Thousands of Miles from Home


Ben VS The Most Populated City in the World (Part II)

On Saturday morning, Rahul and I awoke to the beautiful view of Tokyo Bay from Yusuke's apartment on the 14th floor. Due to the early morning trip to the fish market on the previous day, we took our time and met Shoko at Ueno Station in Tokyo around 12:30. Searching for a place to eat, we spotted a Hard Rock Café and decided to give it a try (since the Hard Rock Café is synonymous with world travel). It turned out to be the Hard Rock Café, Ueno-Station, Tokyo (there are two within the city, seven total in Japan), which gives you another example of the gianormous size of Tokyo. I ordered the best hamburger I have tasted since arriving in Japan, but also found some odd menu items including the largest onigiri (rice ball) I have ever seen. It was Japanese food, American style (or British style, I suppose, since the Hard Rock is from London). We were seated underneath Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land” album, which brought back some good memories. The numerous TVs were also playing old school music videos, a welcome sight.

After lunch we walked to from Ueno Station to Akihabara. Akihabara, a virtual city in itself of computer, handheld, and electronic-related stores had enough colors signs and flashing lights to distract you from the millions of people streaming by on the streets. On the way to Akihabara we walked past a large set of clothing stores dubbed “America Town” (or some such silliness). There were also three large golf stores at which I would have had to leave my father for some amount of time had he been accompanying us.

On the way to Akihabara we were struck with a sudden rainstorm, which reminded me of the odd weather patterns in Tokyo. A mere hour’s train ride away, it was sunny and warm, but here in Akihabara the rain clouds gathered and cleared in a matter of minutes. I am going to conjecture that the massive amounts of concrete cause changes in temperature and therefore climate. I know for a fact that the Tokyo weather forecast is reported in terms of city blocks instead of Tokyo as a whole. Without too much trouble we arrived on the sprawling streets of Akihabara, where Rahul and I ended up losing Shoko and instead following a very Shoko-looking Japanese person across the street and down a block until we realized our mistake.

I had a list of places to visit in Akihabara, so after regrouping and walking around the area for a while Rahul and I decided to take a look in the Radio Kaikan building near the station. The Radio Kaikan (or Radio Hall) is the proverbial “barrel of weird” in Akihabara. The first floor is an electronics store, much like every other building in the area. The second story boasts a huge collection of Stars Wars and Anime toys, figurines, and general miscellany. Need a 1:3 size replica of the Starship Enterprise? How about an army of miniature dump trucks? Then this is the place for you (weirdo). The third floor is all manga (Japanese comics). Rahul and I didn’t even attempt this because we knew it would be useless and didn’t have anything in mind we wanted to purchase. The forth floor was excellent. A DVD shop selling (for a steep price) unreleased DVDs, as well as an entire store devoted to miniature figurines and toys. There was also a gun shop, with plastic pellet replicas of a wide array of guns and pistols spanning at least a century. There didn’t appear to be a fifth floor, which I found odd but didn’t really care because of the massive treasure-trove of weirdness on the sixth. The Volks toystore, a sort of Anime doll workshop, sold doll eyes, arms, legs, clothes, and other assorted creeperies. There were assembled dolls in glass cases with just enough detail more than a little spooky. I ended up purchasing a stuffed “Cactaur” from Final Fantasy, then descending the stairs to meet everyone on the first floor. Before leaving Akihabara we stopped in the Mac Store. The place was packed, but there were some great displays of the new iMac and iPod Photo. In the back of the store was a whole wall of iPod cases, cleaners, accessories, and clothing because everyone treats their iPod like they would their child and would not the want the reflective metal surface to become tainted or scratched.

After Akihabara we took a train to Ginza, where the famous Sony building is located. Coming out of the station, Shoko said she wanted to do a little shopping and would meet us in an hour or two but immediately called us back when she spotted a monkey show. A man with a drum and a monkey were performing tricks on the side of the street, which eventually drew a large crowd. The monkey did some tricks, and then the man pulled out a set of 10-foot stilts, which I took to be a joke but sure enough the monkey climbed to the top and started walking around. All I can say is “awesome.”

The Sony building in Ginza, spanning 7 floors, is a display of the newest music, video, robotic, and gaming equipment from Sony. Rahul and I played with some excellent high-end video cameras and watched “Bring It On” on a large screen plasma TV before discovering the Aibo robotic dog “kennel.” My greatest accomplishment to date in Japan is commanding the robotic dog to dance in Japanese. I was both shocked and awed. When I first heard about the Aibo I was skeptical, but after playing with the dogs for a while I can see why people would enjoy having a robotic pet in their house. If I had the choice, I would pick Honda’s ASIMO as long as it didn’t sleep in my bed or hide behind doors to scare me. The last floor of the Sony Building was all Playstations, but to tell the truth I’ve mostly lost interest which is a shame because as a kid I could imagine nothing better than spending all day in front of a game (ideally getting paid for doing so).

After the Sony Building, Shoko, Shun, Mai, Yusuke’s mother, Rahul, and I regrouped and went to a coffee shop for some refreshment. The strangest part about the coffee shop, named “Coffee Time” or something similar, was the distinct lack of coffee on the menu. You could order flavor water, flavor milk, or hot chocolate, but nothing made from the coffee bean (as the name of the shop would lead you to believe). I was waiting for a call from the Rotary kids, so after the “coffee” shop Rahul and I decided to grab some dinner. About halfway through the meal Anna messages me saying we should come to Shibuya Station in an hour. Rahul and I bid farewell to everyone, and caught the train from Ginza to Shibuya.

It was a windy evening. After freezing for a while at the Shibuya main exit, we walked around trying to pick foreign faces out of the sea of Japanese in front of the station. I spotted someone who looked exactly like Anna, before finding the real Anna talking with a group of Rotary kids near the middle of the square. Gabe (in a t-shirt), Bhaveen, Ana, and Dimitri (who I had not met but was also from Brazil) were also there, talking about their Rotary meeting during the day. They immediately gave Rahul and I fistfuls of candy (byproducts of any Rotary meeting) and told/partially showed us the Japanese dance they learned during the day. After that, due to dropping temperatures, we found a small coffee shop (this one actually sold coffee) and started a heated game of Uno (the international card game). When our candy and drinks ran out, Dimitri asked me if I had ever been to see Tokyo Tower. I said no, and he whipped out 7 tickets to the Tower that he received as a gift from a Rotary member. It was a little after 9 o’ clock, and the tower closed at 10, but being kids were confident in our ability to get there in time.

We rolled into Roppongi Station about 9:30, where Dimitri and Ana thought they knew which way to go for the tower (Tokyo Tower is the largest structure in Tokyo, but amazingly impossible to see from Roppongi Station). About 9:40 we decided we should run, with Tokyo Tower visible in the distance. We were all carrying bags, which made running difficult, so Rahul brought out the video camera to catch the whole event on tape. We came to the base of the Tower about 9:55, where the guard on duty told us that the Tower had already closed, and there would be no more elevators to the top. Devastated, we pleased with him in Japanese (Gabe fake cried) and showed him our already purchased tickets and watches, reading 9:55. The two An(n)a’s finally broke down and told him that we were all leaving the country the following day (which was partially true, Rahul and I would be going back home) and that this was our last night to see Tokyo Tower. That convinced him, and he escorted us in a special elevator ride (the second fastest elevator in the world) to the top of the Tower. There were still people there (just as I suspected), and all of us, overjoyed with our good luck, snapped photos and laughed for a few minutes before taking the elevator back to ground level. There is something to be said for being on time, but cutting it that close makes for a much better story.

After Tokyo tower we walked back to the station where Dimitri said goodbye for the evening. Still having some time to kill, Gabe, Rahul, Anna, Ana, and I walked around Shinjuku where I subsequently lost my train ticket back to Yusuke’s house to a gust of wind. I could have purchased another, but that was a seven-dollar gust of wind and I wasn’t going to let my ticket get away that easily. I watched it blow underneath some parked taxis and into the busy street,. It was then hit by a massive truck after which I couldn’t see where it went. I finally spotted the ticket and (stupidly) dashed into the street where I realized picking up small pieces of paper from flat surfaces is difficult, and subsequently dragged the ticket back to the curb. Alive, laughing, and $7 richer we returned to the station. I said goodbye to Anna and Gabe, then got on a train with Rahul and Ana back to Tokyo Station.

Looking at a map on the train, which was packed around midnight, we met a Japanese guy who asked us if we knew where we were going. At first I thought he was drunk, because his friends and girlfriend kept hitting him over the head with newspapers and a flower, but we later realized he was just a cool guy trying to speak English. His friends told us where to go, and we had a little chat before Ana got off the train at her stop.

Back at Tokyo Station, Rahul and I started walking to our train on the Keiyo Line. We spotted other people running, and decided we should as well. Dashing through the partially deserted Tokyo station, we arrived at our train minutes before the doors shut. Little did we know it was the last train for the evening, and otherwise we’d be stuck at the station overnight (Ana caught her train with only one minute to spare, and Gabe’s train stopped at the station before his house and he had to walk the rest of the way).

After the train ride and sufficiently exhausted, Rahul and I spotted Yusuke coming to meet us at the steps of his apartment building. We had beaten the train system, talked our way up Tokyo Tower, and made it home in one piece.

The next day, Rahul and I awoke late in the morning to another beautiful day and ate some breakfast prepared by Yusuke’s mother. Yusuke burned me the new Jack Johnson CD, and a different Japanese band for Rahul. Yusuke’s mother took us to Tokyo Station, where we said goodbye and went on our own to see the Emperor’s Palace. We stopped for some lunch due to a freak snowstorm (Tokyo weather will always surprise you) in a nearby restaurant with a nice view. After lunch we got a call from Gabe, and decided to go to the Sunshine 60 Building instead of the Emperor’s Palace due to the cold weather. The Sunshine 60 Building, in Ikebukuro, is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo (can you guess how many floors it has?). Inside (and underground) is a massive shopping complex, planetarium, and aquarium. Rahul and I made a quick stop at a gaming center where huge crows of kids were battling each other in Tekken 5 (I was not even aware it had been released). The consoles were set back to back; so one player could battle the challenger sitting on the opposite side. Gabe showed up later, and we spent some time in Tokyu Hands browsing costumes, funny gifts, and other crazy items before it was time to meet Shoko back at the Station.

We bid farewell to Gabe (it was sad to say goodbye to all the cool kids from Tokyo) and caught a train to Tokyo Station. Rahul got his bag from a coin locker, and we said goodbye after spending a very awesome weekend together. It was great to hear about all the things he had been doing in Fukuoka (check out the blog), and perhaps I’ll see him again before we return to the States.

Shoko, Mai, Shun, and I purchased some bentos (lunch boxes for the train ride home) and caught the Shinkansen back to Okayama, and then a train to Tamano.
In retrospect, it’s hard to accurately describe Tokyo in any sort of concise manner. It’s so massive and sprawling, and I didn’t spend nearly enough time to even get a taste of all it has to offer. Regardless, it was wonderful to meet new kids from all over the world, Japan and elsewhere, and I hope it won’t be the last time I see them.


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