Britt’s Japan Journal: Questions and Misconceptions

Well I think that it’s about time that I participated in one of the great blogging traditions of cross linking to the blog of someone I have no idea who they are. Anyway, I found this post while randomly jumping through Blogger and found it highly amusing: Questions and Misconceptions

私の兄弟は東京を訪問し損った。

Well, I can’t pretend that I’m not a little bit disappointed. My brothers Paul and Joseph are at this very minute flying somewhere over eastern Europe, winging their way to the UK. They’ll be landing at Heathrow at about 4pm GMT. When I loaded up the old browser this morning, I noticed that Joe’s blog has had an update. Checking to see if he may have put up a last minute goodbye message, I came across this post.

I was shocked to say the least. After spending a good deal of my time, helping him plan an all nighter trip into Tokyo City itself, it seems that the nay-sayers have poisoned the well of 日本の旅行. He’s wussed out (or as one of my colleagues here, Paul Muldoon, put it “he girled out”, how delightfully Scottish). So one of my best opportunities to vicariously visit the Land of the Rising Sun and the Great Eastern Capital has slipped silently away…

Yes, we’re not dead yet….

As Heather has pointed out to me (thanks Heather :-), It has been quite a long time since my last entry into the blog, but something has happened that has made writing much easier. We have bought a laptop for use in the UK for both my and Annmarie’s studying and for doing other things like looking for work (which is something I am currently doing properly) etc. For those who might be interested it’s a Compaq Presario 2100. So this now means that I can write up entries before hand and then upload them onto the web when I next connect to the net (the internet café nearby has facilities for bringing in your own laptop and connecting that to the net).

We are currently holed up in sunny Glasgow (the friendly city is the official catch line I believe). We are staying in what should be our last fancy hotel for some time (the Radisson SAS, I highly recommend it, especially the breakfast buffet) as we are currently looking for somewhere more permanent. We have looked around for a 2 bedroom flat in our perceived price range, but being the snobs that we are, we are now looking for 1 bedroom flats so we can be in the west end (there‘s just a better class of people there). It now looks like Annmarie will not be working for the short term (it‘s going to take longer than we originally thought for it to get settled), so we have dicided to change our plans and head up north. Annmarie thinks Londoners are all too sullen and grumpy anyway, and thinks that the Scottish seem much cheerier in general. So now it looks like I am looking for proper daytime work in the country of my birth.

But, of course, everone is probably more interested in the previous couple months travel. The previous entries were all rushed attempts at getting something up, so maybe I should just turn the clock back to the beginning and recap the whole trip…

Tokyo

Tokyo was everything that the clichés make it out to be. It was bewildering, energetic, chaotic, enormous yet full of a strange sense of calm and tranquillity. It sometimes felt like those odd little bits of film you see occasionally where a single figure sits still amongst a bustling crown with the film sped up. Other times it just felt like we were back home, that there was no pressure of the largest city on earth.

Of course our trip there was not without drama (what journey to somewhere as exotic as the orient would be devoid of such things). Oddly enough, it seemed that most of our problems came from following the standard tourist travel advice (combined with not realising that when your on holiday, other people have weekends).

When we arrived in Narita airport, we were of course tired (flying with 2 kids is hard work, even when they behave) and in a foreign land. We were also over half an hour behind schedule. Once we got through customs (the most thorough and detailed customs check of the whole trip) and put our bigger bags into storage at the airport, we needed to get to our hotel.

It wasn’t actually a hotel though, it was a actually a nice, budget version of a traditional Japanese inn called a “ryokan”. This is a word that we seem to never have pronounced correctly once in the whole time we stayed in Japan. Every time we told someone we were staying in a ryokan, we got strange, confused looks till we changed it to “small hotel” then we got looks of relief and recognition.

Anyway, we were in Narita airport, with bags safely stowed. I had already planned that we catch a train called the Narita Express (or the limited express, depending on times) from a station located conveniently under the terminal, out to a station in Ueno, from where we would switch deftly to a subway train on the Oedo line, and travel three stops to the neighbourhood in which our accommodation was located then walk, probably for only maybe five to ten minutes to arrive at our destination. As it happens, we now know that had we followed this course, I would have been just about right with map reading for the final walk aside.

Instead, Annmarie just wanted to get there as quickly as possible…

Greetings from Zurich

Hello all. I’ve finally managed to get to another web terminal to make another update. We have left Tokyo (to much dissapointment by all) and are now in Zurich. It’s a pity that I haven’t been able to write more in this journal, but who would have thought that traveling through and about foreign cities with two small kids would have been such hard work!

The rest of the Tokyo stay was as fantastic as the first half. Zurich has a tough job to impress us after Tokyo. The ramen noodle bar I finally found was just fantastic and I want to return to Tokyo just to have more noodles. We still have 20,000¥ left over, but we are already planning for a two week stopover on our way back (some talk has even been made of living there in the future).

We managed to see quite a few of the main Tokyo city centres (Shinjuku, Ueno, Hongo, Akihabara, Tochome and a couple of others, we of course didn’t get to any of the nightlife spots like Roppongi). We also did a couple of touristy things like ride on the Big O. The Big O is a giant ferris wheel that takes 15 minutes to do one round. It’s in the Tokyo dome plaza. Tokyo dome is a giant baseball stadium, amusement park, shopping centre and hotel all in one. We think that they may have played some of the world cup soccer there, but I can’t really remember. The view from the top of the Big O was incredible, we went up at night and the lights just went on for ever, building and sky scrapers went to the horizon.

Akihabara was quite amazing too. For those who don’t know, Tokyo seems to be full of small regions that contain shops dedicated to certain types of shopping (although you can find those shops in other, more general areas). So there is a bookshop district, a sporting goods district, and Akihabara is the electronics district (so of course I was honour bound to visit). It was quite amazing. The place was at least 3-4 times the size of rundle mall, and looked kinda like the royal show, but with a lot more neon and each stall being a 4-8 story building. The variety and quantity of electronics goods was simply astounding. This was the point in time that I started to really want to live in Tokyo. I also found out that the REALLY cool phones (foma) that I wanted to get were not that expensive, but were all hard wired to be used only through DoCoMo (a Japanese telco) so no sim cards. That means that if I want one…

The train ride back out to the airport was an eye opener too. The ride was an express that took about 57 minutes and about 47 minutes of it was through city (not suburbs but tall buildings). It really struck home just how big the place really is. Narita airport on the way out was stunningly busy but the people at JAL scooped us out of the crowd and wisked us through checkin, even helping with bags and kids. JAL seem to be a really wonderful airline. The flight to Zurich would have been really great if a certain small boy had actually taken a nap during the flight and not spent the final 40 minutes screaming and crying. But oh well, you can’t get a perfect trip on our budget.

Landing in Zurich was equally simple, passport checks took about 30 seconds for all of us and we out onto the terminal in no time at all where we were met by Annmarie’s brother Justin (very helpful with all the bags and all). We got to the hotel easy (a shuttle bus called the Ben-Bus) and settled in fine.

Zurich has been very lovely and picturesque. The food here is heavier, but generally of good quality, but also a bit more expensive than Tokyo. We took a train up the mountain to a place called Uetliburg and saw some snow (Willow has been pining to see snow ever since we left Adelaide). The snow was fun and Willow was quite sorry when we had to go back to the city. Unfortnately, the day was a little bit cloudy, so we didn’t get to see all the alps.

Saturday we arranged to rent a car since catching a train with 10 bags and the kids didn’t sound like fun to us. It looked like it was going to be a manual, since that was the only station wagon they had left, but when we arrived at the car rental place, the guy said that an automatic had been returned and I could have that one if I liked, but it was a little bit more expensive. I said yes since both myself and Annmarie would probably be more comfortable with a auto. Then I asked what kind of a car it was, and he tells me it is a Saab (Woo Hoo). So today we are driving to Lucurn in a Saab.

Anyway, I’d better get back and get ready to go (we want to leave early today). Hope everyone back in Australia is doing well. I’ll write more soon.

Cheers
Damien

Greetings from Tokyo

Hello to everyone back home in Australia (and to those ahead in Europe).

Tokyo is fantastic, and language barriers aside, myself and Annmarie have been wondering if we may have chosen the wrong city to live in for a year. In any case, we are already planning to save up to stay here for a couple of weeks on our way back. The food is fantastic, the city is awe inspiring and the people are wonderful (at least we think they are, they could all be insulting us to our faces and we would never know…). The whole place is so neat and orderly.

We have been wondering about all the stories we have heard of Tokyo being expensive, we are using well under what we budgeted and are eating some great food. I put it down to the fact that we are eating local and avoiding the obvious touristy locations and fancier restraunts. Also we are staying in a ryokan (more traditional inn, kinda more a hostel than a hotel) and we are staying just next to Tokyo University, so maye the area caters to students. But then again, prices in the department stores seem not to different to back in Oz. Our big problem with food is actually that the Japanese do everything too well. Even dounuts are fantastic, anyone coming here has to try `Mister Donut`, amazing! We think we might get rich if we can find out how they make them and open a shop in Oz. The local burger places are great too (Mos Burger for one). Everything is fresh and light and nothing is oily. Local food is cheap and delicious (oishii desu) too.

Unfortunately, my more detailed account of our travels was destroyed by a system crash on this Japanese language Power Mac, 45 minutes of writing down the tube. So this little update will have to do for now. I`ll try to get more up soon.

Anyway, it`s getting a bit late and I`m out on my own looking for a ramen noodle bar for dinner (Annmarie is exausted and had dinner in with the kids), so until next time, cya all.