Thursday, March 28, 2013

tokyo trip: the first day.

i'm sitting at ben's laptop, here during our last night in tokyo. tomorrow morning we check out of our (surprisingly REALLY nice) hostel at 10 am, trek about a bit, & then catch the train out to the airport at about 3. i'm abysmally behind on blogging about our trip, so i thought i might as well try & start catching up now that it's almost over & feels slightly more manageable. 

oh my gosh, TOKYO. we love it here. it's been glorious. let's see...how to describe tokyo? yesterday, i said to ben, "describe tokyo in five words to me." & the words he gave were:
1. futuristic 
2. orderly
3. paradoxical
4. high-pressure
5. fast-paced

i then gave my five words. & my five words were:
1. clean
2. efficient
3. paradoxical (i really liked that word of ben's, so i stole it for mine)
4. repressed (or suppressed? we couldn't decide which was more effective)
5. flashy

tokyo is CRAZY clean. even the random alleys & side streets had NO TRASH. the subway stations are gleaming, i mean new york city could REALLY learn a thing or two from how tokyo maintains its subway lines. everybody here is always going going going, lots of businessmen, lots of people running to catch trains & buses. everything is very efficient, very neat & orderly, & most of the time very small & cute as well.

 & so much of it, so much of it, reminds me of taiwan. we'll turn onto a side street that is cramped & crowded & i feel like i'm back on my mission. a sound, a smell, a store - it's like i have to remind myself again & again we're not taiwan. there are so many similarities. it's kind of wonderful.

but let's talk about what we did during our first whole day together here in tokyo! i already gave you a rundown of our glorious reunion the night i got in. a few minutes after that, ben immediately walked me through this delightful pathway full of cherry trees in full spankin' bloom. more on that later. the next morning we woke up bright & early (i was up at about 5 - jetlag & the time difference were going full-on jedi mind trick mode with this one - but was able to fall back asleep. although i completely realize for many of you 5 am is a normal wake-up time, & i'm sorry about that). it was a grey, rainy day. we stayed in a dorm-style room on tokyo university campus. here's what the university looked like:


one cool thing about tokyo is that it's this really modern, nay,futuristic city jam-packed with gleaming skyscrapers & really cute little cars, but then suddenly there will be this silent, peaceful, old world-type shrine just tucked back a ways from the street. that mix of modern + olden day? tokyo is full of it. so we hit up a bunch of different shrines during our stay here. the first one was the toyokawa inari shrine. here's ben demonstrating the washing ritual that worshipers perform upon entering the shrine. one would think this sort of thing would be off-limit to gentiles but ben assured me he had been given the OK to do it by the tokyo university students he had came with to this shrine earlier in the week:


foxes are considered messengers of inari, who is a shinto rice deity. the foxes wear blazing red, always have this stern look which is really quite cute, & they be ALL OVER the place in tokyo shrines.


a lot of them carry little scrolls in their mouths, which is the message from inari, duh!


foxes foxes foxes:



after praying at the shrine, you clap twice, throw your coin into the little iron grate, pray, then ring this bell (also okay for gentiles to do, apparently) (we're also not 100% sure the worship ritual is in this exact order i just said, but it's more or less):


when i was in taiwan, i had a friend who said, "if you've seen one shrine you've seen them all." that made me a little sad, so i decided that at every shrine i'd notice the little details that made that particular shrine unique from all others. here are details from the toyokawa shrine:



after the shrine we walked through a beautiful park near shinjuku called the shinjuku gyoen garden. another great thing about tokyo is that while it's crowded with people & buildings, there is also a ton of wide open space. new york city has its central park, but tokyo has, like, seven places that equal central park in terms of size & solitude. so. this park was one of them. here's a tea house in the park:


& a lovely pond. see your 7th favorite blogger out there?:


 & while it was a rainy day, the raininess almost enhanced the lush, tropical, verdant feeling tokyo secretly  has going on.



checking out the fish on both sides of the bridge. the longer i stood there, the more fish came over. we think they thought i had food & was going to feed them?




after the park we headed on over to a big shopping district, which, if you head in ANY direction in tokyo, you'll run into a shopping district eventually, but whatever. if i were to provide a comment for the picture below, it would be, "who knew forever 21 would make it all the way to tokyo!? but then again, why am i surprised about this?"



the bottom floor of one of the huge malls we were in was like a mini-costco, with all this CRAZY-A REALLY ALIVE-LOOKING FISH:


i think it was the eels that got me the most. these eeeeeelssss! (little did I know I would be eating one of these two days later--but more on that soon):


next shrine: hanazono shrine:


little prayer-type cards:


i'm not quite sure why, but this picture is really funny to me. oh wait, YES i'm sure why: ben hates posing for pictures & therefore the pictures he's in always turn out a grand mix of great & slightly awkward:


wonderful shrine details:




as seen on the street/i just loved the colors & graphics of this:


if i were to write a caption for this picture, it would be a thought cloud coming out of ben's head saying, "why did we fly 14 hours across the world to see a times square that we have in our own backyard?"


oh hey ENTRANCE TO JURASSIC PARK:


also, if you're dying to know what sort of funny face ben is making in the above photo as he poses like many of the japanese people we saw posing for pictures, you're in luck. i zoomed in after the picture was taken & captured this gem:


so the entrance to jurassic park led NOT to flesh-eating dinosaurs, actually, but another really beautiful & peaceful shrine with the dreamiest of tree-covered pathways mine eyes have ever beheld:


this is the meiji shrine, named after a beloved japanese emperor who died in 1912. there's that long wooded walkway to get out to it from the picture above, & seeing as it's out in the middle of the woods it's amazingly peaceful & silent. ben & i sat on a bench in the courtyard for about 20 minutes, just watching everything & soaking it all in.


on the way out of the meiji shrine were these huge barrels of wine & sake, which are given to the meiji estate (if it can be called that?) once a year to be blessed & consecrated. they represent emperor meiji's desire to bring japan into the modern world, benefiting from western culture while still maintaining its own identity



speaking of benefiting from things, let us all benefit from a picture of that time ben found his twin in a store window:


we ended our first day by wandering around shibuya (or shi-BOOYAH, as i like to call it, for obvious reasons), which is a popular downtown area brimming with bright lights, gambling shops, restaurants, bars, clothing stores, & many other places japanese businessmen spend their time & money instead of with their loved ones. but i digress. the main intersection in shibuya is one of the busiest in the world. the WORLD!!! automobile traffic stops on all sides so that when pedestrians are allowed to cross, they basically can go in any & all directions across the street. 

here we are on one corner, waiting for the light to turn red so we can cross. look how many people are there on the opposite side! & that's only one of the MANY (well, 4) corners of this intersection. 


aaaaaand....green light!:


people in every direction going every which way. it's a thrill! a claustrophobic thrill!


we walked back across while i took video of it on our camera, but for some reason i can't seem to find the video now? anyway, it's totally worth looking at, because it's suddenly just a mass of humanity all in one place, so THIS is actually a great & accurate video of how very many people cross the street in a matter of a minute or so.



phew. end of day one. more to come! if you made it all the way through this post, way to go! well done! & thanks for reading. :)

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