Tokyo Journal 2003: Day 5

March 6th, 2003

New Year’s Eve

It’s 6PM � we’re watching Da!Da!Da! on TV. P and I were talking about how TV on New Year’s Eve is always excruciating. She called it a “babysitting nightmare.”

The bus tour was pretty good. We didn’t see much, but we got a nice ride around. Between that and the fact that we *finally* got to walk around Ikebukuro and orient ourselves, I feel like I’m getting the hang of Tokyo. Six months here and I’d be perfectly okay. LOL

The bus tour started with a long trip around Ikebukuro, which was kind of cool, if unintentional. Then we had a long, winding trip in and around a bunch of other neighborhoods, all of which were fascinating. Some were really high-end and modern; some were old-fashioned, with traditional-style houses and many temples and shrines. The really expensive areas don’t look it, because so many they tend to be crowded and old.

Eventually we pulled up to the bus terminal where, after 15 minutes, we got back on the same bus (of course) and set off on the tour.

The first stop was the Meiji shrine. It was very empty, as tomorrow would be New Year’s Day and the place would be mobbed. We were able to see the decorations for the festivities…and we saw a guy walk by in a white, double-breasted suit, wearing sunglasses and carrying a cane. I stared openly at him, because if he *wasn’t* Yakuza, then he was playing one on TV, I swear. We bought a few Omamori, knowing full well that we really needed to get them after the New Year…but a lot of these became souvenirs for friends, so we figured it didn�t matter so much. (I know, that’s cold…) Pattie bought a charm that looked like a little shrine – it was for passing the college entrance exams. We got lost on the way back and were late getting back for the bus. Not surprisingly, we were mortified, so we were especially on time and not a pain for the rest of the trip.

The Meiji shrine was actually interesting, from my perspective. The spirit of the place (kami) was in the place itself, and the shrine itself, not in any statue that I saw. We threw coins, bowed, clapped and prayed. The tour guide had shown us the fountain where Pattie and I purified ourselves. Satuo-san said that we didn’t have to wash our hands in the basin – we were purified when we paid. We threw money at the kami (they like this) and prayed. Sato-san told us that the Japanese aren’t religious, they just went to temple and made wishes. I don’t think there’s much difference, myself. :-)

After that, we headed over to the Imperial Palace. Apparently, the reclamation of Tokyo Bay actually began with Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Palace was closed, because tomorrow being the New Year and all, they’d have several tens of thousands of people trooping through to be waved at by the Emperor, which is really kind of cool, if you think of it.

Our tour guide, the afore-mentioned Satou-san, was a scream. He said that since his name meant “sugar” in Japanese, we should call him “Sugar Daddy,” and then said that he was sweeter than the other guide, whose name meant “salt.” As we passed the Ginza, he told us that the biggest (and thusly, the most expensive) building was his, and the next biggest was owned by his brother. He then went on to elaborate – he was the president of a pharmaceutical company which was working on a cure for baldness (he said as he rubbed his balding head) and he did this for fun on the weekend. We all laughed, but after he stopped speaking, Pattie and I just stared at each other, wondering. Wouldn�t it be funny if he actually *was*? Satou is one of the three most common names in Japan, so I’ll never know.

His best lines of the day were as we passed the Russian Embassy. He told us that between the Embassy and the Japanese-American club on the other side, were underground tunnels, so that every night during the Cold War, the two sides could get together and party. At the end of the road was a raised police box that he said was from the late 60’s when there were quite a few riots. The box was raised, so the police could see the mob coming down the road towards the Embassy. Satou-san told us that the police watched for riots every day from 9AM to sunset, but if we rioted before or after that, there would be no police.

One last Satou-san story – as we passed the National Police building, he said that since there was so little crime in Japan, all the police in the country were inside, watching TV. Every time he told us a story, he would pause, then say, “Its in my imagination.”

As we passed Harajuku, there was a *really* long line of young women – we don’t know for what, probably a store opening. Satou-san mentioned that Harajuku was a popular place for young women…and therefore a popular place for young men.

From the Palace, we went to Senso-ji Temple. This was very cool – Pattie said it was “a lot of bang for your buck.” Along with the main temple, there were many smaller shrines and statues donated privately. The street in front of the temple is the very famous Nakamise-dori. It’s lined with cheesy little over-priced knickknack shops that sell shit you don’t need for too much money. There were a fair amount of people wandering around the grounds, but in the next few days, the place would be wall-to-wall people. We thought we might go back, just because it was so cool.

Pattie took an Omikuji, a fortune, at the temple. It was “good luck” and we were very happy. We decided not to push our luck and I did not take one. We had a snack (two different types of dango) but decided not to stay, because we wanted to do the rest of the bus ride to see more of town. We got back on the bus, where the two New York-style kogals on the tour were very late and bitched that we didn’t wait for them – when every other tour they’d ever been on had waited. I turned to Pattie and asked, “They’re in the habit of being late on all their tours?” These two were stupid, loud and rude the entire time…which actually made me feel kind of good. They were so horrible compared to everyone else, the little slip P and I had made, when we got lost sort of looked less pathetic.

After the tour landed us in the Ginza Pattie and I decided that the shopping center of Tokyo had nothing we cared about, so we headed back to the hotel to eat, rest and shop locally. If we felt up to it, we were going to try and make it back to the Senso-ji that night for New Years…but we knew that it was unlikely. We were both crashing by 10 every night. We had a light snack and decided to start hitting the anime and manga stores hard. It was time to get down to business.

Next time: 100 ways to spend money

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