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SOLO JAPAN 3.-16.11.2002.
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Wednesday, 13th of November 2002
Tokyo

Day Eleven :
Asakusa and Shinjuku

Asakusa, an older part of Tokyo

The Japanese breakfast I ordered at the hotel was light but tasty. It cost 1200 yen and had mushrooms, rice, salmon, soup, tea and an egg, all served in nice looking dishes. I also had the opportunity to catch up with the world news by reading Japan Times, a newspaper written in English.

For today I agreed to meet yet another Japanese contact I got to know on the internet. Kanako said she will be little late, so I took some time at the near by Nakamisedoori shopping street. It was only about 20 meters away from the hotel and leads to the Sensoo-ji temple. There was a lot of interesting stuff on sell from kimonos to swords. There was also - surprise, surprise - a lot of people buzzing around.

Once Kanako arrived, we took a closer look of the temple, which was the biggest temple I've seen in Tokyo (actually the only one so far!), but after Kyoto it didn't excite me as much as I would have hoped. Worth visiting anyway even if it wouldn't have been a stone throw away from the hotel.

We started to wander away from the temple area, eating some sembei crackers (savoury rice crackers) on the way. I stopped by a small paper shop to buy a postcard I promised to send to a friend back in Finland. When I found the right postcard, the shop assistant wrapped it in nice looking paper, even though it only cost about 120 yen and I has going to use it anyway in a few moments!

After dropping the postcard at a post office and having a cheap sandwich lunch in a restaurant (670 yen), we headed for Shinjuku via the Ginza subway line.

Shinjuku, a "stereo-type" of modern Tokyo

Shinjuku can be regarded as a major organ of modern Tokyo: lots of people, plenty of tall buildings and big department stores. So if one is looking for the classic idea of what Tokyo looks like, Shinjuku would be a good choice, although it must be stressed Tokyo is much more than Shinjuku alone.

We explored the urban jungle by walking around the streets and visiting shops. I bought some music albums from HMV and another cd store I can't recall anymore (maybe Tower Records?). Without Kanako's help, finding the CDs from the shelves would have been difficult, as the albums were sorted by the Japanese alphabet. They were quite expensive, but it was still cheaper than ordering them overseas from Finland.

Buying an electronic gadget

Although Kanako spoke very good English, it wasn't her native language, so sometimes she checked a word from a small electronic dictionary. The device was quite nifty, so I thought of buying a similar device myself, which I could use back home to help me learn Japanese (wishful thinking, but you never know).

We went to one of those numerous home electronics shops and checked if there was a suitable English-Japanese dictionary for me. There were about twenty different dictionaries on sell, but none of them had an English menu. So we went to the other side of the narrow street and entered another home electronics shop, which happened to have one with an English menu (Seiko RM2000). It wasn't as cool as the latest dictionaries on sell, but for a beginner like me, it was the gadget for me.

It wasn't that cheap either, 19000 yen to be exact (about 160 euros). Haggling the prices at home electronic shops is a common thing to do in Japan, but since the shop assistant didn't speak English and I didn't want to trouble Kanako too much (although she did manage to slice off 1000 yen from the original price), I was ready to pay for the amount.

When I gave my credit card, the shop assistant asked if I wanted to buy it tax free. Hmm, that sounds nice. Sure, go ahead! He then asked me for my passport, filled out a paper form, attached it to the embarkation card that was attached to the passport and stamped it. What the hell was that all about??

After he returned the passport, credit card and dictionary I bought, I examined the paper attached to the passport, which indicated the amount I paid for the device tax free. So my guess was that back at customs they will check have I exceeded the tax free limit. Oh great, knowing that I can bring stuff tax free only worth 175 euros, it really wasn't worth skipping Japan's 5% value added tax.

Scoutmen scouting for young women

As we walked pass one of Shinjuku's train station exits, I spotted a few scoutmen. What I mean by a scoutman is a young, 20 something year old Japanese guy dressed in really sharp looking clothes (they actually look a bit like a bestman from a wedding), scouting around a busy open street for good looking young women.

When they see one, they politely try to stop the her, praise her looks and offer them a well paid job as a "sex actress". I saw a movie of this once in a film festival, but I was quite surprised how common they turned out to be in reality (this wasn't the first time I saw them).

Another thing I forgot to mention earlier is the extremely high hygiene level in Japan. It's a common sight to see people wearing a face mask in the streets, which is an indication that the wearer has a cold and by wearing the mask they prevent it from spreading. People allergic to pollen or something else also use it when needed. Oh, and blowing your nose in public is considered rude in Japan.

After having a tea break and talking, Kanako had to return to Yokohama where she lived (the second largest city in Japan right next to Tokyo). So after we departed, I was left to wander around Shinjuku. At some point I realized I was somewhere in Tokyo, somewhere in Shinjuku, somewhere in a very confusing shop having no idea on what floor I was on or where the exit was. It was like being in a maze inside a maze's maze and I enjoyed it.

Experiencing a rush hour train

When I took the train back to Shibuya (from where I could get on the Ginza line that takes me way back to Asakusa), I "finally" got a taste of a packed train. The train was already crowded when it left Shinjuku, but when it stopped by another station, more people just charged in and BANG! Suddenly everyone was so squeezed against each other that I couldn't even move my hands just to take a photograph of the situation.

Despite the full body contact from every direction, the passengers were calm (what other option would they have really?) and somehow that extra inch of space could be found every time someone had to leave the train. I can now imagine how hard it must be for women if they happen to be squeezed against a molesting pervert taking advantage of the situation (there have been campaigns against this kind of activity).

Otherwise the day had quite much come to an end once I returned to the hotel. It was great to be exploring Tokyo again, but I now realized I wouldn't have enough time to explore Tokyo as well as I hoped. But then again, have the Tokyoites themselves either?

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Photo copyright Ude
The busy Nakamisedoori shopping street which leads to the Sensoo-ji temple.

Photo copyright Ude
Entrance to the Sensoo-ji temple.

Photo copyright Ude
A five storey pagoda next to the Sensoo-ji temple.

Photo copyright Ude
The only electronic device I bought from Japan, an electronic English-Japanese dictionary. Look guys, I didn't have the money to buy anything else, no matter what the prices were in Japan!

Photo copyright Ude
Lost in Shinjuku in an unknown shop selling weird stuff.

Metrocard
A travel card worth 1000 yen when using the subway in Tokyo. On the back to the card the ticket machine stamps the stations you visited and the money amount subtracted from the card.

LINKS TO SERVICES, PLACES, ETC. MENTIONED TODAY:
Japan Times - The internet version of a newspaper in Japan written in English.
Asakusa - Information of the area in English can be found here.
HMV - One of the bigger music chain stores in Japan.
Tower records - Another record shop.
Copyright 2003-2010 © , second edition. Latest minor update 4th of May 2010 (fixed and deleted broken links)
visitors since 28th of January 2003.