weill in japan: day 32
Today was the busiest travel day of my three-day weekend, with a stop in
Asakusa followed immediately by a trip to a fireworks festival.
the ancient art of tourism
Our first stop was the historic district of Asakusa, with a boat ride up the
Sumida River to show us the many bridges and buildings in the area. This is
the same river where I saw fireworks
last Saturday, but I didn't see much of it
during the daylight hours on that day.
One downside of declining camera prices: everyone brought a camera with
them on the boat ride, and there were at least four times when one or two
poor saps took a group photo with ten cameras. Since most of them were digital
cameras, we could have saved a lot of time by using one camera and sending
the file around.
Upon arrival in central Asakusa, we headed for the area around
the Senso Temple. Due to the large numbers of foreign tourists who visit the
historic grounds, an enormous marketplace has sprung up selling clothing,
traditional-looking Japanese gifts, and food. Although the number of vendors
is pretty impressive, the prices are not. I saw a World Cup t-shirt selling
for ¥2900 ($24.20), despite the fact that I bought a sweater for about
one-third as much just two days earlier. Toys and games were equally
marked-up: a Pikachu plush toy which looks exactly like the one I have at home
was selling for ¥7410 ($61.75), triple the U.S. price. Nevertheless, I
bought a few gifts, inching closer to finishing my gift shopping.
Sighting: Japanese baseball stuff. After 4 1/2 weeks, I finally found
shops selling caps and gifts (but not t-shirts or jerseys) related to Japanese
baseball. Apparently only tourists like that stuff, since all the other
baseball merchandise I've seen for sale in Japan centers around American
Major League Baseball.
Milestone: I have eaten okonomiyaki, sometimes called
"Japanese pizza." After an hour in the shopping plaza, the group reconvened
at the temple gates and went to a small okonomiyaki place. The food is
delicious and inexpensive, but more labor-intensive than just about any other
kind of restaurant I've visited here. Patrons order various okonomiyaki, and
are given bowls containing all the ingredients. While nearly
all of the mixtures include egg, the "pizza" label is misleading: very few
contain cheese. After mixing the ingredients thoroughly, the patron pours
the ingredients onto a grill on the middle of the table, flipping and seasoning
it appropriately. The result is delicious, although the only thing it shares
with a pizza is the round shape. Our table of six people cooked four
okonomiyaki, and that was more than enough food for me. Total cost per
person: ¥370 ($3.10), including all the cold water and tea that you can
After a little Dance Dance Revolution and Taiko no Tatsujin 3 (where I set
another high score on "Susume! Dorira!") it was off to my second destination
of the day.
another saturday, another matsuri
I was to meet a friend of my older brother's today for a trip to the
Todakoen Festival. After leaving enough time for transportation, I made a
snap decision that turned out to be horribly wrong. Instead of taking the
Chuo rapid line from Kanda to Shinjuku, I took the Yamanote loop at its most
distant point. That meant that instead of traveling three stops, I passed
through fifteen. Instead of a five-minute travel ride, I was on for
25 minutes. Fortunately, a friend of mine had a mobile phone, so I was able
to call ahead and warn that I'd be late. Lesson learned: always check the
After getting all excited about spending a Saturday night with a Japanese
gal, I met Shell at the station. She was with a group that totaled 11 people
in size, including the two of us. Whatever you'd call it, don't call it a
first date. The group was largely Korean, and consisted of people whose
Japanese was substantially better than mine but not quite fluent. I spoke
to a ton of people, shared many experiences, and took in the night's
Unlike last week's excursion, I traveled with at least a couple of people
who understand the whole matsuri routine. After finding a spot, we laid out
sheets and newspaper to minimize the amount of dirt we'd get on our clothes.
The seats, which we claimed about 2 1/2 hours prior to sunset, were close
to the pedestrian walkway but still allowed for an outstanding view of the
fireworks. I took a ton of pictures, including several that included members
of the group. I felt kind of guilty: food and beer was provided by other
group members, but I didn't pay anything for it.
As I noted last week, prices at festivals tend to be exploitatively high.
Today's high price: one of the people in our group bought a six-pack of beer
from a street vendor. Total cost for six 12-ounce (350 ml) cans: ¥3000.
That's about $25.00, and more than four times the normal price for a
six-pack in Japan.
After battling my way through the crowds for an hour, the group decided to
go its separate ways. A few folks went out for drinking and karaoke, but I
dragged my exhausted body back through the rail system to head home. It was a
Milestone: This was the first day when I completely exhausted 96MB of memory
for my camera. Even after dropping the resolution down to 1280x960, I filled
up both of my cards. In total, I took some 128 pictures, and about 100 of them
were added to my library of more than 400 pictures tipping the scales at 303
MB. My pictures overall are approaching the limits of a standard CD-R disc,
when you also include the hundreds of photos I took before this trip.
It was a tiring day, but the weekend's not over yet: tomorrow brings me
downtown to see the Godzilla statue in Tokyo. I'll have to do my homework
at some point before Monday at 8:30 AM, too.