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Thursday, July 27

Operation: Navigation Tokyo Trains

A mild success!

Even more important than that... I have conquered the jet lag! And I slept through one whole night. Last night was the first time that I wasn't out on the hotel computer at 3 am writing to everyone back home. Please don't be offended by this when I say that... it was wonderful! I even slept right up until the alarm went off at 6:30 am. I'm so glad to be on schedule again.

And just in time! We had field trips today. We were taught how to navigate the train network here. This is seriously no small feat. Take the Metro, add another twenty lines to it, give it thirty different names and then put them all in a writing that looks like chicken scratch... backwards. We have learned how to read the name of our city in Japanese characters and that is about it. Despite all of this, we made it the whole way to Akihabara in northern Tokyo, about an hour from our home base. We have never been so proud. (Although still feeling a bit like big idiots for moving to a country where only about 30% of everything written or spoken is in English. Would someone please tell me when this feeling will go away? Pretty kudasai?)

The trains are speedy to say the least. Much faster than the Metro could ever dream to go. When you pass an oncoming train, you actually get a whoosh! and then a pop in your ears and the train rocks a little. I jumped more than once when I didn't see the uncoming. Trains are above ground here. We didn't even attempt the subway system which has almost as many lines as the trains but is underground. They say once you can navigate one, you can navigate any. But I don't feel very confident with that. At every train station, the ticket computer is different than every other station. They do have an English button you can push and you can be damn sure that we did so. The problem is that you have no idea what the fare is unless you can read the Japanese on the billboard above you. So while you can read the screen, there are fifteen fares listed and it is a tiny bit of a guessing game to know which one. Basically, if you didn't pay enough, the boxes at the exit won't let you out. So pay enough! Pay over! Do what the heck you gotta do to get the heck outta there.

Outside of our window on the train we could see the houses in all passing towns... Yokosuka, Yokohama and then Tokyo. The cities here are pretty much one long string and only the people living here know where one stops and the other starts. You know when you are in Tokyo because they have the most highrises and sykscrapers. The outskirts have houses that generally appear taller than they are wide. Very box like with small windows. And very plain in most cases. There are the occasional slooped roofs that you see in pictures but most homes are not built that way. On the inside, I do imagine they are quite beautiful. But as Kimono Hubby asked me to refrain from going up and pounding on doors, demanding to be let in, I cannot give you any clear knowledge on their insides. I can tell you that some houses have yards only as big as an apartment balcony. In their yard, you will typically find a stone path surrounded by bonsai looking trees and bushes. Houses without yards have only a narrow walkway that saparates them from their neighbor. As I described before, there are peaks of mountains that jut out all over the outerlying cities. So even if you don't have a yard, there could be a steep mountain right outside your front door, covered in lush greenery which would make it feel so much more open.

As we approached the city, housing turned to basically all highrise apartments, some over twenty stories tall. They all have balconies and laundry hangs on every other one, drying in the hot, humid breeze. No space is left unused in this area.

The people are not as short as I expected. There are some. But in general, they are my height. I only saw one other blonde woman in Tokyo today. I'm sure there are more, but they are definitely the hot commodity as I got many looks, even some once-overs.

Men dress very importantly... suits or pants. I didn't see anyone that wasn't foreign wearing shorts. KH, though melting the entire day, stuck with the pants on my earlier recommendation. Women wear the most interesting clothes. Pretty much anything goes. They were a lot of layers... a printed t-shirt with a lacy camisole on top, double camisoles, TRIPLE camisoles! They were more casual on the pants rule and I saw everything from minis to capris to pants. Still no shorts. Only on children did I see those.

Cars are mostly van-like. Very compact but you will find a few larger. Nothing completely fullsize though. They wouldn't fit on some of these narrow streets or make some of the hairpin turns.

Akihabara is the electronics district that you may have heard about. It is pretty much like a Japanese Times Square. And very, very busy. We pretty much spent the day staring around as we had no idea what half of the technology could do and no one could tell us in English.

We had been warned about trains at rush hour. They literally have men who wear white gloves and stand outside of the train, shoving people on literally like sardines. If you had something in your hand and got on a train at these times, dropped it, you would have no fear of losing it because the people are crammed so tightly together that it would never hit the ground. When we were told this information, you can just imagine that I was gung-ho to try it. Again, Kimono Hubby talked sense into me and we hightailed it out of the city before that time had come. Maybe I will try when he isn't with me some day. Please don't tell him this plan. I don't need his silly sense talking all the time. Ruins my fun! All joking aside, it does sound like a scary time and they warned us not to take children on the train during these times. Is any mother stupid enough to even do that, I wonder?

Let me not forget to mention dinner last night and lunch today! Last night we walked to a nearby mall to get some Japanese food finally. If you haven't heard, restaurants here have plastic food in their windows of which to chose from. This plasty-food we are told looks pretty much like what you get if you order it. They weren't kidding.

After checking out all the windows in the mall, we settled on a restaurant and went in and took a seat. The written menu was all in Japanese. The waiter came by and since we couldn't read the menu and he couldn't speak any English, KH took him outside and pointed into the window what we wanted to order. You laugh but this is seriously how they do it. I swear! I even watched a Japanese man do the same thing. Or at least I thought he was Japanese. Who cares, though? It made me feel better! I ordered basically a bowl of ramn noodles with some things on top that I didn't recognize but guessed it was tofu. The tray came with a salad, utterly recognizable, and a dessert which looked like clear gelatin cubs, some fruit and a brown mash on top. I tired to order Sapporo. It didn't go well. It took me two tries but he did eventually understand. Maybe it was when I pointed to the poster on the wall? Nonetheless, food comes and we start to cchow down... slurping our noodles loudly as you are supposed to. This actually take a conscious effort as it is EVERYTHING against what your mother taught you. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. The noodles were great... broth on them was great... the meat inside, yummy but unidentifiable, even by taste... the stuff I thought was tofu in the plastyfood... not tofu! But some fish substance. I let it sink to the bottom of the bowl after the first bite, hoping the waiter wouldn't notice that it was left behind. The salad - great! Can you screw up lettuce and dressing though? The dessert. Gelatin of some sort it was. However, it definitely wasn't Jello brand. It has no flavor at all. I couldn't eat it. And the brown mushy stuff on top was maybe mashed prunes and chocolate? Whatever it was, I couldn't eat it either. There were however two peaches which I ate, a cherry which was seeded and I only found out after I swallowed and a little tiny dollop of whipped cream, which I also ate. My assessment of my first Japanese meal is this... do not take a huge initial bite. Nibble and if you like continue. Or else a gag relflex will kick in. Also, I think it will be important for future meals to learn how to at least read what the meat is in Japanese. I may not honestly want to know, but I am thinking I would smarter to do so. Not bad in all. I will give my meal last night a solid B.

Today in Tokyo, we went for Japanese pizza. Does anyone want to take a guess what kind of pizza Kimono Hubby ordered? No? A freaking Margherita pizza. That's right, kids! Cheese, tomato sauce on dough... just like we eat back home. He really needs to shake it up a bit more. I on the other hand went for it. I had a potato, corn and mayo pizza... traditional Japanese pizza. And it was good! Yes, a little weird... but definitely worth trying. Would I order it again? That would be a maybe. I would however give it an A-.

On the way home, I tried to get a water out of a vending machine. Let me tell you again that if you can't read Japanese, what looks like water may not entirely be water. Lesson learned. God knows what it was. Some crazy power drink? I won't be pushing that button again.

Just think... this is only my initial impression of Japan! I have so much more to try and learn and experience. We have yet to partake of a rotating sushi bar but that will probably be tomorrow. We did check one out and it looks fabulous! A much bigger selection than back home and it looks even better than back home. Odd, but I wouldn't have believed that if you had told me before.

Day five is winding down. I still can't believe I am here. I am about this close (shows very itty bitty space between fingers) to getting a cell phone of which whoever would like to call me on, can. Until then, please keep writing everyone! I miss you all and I do love to hear from you!


Aunt Kathy said...

Girl, you had me worried there for awhile. But I know you are a trooper and it sounds as though you're working through that culture shock. Sorry I haven't commented sooner, but I've been very busy with neo-natal kittens.

I think about you all the time and I know you will dig into everything you can just to discover yourself, your own strength and indulge that incredible sense of adventure.

Thanks for sharing so many details of your experience. It's like going through it, but not having to taste those very interesting things!

Love you, and will continue to check in on your progress.

Lisa said...

This is the best! I've been waiting to hear just how your first real experience with a japanese menu went and your description was better than I had hoped. All that I have to say after reading're brave, very brave! (Or else those extremely spicy pork chops your mom fed us when we were 10 ruined your taste buds for good!)

Glad to hear that things are going well and you are getting some much needed sleep! Enjoy!

Kimono Karen said...

I think the porkchops deadened a lot inside. You may be on to something there...

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