeks being busy every day.
And besides, I can always check out those things if I ever go back.

Highlights of my trip was...hmm... Osaka Castle, Nara and most definitely the Ghibli Museum.
Biggest disappointment? That I never got to see Mount Fuji from afar.

It was very interesting to see how big difference everything in Asia compared to Europe or the US. The whole culture was just so very not-like-home. People were much more polite to each other and they really had a sense of "this is not mine so I should not do anything with it", which was shown in how you felt really safe, even at night in the big cities. There were no graffiti on the walls, litter on the streets or busted vending machines.

Looking back at my hotels it was a big variety; from the sleeping coffins (which was fun to try!), old Japanese styled to very fancy hotels. Fun to have checked out different styles.

My bank account tells me the whole trip (flight, hotels, meals and other stuff) cost me about 35000 SEK. I have to say that it's actually a bit cheaper than I expected.

So that was the Japan trip.
Wonder where - and when - I will travel next time? Where ever I go, I will make sure to update this blogg to share my experiences.

Until then, Sayonara.