Today, Tuesday November 23rd, was a public holiday in Japan (Labor Day according to my work calendar), so I took the day off to go to a flea market in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. While the flea market was big, neat and had tons of great stuff, I actually spent a lot more of my time walking around the park and enjoying the changing leaves. So without anymore exposition, here are the pictures I took during that walk.
Tokyo is easily Japan's most well known city and where almost everyone's trip in this country begins. Tokyo is absolutely massive, two and a half times the size of New York City, and three times as dense, making it intensely crowded. Tokyo seems to just go and go in all directions with no end. Tokyo also has the hustle and bustle that you'll see in many international cities. People are also a bit more rude in Tokyo compared to the rest of the country, I was actually really surprised by this my first time in Tokyo, my interactions with people in Fuji have all been pleasant. But, like New York City, Tokyo is an obvious "must-do" when you come to Japan, and with good reason.
These are images that I always thought of when I imagined Tokyo, lots of bright lights. The first is Shibuya Crossing, the so-called busiest in the world. Crossing in every direction against thousands of people on any given evening is a spectacular experience. The second, Shinjuku's Kabukicho neighborhood, has the endless bright lights that I associated with Japan's capital city.
There are a lot of Shinto shrines all over Japan, Shinto being one of the major religions of Japan along with Buddhism, and Tokyo has it's share of big ones. I personally recommend Meiji Shrine over the others. It's a very simple place that gives you an idea of what Shinto shrines are about and has great surrounding areas, being in Yoyogi Park (which I'll get to later) and close to the popular Harajuku.
Tokyo Tower is really Tokyo's only legitimate landmark, and I'm sure you've already noticed that it is far too similar to the Eiffel Tower. I really do feel that Tokyo needs it's own iconic landmark. It seems it only genuine claim to fame is a high urban density.
Some neighborhoods have a lot of these small restaurants with street-side seating pop up at night, and they are amazing ways to experience great Japanese food and I guarantee the shop-owners and patrons will be extra friendly, especially the businessmen getting drunk after work.
Every guidebook on Tokyo will tell you to wake up before the sun rises to catch the Tsukuji fish market wholesale auction to see enormous Tuna and experience Japan's biggest industry at its core. But really, I wouldn't bother, I haven't been, but I feel you can get a much more fulfilling experience going around the corner to the alleys of small restaurants that buy these fish every morning. It's some of the best and freshest seafood you can eat. There's various sushi, tuna, salmon, tons of fish eggs, sea urchin and more, and it's all out of this world delicious, for extremely reasonable prices and you don't have to wake up before dawn.
Japan always seems to have very specific goods districts. My favorite is Tokyo's Kappabashi. It's three or four city blocks exclusively with shops selling kitchenwares. Any appliance or utensil you need, as either home or restaurant use, is here in every form. It's a lot of fun to just browse around. Look for the chef's head in Asakusa.
Sundays in Yoyogi Park are by far my favorite thing to do in Tokyo. All sorts of people come to the park on Sundays to practice their hobbies. Small living spaces that are typically shared with multiple family members make practicing anything at home practically impossible inTokyo. So on Sundays you can see dance troupes, martial artists, music acts and, best of all, the greasers. Every single sunday, these guys command the main entrance to the park near Harajuku Station. Blasting 1950s American rock and roll, as well as modern Japanese rock in the same style, they dance and dance. Sometimes they are choreographed, sometimes they just let it take over their bodies, other times they have a dance off, but they always enjoy themselves. This is evidenced by how they don't ask for change, a common site pretty much anywhere else in the world, and they don't care if people take photos, they are just doing it for the passion.
Even though I've been to Tokyo half a dozen times by now, there is still plenty I haven't done, so I'll have to go just a few more times. I'm pretty sure I'll be sick of it by then though.
Here are some left-overs:
My grandfather, Bob Murphy, was in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was stationed in Japan during the first few months of American occupation. I asked him if he could write a few words about his experience, here's what he wrote.
I was aboard the USS Purdy (DD734), a Navy destroyer, when we entered Tokyo Bay on October 17, 1945, where we moored off Yokosuka Navy base. We were given shore leave to visit Tokyo. We took the train to Tokyo station. It was packed and we had to stand nose to nose with mostly Japanese passengers.
We didn't encounter any hostilities even though the war had only ended about 2 months before. A shipmate and I went to a small park near Ginza where a photographer took our picture. The building in background is a movie theatre, it was "off limits" to us. However, we just happened to find our way inside to see what it was like.
We were surprised to see a very unusual movie theatre. There were no chairs in the lower level and the floors were dirt. The audience could lean on waist high wooden railings. I guess these were the cheap tickets. There were seats on the upper levels which curved around the building, as I can remember. Guess what movie was on the screen, "Tarzan of the Apes" in English with Japanese subtitles.
We didn't stay very long. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant atop a building about 10 stories tall where we had some Japanese beer, which came in quart bottles and was very potent, as I remember. The city had been fire bombed by US Air Forces and there were not many buildings undamaged. As we traveled on the train From Yokosuka to Tokyo, we could see all the destruction. Most of the homes in those days were built with wood and bamboo, I'm sure it might be different there today.
Our ship made trips to Wakayama in the Inland Sea where we picked up mail for delivery to Kure & Hirowan; this duty continued thru December 1945. We then received orders to return to Tokyo Bay; Yokosuka base.
About the food in Japan, we were advised not to eat the food as they used human excrement for fertilizer! This is true because one day a buddy and I were walking past a farm in the countryside & the wind was blowing in our direction and the smell was unbelievably bad. I don't know if this is still the practice there. We preferred the navy chow as I recall. A Japanese family invited us into their home in Kamakura area somewhere outside Tokyo and gave us our first taste of Sake, a rice liquor, I believe. It's been too long for me to remember if it was served warm or not, but I think warm in small cups.
I still have a cup I brought home with a picture of Mount Fuji on it. I was glad to have visited there and I would liked to have gone back to see the changes, I'm sure it is nothing like when I was there. You are seeing a country which has changed considerably in the 65 years since World War II ended.
The first three weekdays of May in Japan are National Holidays (Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day), referred to as "Golden Week." So with this time off from work I took my first trip to Tokyo. I tried something new during this trip, I took a lot of video with my camera and edited together, figuring a lot of what I'll see will look better in motion. So here's the final result. http://vimeo.com/11572537
Tokyo was great fun, I met up with quite friends that happened to also be in town for Golden Week and made some new friends as well. Tokyo is definitely a massive city, covering 844.4 square miles, nearly twice that of New York City which stands at 468.9. And just like New York, there is a huge amount of diversity in the city.
I spent 3 full days in Tokyo, and that was barely enough time to scratch the surface. Next time I visit I'm hoping to at the very least see a sumo bout and a baseball game.