My Trip to Japan in February 2001

Japan

After a 12 hour flight from Frankfurt I landed at Narita Intl. Airport on Feb. 21, 2001 at about 9am. Imagine how well I slept in Lufthansa’s Enconomy class, considering the fact that I’m 6’5″ tall. But all tiredness is suddenly gone, when you realize where you are. In a country that immediatly turns you into an illiterate since Japanese have yet to learn how to write. They still use several antique alphabets not displayable by your web browser.

Well, I managed it through immigration and customs without bigger problems. Surprise! These people were even speaking some kind of English. Surprise even more! I didn’t understand a word they said. Well, didn’t I say some kind of English? But definitely not the kind of English the rest of the world would be able to understand.

I agreed to meet Klaus in downtown Tokyo and not at the airport. Which is about 70 km away – probably Klaus was just too lazy to go to the there. But he gave me detailed instruction how to get there:

  1. Go downstairs to Keisei Line
  2. Buy a ticket at a ticket machine
  3. Take the train to Ueno.
  4. Maybe you have to change trains in Aoto.

He promised to wait at Ueno station. Note the precise description of the place…

Well, Step 1 (going downstairs) was easy, Step 2 (buying a ticket at the machine) was not. Too many buttons, all labelled with strange japanese signs. Finally I bought a ticket from a guy at a counter (kind of English, ya know…), I managed Step 3 (taking a train to Ueno) quite well. Being on that train I decided to skip Step 4 (maybe changing trains in Aoto).

Well, at about 11am, I was at Ueno station, and – now I was really surprised! – there was Klaus.

First we took a little walk through Ueno park to get to the subway station. Which was fun, since I was still carrying all my luggage. We (that means Klaus) immediatly lost our way. Which was fun, since I was still carrying all my luggage.

So we took another walk along a road with a lot of traffic (which was, you get the pattern…) and finally we found the subway station and went to Shinagawa, where his flat is.

We had a quick lunch in a small downstairs restaurant. I had a Tonkatsu which in Austria would be called Wienerschnitzel mit Kartoffelpüree und Krautsalat, but Japanese seems to be the more efficient language.

By the way: Has anyone ever considered eating a Wienerschnitzel with chopsticks?

Well, Klaus’es flat is, hmm… a little small, but it’s really cheap. Rent is only about 730 Euros a month. But that includes an old kitchen, a bathtub which can be (and is) used as storage room and showers outside. That’s OK – if you can leave after one week, like me.

After settling in it was time to explore Tokyo and use my camera a bit to bring back some evidence of Japanese insanity.

Day 1
If you have wondered so far who Klaus is, well, he’s the guy on the right.

I know him since ever, since we grew up in the same neighborhood. We played a lot of football together (and against each other – that’s more fun, because he’s a lousy player)

Here he is with his friend Yasko. In the background: Some Tokyo skyline including high-voltage power lines. Nice, isn’t it? It’s the first impression that counts!

Klaus and myself.
Typical Tokyo road, surprisingly little traffic. Eiffel tower in the background.

I wonder, why Paris isn’t missing it.

Same road, other direction.

Some cars are on both pictures, can’t you spot them? (Just in case you feel bored already…)

Day 2
This is a nice park with a shrine in downtown Tokyo. Every shrine has an entrace gate (a so-called Torji) like this.

So I photographed the first one I saw.

But 300 meters into the park there was a larger one.
That’s why I photographed this one twice.
Tokyo once hosted Olympic Summer Games, must have been around the 1750’s. This is the Olympic Arena. Somehow ugly.
I just liked the reflection of the skyscraper. Nothing else of interest here.
Klaus.
After a 2 km walk through the tunnels of Shinjuku subway station, we went up the TMG Building, housing the Tokyo Metropolitain Government, hence it’s the city hall.

From there we had a nice view from the 45th floor which is about 200m above 1st floor.

The park I was in before. You can also see the Olympic Arena.
Another picture I took from TMG Building.

And yet there are more to come, but wait a few days…

This looks like what I expected Tokyo to look like. The building with the red neon lighting is a casino or entertainment center.

BTW: Remember me talking about Japan turning you into an an illiterate all of a sudden? How much can you read in this picture?

„Tengu“ and „Jumbo“, yes, that’s all. How informative.

This is inside the casino.

The game is called Pachinko and the idea is to buy thousands of small metal balls put them into the machine. The balls (more than 20 at a time) go through the machine (in a way incredibly fascinating to watch) and depending on the way the balls take you win or lose some balls.

You actually have very little influence on the game. Maybe it’s a good idea to go for a beer while the machine plays by itself.

Day 3
Is this a fountain? Or a waterfall?
As I am a very rich person (well, I was before I bought the plane ticket) I had to go to the Tokyo stock exchange to invest some money.

Very disappointing to see that trading was entirely computerized. The most „exciting“ thing was this large screen, a small brother of The Wall at Nasdaq.

By the way, it was an „up“ day, which is indicated by stock quotes shown in red color. Really!

Day 4: Outside Tokyo in Kamakura, visiting some temples and shrines (By the way: what’s the difference between a temple and a shrine?)
Now let me introduce Klaus’es girlfriend.

Megumi.

Here Megumi and Klaus are standing in front of a Torji.

A look into the shrine. You can’t go in there, but in front of every shrine, there is a really huge box where you can deposit money, they only accept 5 and 50 Yen coins.

However, you can throw in anything you want, including bricks and old shoes, but only 5 and 50 Yen coins bring good look. Bricks and old shoes might make the shrinekeeper angry in fact. But I didn’t try.

Another shrine. Plumtrees were already blooming. In February.
Another shrine.
Another shrine. Klaus and Megu again.
And yet another shrine and a plumtree. And blue cones to keep stupid tourists off from where they’re not supposed to go.
Tourists in Kamakura.
More tourists (well, actually fewer tourists if you do count them…)
Japanese food is very strange to me. I had it all. And I have enough of it.#

Sushi: Basically it is dead fish. They’re too lazy to cook it, or maybe they just don’t know how.

My „favorite“ was the raw octopus. When I put it into my mouth I felt like damn, now I’m eating the plastic decoration. But nobody noticed, I had a hard time chewing that poor animal.

Another Japanese speciality that was offered to me can be best described by rotten beans.

But I used lunch break for one of the most exciting parts of every holiday: writing postcards.
Road in japanese village. I wanted to finish off the film. Yes, back in 2001 we still shot on film.

But there was still another picture left showing me…

…money laundering!

It’s illegal in the rest of the world, but here you go to a temple to do it and it’s a tourist attraction. The procedure is as follows: Put some coins into a small basket, pour some holy water over them and then dry them over some holy smoke.

The result should be an ever filled wallet.
My result was basically a wet wallet because drying coins in smoke is a rather difficult task.

And it felt somehow stupid.

Other people washing their money, one of them obviously wearing reflecting sneakers.

I wonder whether that piece of wood is there to support the rock…

This is the temple of money laundering.
We then walked to the next temple.

It turned out to be the walk of a thousand hills – a path you take to worship the God of Rain and his dear fellow the God of Mud.

We were lucky. Buddha was in.
Singing in the rain.
Japanese temples have a tendency to be underground.
Inside.
Japanese people are small.
One temple that is not underground.
Now for something more serious: These little statues are dedicated to the memory of dead children.

Not funny.

Klaus and Megumi in a (small) japanese garden.
Klaus and me. Japanese garden in the back.
Why is Klaus so happy? And why is he so pale?
Next temple.
Same temple again.
Klaus proudly presenting his fashionable outfit.
View from the same temple.
A japanese game: Shake the box, pick a stick out of it, the number on the stick determines which prophecy is given to you (i.e. you get one of the papers from the rack you see in the background).

If it promises „Good Luck“, you keep it and are happy.

If not, you leave it at the temple an tie it to a rope to give it back to God.

And in the evening a temple employee takes them off and throws them all into the garbage.

Inside the „Banana Boat“. A birthday party of two people I did not know – but I liked them, because they spoke proper English. Finally people I could talk to.

Japanese beer turned out to be quite OK (until I realized how much 500 ¥ is – for a can!)

This is one of those embarrasing moments when someone puts a party hat on your head to make a „funny picture“.
Day 5 – Back in Tokyo
Here’s another weird tourist magnet.

They set fire to piece of wet wood and Japanese as well as foreign tourists will come to inhale the holy smoke. It is said to have a cleansing effect.

And it does, my eyes were burning for hours.

Klaus already knew this, that’s why he used this improvised „gas mask“.
But the smoke seemed to make him happy.
Some traditional Japanese architecure.
Some modern Japanese architecure.
A river. Sorry, I don’t remember which one.
The rainbow bridge. A very, very grey rainbow, I must say.
We made an exciting boat trip, the guy left to me kept falling asleep…
Klaus in a very fashionable outfit, but that’s obviosly very trendy for Austrians in Japan.

I did not follow the trend.

Here’s another japanese architect who had to overcome his midlife crisis.
New York, New York…?
No, Tokyo, Tokyo…!
Third piece of evidence, that the Eiffel Tower is not the only thing they have stolen…
Klaus’es new car.

Note: you can see right through it.

Yummy!

You might think, but it was all plastic…

Rainbow Bridge again, still not very colorful.
Once more
Eiffel Tower by night. (They call it Tokyo Tower, so they think nobody’ll notice)

And NO: I was not there on New Year’s Day. I don’t know why they need ‚2001‘ being displayed in February.

Eiffel tower from inside. Tokyo @ night in the background.
Enjoying a night out in Paris.
Shit happens…!

This was one of the moments I would have been dying to be able to read Japanese. According to Klaus it means Do not feed the birds!

Why they use this this picture, I do not know…

Day 6
Takanawa House, one of the main tourist attractions in Tokyo.

Not very interesting at first sight. But every tourist guidebook about Tokyo will confirm: It is the home of famous Japanese poet and bon-vivant Kla Usdra Skowitsch.

TMG Building (city hall)

Again.

Plum tree near city hall.
City hall near plum tree.
View from 45th floor.
View from 45th floor. Japan’s highest mountain Fujisan (which tourists call Fuju-jama – nobody knows why) can’t be seen in the background because it wasn’t clear enough.

But believe me it’s there.

View from 45th floor.
Shibuya, one of the most crowded places in Tokyo. But I didn’t photograph the crowd. The large screen TVs were much more interesting.
The third big screen at Shibuya. Each one the three screens had it’s own sound.

So even if you are able to understand Japanese you wouldn’t understand…

Megumi and Klaus. Klaus apparently having dislocated his lower jaw (while eating too fast) not being able to close his mouth. I had to use brute force to help him.

Glad to help! Anytime!

Megumi opening an anniversary card, trying to look surprised. She actually was surprised because Klaus had the brilliant idea to write the text in German.

Later that night I had to say Good Bye to my friends because Klaus kicked me out of his spacious appartment. Thanks for that!

So I had to stay the last night in a so-called Capsule Hotel where I spent only 30 Euros for about two m3 (yes, cubic!) of room all for myself. Including TV and air condition. Coffin Hotel would be the more appropriate name. Now I know how it must feel to be buried alive.

The next day (day 7) I went back to Narita airport and Lufthansa nearly starved me to death because they only served two meals on a 12 hour non-stop flight. Which is not much when you haven’t eaten anything in the last 15 hours before getting on that plane. (The capsule hotel did not serve breakfast.)

Sayonara,
Gert

P.S.: If you took the above too serious and haven’t noticed so far: I had a great time in Japan!



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