Sunday, 15 May, 2005

Sightseeing in Tokyo

My first four days in Japan, I just followed along behind our host, not paying particular attention to where we were going or how we were getting there.  In the subway, for example, he'd go buy the tickets while we waited, and then we'd just follow him to whichever platform the train was supposed to arrive at.

Work over for the week, David and I decided to spend yesterday seeing the sights.  There's a lot to see in Tokyo, of course, certainly more than one could see in a day or even a week.  But we each had a couple of things we wanted to check out, and David wanted to show me a few of the tourist spots.  My job was to figure out how to get us there on the subway.

The first stop was the Kitanomaru National Garden, a very large botanical garden on the sight of what once was (or perhaps still is) one of the Emporer's residences, complete with surrounding moat.  It was only two kilometers from the hotel, so we decided to walk.  I was surprised to see this much garden space in the middle of the world's largest city, and it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful there despite all the people and hustle and bustle around us.  The gardens were beautiful, but not much was in bloom this time of year.  The picture at left gives some idea of the garden's lushness, but it really doesn't do justice to the hard work and care given to maintaining it.

The many people wandering around the garden were quiet, children well behaved.  All seemed to understand that this is a place where people go to relax and get away from the noise of the city.  How I wish people at home would behave so well.

David is an avid Go player, so after leaving the gardens and having lunch we made a stop at the Japan Go association hall of fame and museum.  I know enough about the game of Go to understand the rules, but that's about it.  Still, I enjoyed viewing some of the old boards and other displays.  David told me a story about a samurai who was attacked while he slept, and used a Go board (a very large and heavy block of wood) to defend himself.  He managed to kill several of his attackers before being overcome.  It's a favorite story of Go players and of the Japanese in general, because it illustrates the fighting spirit that the people hold so dear.

People I'd talked to before leaving for Tokyo told me that the subway system was very difficult to navigate, and warned me to stay away from it at all costs.  But tens of millions of people use the Tokyo subway every day, so I figured that it couldn't be too terribly difficult to find my way around.  The map I got, with directions in English, certainly seemed approachable.  My only problem was trying to figure out how to buy a ticket.  I wanted to figure this out without help because I was going to be wandering around by myself the next day.  David stood there patiently while I tried to puzzle things out.  While I stood there looking bewildered, a Japanese man came by and asked if I needed help.  I thanked him and explained that I was trying to learn myself, but I appreciated his concern.  My problem was that I couldn't figure out how to tell the ticket machine where I wanted to go.  I finally gave up, and David showed me that the machine doesn't care too much where I'm going, just that I put in enough money to buy a ticket for my stop.  The prices for each stop are shown on a map above the bank of machines.  I might have figured that out if the map had the names written in Latin characters.  I couldn't read the Kanji.

We had a good old time wandering around and taking pictures in the Ginza shopping district, which has every kind of high end shop imaginable.  I think every major retailer in the world has a store here.  It's a dozen blocks of highrise buildings, with people everywhere.  The few places I walked into had some very expensive merchandise.  I'm not much of a shopper, so I spent most of the time just watching people and taking pictures.  I'll post some of those tomorrow.