Tokyo, Japan

Just days before Henry’s birthday I went on a quick business trip to Tokyo, Japan. It was a whirlwind trip, leaving on Sunday and returning on Wednesday. I spent half as much time in the air (21 hours) as on the ground (Mon 5 PM to Wed 5 PM – 48 hours).

In the hours before and after our meetings (with some folks you just might know) I wandered a bit of the city near our hotel (Ginza Tobu Hotel) in the Ginza District.

The Ginza is apparently famous for its shopping. As you can tell from the pictures Christmas was in full effect. I was a little surprised but I suppose I shouldn’t be – what could be better for business in a shopping district than a holiday that has come to be associated with excessive gift-giving? I was a little disappointed, too, that there were so many Western businesses. All of the high-end brands I see at South Coast Plaza were present and accounted for. (Hooray for globalization?)

Tsukiji Market

The next morning I woke at the crack of dawn (before dawn, actually, thanks to jet lag) and walked to the Tsukiji Market, Tokyo’s world-famous fish market. If you’ve ever been to Pike Place Market in Seattle you’ll have a good idea of what the Tsukiji Market was like – except you need to multiply by 1000. There were creatures from the sea that I had no idea existed.

I wandered around for an hour or so and then had a breakfast of some of the absolute freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. (akami – lean tuna, otoro – fatty tuna, aji – mackerel) I was most impressed with the HUGE frozen tunas. I can’t even imagine what those things weighed. I felt sorry for the poor guy struggling to get one of his tunas back on his cart after it slid off the cart.

All of Tuesday was spent in meetings, first in Tokyo and then in Yokohama. We saw very little of Yokohama, other than the train station and the route to our meeting. Unfortunate, but this was a business trip. (I guess.)

Akihabara

We finished up Tuesday with a visit to Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo. If you’ve been to Fry’s Electronics before, imagine it covering several city blocks instead of just a single store. There were entire shops dedicated to things that would be a small bin in a normal store. An LED store, a capacitor store, an 1/8′ mini stereo plug store, and on and on.

I spent a good bit of time looking at kooky Japanese games that looked like they would be fun but I’d never be able to play because of the language barrier. I ended up leaving with a “do-it-yourself robot kit” from LaOX for Henry. (I chose the $5 robot kit instead of the $5000 robot kit.) We ended Tuesday with dinner at a kaiten zushi shop. I think this literally means “rotating sushi.” Rather than the chef making food for you as you ask for it they make gobs and gobs and place it on a big conveyor belt. Definitely not as tasty as the sushi breakfast fresh from the boat but still pretty darn good. (I gorged myself and spent ~ $18, less than what my breakfast of 6 pieces cost!)

We had no business on Wednesday and our plane didn’t depart until 5 pm. I spent the morning wandering the streets again and spotted the Kabuki-za Theater, had a “traditional” Japanese breakfast at the hotel and then headed for the Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace.


Zojoji Temple and Imperial Palace

Truth be told I wasn’t really looking forward to the Tokyo Tower. It’s a copy of the Eifel Tower in Paris – except that it is bright orange – and seemed like a very touristy thing to do. I’m glad I went, though, as the Zojoji Temple was on the way.

In the middle of a huge city and surrounded by towering skyscrapers was a bit of “old” Japan and quiet tranquility. We were the only tourists in the place, with most folks obviously being there for other reasons. I felt a little odd snapping pictures but I suppose that’s normal behavior. The Temple is ringed by little statues, most with bright red knit caps on. I wasn’t sure what they were for, but a little research showed that they are jizo statues, dedicated to unborn babies who were lost. Family members dress them in hopes that they will be taken care of in the afterlife.

The final hours in Japan were spent in the East Garden at the Imperial Palace. Sadly the museum there was closed, so I did little more than wander the grounds until I had to race to the airport. I was blown away by the sheer size of the rocks making up the walls surrounding the gardens. I can’t even imagine how boulders twice my height and equally as long were carved and placed on top of one another to make a 40 foot wall several hundred years ago. Simply amazing…

My time in Tokyo was far too short but I think I made the most of what I had available. It’s definitely much higher on my list of places to visit than it would have been previously and I can’t wait to go back. It’s likely to happen again in the first quarter, this time meeting with other folks you might know in Kyoto.

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