Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tōkyō: a dense maze

On Boxing Day, after five days in Táiwān, I got up very early for a flight to Tōkyō. It is annoying to have to get up so early - in fact we were unable to have breakfast in the hotel because it did not open before we had to be at Táoyuán International Airport. The taxi ride was, like the few others I took in Táibèi, very, very cramped and we had to pack an extremely full bag into the rear seat.

When we got to Táoyuán International Airport, we had little trouble with the flight to Tōkyō and spent most of the time eating breakfast. The flight to Tōkyō, though not nearly so long as some flights to come on this holiday, was still distinctly tiring for me and I was sleeping for quite a bit of the time.

When we arrived at Tōkyō, I had a bad case of not being "with it": I went, despite the old Berlitz phrasebook which should have helped me to communicate in Japanese. I did not at any point walk through customs as I should, though the signs were in English as well as Japanese.

After going through the airport, we went on a special electric train to Tōkyō, reaching it well before dark. The hotel was quite comfortable though cramped. There was a Seven Eleven outside the hotel where I was able to get at the quite reasonable cost of ¥277 ($3.50) some extremely tasty ice-creams by Nörgen Våz. Seven Eleven also had some very good Japanese food, which I took to much better than I thought I would. This was especially true of sushi, which is not that hard to find in Australia and I regret that I have never looked for it when in Melbourne.

On the first night, we had a very unusual but very Japanese meal in a restaurant opposite our hotel. It used sticks to pick up the meat and vegetables, which were strongly flavoured but extremely tasty. The location of the restaurant in an underground shop was also attractive to me. The next night, we had out first look at what is commonly thought of as the world’s largest city, and it was amazing. The public transport puts Australia’s dreadful service to shame (no excuse!) but most of the time it seemed to take us in circles as we looked through the numerous sites in the next few days. There were the squatting toilets in most stations, which were cleaner than I am used if not nearly so clean as the Japanese are reputed to be.

The main focus during the trip to Tōkyō was on the royal palaces and gardens, which were remarkable in their ability to contrast so sharply with the dense housing (of which we actually saw rather little). The gardens were grand and, for a climate that is humid but very extreme, they were manicured very well: exactly like cricket pitches in the more moderate English climate. The buildings were ancient yet very beautiful and even in the more built-up parts of the city there were notably tall buildings such as the modernist architecture west of the Royal Gardens. The views from this over Tōkyō’s maze were exceptionally good.

It was a pity that some of the old buildings we had intended to see were closed for the New Year. Walking around the vast area of Tōkyō’s old palaces is such a great contrast, though, with the dense housing that it was very enjoyable.

I had expected to do a lot of shopping in Tōkyō, but as it turned out there was only one late night when we had time to look in the main record store. I found quite a lot of interest, but as it turned out I had only one major purchase: a CD by British composer Jonathan Harvey titled Body Mandala. Although I had little time to listen to it on the holiday, I was impressed with what I did hear.

The trouble I had with the Australia-type mobile phones which do not work in Japan made it very difficult for me to communicate, but I learned that it was best to stay with Mummy and my brother, and I saw enough that I did not mind.

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