Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Rainy Sunday in Tokyo

My first Sunday in Tokyo was rainy like pretty much every other day I've had here. Unfortunately it's rainy season here and will be for at least a month. So, I went out exploring and looked for things I could do while staying dry. Before I get into the day’s adventures, I had to share a story from breakfast this morning that perfectly illustrates all the small cultural and language challenges built into day to day life. I found this bakery in the neighborhood near my hotel so I ordered some breakfast pastries, the place had a café as part of the bakery. I was planning to take my order and sit in the café while I ate my breakfast. But I grabbed a bottle of water from a cooler in the café while waiting for my pastries from the guy behind the counter. The moment I did the guy behind the counter started packaging my food to go. I asked him what the deal was and he told me bottled water was only for "outside food" and that since I had taken a bottle I had to take my food to go, he was resolute, so I took my food to go.

Once I'd finished eating my breakfast outside, I decided to go out and explore, I first found my way to the Imperial Gardens, and spent some time touring the part that's open to the public. Sorry I don't have any photos, the weather was pretty dark so I decided to wait for a sunny day to go back and take photos. It eventually got pretty rainy, so I decided to see what I could do that wouldn't involve going outside.

I couldn't find much entertaining indoors so eventually out of curiosity I decided to take one of the subway lines all the way to the end just to see what outer Tokyo looked like. It was a pretty long ride, so I passed the time by reading a book, when I got to the end I was definitely in the suburbs of Tokyo. I walked out of the train station, the end point of the subway intersected with a longer distance railroad, and saw that there was a huge Pachinko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachinko) parlor right across the street.

I walked into the Pachinko joint just to see what it was like, first thing there was literally about 110 decibels of noise in there and second there was like 200 Japanese men in a smoke filled room in a trance staring at the balls moving through the machine, it was about as depressing to look at as the Atlantic City slots old people section. I took a few photo's of the parlor and the goods you can win using my camera phone, sorry for the low quality but my AMAZING YELLOW PHONE doesn’t have a great camera (see my earlier post on the phone).

I wandered out of the Pachinko place, mostly to save my hearing and walked around the neighborhood in the rain. My main comment about greater Tokyo is that there are a lot of people crammed into not a lot of space. Eventually I decided to get out of the weather so first I walked through a super market, I always make it a point to visit super markets in every country I visit, looking at the food people eat and the household products they use is an amazing way to learn about a country, its people and its culture. The Japanese store was pretty cool, there was definitely eel, octopus, squid and other uniquely Japanese food in the store, as for the packaged goods I couldn’t read the labels on almost everything so it was tough to figure out was some things were.

I decided to wander around the neighborhood some more and look for a place to grab food. I eventually walked into a restaurant and ran into a problem that happens here fairly often, no one there spoke English and they didn't have an English menu or a picture menu. So, I literally ordered at random, I just pointed my finger at the menu and hoped for the best. This was made even more entertaining because my waiter was oddly wearing a baseball uniform, the place was not baseball themed, there were no sports posters, paraphernalia or TV's in the place. It was a normal small restaurant, and all the waiters except for mine were in normal clothing. The guy acted totally normal and was normal in all respects except for the baseball uniform. I almost couldn't keep a straight face in talking to the guy, not that we spoke each other's language so I suppose it didn't really matter. I ended up with some pretty tasty chicken so I can't complain, but I will always wonder why the guy was in a baseball uniform.

It was still raining when I finished lunch so I decided to walk back to the train station to head back to the hotel. On the way to the station I walked into a Portuguese wine shop (no idea why Portugal since it was run by an old Japanese couple) to get a bottle of wine, I figured I would get some wine to drink in my hotel this evening while I ponder why the guy who brought me lunch was wearing a baseball uniform. I think that's how alcoholism starts, but hey I have nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday evening in this place.

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