Tokyo: the departure and first days in a distant land.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Wednesday 9.1.1985, Stavanger – Amsterdam – Anchorage
I had bought a oneway ticket Stavanger to Tokyo for 423 USD. The airline was KLM and I had to go viaAmsterdam. The benefit was that KLM was flying on Stavanger so that I did not have to mess too much. Now I only had a couple of hours waiting on Schiphol before the plane, a DC8 I think, lifted from the runway direction Tokyo.
The entire flying took 21 hours, 19 of which on the last leg. I thought beforehand that they would be very long hours. It turned out to be a fairly nice experience. We were served enough food and drinks, we were shown a movie (Splash), and I had brought enough to read.
Besides I had a seat next to a Dutch, ET. He worked for KLM and received his seat on a standby ticket. We got into talking and it turned out that he had this girlfriend in Tokyo whom he visited once a year or something. It seemed to me that their relationship was very straight; they had hardly been alone due to her parents and Japanese etiquette.
Halfway on the trip we landed in Anchorage, Alaska. In other words we flew approximately over theNorth Pole on our way from Amsterdam to Tokyo. Even though we were only let into the luxurious transit waiting hall we were able to get out onto the roof and watch the skyscrapers and high mountains behind. An impressive view, and tempting, I thought.
Thursday 10.1.1985, Anchorage – Tokyo
The plane arrived an hour and a half late, but we found the way to our hotel. This place, Okubo House, was a guest house ET knew of, and it was a good place.
- OKUBO HOUSE: (03)361 2348. Narita – Veno station (Limited Express) – change to JNR-Yamanote line, take it to Shin-Okubo station. Turn left outside station, another left into the first little side street. Walk around 100 metres, right hand side, with a sign in English. (The place no longer exists as such, but a similar with same phone number. A photo from the old days is here.)
The rooms, which by the way were quite private, consisted of four two-level bunks. Many of the beds were occupied by permanent resident Japanese. It was a cheap living alternative; all their belongings were in a few plastic bags. On the other hand they did not seem to be like those you often see on the streets. These people were overall clean, well dressed and pleasant.
Apart from this the place looked like it was popular among other white travellers. The price was 1400 Y, around 5.5 USD and one of the cheapest in the whole of Tokyo. Here we met and talked to people from all over the (Western) world – apart from Norway.
I want to take note of a closer description of this hotel, for two reasons. One is that the transition from home was big for me who had never travelled before. The second reason is that this place contained a couple of “elements” common for most places I visited in Japan later.
The first I noticed was the bottom of my bed. It was very hard – called tatami – because it consisted of a straw mat-like cover over a wooden foundation. On top there was a thick quilted bed cover. We slept on it and pulled a couple of others over us. It was very hard in other words, and I noticed that the day(s) after. This is how the Japanese like it apparently. We were also given a kimono-like suit which turned into an evening and night dress.
The Japanese bath is also very different from ours. Here one sits down on a small stool and perform a whole body wash thoroughly, from a portable basin. When you are clean you step into the bathtub. And often this is big enough for several persons at a time. The water is in it all evening so it is necessary to be clean before stepping into the tub. The water is hot; it is supposed to be scorching hot. If you are able to torment yourself enough to sit down, it is also really relaxing as well.
Friday 11.1.1985, Tokyo
I had in advance planned to spend a few days shopping in Tokyo. My wish was to find a camera lens in order to give myself more options on all the pictures I intended to take on this trip and of course later as well. Secondly, I wanted to buy a wristwatch with more functions than the one I’ve got. I especially wanted one with a calculator and alarm. I had not brought along an alarm clock which of course is an advantage if I’m going to catch an early train or similar. Thirdly I wanted a light, little, battery or el-driven razor-machine.
Today I and ET went out to purchase to latter two items. Tokyo has several shopping centres and the best for all kinds of electronics was in the district of Akihabara.
Here there were small stores and large department stores aplenty, with an abundance of all kinds of electronic devices. I found a watch as I wanted, even though the selection almost was too big.
Saturday 12.1.1985, Tokyo
Shinjuku is the district to visit if you are interested in cameras and accessories. Here I found my lens, a Pentax 70-210 mm zoom, f4. It cost me around 155 USD. (I have a Pentax ME Super camera.)
Sunday 13.1.1985, Tokyo
These two days shopping had besides the goods also given me a certain impression of how modern and new Tokyo’s buildings really are. It could easily become too much of it. This day we set aside for sightseeing other places.
First we went to a quite large park, Yoyogi Park, not far from the hotel. It was lovely to walk around there, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Then the Tokyo Tower, an Eiffel tower lookalike, gave us a nice view of the city.
The old palace of the Emperor and the park around it take a large part of the old (but now to the highest degree, modernised) core of the city. The palace itself, still the dwelling of Hirohito & Co, we were of course not allowed to enter. But we walked and bicycled around and had a good look.
Our last stop was Asakusa, a district consisting of a large temple, street market and shopping arcades.
Monday 14.1.1985, Tokyo
I went back to Akihabara and bought a good travelling razor-machine.
Tuesday 15.1.1985, Tokyo
This was a national day off for the Japanese and ET had finally been invited to his girlfriend and her family. So I went out on my own. Finding your way around Tokyo is quite easy, and even easier to get where you want. The transportation system – the underground, metro – is very well developed, and if only you have a good enough overview map of the lines it is practically impossible to get lost.
I went into Ginza, the traditional and modernistic shopping district in Tokyo and the one which is most famous abroad. As one can expect the area is no longer known for its cheap shops and bargains. But it was an exciting trip.
As usual after having messed around for hours in city noise I needed some calm. Ueno Park proved to be a fine place to relax in, being as large as it is. The park has some old, interesting buildings too.
Wednesday 16.1.1985, Tokyo
My original plan was to travel from here to Beijing, but it turned out otherwise. The flight ticket was very high (around 8000 Yen) and I found out that the best way of getting out of Japan was via Okinawa to Taiwan. And then on to Hong Kong, the most common and natural starting point for a journey into China. I went for the office that comes closest to a consulate or embassy in the relationship between Taiwan and Japan, and had my visa on the day.
Thursday 17.1.1985, Tokyo
I had by now got sufficiently acquainted to Tokyo to begin venturing beyond the capital. This day ET and I went to Kamakura, a bit south of Yokohama. This nice little place in the countryside had quite a few religious objects. It was my first (apart from a few in Tokyo), but not last encounter of such matters in Japan. Here we visited a lot of temples, some in parks. We also took the picture of a 12 metre tall Buddha statue, hollow inside.
Before finishing my diary from Tokyo I will mention some general impressions I got.
What is striking already on day one is how new most of Tokyo is. The centres that have evolved are full of high buildings in glass and concrete, filled with offices and shops. At night everything is lit in the glitter of colourful neon lights, something the Japanese obviously appreciate very much. The same pride of their economic wonder they certainly have had after WW2 is apparent in the huge department stores everywhere. They are at the same time both impressive and terrible.
For my part I feel an urge to get away from all this in between and the same it seems like the Japanese themselves feel. They are known to keep many of their old customs and traditions.
As an example of that I would like to mention that once I came up the escalator in such a large department store I was met by shop assistant bowing deeply for me. I was pretty astonished and can’t remember how I reacted. (To be true everyone is bowing for me; and the one who is bowing deepest shows who deserves the most respect.)
It seems like the Japanese youth are very fashion conscious, but I may already here reveal that this really is almost only the case for Tokyo. (I guess it is almost like Oslo and the rest of the country back home.) And the girls are quite attractive and chic.
My dinners were eaten at various restaurants, one of them so often that the proprietor gave us each our happiness coin as a sign of gratitude. We tried to keep our expenses at around 500-600 Yen, which is around 2.2 USD. That is some of the cheapest, but still too expensive for my budget.
The food is good, but what we got in addition to the rice I never seemed to get a grip on. Chopsticks were a real nuisance the first day, when I had noodles, and also the next days. But at the end of the day it is of course a matter of habit and I managed in a way as days went by. Luckily, I must add, for knife and fork are hard to find.
- The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia
- Tokyo: the departure and first days in a distant land
- NEXT CHAPTER: Kyoto: A look into a splendid past and harmonious places to rest