Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chasing Daylight

Postcard from Japan (#1)

Dear Roxie and Legions of Loyal Fans (henceforth "LLF"),

This will be brief, as it's past 10:30 p.m. in Japan, and our bodies are still trying to find their way in time. My computer tells me it's 9:35 a.m. at home, yet Goose and I just finished a lovely dinner here in the hotel. We were both wide awake at 5 this morning, but I think tonight we'll have a normal night's sleep and be more or less on local time tomorrow.

As I noted earlier today in Comments, our trip here was a smooth one. We were both exhausted before we ever got off the ground, so I can't say that I spent the 14 hours on the plane in a particularly productive way. I spent a shocking amount of time pondering the (to me) baffling fact that we traveled thousands of miles west, and it kept getting earlier and earlier and earlier (and it also never got dark), until we crossed a magical line on the planet and discovered it was already tomorrow. At one point, Rox, Goose looked over, and I was making a big globe in the air and dividing it up with vertical lines. . . .Oh, you know how literal I can be, Rox. Anyway, somehow, it is later here, though in California it is earlier. Go figure.

I have to admit we were intimidated this morning about going out to try to conquer this vast city. We had great advice from Luanne's friend Laura over our long breakfast and a detailed session with the hotel concierge, but when we hit the streets on our own it was still challenging to find our way through the maze of streets and the subway system without knowing the language or even the alphabet, though there are English signs here and there, especially in the subway. Ultimately, though, I'm proud to report that we managed to pick up train passes and find our way to Asakusa, site of a Buddhist temple built in 1649, the oldest temple in the city. It's a beautiful place, and it was fascinating to realize that the hordes of "tourists" there clearly saw it as a shrine and treated it with genuine respect (as opposed to the mostly fake respect we're accustomed to seeing in, say, European cathedrals). People paused to pray before statues of the Buddha, covered themselves in smoke from incense, washed themselves in water from fountains. It was a peaceful place, despite the crowds.

(Photo Credit: Moose; Main Hall, Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo)

(Photo Credit: Moose; Thunder God Gate, Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo)

From Asakusa, we went to a "shrine" of another sort, the upscale shopping district of Ginza. There was comfort in being in a place that had the familiarity of places like Fifth Avenue after the overwhelming strangeness of much of the day. The avenues in Ginza are broad, and many of the brand names are familiar, though the most amazing thing we saw was the "food garden" in the basement of the Mistukoshi department store. People had told us this was something we had to experience, and they were right. I've never seen such an astonishing array of delectable looking food. We bought some dumplings and sushi and then wrestled with the difficult question of where to eat. Goose was convinced that plopping down and eating in some random public place would constitute a major breach of local etiquette. I was starving and insisted that we sit down and eat the food we had bought and paid for. "Look, anyone who sees us knows we're Americans. They already think we're barbarians. Sometimes nationalistic stereotypes can be very convenient. Sit down. Eat." And so we did, though the normally "rules-are-for-little-people" Goose was dying from embarrassment the whole time. What can I say? We're in another world. The rules and the roles get a little screwy, though, fortunately, Goose can still get us home, no matter how challenging it is to navigate.

'Night, Rox. 'Night, LLF. We're closing in on midnight in Tokyo, which means it's darn near the day after tomorrow, and I'm afraid I can't handle a conundrum of that scale. Tomorrow afternoon, we head to Kyoto to hook up with the Dickinson folk. More from there.

Peace out,

(Photo Credit: Moose; Ginza District, Tokyo)


  1. Most major department stores in Japan have that lovely food basement. In the town in which we lived, there was a store called Sakaiya with a bakery that made baguette with swiss cheese baked into it. The wonders of Japan! They also sold three cans of Del Monte fruit for twenty dollars (evidently, it was a typical Christmas gift--Del Monte is so exotic). Don't worry so much about eating in public. Just don't eat when you walk. That's generally frowned upon. I'm so glad you guys are having a blast! Try some of the delicious iced coffee they sell in vending machines! And if you find yourself on the Keihen-Kyuko train line (the transfer point in Tokyo is Shinagawa), think of me!

    The Official Prep School Teacher of Roxie's World

  2. Anonymous11:40 AM EDT

    Hey, OPST! Believe me, we've thought many times of your advice to "just let it wash over" us rather than try to get a handle on all of this. It's great advice, and I meant to mention it in today's post. Thanks for backing me up on the eating in public issue. I must report that we did see a fellow eating while walking not long after I finally convinced Goose to eat in the great outdoors. Perhaps manners are going to hell here, too.

    Suddenly I'm wide awake! Here's hoping the Benadryl kicks in soon.


  3. Poor thing! The jet lag is a bitch--and it's worse coming home! :( Take your Benadryl with a Kirin chaser, QM1!

    Are you guys taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto? Buy a bento box and take it with you on the trip!

    Sleep well, my love!


  4. Anonymous6:00 PM EDT

    A short comment, after this I'll just quietly enjoy reading your travel diary!

    So then thanks for these huge photos — please keep them coming — especially since they can be used as desktop pictures too — a nice travel gift for me and all your LLF! And I love that the scenes are in motion at a walking pace. There I was crossing that incense-filled plaza, or awash in Chinese red at the temple, or in that crowd at the busy corner — feeling very privileged indeed to journey for a moment in Japan alongside Moose and Goose. A sweet observation on the tourists' respectfulness especially, but it's all richly interesting! Thank you so much!


  5. "thanks for these huge photos — please keep them coming — especially since they can be used as desktop pictures too — a nice travel gift for me and all your LLF! And I love that the scenes are in motion at a walking pace."

    Yes! This friend speaks my mind!

    I still have pics from your Paris trip on my iPod! I'm looking forward to many more!

    Love, Katie


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