Posted by Erik W on May 31, 2012 11:31 PM
Monday ended up being a VERY busy day. It was supposed to be nice out, so we decided to head to the center of the city. But first, some food. We woke up a little late, so we decided to get something fast: McDonald's (マクドナルド) [Map]. Everyone was so happy to be working there, it was so... jarring. A man was walking up to people's cars to take their drive through orders so they didn't have to talk through the speaker. The cashier was "honored" we were eating at their McDonald's, and handed my receipt to me in two hands. When we were done, a woman took our garbage. This last gesture of hospitality might have been because we were foreigners. You sort everything a lot more thoroughly than in America. There are separate bins for: Paper ("burnables"), Plastic ("non-burnables"), PET bottles, aluminium, and glass. I figured out from a few occasions, if you stare blankly enough at the myriad of garbage containers long enough, somebody will come and help you. I had some sort of chicken sandwich. It was alright.
Head to the train. Took a photo of one of the typical Japanese cars with the small hoods. I'm not sure where the engine and other stuff fit.
I'm also starting to pick up on more social conventions: this time with escalators. Stand on the left, walk on the right. You don't want to get this wrong, or people will get upset.
And at the station, a touch screen vending machine! You could click on the bottle, spin it and flip it around... highly unnecessary.
Our first stop: the Imperial Palace (皇居) [Map]. We got out at the main Tokyo train station. When you stepped out, you saw the magnificent Tokyo Station and Hotel. It was unfortunately under renovation, so there was a lot of scaffolding and we couldn't get that good of a look. We head down a very wide tree-lined boulevard to the palace. One of the first things you notice before even entering the grounds is the large amount of runners. It's apparently a very popular route around the palace grounds, since it's almost exactly 5K.
What used to be a very large castle, which eventually disappeared from fire, earthquakes, and war, was now mostly a large park. But the grand moat is still there, giving you a sense of scale of how big the place used to be. The west side was closed off (it's where the emperor resides), but the east side was public gardens. It was a nice stroll around the gardens. There were some old guard houses to look at, some high points where you could look over the city, but it was mostly gardens.
Afterwards, we decide to head over to Ueno Zoo (恩賜上野動物園) [Map]. The zoo is in Ueno Park (上野公園), a very steep but beautiful park area filled with several museums, the zoo, an amusement park, and street performers and artists.
At the zoo, we were able to see the two giant pandas on loan from China, since Japan's panda passed away in 2008. There was an unnecessary hanging monorail to take you from the top of the hill to the bottom, which I suppose might be cool for young children, but not for $2 and the 40-minute wait. Other than that, it was a pretty ordinary zoo. They did a good job of blending the cages into the environment, and I particularly liked the wooden signs by all the cages.
After the zoo we decide to grab a bite to eat from one of the carts outside. We end up trying this absolutely delicious Korean meal called Duk Boki, which were these rice cakes and quail eggs covered in a spicy sauce. Honestly should have gotten two.
Next, I wanted to check out this bustling street market just outside the park. We wander up and down the street a bit. It was definitely tailored toward locals: no t-shirts or shot classes with 'Japan' written on them, just a lot of fish and tennis shoes. I don't know how it can be sustainable, but a lot of people sold shoes. Like every other booth. It was pretty ridiculous.
It's getting late, but we're nearby one of the places on my checklist so we decide to head down there: Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原) [Map]. It had a bunch of stores in the following three categories: Electronics, Anime, and Sex. And I'm not talking small shops. Eight story electronic stores, eight story anime/manga, and eight story porn and sex toy stores (didn't go in any of the last ones). I did go in a few of the Anime and Electronic stores though, and boy, could you spend a while in there. And I'm pretty sure some kids did spend all day in some of these stores, reading entire manga series quietly in the aisles. The electronic stores were huge, and it was interesting to see them succeed while Best Buy in the United States was becoming unsuccessful. I think one of the big things was they had almost everything you could buy on display (cameras, laptops, vacuums, etc), and more than plenty of employees to help you out. We also went to a gigantic used bookstore called Book Off (ブックオフコーポレーション), which made me wish I could read Japanese so I could have picked up a couple of the $3 books. Also swung through some game rooms, which weren't as packed as I thought they'd be.
After wandering the streets and towns we decided to get some food at Homemade Curry Time [Map] a Japanese-style Curry restaurant. It was the first restaurant I experienced where you ordered and paid for your meal in a vending machine, then handed the receipt to the person behind the counter who made your food. Maybe a convenience thing? Or to prevent dine-and-dashing? As a foreigner it was great, because all the buttons had photos of the food.
Finally before heading home, we went to The Hub, a chain of British pubs in Japan. [Map] If I was a homesick foreigner living in Japan, this is where I would hang out. Many of the clientele were white, and you'd hear a variety of British, Scottish, Irish, and Australian accents. Outside my friend's friends, it was rare to hear American English. This particular branch was in a very peculiar location... inside a mosaic-lined building. And there were two of them, smoking and non smoking.
After a couple of drinks, and an exhausting journey, we head home.