Finishing Up Tokyo

It’s been over a month since we left Tokyo. Between then and now, we’ve been to Hong Kong, London, Paris, Aberdeen (Scotland), and now New York City. I must admit to suffering from a little travel fatigue. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, however, I finally have some time to rest and catch up and post about our circumnavigation of Earth. This should be the last post on Tokyo, a summary of the other things that we did that I haven’t posted yet. Here goes…

Our Hotel, the Subway, Tokyo Game Show

Our hotel was located in an area called Shiodome, which is more of a “downtown” in terms of business rather than tourism. Again, japan-guide.com has an excellent overview of the place, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. Still, our hotel was pretty close to Shimbashi station, one of the major train stations in Tokyo.

Whoaaaa
Our hotel was wayyyyyyy up near the top of this building.
Tokyo Tower
View of the Tokyo Tower from the hotel lobby.

Tokyo’s subway has a reputation for being one of the cleanest and most efficient subway systems in the world. Having now traveled on various subways from California to London, I can say that this reputation is well-deserved. The seats are comfortable and the cars are clean. There are no signs telling people not to eat on trains, and people do, and they clean up after themselves (not that they make a huge mess to begin with). There is no graffiti or other defacing of public property.

Do Not Rush
Do not rush, mofo.

Having such a clean subway to ride on was a delight and much appreciated during the relatively long trip to Makuhari Messe, the site of the Tokyo Game Show. As I mentioned before, I’ve read about the TGS for years and it was unbelievable to actually participate in it. Unfortunately, most events and activities were in Japanese only and I was not able to immerse myself as much as I would have liked. It was still fun, though, and we scored a number of promotional items, including a Sega tote bag!

Entering TGS 2012
Wow, can’t believe I’m here!
Super Crowded
A sea of people.

Ferry to Odaiba

Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. On this day we took the ferry from Asakusa to Odaiba, sailing along the Sumida River and passing under many, many bridges. We even passed by the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Of course, the most famous bridge we passed under was the Rainbow Bridge.

Ferry to Odaiba
The ferry to Odaiba.
Tsukiji
Passing by the famous Tsukiji Fish Market.
Rainbow Bridge
Within sight of the Rainbow Bridge.

Odaiba at Night

We spent the entire afternoon and early evening on the island. After dinner, we stopped by a retro arcade and played games like Sega’s Outrun. There were also table-top versions of Namco classics like Pac-man and Galaga. When we went back outside, the stunning night view of the Rainbow Bridge greeted us.

The Rainbow Bridge at Night
The Rainbow Bridge at night.
The Rainbow Bridge at Night
A closer look.

It was getting late so we made our way back to the hotel, but we wanted to come back to ride the ferris wheel, which we did a few days later.

On the Rainbow Bridge
On the Rainbow Bridge this time, riding the Yurikamome line.
Daikanransha Ferris Wheel
One of the biggest ferris wheels in the world.
Viewed from Below
Viewed from below.

Goodbye

I have always wanted to go to Japan, especially Tokyo. I finally got my wish, and it was everything I had hoped for. We didn’t see everything on the list, but that just leaves something to do for next time. Until then, I shall cherish these memories and photos. Sayonara!

Goodbye!
Until next time!

I Love Sega

Ever since my father bought me my first video game system, the Sega Master System, I have been a fan of Sega. While still a child living in Hong Kong, I would write letters to Sega of America telling them how much I loved them, and they would actually respond and send me the latest catalog.

Once I moved to the United States, my PAL SMS wouldn’t work, so I traded it in (yes, the guy at the electronics store actually wanted my PAL system) for an NTSC model. I continued to contact the company. I would call 1-800-USA-SEGA and request Helpful Hints sheets (basically what the reps read off of when gamers called in for game help), and a few days later I would get them in the mail. I still have them all, and perhaps will scan and post them someday.

Then, Sega Genesis came out, and of course I had to have it. Later, it was the Sega CD. Those days of the early 1990s definitely have a soft spot in my heart.

Today, Sega no longer makes consoles, but I am still a fan. I get excited when I see the Sega logo, still the same as the one on my very first video game system. Imagine how excited I was when I saw my first Sega amusement center in Akihabara. It seems Sega today makes a lot of amusement machines, just as they always have, but in a different form. They are less video game, and more skill-game such as those cranes that pick up stuffed animals or other prizes. I was perfectly happy pumping 100-yen coins into those machines.

Later on in Tokyo, we went to the Tokyo Game Show. Of course, Sega had one of the largest booths, showing off their latest games such as Yakuza 5. If only I spoke Japanese!

Sega at Tokyo Game Show

I should find my old catalogs (found some) and post them here, especially the one I received when I still lived in Hong Kong. For now, enjoy these photos of Sega centers in Tokyo. Long live Sega!

Eating in Tokyo

Eating in Tokyo was a delight. Japanese cuisine, as well as Japanese interpretations of foreign cuisine, really appeals to me. It’s about the presentation, the meticulousness and formality of it. There is also the variety, even within a single meal. Eating a bento is an adventure. Which part do I eat first? Or perhaps I should eat it out of order? The possibilities are endless.

Pulling Off Mussel Meat

Was at the salad bar in Macy’s the Cellar today and lined up behind a lady picking the meat off of the mussels and leaving the shells in the pan. After the first mussel, she turned around and asked me if I was waiting for the mussels. I nodded. She continued with the second and third mussels, struggling mightily to shake the meat off of the shells using the provided tongs. At one point she tried scraping the shell against the side of the pan to get the meat off.

The salads were priced at $10.95 a pound. I wonder how much she saved.

Favorite Japanese TV Commercials

After scrounging around I was able to find YouTube versions of my favorite Japanese commercials, all viewed while we were in Tokyo. I wouldn’t say nonstop bombardment, but these commercials came on pretty often. As with all advertisements, they have catchy tunes and interesting concepts, and watching them brings me back to our little hotel room in Tokyo. Good times!

First, Takuya Kimura (木村拓哉) and the Autumn Jumbo lottery:

Next, Suzuki LED Eyes:

Kirin Beer:

I love the part when he gulps the beer and lets out a sigh of pleasure. Talk about enjoying life!

And finally, a really weird one, Meiji Galbo Twist:

Whisky Leaving Scotland

As I sit on the top bunk of our cabin in the Caledonian Sleeper leaving Scotland, I enjoy a miniature 50ml Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky. On the carton, it reads:

The Glenfiddich Distillery
Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland

Drinking this whisky is no longer the same, for I have now personally been to the distillery, seen the fermentation vats, the copper stills, and the oak casks in which the whisky matures. Now, when I drink this whisky, my mind will flash to the duty-free warehouses where it matures for 12 or more years. I will appreciate more the work that goes into the process which brings us this wonderful drink.

Next: Goodbye London, Goodbye Europe

Our First Day in Paris

October 4th, 2012 – Thursday

We got off the Eurostar and tried to figure out how to get to the Paris Métro. Apparently, there is a tunnel walkway that takes you from Gare du Nord to La Chapelle, but we didn’t find it and walked on the surface streets instead. Our first impression was, “wow, this is pretty gritty”. This was reaffirmed when we finally made our way to La Chapelle station and some guy got up in my face scalping Métro tickets (billets) in French. I was tired and exasperated from being new and not knowing which way to go; I wanted to smack that guy and tell him to get the f*ck out of my face. Eventually, we figured out how to buy tickets (officially) and made our way onto the train and to our hotel.

Once we settled in to our hotel and made our way out, we walked along Avenue Kléber until we reached the Arc de Triomphe. I’ll never forget seeing it in person for the first time. It was so much bigger than what I expected.

Arc de Triomphe, Full View
Amazing, much bigger in person.

We paid the admission fee to get to the top and made our way up the 284 steps. Once at the top, I had forgotten about the Eiffel Tower. When I walked around to the south side, I saw it in person for the first time. It just sort of struck me in the face. The Eiffel Tower! It was unbelievable, breathtaking. It looked more metallic than what I had seen in pictures. It stood out amongst its surroundings. Beautiful. Marvelous. I just couldn’t believe that I was seeing it with my own eyes.

Eiffel Tower
Am I dreaming? The Eiffel Tower seen with my own eyes.

Later on, we stopped by a Carrefour Express to buy dinner. Of course, I had to try some French wine, and went with a Bordeaux. I enjoyed the wine and enjoyed the fact that we had finally made it to Paris, the City of Light.

First Bordeaux
First Bordeaux in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe, Zoomed In
Arc de Triomphe, Zoomed In
284 Steps
284 Steps
Crazy Traffic
Crazy Traffic
Crazy Traffic, Bird's Eye View
Crazy Traffic, Bird’s Eye View
Sunset on Paris
Sunset on Paris
One of Many Leading to the Arc
One of Many Leading to the Arc
284 Back Down
284 Back Down

Next: Paris, Day 2 – Chinatown, Eiffel, Seine, Champs-Élysées

Our Last Day in Paris

On the Eurostar now, out of Paris and back to London. I am looking forward to being in an English-speaking environment again.

Before spending the past 5 days in France, I learned some French phrases and greetings, and downloaded a French app for my phone. I had been told that if the French see you make an effort to speak their language, then all will be well. Another bit of advice was don’t go to France ready to judge, and keep an open mind. Well, I tried, and I failed. I find it difficult not to judge after spending 5 days in Paris.

Paris is a world famous city. The City of Light. If, after spending 5 days here and I still don’t love it, then perhaps something is wrong with me. But, perhaps not. Perhaps Paris and I are just not compatible. It’s like dating a beautiful woman. She may be beautiful, but after a couple of dates you realize she’s just not for you. That’s probably the most respectful way that I can put it.

Imagine seeing your wife (if you know JC, you know she is the nicest person on the planet), who so wanted to visit Paris, try to order an egg, ham, and cheese crepe and struggle to pronounce “egg” (“œuf”) in French. Then, imagine the crepe lady respond in utter disgust when she pretends she doesn’t know what is being ordered. Next, realize that this crepe stand is steps away from the Eiffel Tower, a world famous landmark and, I don’t know, probably a tourist area, where not everybody speaks French. Now, imagine this happening in most of the places we went.

It amazes me that someone operating a business in a tourist area would behave in such a manner. I will concede that things like disgust and pretending are subjective, and that perhaps this is just the French way and not intended as I perceived. We did encounter a lot of what I perceived to be dirty looks all over Paris. One man’s dirty look is another’s friendly face. So, perhaps I just didn’t fully understand the French way, and applied my own standards when judging how I was being treated.

To be fair, there were some friendly faces, but that’s also the part that confuses me. If these are French people and they are behaving in what I perceive to be a friendly manner, then how do I reconcile the fact that I’m also perceiving so many to be unfriendly? Which way is really the French way? Could it just be something wrong with me? I’m not exactly a people person so my apprehension around people could be mistaken for unfriendliness. But, what about JC? People love her no matter where we go.

In the end, I’m not going to try to figure it out. I probably won’t be going back to France in my lifetime. Other than what I described above, I enjoyed my time in Paris and now I can say I’ve been here, been to the Eiffel Tower, been to the Arc de Triomphe, sipped espresso at a café, and toured the Louvre. The history of France in particular is worthy of fascination and respect. I’ll remember the centuries-old buildings, I’ll remember one of the world’s oldest subways, I’ll remember the friendly faces, and I’ll especially remember, when I’m in Hong Kong or San Francisco and a French tourist approaches me and asks “Pouvez-vous parler Français?,” to respond with a friendly smile and say “Oui.”

Next: Our Last Day in Paris – Revisited

Kenji Sawada (澤田 研二), a Badass Motherfucker

The ingenuity of human beings never ceases to amaze me. Today we visited La Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame de Paris, tributes to human ingenuity in their own right, and tonight, I am in my hotel room, drinking Bordeaux that was somehow stumbled upon and refined by some Roman dude/dudette, listening to an old Kenji Sawada record, and enjoying every minute of it. And, how did I get to Paris in the first place? If not for the Wright brothers, we would not have aviation as we know it today. Lastly, let’s not forget the contributions of Al Gore, who invented the internet so that people like me can make posts on a blog.

I’ll post more on Paris 2012 later, but for now I just want to share my thoughts on Mr. Sawada. My first memory of his creations is the song Tokio. My mother was a huge fan of his so I heard many of his songs when I was a child. The chorus of Tokio is of course “To-ki-o” but as a child who doesn’t understand what he’s listening to, I thought he was saying “H-2-O”. Not only until recently, when I rediscovered his records, did I realize it was Tokio.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed listening to many of his albums. To me, they’re brand new, even though they were made in the 70s and 80s. I’ve watched videos of him singing on YouTube. I can conclude, with zero doubt, that Kenji Sawada is a badass motherfucker.

Here’s Tokio, on YouTube:

Sunshine 60 Observatory, Final Thoughts on Ikebukuro

…continued from Sunshine Aquarium.

After a long day of viewing cats, fish, and pelicans, what better way is there to unwind than with a nice dinner and then a leisurely stroll on the 60th floor viewing 360 degrees of Tokyo? As the elevator from the basement shot upwards (and it really did shoot, going as fast as 400 meters per minute), the lights dimmed and the once-white walls and ceiling became dark. A black light turned on and the walls came alive with depictions of the zodiac signs and a sky full of stars. What an experience!

View from Above
From up here, we could see all the places we went to that day.

The night view was splendid, but of course we would have liked to have seen the daytime view as well. During the daytime, there is an additional open-air deck above the 60th floor that is open to the public. Since it was raining that day, it wouldn’t have done us much good to go out there anyway, so like the trains Blu-ray, it will have to wait until next time. For now, the brochure will have to suffice.

Sunshine City Observatory Brochure (Outside)
Sunshine City Observatory Brochure (Outside)
Sunshine City Observatory Brochure (Inside)
Sunshine City Observatory Brochure (Inside)

After we went back down, the mall was pretty deserted, and we realized that it was closing. We decided to go to one more place that was nearby, a Honda car dealership to see if they had any Honda Accords on display (the Honda Accord in Japan is equivalent to the Acura TSX in the United States). Unfortunately, no Accords were to be seen anywhere, but I was happy that I at least visited a Honda dealership and tried to view my beloved (ex) car. We took the M line back to the hotel and I snuck in a couple of photos of the empty train:

Empty Seats, End of the Line

Empty Car

Finally, I must have had too exciting of a day, because I could not fall asleep that night. I stayed up until 6:00 AM and used the opportunity to snap some photos of the dawn as viewed from our hotel room. I should have gone to the Tsukiji fish market, but again, that can happen next time.

Dawn Breaks
The beginning of the dawn.
Almost There
Almost there.
A New Day Has Arrived
End of a good day, beginning of a new one.