Monday, 16 May, 2005

Wandering around Tokyo

I got a day behind somehow.  I started writing this while waiting for my plane in San Francisco, and I'll probably finish it after I get home.  The trip back was uneventful, which is probably the best kind of airplane trip.  I'm looking forward to being home, although I'm not particularly looking forward to the jet lag.  Re-synching the body clock is always difficult.

Yesterday David went to see some old friends in Kamakura and I was left to my own devices.  I decided to buy an all-day subway pass and see a little bit of the city.  Although I'd learned yesterday how to buy a subway ticket to my destination, I didn't know how to buy the all-day pass.  As I stood there in Jimbocho station trying to puzzle it out, a Japanese woman on her way to somewhere stopped and helped me out.  This was the third time in two days that somebody saw me looking perplexed and offered to help.  I can only hope that I would do the same if our positions were reversed.

My first stop was Shinjuku station, apparently one of the larger stations in the city.  The place is sprawling, with at least three different connecting subway lines, and a huge shopping mall.  I had breakfast in a little cafe there, and then walked out onto the street.  I ended up in a shopping district that had all manner of stores, although nothing quite as elaborate as when I'd seen in the Ginza district the day before.  After wandering around taking pictures there for a while, I went back to Shinjuku station and finally found my way to the platform where I could catch my next train.  I visited Roppongi (the night life district) and Ginza again, before heading back to the hotel to rest up.

I went through three sets of camera batteries while taking 250 pictures.  I took most of the pictures by holding the camera at waist level, aiming in the general direction and pressing the button.  I wanted to get people just wandering by, without them smiling at the camera or turning away.  As you might imagine, most of the shots were average to bad, but there are a few good ones in there.  I'm hoping to put together a page of the best shots with descriptions, but that's a long term project.

Something I noticed while reviewing my pictures is that people here dress better than in the U.S.  In all my wandering around, I saw very few T-shirts, and almost nobody was wearing ratty clothes.  The "I just got up and threw something on" look that seems to be all the rage in the U.S. is unknown here.  Nobody was wearing sweat pants, and with the exception of a few girls in Roppongi on Saturday night, few women were outfitted in the "ho" garb that seems so popular among young women back home.  Everybody seems to take pride in their appearance.  Lots of people wear faded jeans, but they're clean, well-fitted, without holes, and accompanied by a nice shirt and usually a jacket.  The woman at right is dressed a little better than the average shopper I saw in Ginza, but she's not so overly dressed as to stand out in the crowd.  This is one of those good shots I got from waist level.  Click on the image for a larger view.

I was surprised to see that almost everybody was wearing long sleeves or a jacket, and many were hugging themselves as though they were cold.  That was very odd, as I was quite comfortable in a short sleeved shirt.  I wonder now if long sleeves are considered polite, or if the people really do feel cold when it's 70 degrees outside.  I did findmany of the buildings uncomfortably warm.

I also learned that the people here hate to get wet.  It started to drizzle a little bit and all of a sudden the streets in the shopping district were full of umbrellas.  Very quickly the streets were almost empty of people, with everybody rushing into shops or standing under awnings waiting for the rain to stop.  I guess people in the U.S. would do that, too, if they were dressed better.  A damp T-shirt and jeans aren't so bad, and wet hair enhances that "just threw something on" look.  The girl at left is standing out in the rain under her umbrella because she's handing out flyers of some kind.

All in all I had a great time wandering around, watching people, checking out the merchandise in some of the shops, and snapping pictures of the crowds and whatever else caught my eye.  You can learn a lot about a culture just by watching how they go about their daily business.  I think it helps to be alone when doing that, isolated from everybody else almost like an invisible observer.