Tokyo's Costume Play Kids and Shibuya Crosswalk

By: leelefever on May 29, 2006 - 1:42am

Being that we're leaving from Tokyo, we decided to come back to experience three specific things that we didn't get to do on our first visit to the city. 

First, is what are called the cos-play-zoku, or costume play gang, that gather in Harajuku's Jingu-bashi in outlandish costumes.  They like having the attention for the most part, but you get the feeling that they aren't doing it to impress the tourists that photograph them.  They stick together and take lots of photos of one another too.  A weird and fun experience that we recommend highly.

 I didn't smell anything bad.

 You rarely see any young Japanese person without a mobile phone, even if they are wearing a little bo peep outfit.

 This is just plain scary and reminds me of Bangkok.

Next on the list was seeing the Shibuya crosswalk on a busy day. It is the busiest crosswalk in the world.  Amazing.

 This is before:

 and after:

Lastly, it would appear that I have some bizzare fascination with rush hour trains.  I would say that it is an interest in the daily lives of people in other countries.  Like in Mumbai, India, I made a special point to got to the Tokyo train station at rush hour.  Actually, I got up early to ride a packed train this morning just to see what it was like.

Once I got on, I was amazed at the absolute silence and how the volume of people meant that no one had to hold on. I was against the door and the girl next to me had her should in my back for the whole ride.  I only rode for two stops and felt good that I didn't have to be in the middle of all the people.  Here's a shot from inside that doesn't do it justice:

 These guys man some of the busiest stops on the line and they physically push people into the cars before the doors close. I didn't get to see it myself, unfortunately.

 And so, we're coming to a close of the Japan-based blogging, which is greatly enhanced by high speed internet connections in Japanese hotel rooms.  We're off to Bangkok in the morning and I imagine we'll write a little more about Japan before it's all over.

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The Shinkansen- Japan's Bullet Train

By: leelefever on May 8, 2006 - 6:06am
Today we travelled over 1000 kilometers at a rate of speed sometimes over 300 kph (186mph) on Japan's Bullet Train- the Shinkansen. Train travel has never been so cool.
Shinkansen- Japan's Bullet Train
They just look and feel so smooth.
Shinkansen- Japan's Bullet Train
Hopefully the video relates the speed.
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Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament

By: leelefever on May 8, 2006 - 5:56am


Sumo wrestling is a truly Japanese affair dating back some 1500 years.  According to our handy sumo pamphlet that we received at the first day of the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament, it started as a religious activity dedicated to the gods with prayers for a bountiful harvest.  The Sumo practiced today is heavily influenced by ancient tradition and ceremony.  In fact, it sometimes seems like a ceremony where wrestling suddenly breaks out.

Most impressive for me was the sheer size of the wrestlers.  I swear one of their legs weighs more than me.  Yet, they move surprisingly quickly. There are no weight limits, so wrestlers of very different sizes may face off making for a battle of speed over brawn. Some of the biggest are actually white guys from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.  One of them, Kotooshu, is a contender for becoming a yokozuna- the coveted position of highest rank.

Each match, particularly in the more competitive classes, is a dramatic event with the wrestlers facing off, kicking their feet high in the air, stomping down and then stepping away, as if the moment was just not right (the shikiri).  They go to their corners, drink water, wipe sweat and slap themselves before then next face off. 


Once both wrestlers are ready, they come together (the tachi-ai) in what sometimes looks like a slapping contest, each defending himself by pushing away the upper body of the other, who is often trying to reach for his mawashi (the only clothing- a silk loincloth).  There are 82 winning tricks and most involve gripping and leveraging the mawashi.  The contest is decided when a wrestler (rishiki) falls down in the circular ring (dohyo) or is forced outside it.  Most matches are over in a matter of seconds and ends the day for both wrestlers (one day of 15 in a grand tournament).

The tournament is an all day affair, but the action really happens between 4-6pm.  At the Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena, spectators can rent FM radios and hear announcers in English for a deposit of 2000 yen.  We liked the insight, but you had to deal with overt cheesiness on the behalf of the American announcer who would say things like “Whoa! get out the maple syrup!  He made a pancake with that move!” <groan>.

All in all, a great Japanese experience. Anyone visiting Tokyo should try to make a day of a tournament. Our mid-range tickets cost about US$75 per person.

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The Authentically Real Beauty of Japan

By: leelefever on May 6, 2006 - 5:26pm

Rudyard Kipling was said to have facetiously suggested that Japan should be put under a glass case as it is too pretty to be part of the real world.  Now, about 100 years later, I feel the same about what I’ve seen of Japan- it seems too good to be true.

Throughout our journey, I’ve struggled with the authenticity of the tourist experience.  In so many places the experience of the tourists seems manufactured with cultural dress, performances and practices being on display with the tourist dollar front-of-mind.  As such, I’ve become a little cynical about the tourist experience in places like India’s Golden Triangle, where it ‘s obvious that the essence of the true culture is sometimes being abstracted and displayed in a way that cheapens and demeans it to a point that it becomes unreal or inauthentic.

In contrast, the daily experience in Japan serves as a full helping of culture that is free from the pretense of purely tourist displays.  For example, we are staying in a district of Tokyo called Monzen Nakacho which is far from the tourist trail and offers a true-to-life view of daily life in Japan- a view that, to me, seems authentically real but still unreal in a too-good-to-be-true sort of way. 

Just a block from our hotel is a street that leads to a beautiful Buddhist temple. Along this street are authentic Japanese restaurants and shops filled with Japanese locals, slurping their noodles and drinking their tea just as they do every day.  The street itself is stunning in it’s cleanliness and style, as if someone set out to create the quintessential Japanese street scene, complete with lanterns, cherry trees, friendly people and noodle shop owners rolling noodles from scratch right there on display. 

What is most striking to me is that this scene is, without a doubt, the real thing.  Tourists were not considered when this street became a reality.  It is simply a random street in a nice neighborhood of locals that came to being in an authentically Japanese way. 

Each evening when we go out, we invariably see women and sometimes men wearing the traditional kimono.  Like the shops above, these folks are not thinking of tourists, or making money, or anything but what they feel is the proper attire for their evening out. To the tourists, this is a treat- to see such an authentic and truly beautiful expression of culture in daily life. 


We’ve witnessed authentic local culture in many places and I don’t mean to sound like authenticity is hard to find.  In Tokyo though, it seems to take on a new level of uniqueness and in a environment that is perfectly clean and extremely well-cared for- and that is a big difference.

It’s no wonder I have a crush on Tokyo.  I"m excited to get out of the city and experience more of Japan.

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Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market

By: leelefever on May 6, 2006 - 5:18am

The Tsukiji Seafood Market is Tokyo is simply amazing – and for a number of reasons.  Each morning, most of seafood served in Japan comes through the wholesale market, where business owners come to buy seafood in bulk and via auction.  If it comes from the sea and is served in Japan, it comes through the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Aside from the sheer volume of the seafood, what was the most impressive was the tourist experience.  The overwhelming feeling from the moment you arrive in the market is that you are not supposed to be there.  It is a place of very high volumes of business and as a tourist, you are quite simply in the way.  I was reminded of this fact by being pushed aside by at least one wholesaler who was clearly tired of dealing with tourists in the market. It was like sailing a catamaran into the shipping lanes of a busy port- you clearly have no business there and you must proceed at your own risk.

 These guys will run you over in a second:


I have feeling that tourist access to the market will be limited in the future as it has for the seafood auction. The market is moving locations soon and my bet is that the tourist experience will change with location.


Despite being in the way, we proceeded into the bowels of the market and it was an experience I will never forget.  I’ve never seen so many tuna and in such huge sizes. 

As our friend Gen described, the fish make an interesting journey to your plate. At the auction, the fish is sold in huge volumes and as the food makes it's way out of the market and changes hands, it takes on smaller sizes and higher prices.

 For the toursits, the end of chain ends just outside the market where many restaurants serve the freshest and tastiest sushi ever for breakfast.  We had the best sushi of our lives for breakfast today including multiple servings of Toro, or fatty tuna which is the filet mingnon of sushi. Simply delictlible.

 On balance, the seafood market has some sobering elements. The word on the street is that the seas are being over-fished and the sizes of the tuna have been trending smaller and smaller.  Also, I don't think I've ever seen so much styrofoam, which is resused from what we could see.

 No matter, the Tsukiji Market is not to be missed on a trip to Tokyo, just be prepared to wake up at 5am to see the action. 

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Roppongi Nightlife and Karaoke

By: leelefever on May 5, 2006 - 12:06am

We have to admit that the movie "Lost in Translation" has left an indelible mark on our expectations of what your supposed to do in Tokyo. There is surely no better place on earth to experience the karaoke phenomenon and last night we repeated the experience of the characters in the movie and rented a karaoke cube for two hours- from about 1:15-3:15AM at a cost of US$58 including a drink and two dishes of gyoza. (Karaoke is singing along to music videos you choose.)

Of course, you can't fully experience karoake without a few drinks, so we also went to have dinner and take part the famous Roppongi nightlife.  Once again, Sachi's japanese skills enabled us to find restaurants that do not cater to foreigners and have menus that look like this:

We had sashimi. 

Roppongi is known as a place where foreigners go for nightlife and there are hundreds of bars, taking up the first 5 stories of real estate for many blocks.  For some surreal atomsphere- we went to a reggae bar (in Tokyo remember), where I played darts with a guy named "Hide". Later we went to the Motown Bar, where I couldn't believe the popularity of the Mexican beer Corona and the number of attentive bartenders. The service in Tokyo is amazing.

 Having sufficiently found new courage, we were ready for karaoke, which I have to admit was very, very fun.  I think Seattle needs a karaoke cube joint.

Here are selection of the songs we sang:

  • Sitting on the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
  • Pretty Woman -  Roy Orbison
  • You Give Love A Bad Name - Bon Jovi
  • I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor
  • Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
  • Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
  • Dancing Queen - AbbA
  • My Life - Billy Joel
  • King of the Road - Roger Miller

 Inquirys should be directed to our agent.

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Geeking Out with Gen Kanai

By: leelefever on May 3, 2006 - 5:41pm

Gen Kanai is a Japanese New Yorker who has been living in Tokyo for about 3 years.  In fact, he grew up within a couple of blocks from the Murray Hill neighborhood where we stayed in New York in December.

Anyway, Gen and I know some of the same folks and when plans were made to visit Tokyo, we made plans to meet Gen there.  Last night we went out to a very nice and tasty tempura restaurant called Ginza Tenkuni, which has been around since 1885. More on the food in a minute.

What excited me was learning about the Japanese gadgetry.  First, we met at the Apple store in the Ginza district and used their computers to find a restaurant.  Then, Gen put the restaurant's phone number into his GPS-enabled phone.  From that point, the phone guided us to the restaurant with voice commands as we walked through Ginza.  In Japanese, the voice from the phone would say "In 50 meters, turn right". I was very impressed.  Also, did you know that the Japanese don't use SMS (short message/chat)?  They use email for mobile text communications. This is the mobile GPS system...

Once we got to the restaurant, it was obvious that we had entered a very fine and traditional tempura house, which is a bit like a high class sushi bar, but only serving seafood and vegetables fried in a light batter. The quality of food was equalled by the japanese service and ambience that could be described as beautiful. The experience was quite a treat.

One of the dishes I had never had was the fried shrimp legs.  They were better than they sound- further proving my point that frying anything makes it better. :) 

 We owe a big thanks to Gen for his hospitality. 

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A First Date with Tokyo

By: leelefever on May 3, 2006 - 12:13am

I was telling Sachi today about my excitement about Tokyo and Japan in general. I told her that it feels like a first date that is going really well- so well that I'm already looking forward to the next date. Maybe I have a crush on Tokyo.

I've mentioned before that I enjoy visiting places that feel other-worldly.  Usually it is landscapes that give me this feeling, but with Tokyo it is the cityscape and the people. There is surely no other place like Tokyo in the world.

All the places we've been before here felt like going back in time to more traditional lifestyles and fashions.  Visiting Tokyo is like going into the future where things have evolved in their own indepedent way- including every convenience one could image.

The Japanese have a style that is all their own. The young Japanese folks have a fashion sense that most Americans would consider over-the-top.  It seems that all the rage lately among the teenager girls is what I would call "Little Bo Peep" style.  I can't say I'm a fan. 

 And these with the industry-standard "peace" signs...

 One of the sights we set out to see today was the Shibuya Crosswalk, which is famous for the hordes of people who cross it all day.  TruthChild hooked us up on the best place to watch (2nd story Starbucks) and was fun to see, though it is a holiday and liklely had less people than usual. Here's a quick time lapse...

I hope you enjoy hearing about Japan and seeing lots of pictures, because we have Internet access in the hotel room for only the second time on the trip...lots more to come.

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Thanks Folks

By: leelefever on April 30, 2006 - 10:49pm

We just wanted to post a quick thank you to some of the folks that have pointed us in the right direction lately.  Stace (truthchild) - thanks so much for the Japan info- just in time!  Justin also had perfect timing with the Cambodia travel experience.

Over the next couple of months we will be in Japan, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (plus more Thailand).  If anyone has any experiences that they'd like to share- we'll really use it and appreciate it.

We're off to Japan in the morning and I am sooo excited- more than I've been for any other place. 

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