Tuesday, November 20, 2007

11/21/07 Family Time in Tokyo

I took my first ever vacation day on Friday, and me and the fam went out to discover Tokyo.

We had been thinking about visiting Kyoto, as it is pretty much the cultural heart of Japan, with many of the tradtional things that Japan brings to mind. I also figured I could show them the Ritsumeikan University campus as well as some of the places I used to hang out during my semester there. Unfortunately, we waited till the last minute and were unable to find any lodging. Once those leaves start changing colors, every old Japanese lady in the country has an undeniable urge to go to Kyoto and see all the pretty trees.

Tokyo, though, is nothing to be upset about. I've been there a few times now and there's still a ton of stuff that I want to do there (watching a Japanese baseball game and sumo match are presently high on my list). So, off to Tokyo we go. We got a hotel that I think was sort of on the border between Narita and Chiba. You might recognize Narita as the place where the Tokyo area's giant international airport resides.

The hotel was nothing worth mentioning, except for its occupants. The first shuttle that we took to the hotel was full of US airline flight crews, on account of this hotel being of American branding and in very close proximity to the airport. They jabbered loudly wherever we went, as everyone seemed to know everyone else. Their conversations were very informative, though I wouldn't call it evesdropping because they were talking so loud that I had no choice in the matter. They talked about what routes they were working on, and what they did or were going to do in whichever exotic country. My understanding is that they are only in one place for a day at the most before they get spirited away to the next destination. As a result, I think that they retain their obnoxious tourist vibe no matter how many times they find themselves in the same city.

That would be a very unique way to earn a living, I think. Sort of an international waitress type of situation. Serving annoying people all over the world. Might be an interesting gig to have for a year or two.. seems like I would get disgrutled rather quickly, though.

We dumped our bags in the rooms and then went on to the big city. No one had their heart set on something they wanted to do, so I figured Ginza(wikitravel page here) would be a good place to start. Ginza is a glitzy shopping district in Tokyo. Expensive fashion brands like Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton all have lavish store fronts. These are the kind of stores that have their own doormen. I don't have much interest in entering these places, but it is fun to stroll around and window shop. Ginza also has an apple store, which is kinda cool, as well as a Sony show room.

We went in the Sony building to check out what crazy gadgets are in the pipeline. Most of what was on display wasn't real impressive. TVs, cameras.. blah. One cool thing that they had were some laptops with really strikingly good artwork on the case. I couldn't understand if that was a custom thing, or if you could just buy a removable case like you do with a cell phone.

Then we found the gem that I had been searching for, some kind of silly little Japanese electronic invention. We were treated to a storelady-guided demo of Sony's Rolly. Rolly is a little egg-shaped music player, with speakers hidden in each end. She whipped through all the ways you could quickly pause, skip tracks, and so on with a simple turn of this little egg thing's dials. The cool part came when she set it down and put it in dance mode. The little guy spun around, lit up in rainbow colors, and flapped his little speaker caps to the music. But screw using your imagination, I took a little video. Hurray!

Dances much better than I do, I'm afraid. The Sony lady is giving me a pretty serious frown at one point. Don't know what that was about.

Despite its obviously fairly tiny speakers, the sound volume and quality were considerable. Pretty cool little gadget. I wonder how long it will take for this thing to make it to the US. Though, I wouldn't know if it was on sale in the US or not, now would I?

Unfortunately Sony's Playstation 3 products were housed in a separate show room, so I didn't get the chance to do any tinkering with any games. So, back out to the cold streets I went.

I spotted a street vendor selling (boiled?) chestnuts and I snatched a bag. I recently discovered them, and they have become one of my favorite little treats. The meat of the nut is very soft, but I assume that this has to do with how they are prepared. The Tanaka family showed me how to properly eat a chestnut, so I will now pass this sacred knowledge on to you.

Step 1: Buy a bag of nuts from a grumpy old man outside of a Kabuki Theater in Ginza.

Proceed to pick up a nut and admire it, like so.

Then, you use your finger nail to make a slight dent in the shell of the nut.

Applying pressure to the top and bottom of the nut will cause the shell to split along the little crack you made earlier.

Admire the deliciousness hidden inside.

It took me a bit of practice to get it right. Its the same game as many of the other nuts you might have shelled yourself. Sure, you can always get the shell open, but how many million pieces will you have broken the inside into in the process? Its a delicate art. Sort of like calligraphy.

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