Saturday, August 21, 2004

First work, then tourism

Friday was all work and no play. Our upgrade project started at 6 PM, and we had to be in the office all day, so I was up at 8 AM and in the office around 10:30. We had a late lunch of sushi at a traditional Japanese restaurant, where we sat on the floor on cushions and tatami mats and ate at a low table. The sushi was excellent and not much different from what I've had in the US, except that here they hid wasabi in between the rice and the fish. Except for my legs falling asleep constantly it was a great meal. Then we stayed up all night migrating the Tokyo NetWare server data from one disk array to another. I could go into the details but who would care but me? I was back at my hotel by 6 AM for a few hours' rest.

I got up around noon and after puttering around the room for a few hours decided to get out and see the city. My friend Rich, who came to Japan in 1998 for the Winter Olympics, recommended that I see the Imperial Palace Gardens. Despite the heat of the day (cooler and less humid than the past two days but sunny and warm) I walked to and around the gardens for about two hours. The gardens are mostly just trees, grass and hills surrounding the Imperial Palace, along with some old forts, a moat, and other signs of Tokyo's past. The cicadas were out in full voice this afternoon, providing a unique soundtrack for my wanderings. I especially liked the remains of an old donjon fort and the samurai guardhouses, where the emperor's elite defenders lived when they weren't fending off attackers.

After leaving the gardens I walked south to Ginza, Tokyo's upscale shopping district. If Shinjuku is Tokyo's Times Square, then Ginza is Madison Avenue. All of the major European fashion designers have stores there, as well as more moderate retailers like Eddie Bauer, the Gap, and HMV. I found myself in the Yamaha showroom, looking at grand pianos and violins, and in several electronics stores browsing through cameras and MP3 players. At Bic Camera, one of the largest electronics shops, I looked for a long time at gadgets that I'd love to own if I had a money tree in my apartment. Electronics stores in Japan have all their wares out as display models, so you can play with your potential purchase and decide if it works for you. Consequently, there are large racks of gear and dozens of people waiting to get their hands on everything. I found a camera I might have bought were it not for the fact that I speak no Japanese and it wasn't entirely clear how I would have gone from looking at a floor model to buying the actual item. While there were salespeople milling around the store, they were outnumbered ten to one by shoppers, and there were no indications in English of the shopping process. Now that I'm back in my hotel room and I've missed my chance to snag a possible bargain, I'm consoling myself with the knowledge that I have a working camera that I like and that I probably didn't need to spend that money in anyway.

When I'd had enough of the Tokyo shopping scene, it was time to come back to the hotel. Initially I'd planned to walk back, but given the heat and my general exhaustion from hours of walking, I opted to get myself home on the subway. (When I took it on Thursday, I had either Tokyo residents or experienced Tokyo visitors with me to keep me from getting lost.) The Tokyo subway has signs in Japanese and English, and though the ticket machines aren't well marked in English, the platforms and trains are easy enough for foreigners like me to manage. Of course, I kept things easy by taking only one train, but I'm confident that if I ever come back to Tokyo, I'll be able to use the subway without any problems.

My Tokyo trip is nearly at an end. I've enjoyed myself more than I thought I would, and I'm a little upset that I don't have more time to spend here. I didn't get to the real electronics shopping neighborhood of Akihabara or see the nightlife in Roppongi. Hopefully I'll have another work excuse to come back here in the next few years. As much as I like Tokyo, it's too far to travel if I've got to sit in coach. Tomorrow morning (Sunday), I need to get up at dawn to take the bus back to Narita for my flight to Hong Kong. After all of the walking I did today, falling asleep should not be a problem, though getting up may be a struggle.

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