January 5, 2009

Tokyo, Japan

Skyline from the Park Hyatt

Hotel Okura's retro lobby

All eyes closed except for John

An example of some of the "interesting" architecture

Man walking in front of Sake barrels

 John and Jess in the city

A wedding we stumbled upon at a temple

A monk moves through the corridors of the temple

Harajuku area at night

Harajuku street with the holiday crowds

A Princess Girl

John debating a new look after Princess Girl inspiration

My excited anticipation for Japan wasn’t rooted only in visions of myself endlessly stuffing sushi pieces in my face, running around Tokyo like a brown-haired, flat-chested Scarlett Johansen, yelling “arigato” to anyone or anything with a pulse, but knowing that, after having completed another solo four months on the road, I would be spending the holidays with my Brother, John, and his wife, Jessica.
As I sat on the mezzanine in the lobby of the Hotel Okura waiting for their arrival, I felt as though I had been transported back to the 1960’s and invited to peek through a secret opening in a soji screen. As the evening conservatively bustled around me, I became a silent observer to the lives of the elegant Japanese patrons; young, tailored mothers with well behaved children in tow gracefully strolled across the retro carpet and bi-speckled, grey haired business men in sharply pressed suits carried leather briefcases to writing desk cubicles as their girlfriends carried designer shopping bags to their room. Beautiful elevator hosts with perfectly pinned hair and pink kimonos were holding the opening and closing doors as the reserved tone of the guests echoed against the softness of the live piano music wafting through the high ceilings of the warmly lit lobby. Besides for the traditional dress worn by some of the women, there was not much color or decoration in the rest of the attire, so when I spotted a pair of blue jeans and a colorful fur collared hippie jacket, I knew my family had arrived safe. When John and Jess walked through the door it was as if the Fifth Avenue wind tunnel of New York City followed behind them and it sent the smell of roasting chestnuts and the sound of cars honking straight up to the balcony where for a moment I felt strangely homesick.
It is very easy, at first, to feel a little out of place in a country whose people seem to like everything in place; trains run perfectly on time, no one talks too loud in public places, clothes, hair and nails are pressed, coiffed and manicured, city streets are clean, administration is efficient and communication and exchange among citizens is carried out with mutual respect; even the homeless take off their shoes, leaving them neatly on a mat outside of their cardboard box. The precise cardboard box I would be living in if I chose Japan as a base as this was the first time in my life, even as a former New Yorker, that I experienced full on sticker shock. Tokyo is a sprawling city, that when viewed over $300,000 cocktails at the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel, it’s urban surface area becomes an incredible site, but unfortunately taking taxis between all the different districts can cost as much as your airfare ticket.
Once you digest the price of everything, it’s a good idea to start digesting all the amazing food this country has to offer. For the first time in my travels I had to match my agenda to the agendas of my family and it seemed as though John’s focus was on fine dining, my focus was on cultural sites and Jessica’s focus was somewhere in between. At first I would open my mouth to protest a lunch in exchange for a museum, but then that same mouth would be stuffed with a savory piece of barbeque yakitori or a perfectly textured soba noodle or a piece of jaw dropping fresh sushi and after being paired with a shot of smooth sake I would have no idea why I even wanted to see the museum in the first place; it seemed as though nothing in the world could compare to the relaxed family time we shared over some of the best food I have ever eaten and soon that became the focus for all of us.
From walking down the famous youth powered fashion runway street of Harajuku and wandering the boutique alleys that surround it to witnessing the bright lights and bar activity of Roppongi, catching a few temples and gardens along the way while eating our way into the Japanese culture, Tokyo was a great rice breaker into a country that holds entertainment, honor and efficiency in high regard and can be summed up with the incident of the missing glove:
On our way out of town, on a train transfer, John lost a glove, and in the ten minutes it took to realize this he decided to go back and see if he could find it. When he inquired about the glove to an attendant, he was promptly taken to the lost and found where the glove, already numbered and tagged, was waiting for him. Ten minutes. Hey, are you listening Amtrak?

Andriana’s Do’s and Don’ts of Tokyo

Do sit on a Japanese toilet seat and make a doo doo. These technologically advanced wonders in hygiene maintenance should be international standard. With their seat warmers and selection of sprays, it makes the thought of returning to a non mechanical seat seem barbaric. Just be sure to look closely at the diagrams of exactly where these sprays are supposed to hit or you might be in for an unexpected surprise.

Don’t engage in buffet activity with the Japanese – you will feel like an animal. The all-you-can-eat buffet is an American cultural pastime of over consumption and a fine-tuning of the “get as much as you can for free” philosophy, which are two components that simply do not exist in Japan. Every morning the hotel would offer an incredible breakfast buffet that had these three Americans running back and forth with armfuls of piled-high plates to which we ungracefully woofed down all the hoarded goodies while our Japanese neighbors carefully dissected and portion-controlled a piece of lettuce.

Do try to spot and take pictures of the Japanese Princess Girls, which are a group of soft-spoken, coy youth that combine the looks of Marie Antoinette and Paris Hilton into some Japanese style, frilly acid trip. It can be a lot like playing the Volkswagon Bug game while on a road trip and it certainly had my sister in law fascinated. Sightings turned her into a crazed paparazzi.

Don’t live in a constant state of excitement over the toilet seats that you start confusing your bowing and squatting. Bowing is a beautiful part of the Japanese culture, a way to show respect and gratitude to others, and after just a day in the country it feels normal to start bowing just like the locals. And squatting becomes a highly anticipated activity for the Japanese toilet novice. But after a few jugs of sake it’s easy to start mixing up the bow and the squat and I am sure I may have left a few confused (or offended) Japanese in my wake.

Don’t miss Japan. Do save up before you go.


jessica said...

i am HYSTERICAL over your dos and dont's.. i pissed. no really. xxoo

sand said...

Okay, first I looked at the post for Kyoto with that little "Madame Butterfly" diversion that had me falling off the wall. so, when I went to Tokyo saw the photo of the Princess girl in all pink I , well, it just seemed logical that you had truly undergone some kind of thematic life change and you were indeed vying for prettiest in pink. Maybe Princess girl is something to consider?


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