After years of savings and months of planning, we are finally off on our big trip! I admit, in the days leading up to our departure, I had a fair bit of butterflies. The night before our departure, it dawned on me that we had quit our jobs, moved out of our apartment, and had everything that we'd use for the next year in one big backpack. It felt a lot like the butterflies I felt before our wedding -- I knew that what I was about to do would be amazing, but it didn't stop that small feeling in my stomach.
Like the wedding, as soon as we got going all the butterflies melted away. Japan was an excellent choice to being our tour. Tokyo is a mix of big city life that we are comfortable with combined with the foreignness of a new culture. The people here have uniformly been polite and helpful. English, while not universal, is extremely common and makes getting around quite simple. And even in situations without English we have found locals to be generous with their time in helping us. Our first night in the city we received extensive assistance from several Japanese commuters at the Metro station who, although we could not speak to each other directly, took a significant amount of time working with us to get the proper ticket at the ticket terminal.
Like any city, each neighborhood of Tokyo has a different personality and we've seen a different part of Tokyo each day. Here are a few of the sights we have visited.
Tsukiji Fish Market
I can't really think of any industrial wholesale markets in Boston or any other city that also function as a tourist attraction, but Tsukiji definitely fits that description.
The market opens at 3am as fish arrive via boat and overland. The thousands of vendors begin the daily buying and selling and shipping off their product to various vendors all across the city.
Most of the market is off limits to tourists as it is a functioning market. The areas that are open to the public are only open after 9am when much of the business is already winding down.
Just outside the market is a series of sushi restaurants that serve amazingly fresh sushi with fish purchased from the market. The first photo from the slideshow below shows the view from our spot at the sushi counter.
The arcade has not died in Japan as it has in the United States. This has, in my mind, elevated it to the status of a major cultural location in my mind.
The actual arcade that I found did not match what I expected. Instead of having rows and rows of Dance Dance Revolution, the majority of the arcades we visited were filled with some type of gambling game I didn't understand. Most of the arcades we visited were 4-6 stories tall and featured about 80+% games that were gambling. The bigger arcades had large horse racing games, like the one above.
Our senses were overwhelmed in the arcade. I expected the flashing lights and constant dinging and pinging of the machines, but I did not expect the smell. Smoking is prohibited in many parts of Japan. (Sidewalks have signs stating no smoking and walking, punctuated by smoking areas on the sidewalk every several hundred meters in busy areas.) But the smoking ban most definitely does not extend to arcades. As a non-smoker, I have an admittedly low tolerance for cigarette smoke before my eyes are irritated. Between the smoke and the lack of desire to gamble, we strolled out of the arcades without joining in the fun ourselves.
Well, except one relic of arcade gaming we found in the basement of an eight story arcade. Kelsi wanted to play this one because instead of moles, this one was noodle-themed and she got to whack little Japanese men with upturned ramen bowls on their heads.
Interestingly, while reading the Japan Times at the hostel this morning I saw this political cartoon. While I certainly don't know enough about Japan to know if there is gambling problem, as a visitor I was definitely struck by the amount of gambling I saw.
Off to Hiroshima
We have a lot more to say about Tokyo and Japan in general, but tonight we head out to Hiroshima. We have an overnight bus (cheaper than the train!). Expect a Japan-overnight-bus-review as well as more about Tokyo and Japan in the coming days!