September 5th, 2007

Japan 2

Japan tourist lost track: Godzilla City

Breakfast was had in the room, in preparation for picking up tour at 8:20 in the foyer of the OTHER hotel in the complex (just for fun, there's a Hotel Grand Prince Tanakawa and a Hotel Grand Prince New Tanakawa...) First sign of trouble, torrential downpour as we stepped out of the door of OUR hotel to go across the gardens to the OTHER hotel. Luckily this place is *civilised*. There are complimentary umbrella stands at both ends. You picks up an umbrella, and then you leaves it on the other end when you're done with it. What can I say - once again - CIVILISED. And what's more you get a choice - plain green serviceable common-or-garden umbrella, or waxed paper Japanese umbrella straight out of Japanese ink paintings. Pretty cool. I may have to go back down and have my picture taken with one of these pretties.

Anyhow. Tour.

Picked up bus and then got told, this is not your bus, this is pickup bus, we are just taking you to the bus depot - where we arrived in a breathless rush, fell into the building, were herded to the proper ticket counters by smiling Japanese women who were handing out maps and more umbrellas, and packed onto another bus for our tour. Our guide introduced herself as "Junko - it's Junk with an O at the end. Our driver' name is [and I've forgotten what it was] but you can just call him Mister Driver if you can't remember." Junko was a round-faced and humorous person whose commentary was constantly amusing - I particularly liked, on our approach to the Tokyo tower which is essentially modelled on the Eiffel, her offhand comment about how it might be observed to resemble "...that other tower in France." And this tower was TALLER. By a hair, but taller. So there. Take that, Paris.

We went up to the tower observatory and were treated to sweeping if a little fuzzy-around-the-edges views of Tokyo. In certain directions there were glass and steel forests of skyscrapers, and even a glimpse of something that might have been the Landmark Tower of Yokohama, in the shadow of which we had spent Worldcon; in other directions there were temple pagoda roofs, or else just a jumble of serried ranks of rooftops that seemed to have very little to do with one another and resembled a spilled box of Lego bricks.

We descended the tower, pausing in the little shop at the bottom of the tower to pick up refreshments - they had orange KitKats, YAY! And, uh, iced Starbucks lattes (and anything iced and caffeinated was greatly appreciated, since the day was already turning into a muggy mess....) The bus departed, driving through several shopping districts with vast acreages of huge billboard advertising, and arrived in due time at the outskirts of the Imperial Palace near Edo Castle. We could only walk on the periphery of the moat (we can has pictures! [grin]) and this is when the day began to dissolve in celestial water. Copious quantities of it. What began as a mild drizzle suddenly turned, in the space of the five minutes this walk took, into a torrential tropical downpour - I trotted gamely under this deluge holding my umbrella over my camera and feeling my knees getting soaked and drips and dribbles off the back edge of the umbrella down my back; we crossed the road back to the bus in a wet untidy tourist scrum and piled back into the bus helter skelter... all of us except a couple of finicky Russians who apparently decided that they wanted to wait out the typhoon under a nice convenient shelter and the bus just had to WAIT. Junko was almost moved to stop being polite at one point. However, our wayward tourists were retrieved by a couple of their friends, and Junko said - still very politely - that the next time anyone was late for a scheduled departure the bus will just have to leave without them, so there.

We drove through the Ginza district to Asakusa, part of "old TOkyo" (which, according to Junko, if you count all the 26 cities and so many towns and 8 villages that make up Greater Tokyo, has THIRTY MILLION INHABITANTS - the mind, it boggles) and went to visit a Buddhist temple which has an incense burner which, if you wave its smoke in your direction, is supposed to make you beautiful, or whatever. (So, when I come home,if I seem different...) The temple backed onto a covered narrow shopping street crowded with stores selling lanterns, incense, sandals, fans, geisha wigs, hair ornaments, masks, kimonos, and other Japannerie. But we only had some twenty minutes for the temple and the street, in toto, thanks to the tardy Russians, so we poked around a bit, took a few photos, and walked back to the bus through a landscape which had just got soaked and was now steaming in the sunshine.

Next stop, via the double-decker Tokyo expressway, was a pearl production facility and store. A very nice young woman explained how pearls were cultured, and then someone won a lucky pearl (not me). But because I have had some good news recently, I DID make a purchase at the pearl shop. JPGs to come. Promise.

People could choose to be bused back to their hotels at this point, but carl_allery and I decided we would strike out on our own at this point. We found an Irish pub called Finn MacCool's to have lunch at (and I has photo of the English gaijin eating pork and ginger with chopsticks in an Irish pub in Japan. The mind it boggles all over again...

Weather was getting abominable at this point, with humidity enough to curl my hair (literally) but we gamely tackled the subway system and found our way around quite nicely, thank you very much indeed (carl_allery:"We OWN Tokyo subway!!!") and returned to Ginza, where we wandered around a bit more, popped into a few stores, took more pictures, and then decided we felt a tad pooped so skedaddled back to the hotel.

We WERE planning on going out for supper but we both felt too tired to venture out far - and so after an abortive attempt at a local steakhouse (the set menu ran to 20 000 Yen a person - I mean, YIKE) we had dinner in the same cheerful restaurant that we had done the previous night. But before we had done that, we got some bad news. Our tour operator had called in to tell us that we were to spend the next day grounded in TOkyo, thanks to the imminent typhoon - and that our tour would be moved forward one day which meant that we basically would not be going up Mt FUji in a major storm. I was in a bit of a blue funk over that at supper, and carl_allery said something like, well, I wouldn't be surprised if the coach driver told the operators, well, sod THAT for a lark - and after that I could barely eat my beef pilaf because I was laughing too hard to swallow. I mean, I was picturing in my head every Japanese person I had met on this trip so far, and I could not imagine one of them, not ONE, telling anybody to sod anything for a lark. Possibly, "Please to be sodding off, if it isn't too much trouble, thank you very much". With a bow. The idea of a Japanese driver turning on the tour operator just... floored me. and after that the night went the giggle way fast and we couldn't stop. Out came the Dr Who references and the Monty Python references and damn, but it's good to have a friend around who shares ALL your cultural background and have to utter the first syllable of a word before an entire sketch takes form in the air between us and then dissipates elegantly, while we're both still wiping tears of laughter off our faces, to make room for the next.

Anyhow, the upshot is that we're ever so slightly screwed by this inconvenient typhoon, but we gallantly rose to the occasion and since we are going to be stuck in Tokyo tomorrow and cannot count on anything that's OUTSIDE because we had a taste of that typhoon rain and it wasn't much fun thank you we made plans to visit several local museums catering to history (the Edo period of Tokyo), growing bonsai, Japanese swords, and Japanese arts and crafts if we have time. We had enormous fun figuring out stations and rail lines on maps that would not cooperate and then finding the same recalcitrant station in the same moment and squawking "Ichigaya!" at the same instant as the place finally caught our eye (at which point I added, "Gesundheit..!"). Typhoon or no typhoon, unless they shut down the entire city tomorrow morning, we has plans. We will immerse ourselves in Japanese culture, and we will go and LEARN something. The sword museum even advertises that it hands out pamphlets on the care and feeding of Japanese swords, and hell, both of us are writers. This is RESEARCH.

And with a bit of luck we pick up the rest of the tour on Friday - Mt Fuji, Hakone, Kyoto, and then back to Tokyo, the airport, and home.

Hot and tired and damp and frustrated at the vagaries of weather... and having a wonderful time.

Sayonara for now.