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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Weird, Wonderful Tokyo

We’ve had such an amazing time in Tokyo, I don’t even know where to start. Tokyo is gigantic. They say each district is like its own city and there are many, many districts. (Over twenty, I think.) If you include the surrounding metro area, it’s the most populated city in the world with around 35.6 million people. When we first got here, I was completely overwhelmed, so we just started visiting the different districts.

Shibuya is very popular with teenagers and incredibly busy. We had a coffee at one of the world’s highest grossing Starbucks overlooking one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections. This Starbucks only serves tall size drinks so patrons don’t stay too long. Shinjuku is where most of the skyscrapers and government buildings are. It’s also where the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, hang out. Apparently the Yakuza still have a lot of power in Tokyo. ??They also get tattoos, so most capsule hotels and onsens (Japanese baths) don’t allow people with tattoos to enter. Harajuku is big into fashion. Gwen Stefani described it as “a pedestrian paradise where the catwalk got its claws,” which is a great song lyric, but to be honest, I didn’t notice anything that dramatic. To me, it was just another street with expensive clothing stores. Ginza is also a classic upscale shopping area. Asakusa has historical sites and??souvenir??shops. In Akhibara we walked through huge electronics stores, played video games with geeks, and looked at bizarre hentai (anime porn). And that’s just a few of the neighborhoods here!

One morning we got up early to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest seafood market. (We decided not to attend the tuna auction because it starts before the metro starts running and taxis are very expensive.) When we first arrived, we waited in line to get a fresh sushi breakfast. Needless to say, it was delicious. After filling up on tuna, salmon, shrimp, and other creatures of the sea, we entered the actual market area. I couldn’t believe just how big it was and how much fish is sold there every single day. It was a weird experience for me. As a scuba diver, it kind of made me sad. Better go diving while you still have something to see! But, of course, I am a hypocrite because I love seafood, and from that point of view, it was fascinating to witness how much work goes into putting that sushi on my plate. In any case, the market really is a spectacle, with forklifts zooming around, men in??bandanas??shouting, blood spilling all over, and live eels swimming around in buckets.

We really have Yoshiko to thank for having such a fun time in Tokyo. She sent us a message through couchsurfing and invited us and a couple of other people over for dinner at her house. She served us a ton of delicious food:??sausage for appetizers, then really fresh salad, then a stew with chicken, then fried chicken, then grilled skewered chicken, then some kind of rice dish, then peanuts, then sweets from Lebanon, then green tea! It was crazy. ??Not to mention lots of beer and sake! ??We tried sake made from fugu (poisonous??blow fish, but the sake isn’t poisonous, obviously), then we had yummy plum sake.

The following night she took a group of us out to a delicious, cheap sushi place and then to a jazz bar with one of the best bands I’ve ever seen.??It was five guys–a drummer, guitar, bass, and two saxes. ??The saxes were incredible and the bass player was crazy. It was the first time I’ve seen a bass player steal the show! We had so much fun just hanging out and listening to this great band jam. It was one of the most fun nights of our entire trip. And then we finished our drinks and all the sudden we had to hurry out, because the metro here closes so early! ??It’s so annoying, the last train comes at like 12:30! ??That’s the one bad thing about Tokyo, the public transport is a confusing, irritating mess.

Then on a third night we went out with Yoshiko and friends to our first Asian karaoke experience. Karaoke was invented in Japan and it’s not exactly like karaoke back in America. You’re not singing in a bar full of strangers. You just rent out a small room and sing and drink with your friends in there. I was impressed with the song selection at the place we went. They had every single song I could think of. ??At first I felt stupid, but it ended up being really fun. I’d like to go again, in fact. It helped that there were two microphones, so another person could join in.

Besides going out with our new friends, our other most memorable night was when we went to the observatory on the 40th floor of the World Trade Center. We went right before sunset, so we watched the sun go down behind the Tokyo Tower, a copy of the Eiffel Tower. Once it was dark, Tokyo’s skyline was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it ever since I saw the movie Babel. For those of you who haven’t seen Babel, all of the tall buildings in Tokyo have red lights on their roofs, so the skyline is punctuated with thousands of lights that look like red fireflies flashing in the sky. You just have to see it to believe it. If the enormity of Tokyo hasn’t hit you yet, it will when you gaze out at the blinking lights surrounding you as far as you can see in every direction.

Tokyo is one of my favorite places. I think it’s my favorite city that I’ve seen so far. It’s just so diverse and fun! It’s completely bizarre, but in a good way. The people are very polite and helpful. The food is incredible. There’s so much to see and do, countless nooks and crannies filled with tiny noodle shops, it would be impossible to see everything, even if you lived here your whole life. If it weren’t so expensive, we would probably have stayed here as long as possible. I’m sure I’ll like other places in Japan, but right now I’m just sad we have to leave.

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