Back from Tokyo. I’ve been feeling a bit trippy all evening, as if I’m on a train or a plane that’s ascending or descending and constantly in motion, even though I’m just sitting here, perfectly still, under my kotatsu. Over three hours on a shinkansen will do that to you, I guess.

Tokyo was quite cool–though this trip was more about seeing specific things, rather than taking in the city as a whole. I’ll definitely have to go back. It’s far, though–730km (450 miles) via shinkansen alone, and then another 95km (60 miles) via local express to my town. To give you an idea of the train speed, the local express took about an hour, a little more, to travel those 60 miles, while the shinkansen took about 3 1/2 hours to travel those 450 miles. Really impressive stuff.

(And yes, I did see Fuji-san…just the base, though. It was really cloudy, so no snow-capped peak…just gorgeously gradually sloping flanks that were obscured far too prematurely by smoky white. It was too dark on my way in to see it–the sun had set at least an hour before I passed the area. It’s a big mountain, though. And the sloping flanks were definitely exciting–while I wasn’t completely sure since I couldn’t see the world-famous peak, the very Vesuvius-like base raised my confirmation to about 70%, and the “UCC Coffee: Fuji” sign on a nearby building nailed it.)

So, some highlights…

  • saw Louise!
  • discovered that the Barber violin concerto and Muse (particularly “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Ruled By Secrecy,” on repeat) make for really, really good train music
  • ate at McDonald’s a couple of times (it’s becoming a tradition of ours)
  • hung out in Azabu Juuban while Louise took the GRE, wandered, saw Tokyo Tower from afar but didn’t think to try and find it until an hour till our scheduled post-test meeting time, and it was too far
  • saw a classical music concert–the Japan-Gewandhaus Symphony Orchestra–but while the conductor was really amusing, the hall was stunning, the piano soloist really rocked, and the reportoire (Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto, and Beethoven’s 7th symphony) was wonderful, the ensemble was a big disappointment, mainly in terms of intonation…they weren’t even in tune with each other during tuning, much less while playing, and there were actual mistakes left and right–very amateur and disappointing, almost like a student orchestra (they were on par with, or even worse, than the GTSO, which is a good orchestra for a school with no real music program to speak of, but by no means the best), but we did get the student discount, and it was my first live concert in nearly a year, so eh
  • got “gaijin”ed afterwards–I wish I’d thought to turn around with a comeback
  • visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka (absolutely adorable building, and I loved the real storyboards and conceptual art/design/reference materials on display on the upper levels), saw one of 3 original shorts made for the museum that only were showing for a short time: “The Day I Harvested A Star,” or “Hoshi wo Katta Hi,” (images/info–scroll to 11Feb06), bought a plush Totoro and stuff for myself and others, including (surprisingly) a Finding Nemo conceptual art poster
  • had lunch at Ben’s Cafe, a NY-style cafe, where I had a hummus/veggie sandwich and Louise had a bagel
  • had bad stomachaches for the next several hours
  • went to a used English book/CD/movie store, The Blue Parrot, where I decided not to buy a copy of Lonely Planet Japan–which would’ve been practical, yeah?–in favor of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (I haven’t read any of the Narnia books or seen the film–please, don’t freak out, kthx), a couple of books by Indian authors, and a surprisingly good-quality version of the original VHS release of Return of the Jedi
  • went to see Your Light Shadow by Olafur Eliasson at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, also playing the “college student” card, and I got approached by a Japanese guy, probably in his mid-20s, who was really eager to practice his English with me (he was obviously in sales/marketing, from how he was pitching himself–I recognized a lot of his mannerisms from my dad)
  • wandered out of the museum, still feeling sick to our stomachs and not quite sure how to get to the station (since we’d grabbed a taxi), and ran into the guy again, this time with two of his friends–they walked us back to the station and we had some hilariously amusing conversation; they ended up being really cool, and I may e-mail the guy, at the very least to e-mail him the group photos we ended up snapping at the end of our 15-minute walk
  • realized that our stomachs were a lot better–as hokey as it sounds, there really is something to be said for the power of a smile, and our encounter with those guys really cheered us up
  • discovered a 100%-natural skin care store called Lush, and picked up some really nice and effective hand and foot creme, had Louise introduce me to pretty much every product they had, and regretted not getting the cuticle softener*
  • did not get Indian or vegan food, like we’d originally planned to have for dinner (her idea, to make sure I got something good and fulfilling to eat), due to Louise’s stomach Louise accidentally leading us to the wrong place, so we wandered around for about an hour, exhausted, and finally found a reasonably priced Italian place in the basement of JR Tokyo Station
  • ate lots of wonderful breads/pastries and drank lots of Starbucks coffee (which did nothing for my waistline–except make it flabbier, I mean–and yes, we went to Starbucks 3 times; cinnamon streusel latte, hot chocolate, and cafe mocha, mmm)
  • ran into Julie and Lindsay while boarding the local express train in Okayama, had “dinner” with them (nothing vegetarian, so I settled for french fries and made myself something later, after I dragged myself to and from the grocery store)

*The more time I spend with Louise, the girlier I become–I think in a good way.

So I can’t comment on the feel of specific wards–the only ward I was at all conscious of being in was Azabu-Juuban, because I did have several hours just to wander around and do whatever, while Louise was taking the GRE. It was a fairly upscale but still friendly area of town. I really wanted to check out Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Harajuku, but maybe that can happen later. I don’t see myself making it back to Tokyo before the end of this year (er, the end of this JET year, as in July), since I have a checklist of places I’d like to make it to in the next 5 months, and would like to start taking overnight trips on weekends (to avoid eating up my nenkyuu) to go volcano-watching, but maybe during my second year. (And maybe I’ll try taking an overnight bus–that much time on a shinkansen was a bit excessive.)

In all, though, it was a good but tiring weekend…I’m hoping to get a decent amount of sleep tonight (if I go to sleep as soon as I post this, heh) to attempt to recharge for this week, during which I design the musical programme, finish my costume, talk to a Yahoo!BB CSR to figure out why they keep rejecting my direct-deposit payment slips, call the travel agency to get this Sydney-for-Golden-Week thing started, clean out and unplug/defrost my fridge (NEW FULL-SIZED FRIDGE THURSDAY! YEAH!), and scour my apartment, in case people do crash here Saturday night after musical rehearsal.

Now, though, sleep. I took surprisingly few photos, so those’ll probably go up pretty soon. Good night!

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