Tokyo Travel Diary – Day 2

Wednesday 23 January, 2013

Tokyo dawn

I just have time to jot a few notes before heading out to dinner with Matt, who used to work with me in Sydney, before he married a Japanese woman and they moved to Tokyo. It’ll be nice to catch up.

I had a bad sleep in the hotel room. Trouble getting to sleep, then I woke up about 04:00, since that was 06:00 at home, and couldn’t fall asleep again. Hopefully I’ll adjust better tonight.

A bit before 07:00 I got out of bed, got dressed, and went in search of breakfast. I’d found a food court in the hotel complex last night, and tried that first, but it didn’t open until 10:00. So I crossed the road to the station and tried the food parlour where I’d bought the mochi last night, but that was closed too. So I went into a 7-11 and grabbed a tray of sushi and a vegetable rice cake thing and brought them back up to my room to eat while I got ready for the day visiting the Canon Inc. offices in Shimomaruko.

Back streets of Tokyo

I needed to be there at 09:40 to meet my contact, and people told me to allow plenty of time to find my way there. So I left a few minutes before 08:00 and walked over to Shinagawa station, where my first task was to find the platform for the Keihin-Tohoku line, southbound. This was actually very easy to find, and when I walked down the stairs a train pulled in and I hopped on. It was full of people, but not really crowded – there was plenty of space to stand. Three stops later I arrived at Kamata and made my way across to the Tokyu-Tamagawa line trains. I arrived just as one train was departing, but the next train was a mere four minutes later, so that didn’t take long at all. It was only another three stops to Shimomaruko. The stations along this line were smaller and more rustic, with shelters made of wood.

Shimomaruko itself felt very different from the neon bustle of Shinagawa. The buildings were older and smaller, and it felt almost like a Japanese village. The walk to Canon goes down a street lined with fruit stalls and little shops, and it is fairly picturesque. I’d arrived so quickly that I had a full hour to spare before my meeting, so I dawdled down side streets, seeking interesting photo opportunities, as I meandered along towards Canon. The walk wasn’t very long, so I got there with plenty of time left, and continued walking past the Canon campus to the Tama River, where the street went over a long bridge across the broad floodplain and the river in the central part of it. Parts of the floodplain were made into sports fields, and a jogging track lined with trees ran along the side of it.

Tama River jogging track

(written next morning)

I went out on to the bridge to get a closer view of the river and to see if I could get a panorama of tall buildings to the north. The view was wide, but nearby apartments buildings blocked the main mass of Tokyo behind them. Returning, I went along the jogging track a short way to get a shot of the bare trees receding into the distance. With nothing much else to do, I returned to the Canon office and entered through the checkpoint, showing my CiSRA ID card to get a visitor pin. The premises are huge, with several very modern looking buildings separated by carefully manicured lawns and landscaped beds of trees and flowers. There was quite a bit fo half-melted snow on the ground in shady places. I wandered around a bit to take it all in, then went to the foyer of the building where I was to meet my contact.

The day was full of meetings which I won’t describe further. We broke for lunch at one of the several canteens dotted around the campus. The meal of the day appeared to be spaghetti, since my host asked if I liked spaghetti before we even got there, and indeed the cooks were doling out bowls of spaghetti topped with a choice of meats, vegetables, and sauces. I picked the “hot” one (with chili), and the “normal” size option, which amused my hosts as they all went for the “large” – but not the “extra large”.

Shinagawa crossing blur

After lunch I was shown to the photo lab where most of my contacts work. At 17:00, meetings over, they escorted me to the door of the building and from there I walked back to the checkpoint, handed in my visitor badge, and walked back to Shimomaruko station for the train ride back to the hotel. I got there not much after 17:30, which gave me some time to relax before meeting Matt for dinner.

I was to meet him at the JR entrance at Shinagawa station, just a minute’s walk from the hotel. Finding it was easy, but there was a huge bustle of people moving to and fro, and it was only when I found an area where several other people seemed to be waiting for people that I managed to stand still long enough to look around. The population of Tokyo surged around me, heading home from work, and it was dizzying watching them scurry past in all directions. There seems to be enough space for people’s paths to cross and intersect without much trouble, and it all looks like a carefully choreographed routine, mind-bending in its proportions.

Shibuya shock

A few minutes later I spotted Matt inside the ticket barriers, and joined him there so he didn’t need to pay the fare to come out. We went down to the Yamanote line platform and squeezed on to a train to Shibuya. The train was sardine packed – I think it was probably the most packed train I’ve been on in my life. Despite being crammed on and pressed from all sides, everyone surged back and forth as the train accelerated, barely avoiding a mass pile up on the floor. Matt commented that this indicated the train wasn’t packed enough. I commented to him about the weirdly ambiguous ads on the trains. One I’d seen earlier had a photo of a pretty young thing, a mass of Japanese, and the only English words were “Lady & Go”. I couldn’t tell if it was an ad for cosmetics or call girls.

At Shibuya we got off and made our way to the famous Shibuya intersection, glittering with neon and giant TV screens beaming down from all directions. It was amazing – the lights, the masses of people. We waited for Matt’s wife Yuki, who showed up a few minutes later. We crossed a bridge over the street, getting a good view of the glitzy intersection below and above us. Then we walked down the main strip, assaulted by neon from all sides, to a small place that did okonomiyaki, Japanese omelettes. Yuki ordered some appetisers, which included small bowls of delicious, firm sweet potato chunks; a bowl of something that Matt described as “spicy” and declined to comment further and which Yuki described as “some sort of animal organ”; and what looked like it had all the right ingredients for a caesar salad, but combined in a way I’ve never seen a caesar salad done before. The “animal organ” turned out to be sinewy, like chewing rubber bands, but the only flavour was the red chili on it as Matt had indicated. The salad was good.

Okonomiyaki cook

Then for mains we chose three okonomiyaki from the cartoon-like menu in which each variety was drawn with almost but not quite enough detail to let you tell what the ingredients were. There was the “house special” as Matt translated, which had the basic omelette topped with a grated sticky potato layer, the “extra house special” which was the same but with more stuff on it like bacon pieces, and the “super house special” which had more stuff again like cheese and another layer of potato. We ordered a super house special, plus one with cheese and mochi, and another one with prawns and squid and soba noodles. They arrived at intervals and were placed on the hot grill in the middle of our table, where they sizzled away as we sliced them up and served them out ourselves on to our individual plates. They were all delicious. Almost full, we only had to choose dessert from the selection of ice cream delights. I chose vanilla with mochi pieces, which also had some adzuki beans lurking underneath as a surprise. Matt got green tea ice cream with brown sugar syrup on a red bean bun, and Yuki had vanilla on a custard bun with maple syrup.

Dinner done, we meandered back to Shibuya station down a parallel street, experiencing the blare of the lights and bustle of the people. It had started raining gently, but not enough to be a problem as we walked. The rain, the neon, the people, the night sky, all combined to bring to mind the image of Blade Runner or Neuromancer. Matt and Yuki boarded the train with me, but they got off one stop later at Ebisu, where they lived, leaving me to continue to Shinagawa. Back at the hotel, I basically just undressed and crashed, being extremely tired.

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