17 January 2009

japan, day one

after two days back in hong kong, it was time to travel once again, to the land of the rising sun.  if the villages of people's republic of china live on one end of the eastern world, surely japan rests on the opposite end.  i had high expectations for the trip.  they were surpassed.

the flight to japan was uneventful, save for an excellent tarantino-soundtrack-esque song on the cab ride to the airport, and reading a solid third of president barry's dreams from my father.  which was also excellent.

after landing in tokyo's narita airport, ryan and i confronted our first challenge: a pile of spaghetti otherwise known as the tokyo subway system.  despite the intimidating mess, the system proved simple to navigate.  for the most part...

we spent nearly two hours on the subway, passing through pastoral japan before finally reaching the tokyo proper.  first impressions were as i imagined --- an endless, centerless, dense sprawl buildings, none much taller than five stories, like an old european city.  

baggage in tow, we explored asakusa, one of the older neighborhoods that comprise tokyo's city center, home to most of the hostels in the city.  we counted on the trusty internet to guide us to a hostel.  that was a mistake.

soon we were wandering the used-kitchenware district of tokyo.  this was a great, exciting find, but we were far more interested in finding a bed and a place to stash our bags.  we turned next to our lonelyplanet, which guided us to the sakura hostel, easily the nicest hostel that i have ever seen.  impeccable construction, really clean, and a few japanese gadgets in the bathroom.  the beds were comfortable and longer than hong kong beds.  japan was off to a good start.

we grabbed dinner at our favorite japanese burger chain - mos (mountain ocean sky) burger - before heading to shinjuku, another active japanese neighborhood.

installation artwork in the subway station.  excellent installation artwork at that.  that's the moment i fell in love with japan.

i was not disappointed above ground.  shinjuku was a massive sea of shopping, eating, skyscrapers (tokyo's few), and sex trade.  mostly, though: signs.  very different than hong kong's: grouped tight against the buildings.  such that you could actually read and use the signs.

this sign has a lot going for it.

shinjuku is also one of the hot spots for tokyo's infamous sex trade.  an army of david bowie wannabes (leather jackets, teased-tall hair, painted-on jeans) were ready to guide hapless travelers --- like me --- to any myriad show, or hotel, or bar of choice.  not that i indulged.  the spirit of the street was enough.  

all in all, i spent this first evening putting my finger on the pulse of tokyo.  my first impressions were of a city entirely sophisticated and free from so much of the bullshit that plagues america.

no top 40 in the fast food joints: smooth christmas jazz.
no mess or civic neglect: cleanliness.
no hollister logo tees, no gucci, no prada: thoughtful, muted clothes with hints of bright color

no cold tones: every space for people was warm in value.  i had imagined japan as the city of the future, with gloss and white and silver everywhere.  instead, i found a country that, at first glance, was dedicated to simply doing the best it could do, in any context.

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