Monday, June 02, 2008

Go Go Ham Fighters!

I have been back almost a week and just haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and write this thing. Part of it is just a little paralysis of what to say. I spent two days in Tokyo doing the standard tourists things. I want to post something anyway because I want to share the pictures. So consider this post a conduit for my pictures from Tokyo, with a Bali sunset during my layover thrown in.

Thanks to Mom and her incredible generosity with her Marriott points, instead of the flea bag hostel that I was planning on staying in, I spent the weekend in the Ritz Carlton, on the 48th floor overlooking downtown Tokyo. (Thanks Mom.) That was nice. To say the least.

I came in on the overnight from Bali, armed with a Lonely Planet city guide and a fierce determination to see everything I wanted to see in a day and a half. I started with the walking tour of the Nippori area. This was a relatively chill section of the city that managed not to get bombed to powder in WWII. It has a very different feel than the rest of the city. While poking around the shrines, museums and cemeteries, eating street food along the way. I actually ended up proving a couple of my long-standing food hypotheses wrong.

Hypothesis 1: Everything wrapped in seaweed and rice tastes good. A couple times I couldn’t tell you if I was eating a plant, fish or animal, but I knew that I never wanted to do it again.

Hypothesis 2: I will eat anything. There was one place whose walls were plastered with pictures of goldfish, and then there were little tempura’ed things which you held and ate by the little fishtail sticking out of the batter. I was thinking about ordering one when the oft-ignored voice in the back of my head screamed “don’t eat that!” For once I listened. Maybe it was out of loyalty to my dearly departed fish Olive, but I just couldn’t do it.

That afternoon I poked around the gardens of the imperial palace (which were suitably imperial), and then headed up to Suidobashi for the highlight of my day. A Yomiuri Giants game! There are six baseball teams that play in Tokyo, the biggest and most popular is the Giants. (Really when one of your alternatives are the Yakult Swallows, is it that much of a choice?) They are known as the Yankees of Japan. Former team of the great Hideki Matsui. After two weeks of rugby on Australian satellite, I was stoked.

I arrived to the “Big Egg” to find out that there were only standing room seats left. Apparently the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are a big draw when they are in town. (Japanese baseball teams are mostly named after the company that sponsors them. Nippon Ham sponsors the Fighters. I later discovered from Wiki that the Ham Fighters used to have a mascot called “Fighty” which was, and I quote, “a bright pink pterodactyl, whose head resembled a giant leg of ham, and who sometimes rode a bicycle around the pitch.” That made me happy.

The game itself was basically the same. You sort of spent part of the time thinking “cut-off man… cut-off man.” “play it on the hop... play it on the hop…” And the fans of the different teams sat in different sections, all color coordinated, with a brass section, choreographed cheers, and flags. But, in case you got homesick, the beers where still eight bucks and watery.

And I did come home to an incredible view of Tokyo at night out my hotel room window.

The next day I got up at 5 am to visit the famous Tsujiki Fish Market. It was an enormous warehouse the guide book tells me 15.5 million dollars worth of fish are sold *daily*. It certainly smelled like it, but I got some cool pictures. Then I waited on line for 1.5 hours with tourists from all over the Pacific Rim to eat raw fish for breakfast at Daiwa sushi. It was good sushi.

Then I did some warm-up stretching and went on a tourism sprint. I hit neighborhoods all over the city. For the sake of identifying the pictures, I will list them: Hama Rikyu Onshi-Teien (Detached Palace Garden in the middle of downtown Tokyo), water ferry to Asakusa, Senso-ji and the Five Story Pagoda, Chingodo-ji (which is dedicated to mischievous shape-shifting hedonistic raccoon-dogs who use their giant testicles to fly), Meiji-Jingu (peace Shinto shrine with very nice outdoor lamps), Omote-Sando (the Japanese teenage shopping district. They were selling beat up vintage Vans sneakers, identical to the ones on my feet, for $200. If I could communicate in anything more articulate that grunts and hand gestures, I would have sold those puppies and come home barefoot), and the red-light district of Hanazono-jinja (eh, nice, but nothing compared to Times Square).

And finally… Hypothesis 3: I can eat sushi breakfast, lunch and dinner. True that.


Erin said...

Thanks for not eating the goldfish, especially since I gave you a pet fish as a party favor in second grade.

Mohamed said...

Love the photos, despite the fact that i never considered Japan to be particularly exciting.
Though for some reason you don't seem to enjoy developed nations very much...