Trip to Tokyo-land!

August 31, 2009

Over the weekend I went to Tokyo to visit some friends. I arrived on Friday night and was met by Megumi at Shinjuku station. we went to a Japanese restaurant to grab a bite to eat and then promptly went home. i was pretty tired from a full day of work followed by a 3 hour bus ride. the next morning we got to wake up at 4:30am! ohh the joy. there was good reason for it though. we were going to Tsukiji (the largest fish market in japan). It was such a busy place even as we arrived at 6am. there were people driving carts of Styrofoam packed goods in every possible direction moving at relatively high speeds. if you weren’t careful to see where you were going you could get run over by one of these carts. outside the main building was a mountain of Styrofoam. Environmentalists of old must have been turning in their graves. as we entered the fish market, we saw two giant tunas. they were bigger than me! we saw two men trying to saw one in half on a trolly and they were having quite a difficult time. walking through the isles of the fish market, there is water everywhere from the vendors trying to keep their seafood fresh. buckets of ice being thrown into vats of water and shellfish. there were salted crabs, dried fish, live fish, live shrimp, live sea urchin (uni), large freezers of tuna. everybody was doing something and just by standing there, you can feel the energy of it all. i found it exhilarating. we didn’t get any fresh fish to eat, but we did buy a whole bag of live sea urchin to eat later.

after wandering the fish market we went outside to the "outside fish market" to find some breakfast. we ate a small shop that served sashimi-don. i had salmon sashimi-don (sake-don) and it was delicious. it was served with egg (tamago-yaki), seaweed (nori), pickled vegetables, and caviar (roe) all on rice with miso soup and cold tea on the side. i love japanese food.

After tsukigi it was around 7:30 when we left and no stores or anything else was open. it wasnt until we got back in the car that i realized how incredibly tired i was. so we went back home to ake a nap. after napping, we went to asakuza. there were SOOOO many people. they had police officers directing traffic IN the subway station. When we got out of the subway, we got some ice cream and headed for the giant lantern that is a landmark of the area. apparently there was some sort of festival happening that day because people we lined up and down the street waiting for the parade. it was near to impossible to walk anywhere. we managed to get to the lantern, wandered down the "indoor/outdoor" market place and went into the shrine. the market place was interesting because it was outdoors, but they had canopies over head to provide shade. thank goodness they did too because it was ridiculously hot that day. the shrine was beautiful with ancie nt artworks painted on the walls and ceilings of dragons and other mythical creatures. it is also customary to give a small donation when you enter and after you pray. some people couldnt get up close to the donation boxes, so they threw their donations at the box. it was a large box and you can hear when they get it in, but you can also hear when they miss. i wouldnt be surprised if people got hit in the process either.

after asakuza, we headed for ginza to see all the high class stores and window shop. there was no way i was going to buy anything on that street full of stores like louis vuitton and donna karren. we did go into a mall that i thought was really nice. the floors were slanted, and the main walkway was a sort of spiral. i wanted to take a picture, but there were distinct signs of "no photos" posted. too bad, it was quite a design.

after having had enough of window shopping, it was time to do real shopping so we headed to harajuku. it was really busy  there as well, but there were many shops having sales. i managed to buy a coupld articles of clothing myself and was very satisfied with the prices. we also got a snack since we didnt have a real lunch. we went to a little pancake cafe that made the cutest little pancakes that smiled back at you. they were really cute.

after harajuku we went back to shinjuku to meet with our other friends for a class reunion. there were only 7 of us in total, but thats ok. it was tons of fun! we went for dinner at a japanese restaurant and ate good food, had good converstation, and had an overall good time. that is, until near the end of dinner when we noticed a cockroach crawling down the wall. a private room full of girls makes a lot of noise when a giant cockroach is spotted. we ended up having our meal compensated (damn straight!) and left shortly after. of course after that we had to go karaoke so we did. 2 hours of japanese and english pop music. it was awesome! after that, we went to an arcade where there were rows and rows of claw grab games and プリクラ (purikura) machines. i hadnt taken a プリクラ photo in ages! it was fun and the girls an noted the pictures afterwards. we also got digital copies sent via email. i think that was the most fun i had since arriving here. being able to spend a night with people my own age doing "young people" things. it was great.

the next day (sunday), we woke up late, so we went to shinjuku to wander before meeting David (one of the other interns this year who works at the Hino branch) we went to lunch with him and then dragged him along shopping in shibuya. we didnt actually buy anything, but i did see a lot of interesting things that i could have bought. and would have been great gifts for people. I also went ot eh disney store. i couldnt resist (i miss being in it all the time). i did notice a large difference though. this disney store carried *useful* products. stationary, bento boxes, clothes, dishes, luggage, and  basically anything you could think of. Thats when i realized why: its because in north america, most people picture disney as a kids place and only for kids. its frowned upon for an adult to wear disney becayse it makes you seem "childish". Here, however, its *OK* for adults to love and embrace disney in everything they do because its "kawaii". i also realized that i know way too much about disney when i saw a Scrump plush doll and instantly wanted it. I had to describe to Megumi and David where it was from (lilos home made doll) and i also noticed a bear sitting on a desk and instantly identified it as michael’s bear from peter pan. after wandering shibyua, we went back to shinjuku, grabbed a coffee, went to the bathroom and just managed to catch my bus. i was really sad to go. i had such a wonderful time in tokyo thanks to Megumi (best tour guide ever)!

Anyways, next time i go, we’re going clubbing and tokyo disney. Yay! I have to say, though, i miss big city life. just being able to wander around and always have something interesting to see, being able to hop on a train or bus at almost any corner, hundreds of restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars, and arcades to choose from. I really had a good time and cant wait til next time!

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Matsumoto Bon Bon!

August 6, 2009

No it is not a candy festival.

Last Saturday was the Matsumoto Bon Bon festival. People gather in the streets and dance! It actually all very organized. First all the companies and other groups gather in their respective places in line and get ready to dance and walk for 3 hours. Music plays on a city wide sound system and everyone dances a special coordinated dance. I wish I had learned it too. I should have joined in with the Epson group! We finally found them at the end of the festival. The song was pretty catchy.

Groups of dancers

This is sort of a blurry picture, but it’s hard to capture  people when they’re moving. Anyways another part of the festival is that all the ladies and girls dress up in summer kimonos called ‘yukatas’. Some girls really went all out with hair and make-up and they looked really cute and pretty.

I also managed to get myself a yukata. It was a decent price (Found it at UNIQLO). The ones they had at the other stores had what they call ‘simple’ obi yukatas. Mine happened to be a ‘difficult’ obi yukata. Apparently many women in Japan don’t actually know how to tie an obi themselves. They often get elder women to help them and tie it for them. Me and my friend (who also didn’t know how to tie an obi) went to the internets for help and were successful! Yay! Many thanks to YouTube! This was the result:
All by myself

I think this is going to be probably one of the few Japanese ‘souvenirs’ I’ll acquire. Still it’s fun to dress up!

At the festival there were tons of small stands selling different kinds of food, toys, masks, and even some stalls with carnival-like games. We grabbed some Takoyaki and found an Okanomiyaki stand right next to it.

Takoyaki Okanomiyaki
All in all it was a fun night and the food was delicious! Asian street food is great!