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(This is the second part of my series on my trip to Japan. Be sure to go back and read the first one.)


In 東京 (Tôkyô), as with everywhere else I traveled, I didn't get to see half the places I would've liked to. I spent time in 上野 (Ueno), 秋葉原 (Akihabara), 浅草 (Asakusa), 渋谷 (Shibuya), and お台場 (Odaiba); about a day in each. The first three are in the northeast pretty close to each other. I mostly went window shopping here, in 電気街 (Electric Town, Akihabara) and elsewhere. And I went to 国立西洋美術館 (the National Museum of Western Art) in 上野公園. They had a fine collection of Rodin, Degas, Monet, and Manet among others. I also swung by 東京国立博物館 (the Tôkyô Metropolitan Museum[1]) but didn't go to any exhibits since they seemed a bit pricey at the time.

渋谷 is on the west side just south of 代々木公園 (Yoyogi Park) and 原宿 (Harakuju) which divide it from 新宿 (Shinjuku), just north of 恵比寿 (Ebisu), and a good bit west of 六本木 (Roppongi) and 赤坂 (Akasaka). The whole west side is a collection of commercial, entertainment, and nightlife districts. 新宿 is the neighborhood of old and still where a lot of the older more upscale crowd go. 六本木 is all about the nightlife, and is where most of the embassies are so it's where most of the foreigners hang out in town. 渋谷 however is where the young go to see and be seen. Anyone over thirty is uncommon and subtly shoed off to 新宿, and all the twenty-somethings are dressed in their finest and flashiest. Every sidewalk has four-way crosswalks where instead of cycling through, they just cut all the streets and pedestrians flood the intersection from every direction.

In 渋谷 I did a lot of window shopping and people watching. I also hit たばこと塩の博物館 (the Tobacco and Salt Museum), 電力館 (Tepco Electric Energy Museum), and a few restaurants. It was strange; in 渋谷 I was the most welcomed and the most rejected of everywhere in 東京. On sidewalks all throughout Japan they have greeters who hand out flyers or try to usher you into stores. Before 渋谷 they'd always subtly skipped over me, but in 渋谷 I was just another customer, just another person. It was also the first place where I'd felt some measure of hostility from a crowd for being a foreigner, the only place really looking back.

And, notably, it was the only place I was rejected from a restaurant for being foreign. There was this one restaurant I was looking for, see. And though I searched the area extensively, I couldn't find it; all I could find is this other restaurant exactly where the one I was looking for was supposed to be. So, hungry and figuring what the hell, I decided to try it out. When I went in the woman behind the counter said something to me. I didn't quite catch it but figured it was something to the effect of "how many in your party?" so I gestured for one; my Japanese hadn't quite kicked on yet so I was still in my struggling phase. She asked if I understood Japanese, so I said I understood a little bit. Thence began a long discussion where she was trying to explain to me something I couldn't understand. The only word of English she knew was "whole", which she wrote on a sheet of paper and which I've come to learn means something different in Japanese than English, something more specific. So far as I can tell, the reason I couldn't understand her was that she was being excruciatingly polite about it, which in Japanese means being excruciatingly vague. So instead of saying something like "foreigners aren't allowed" which I would have understood, she was saying things like "this is a special restaurant". The exact moment I figured out what she must be insinuating she gave up all hope whatsoever and with the universal crossed forearms gesture said, "だめです": "it's bad/broken".

I also saw the Tôkyô Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade when I was in 渋谷. I was somewhat surprised to encounter it; from what I know of Japanese culture, homosexuality isn't very accepted, but nonetheless there it was. It was interesting to see people's reactions. Many of the youths were cheering them on, but those few adults who'd managed to stick around were determinedly going elsewhere with faces twisted in expressions as close to rampant unbridled fury as you'll ever get from the Japanese. I found the side-by-side dichotomy intriguing and a bit enlightening.

お台場 is a manmade island to the southeast in Tôkyô Bay which in the days of Matthew Perry was flanked with cannon to protect the bay; a resort island, it houses 大観覧車 one of the world's largest ferris wheels and connects to southern 東京 (circa 田町 Tamachi) via レインボー橋 (the Rainbow Bridge). I took the 水上バス (water/sea bus) down from 浅草 to get a view of the bay and the shores along the way. I got down there too late to walk back across the レインボー橋, but had enough time to go hit my main target 大江戸温泉物語 (Ôedo Onsen Monogatari). For those who don't know, an onsen is a public bathing hot springs resort where the term "resort" is used loosely. 大江戸温泉物語, however, definitely deserves the appellation. After taking off your shoes and waiting in line to check in, they give you a 浴衣 (yukata, a lightweight kimono) which you change into in the changing room before heading off to the promenade. The promenade, where you're free to stay as long as you like, is lined with shops for souvenirs and food all done up in traditional wooden style. When they give you your yukata they also give you a little device with a coiled wristband that has the key for your clothing locker and has a barcode used by all the shops for payment (which you resolve on your way out) so you needn't bring your wallet beyond the dressing room. Beyond the promenade are the springs/baths. Each of the baths has a thermometer to tell how hot it is. On the men's side they had about six indoors and two outdoors. They also have rooms for massages (reservation required) and a mud bath for feet (coed), neither of which I had a chance to see.

お台場 has its own private subway system for local traveling which hooks up with one of the JR stations on the mainland after crossing the レインボー橋. After leaving the onsen, cool and refreshed, nighttime bay winds brushing the island, I headed off to catch the last train home. I picked an out-of-the-way seat from which to view the night lights on my trip to JR. Shortly after getting on, a pair of Japanese girls came and sat across from me in the booth. There were plenty of seats available elsewhere, but from the looks they'd occasionally cast, they'd meant to sit by the cute foreigner. Throughout my day in お台場 most everyone I'd seen were couples out for a romantic time together, though these two were alone together. They didn't seem to be on a date, and not quite a girl's night out either, though something closer to the latter than the former. The booth seating was very narrow knee-wise. The girl acrosst from me didn't mind when our knees touched and made no efforts to avoid it and so, watching the bright seaside lights, the cars down below, and the turning of the ferris wheel with the quiet of looking out over a city of night, neither did I.

[1] I'm not sure about the Japanese there, which is more like "Tôkyô National Museum".

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June 2017

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