Japan: part 2

I am sitting in a train from Tokyo to Nikko, so I finally have some time to write about my Japan experience. I will try to describe what I saw and found out. First: Japanese are masters of effectivity. Several times, you actually start or end up talking with a vending machine. Restaurant, tickets for train, … In sushi restaurants, food is rolling on plates of different colors and you just pick up the one you like. If you want, you can order something else too. I usually used this option to order Miso soup, which is a fish soup with vegetables. It was quite cheap (180 yen, cca $1.8, eating two of these is enough, three is impossible). And it’s a hot food, so it made my day. They don’t eat water from it, so no soup, you eat only fish and vegetables using sticks. There is not much I did not like. Lonely planet’s sight was Tokyo International Forum. In case you ever want to go to Tokyo, don’t bother visiting this building. It’s nice architecturally, but you will probably have the same experience browsing Flickr pictures of it. There are no interesting exhibitions there, two quite expensive museums. What I saw and liked: the gardens (we saw two) were wonderful. It’s Japanese minimalist style combined with nature and their interpretation of nature. Everything is taken care of, cut to various nice shapes. The first garden was in rain and there will surely be some interesting pictures. The Ghibli museum of anime was also interesting, but if you have little time and are not absolute Ghibli (a studio that created Ghost in the Shell, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke) anime fanatic, don’t bother too – the building is nice, there’s a little bit of history of animation (with actual working machines), the short movie presented there is mainly for children. There are rooms of creative authors with tons of books on architecture, botanic, gardens, weapons, castles, etc. It gives you some insight to their creative process. But that’s mainly it, I don’t think it’s worth the money and especially time, if you are not with children. They have PET bottles with ice tea (real tea, no sugar, lemon or stuff like that) in vending machines. It’s filled in by the Coca cola company. And I like it. Must see: Tokyo Metropolitan government buildings have free views over Tokyo from 45th floor (we also have some pictures). It’s a beautiful mega-city with lots of lights, LED advertisements, different shapes of buildings. It feels much different than Seoul. Recommended in night. Marvelous view. For those needing to see posh-ness, Ginza is the place to go. It is Times Square of Tokyo, but for me, it was much nicer than Times Square itself. There are lots of companies, that have one or two offices there, so they can have a Ginza address. Vogue being one of many companies like this, supporting fake posh style. There is something almost sexual about Ginza. Something completely sexual is Harajuku – a place for goth lolitas, pink dress schoolgirls in their twenties, pierced punk-metal fusion style, the only place to see black men in local shops (of course selling hip-hop style nike-adidas-baseball-cap-wear). It’s a fashion mecca and walking there and looking is lots of fun, google for it, I believe you’ll find hundreds of pictures. Putting my Porta Pros on, listening to metal music (which I don’t usually do) and walking around made my day. There’s a museum of traditional wooden paintings there (Ota Memorial museum of art). This one was very small, but very worth visiting. Hiroshige’s paintings are one of the most beautiful I ever saw, maybe it’s a reason, while Vincent van Gogh copied some of them (they were selling well at the time, so Vincent’s brother Theo had much easier time selling van Gogh’s Hiroshige replicas than Vincent’s. Irony. Anyways, I bought quite a cheap Hiroshige print in van Gogh museum in Amsterdam because of this…). He loved to paint Edo area landscapes and Edo is a region we are going to visit today. Another museum we visited was Watari-um museum of contemporary art, it was quite tiny and not worth the money, anyways, there was a little bit from the world’s most famous Slovak (Andy Warhol). I liked paintings by Keith Harring (google for it!) and Niki De Saint-Phalle. Niki’s were a little bit psychedelic and sexual. Shinjuku is world’s most busy train station. It’s crazy and huge, I have a video, will upload to my Youtube or Flickr some day. Some more findings: Japanese tourists are as common here as anywhere else in the world. I suppose, that there is a fixed percentage of people in the area, which represent a number of Japanese tourists there and it’s the same all around the world. Going to Imperial Palace garden and seeing several Japanese (no, they were not Korean) taking pictures with their huge Nikon cameras… I wrote about Ando Ryokan, where we were staying. We explored it a little bit more and there’s Japanese traditional bath on the fourth floor. The room is about the size of my bedroom in Bratislava (while our bedroom in Ando Ryokan is not much larger than my bathroom in Bratislava). A huge bubble-bath, it made our day, we felt much better after taking it. Nice furniture around. Anyways, there’s not much not to like in Japan. And the toilets. They are either traditional style (basically, our toilet stretched to a long but thin oval and put into the ground) or western style. The western ones have usually a gel for cleaning the toilet seat and more buttons than my cellphone: either bird of flushing sounds (they are embarassed to fart in public toilets), bidet, spray, in unisex toilets, there is one button for women, which is bidet from the front :). And the seat is heated. I want a toilet like this! There is something I don’t like. Free wifi is very scarce. In Seoul or New York, you had tons of non-encrypted open wifi hotspots. In Seoul, it was about one encrypted network per 10 unencrypted. Here, the ratio is inverted: one unencrypted per 10 encrypted. Even hotspots are encrypted and you need a certificate or password. Except for Harajuku, which is quite well covered by several free wifi hotspots, I was able to connect to Internet from the street maybe once or twice. The cellphone signal is also mostly low (there was almost no signal in our Ryokan) and I had to use public computer in Ryokan, which was quite busy. So uploading blogs, pictures, twittering, reading e-mail, world’s news, etc. is quite difficult for tourist. I am told, that we will have some Internet access in Kyoto. People are sometimes embarassed to speak English, some of them (happened to us once or twice), they don’t even try and escape, when entering this train, the ticket officer asked: “Do you speak Japanese?” We answered “no” of course and he said: “I don’t speak English very well” (in quite a good English, for those, who’ve been in other parts of Asia, he could safely say he speaks pretty good English). And then he sold us tickets. There is not much not to like about Japan. People are very friendly and try to help, food is great and there’s a lot to do, everything is clean and friendly. I understand why Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolitan area: it’s really a nice place to live in. Update: We came to a small town near Nikko. Staff does not speak a word of English, I wanted Internet, the receptionist started cleaning the reception desk. I was wondering what she was doing, she took her LCD, keyboard, mouse and put it on the reception desk. Then she went away (computer was still off). Then she came back with a towel and started cleaning the LCD. Then she noticed, that the computer is still off, turned it on. The ethernet cable was off (I have rich experience of repairing Japanese Windows XP computers, Kanji is not a problem for me:). I found a wifi network in a room, I need to use the fridge as a table. Juraj.

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Written by Juraj Bednár //