Nippon Ease

The continuing adventures of JaDan.

Wow. Every time I write it seems I’m further behind. This time I’ll be a little more terse and try to power through it.

On Monday morning I had to leave the house at 7.15am, as Matt was leaving for work and he only has one key (it turned out later there are actually two keys – Matt is evil beyond measure).

I caught the train to Ueno, a northern district of Tokyo and one of the most historic. There is a large park (you guessed it, Ueno Park), containing a zoo, Shinto shrine and several museums and art galleries. It turns out that most things are closed on Mondays, but I had a nice walk around regardless.

One place that is most definately open on Mondays is Shinjuku. In fact, Shinjuku is so open they had to invent new days of the week for it to be open on. It’s that open. Part of central Tokyo, Shinjuku embodies all of the qualities that make Tokyo so unique and exciting packed into just a few buzzing neon-festooned blocks. There’s countless games parlours, bars and “pubs”, several large department stores, Tokyo’s enormous silicon-chip-like public offices, and a sprawling park inhabited by tribes of well-organised bums under blue tarpaulins.

The west side of Shinjuku is largely big-business. This is where I found the civic offices and major banks. It’s also where I found the largest camera shops I’ve ever seen, five sprawling floors of imaging technology in every permutation. If it selectively reflects and absorbs light, you’ll find something to record it here. There are coin-operated photo printers here, which will print from common digital camera memory cards. My first attempt failed miserably, when I used one that actually printed out in a building several blocks away – a building I failed to find. The next machine was nice enough to produce the photo on the spot – a cute shot of Matt enveloped by a six-foot detergent bubble, apparently being interrogated by the feared Japanese Cute Police.

While there I bought my Sharp Zaurus SL-C760, a mightily powerful PDA (miniature computer), for far too much money to tell anyone.

The east side of Shinjuku is where you go if you want trouble with your wife and your creditors. Department stores and games parlours to consume your notes and coins respectively, and innumerable strip joints to consume your dignity. Most strip joints don’t accept Gaijin though (as I told myself over and over while walking away staring at my feet). Their density was amazing, several in each building on one particular street. The volume of human traffic required to sustain such an industry must be enormous. In this area, one could be forgiven for thinking that Japan is a nation of filthy perverted men and resigned, long-suffering women. In fact, that’s not so far from the truth. You might not be in the same ball park, but you’d definately be playing a similar sport.

At one of the games parlous, I saw what could only be the result of decades of gaming evolution, a bizarre fusion of first-person Zombie-Killing action and Maevis Beacon Teaches Typing. Yes, it’s “The Typing of the Dead”. Phear my WPM! The player is repeatedly assulted by teams of zombies while exploring various spooky locales. As the zombies approach, a word or sentence appears under each one, and the player must type in on a supplied keyboard before they’re slashed. As I died, I typed “AAAARGH”.

It’s not made clear exactly how typing defeats the zombies. Perhaps they’re so impressed by your typing they decide to become friends with you instead of consuming your brains.
Picture here (needs to be rotated, sorry).

Monday night, I got on the ‘net, and failed to blog.

Today I kept the key, and promised Matt I’d be home before him. I slept in and barely did anything all day. Surfed the ‘net. Played with my Zaurus. In the evening, Matt and I jammed on guitar and banjo for a bit, and then attempted to see the late showing of Pirates of the Carribean. We were later than the film. D’oh! So we ate for comfort.

Refreshed and rejuvenated, I took a punt on the trains again and headed back into Tokyo. This time I’d hit the dead center; no more of this dicking-around-the-edges nonsense.

First stop: Tokyo station. This is built into a Daimaru and fairly large underground shopping center. It’s entirely possible to catch a train to central Tokyo, spend a fulfilling day shopping and eating, and never actually emerge above ground level. If you do emerge, and it’s September, prepare to have your very bones buckle from the heat. I was darting from one air-conditioned shopping-complex to the next and pouring gallons of water down my throat just to cope.

My first stop (and if it had been my only stop, I would have been fine with that) was the Sony building. Tall and slender, the eight-story mosaic facade looks like chipper vomit. Indeed, sometimes my stomach turned at the technology inside. People who write about technology tend to use the word “marriage” a lot. You know, “The ultimate marriage of old-style cool and 21st century technology” or “A seamless marriage of cassette player, bicycle pump and polka-dot jodhpurs”. Well, I would have happily married many of the pieces on display, many of which have yet to be released. My Zaurus damn near turned purple with envy at some of the palm-top computers, tiny video recorders with built in special effects (warping the image, distorting colours, pixellation and more).

A definate high-light was playing with a current-generation AIBO. These a dog-like robots that experience “emotions” (indicated by a handy light on top of their head – I’m going to campaign that something like this be fitted to humans at birth), play fetch, and fall all over the place in the cutest possible way. The new ERS-7 model is due to be released shortly after I leave. Dammit. One of the AIBOs played “guess which hand” with me. It sat on its hind legs and held up both front paws, and asked me to pick one. I hit one, and if I guessed right, it would sing a short and fairly chirpy song. If I was wrong, it would scold me. It got bored before I did.

I ate a burger lunch in the Sony building, overlooking a neighbouring building that was constructed entirely from large glass bricks. If I had been munching on a glass brick and looking at a building constructed entirely from burger lunches, it would have been only a little less weird.

After wandering the streets for a while longer (about four-bottles-of-water worth), I found the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which I gawked at through a pounding dehydration-induced headache (the refreshment stand bafflingly sold curry and beer but not water). It’s surrounded by enormous moats (more angular lakes, really), and a neat park. It was also under attack from hordes of screeching black bat-winged demons brandishing fiery morning-stars. I suspect that was the heat playing tricks.

My last visit was to the Tokyo International Forum, which it turns out formerly housed the Tokyo Tourist Information Center. It’s worth a visit anyway. The Forum is considered the last great architectural splurge of Big Spending Japan, before the recession forced them to cut back on spending and only outpace the rest of the world by five times instead of ten. The main building looks like a giant safety visor, facing the sky. It contains a central atrium, branching off into underground conference and display facilities, and connecting it to four other convention centre buildings. In some ways, it’s a bigger version of Jeff’s Shed (apologies to non-Melbournites).

In the evening, Matt and I went to an English Conversation dinner. These are a great chance to meet locals. The idea is that Japanese persons who are learning English can practise with native English speakers, and in return, the English speakers have their meal and drinks paid for, up to a limit of 1500 Yen. Everyone there was great, a real mix of ages and backgrounds (quite a few teachers, though). The organiser is Kobayashi, a P.E. teacher who learnt English from listening to an English conversation radio show every week for 20 years.

On the way home our lift, Kazumi, took us to her enormous and very beautiful house, and introduced us to her considerably less enormous but no less beautiful daughter, Yuka. We ate ice-cream candy and pears and talked about Japanese culture and the English language.

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