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September 20, 2006

arrival in tokyo

The great backtrack has occurred! As per my itinerary, I'm returning to asia to see friends in japan before heading to nepal in time for peak trekking season in october. It's a big backtrack, with a 6-hour time change, but its worth it to me. (after japan the rest of my trip will proceed in a roughly westward fashion around the world.)

After 3 connecting plane flights from istanbul via dubai and osaka, I am now happily ensconced at my friend dave's tokyo apartment.

The first two flights were on emirates, which was nice (although the first flight was on a fairly tatty old boeing, the second one was the more usual high quality brand-new airbus), and although dubai airport at 1am was filled with packs of jetlagged travellers wandering dazed through the airport or sleeping on the floor, osaka was a haven of peace, order, and lots of great ways to spend yen killing time at the airport.

During my osaka layover, within 60 minutes of arrival at osaka I had gotten crisp new yen bills from the atm, eaten a delicious unagi and rice dinner with a draft kirin, and a 15 minute head-and-shoulder massage that did wonders for my own jetlag. Once I arrived in Tokyo, Dave met me at the airport and we immediately began to adjust to my new timezone by staying out until almost 3am drinking and eating in local neighborhood spots.

Ah, back in the land of am/pm minimarkets (which i haven't seen at home in a long time, and the japanese ones use the cooler 80s logo anyways), 7-11s (now evidently merged with a really confusing entity called "seven & i holdings", which also owns denny's japan, and according to their org chart, a bunch of other japanese companies as well -- check our their corporate synergy strategy diagram... it gives me corporate strategy powerpoint shudders just to look at it.),

We've acquired tickets to an all-day sumo match tomorrow, which promises to be top fun. In addition, while I wait for my India visa to clear (my next destination). i'll make a short trip to hiroshima, or possibly check out Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea just to do something completely different and indulge my occasional western culture fix.

September 21, 2006

our day of sumo wrestling

If you haven't been to one before, an all-day sumo tournament in japan is quite an impressive thing. as part of the 15-day 2006 September Sumo Tournament, there was sumo wrestling all day on Thursday at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

dave had purchased tickets to a 2-person "box seat" in the stadium. what this gets you is two pillows on a slightly raised carpeted floor surrounded by a low metal rail. our box was actually quite roomy, since it was normally a 4-person box that was presumably made a 2-person box so it would sell more quickly (since it was near the back of the first level). normally the 4-person boxes have just enough room for 4 people to sit crosslegged on the pillows).

we arrived at around 11am, and the stadium had only around 20-30 spectators in it. the early matches were much faster than the usual sumo matches, featuring back-to-back wrestling matches with none of the usual salt throwing and false starts that mark televised sumo matches (unranked sumo wrestlers haven't yet earned the right to perform these ceremonies). this meant it was a great way to get familiar with the different holds and moves in sumo.

after a leisurely lunch that was delivered to us in our box (along with a souvenir set of ceramic cups with wrestler's names printed on them), we hung out, watched wrestling, and i surfed the web a bit with their free wi-fi on my palmtop computer. wandering around the stadium, i even ran into a few sumo wrestlers.

the main event began at 4pm, where the highest-ranked wrestlers began matchups against each other, and the crowd really began to fill up in the stadium. the wrestlers indulged in elaborate salt-throwing moves and played up to the audience, along with the drunken shouts of hardcore sumo fans in the seats, this was a lot livelier than i would have believed possible (having only watched sumo on cable tv before, which doesn't even compare to seeing it in person). if i had to recommend going to an all-day sumo wrestling event or attending a japanese baseball game (which i did on a previous visit to japan), i would definitely go to the sumo wrestling game first as the quintessential japanese sports experience. (but go to the baseball game afterwards, those are great fun).

celebrity gossip sidenote for allyson and jess: while we didn't notice any celebrity fuss at the sumo event, it turns out sharon stone was also watching the sumo wrestling with us!

September 22, 2006

camera fixed!

in case you've just tuned in and were wondering why the quality of my photos hasn't been that great, the answer is (i hope) that my normally delightful 7-megapixel canon powershot sd550 has been broken since my mishap in england.

during our trip to akihabara this afternoon to explore tokyo's electronic gadget stores, dave and i decided to take my camera to Yodobashi Camera (a giant camera store in akihabara -- you can't miss it) to see if it could be repaired.

i was expecting that this would be either a.) impossible to repair, since nobody fixes electronics anymore, they just buy new stuff or b.) parts would need to be ordered, which would take weeks, since no repair shops seem to stock parts anymore.

to my great surprise, the electronics store did have a repair counter, and after inspecting my camera and calling canon to confirm their diagnosis, i was informed that my lens assembly would have to be replaced in the camera, and that they had the part in stock and it would take 2 hours and $120 to repair.

i quickly agreed, and now my camera is working once more, so i can now take much better photos for (hopefully) the remainder of my trip! plus they cleaned all the annoying lint that had crept inside my camera's viewfinder, so i think my camera's had a full service as well the lens mechanism repair.

tokyo electronics stores rule -- this is the fastest and best repair that i've had done on any gadget i've ever owned.

September 24, 2006

my visit to trader vic's tokyo

one of the things i had to do as part of my tour of the world's trader vic's was to visit the tokyo trader vic's at the swank new otani hotel.

after taking the subway over to the akasaka-mitsuke station and emerging into the completely surreal black-light space scene ceiling of the station, i knew i was on the track of something good. a short walk over the bridge to the new otani, and some navigation going from bowing door staff to more bowing door staff, i made it to the front entrance of trader vic's (on the 4th floor, if you'd like to know).

after settling down to my traditional samon fogcutter and crab rangoon while i studied the guidebooks for my next two countries, india and nepal, i asked to say hi to the local GM of the tokyo trader vic's. it turned out he was on the premises, and we had a great chat and overall i received an exceptionally warm reception. larry runs an absolute top-notch TV's -- for fellow trader vic's enthusiasts, you should know that it's very much in the style of the beverly hills trader vic's with low ceilings decorated with classic polynesian items and the beautifully thatched ceiling, room after room after room within the bar/restaurant, not to mention the excellent bar itself!

one of the reasons behind my plan to visit all of these trader vic's, besides the fun of enjoying excellent drinks, food, and service, is that they provide a sort of respite from the occasionally trying times of my trip. it's an easy hour of relaxation that allows me to be on familiar ground for a bit and relax, which is more valuable than you might think when you've been travelling away from home for 7 months. it definitely works for me -- it was a great moment to relax between the fast pace of tokyo, and the intensity of india.

trader vic's tokyo is my pick for my favorite overseas trader vic's i've encountered so far. and for the next trader vic's on my list? trader vic's dubai #1 and trader vic's dubai #2!

September 25, 2006

commuting to disneyland

i've been tempted several times during my trip to visit overseas disneyland parks -- i almost made it out tohong kong disneyland when i was over in china, and if i'd stayed in france i might have gone to eurodisney.

but finally in japan i made up my mind -- i am going to finally visit tokyo disneyland, dammit!

"but wait!" you say, "what about all the excellent cultural opportunities you're spurning in order to go to disneyland. first of all, i've been to tokyo twice before, so i feel less pressure to go see "the main sights" that are on the tourist checklist (i checked off most of them a few years back), and more free to just wander wherever strikes my fancy. secondly, i think that visiting a leisure area (even a disney one) in another country actually gives you a large insight into that country by seeing how people play and enjoy their leisure time. and finally, having worked at walt disney imagineering in the past on designing theme park rides (a really fun job, btw), i'd always been curious about tokyo disneyland.

since there are now two disney theme parks in japan, the original tokyo disneyland, and tokyo disneysea, i read through the listings of the rides in both parks and decided to visit tokyo disneysea (it tends to feature the more "fast action" rides like tower of terror). plus, it's new!

so after roughly 90-minute morning train ride from tokyo to the theme park, where i shared the ride with suit-and-tie wearing locals on their morning commute to work, while i commuted to my day at disneyland, the doors opened at the JR Maihama station and I entered the world of disney, tokyo-style.

it's not exactly a regular disney park -- while disney imagineering designs the park and the rides, the park itself is actually owned and operated by a company called "oriental land company". this might explain some of the surprising un-disney-like inconsistencies, like the way the signs are in english-first japanese-second (why?), but the park staff only speak japanese for the most part.

a few off-the-cuff impressions:
1.) park signs and labelling are in both english and japanese -- handy!
2.) park "cast members" only speak japanese for the most part -- tricky, especially when they're trying to tell me "here's how to secure the safety bar on this ride."
3.) the park restaurants sell beer and wine -- sweet!
4.) all the voiceovers in the rides are in japanese only -- confusing! (for me)
5.) nobody builds theme parks (and rides) like disney, especially with their attention to detail. i loved my visits to wallabi world and jerudong park on this trip, but tokyo disneysea beat them hands-down.

thanks to the fastpass system (where you register for a time to come to the ride and skip the long lines!) i was able to visit every ride i wanted to in the park, ran around like crazy checking everything out, and generally had a great time fooling around at the park. if you'd like to see my photos from that day, here they are.

let's hear it for theme parks... nothing like a day of total theme park immersion to refresh a traveller on a long trip!

About Japan

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to gone living in the Japan category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

International Waters is the previous category.

Macau is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.