Tag Archive: japan

last day in tokyo

ww3 and i flew out of tokyo at about 7pm, so we had some time to look around on our last day before we went.  my guidebook suggested a nice scenic walk around the nishi-nippori area, where we wanted to do some final shopping anyway, so we followed its advice and wandered past a delightful mix of things tucked away in little corners that felt just right for a final tour. 

one of the things that caught my eye and definitely wasn't included on the official tour was a statue of a tanuki outside someone's house.  it reminded me of our favorite japanese restaurant in auckland, tanuki's cave.

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since i was spending most of my days cooped up in the bowels of the museum (admittedly for an important cause, namely my thesis), ww3 and i tried to get out and see as much as possible outside working hours.  unfortunately a lot of touristy things are only accessible during working hours, as we discovered on the morning we tried to get to the imperial palace gardens at 7 so we could walk through them before a full day's work at the museum.  we wound up walking around the outside, also beautiful (and about 6 km), then visiting the kitanomaru-koen park across the road and having breakfast, and then finally the imperial palace east gardens when they opened at 9. 

both parks had beautiful paths through trees, water features and more open spaces, and the imperial gardens also had various buildings and ruins with enormous amounts of associated history.  the other thing both places had in common were the massive orb spiders (jorō-gumo, Nephila clavata) suspended between most branches and trees, just above head-level.

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the whole reason i was in tokyo, believe it or not, was not to take in the sights while trying (somewhat unsuccesfully) to avoid seafood (breaches in the 'i don't eat that' mantra included prawns and – i think, and still feel awful – moray), but rather to visit ika-san and the squid collections at the national science museum, tokyo.  although i spent all the working hours at the offsite research facility near shinjuku, ika-san also took me to the main museum buildings in ueno, to admire the exhibits. 

before the trip, the pebbles had loaned me his lonely planet guide to tokyo, which i found absolutely invaluable at most times.  however, the lonely liar had this to say about the NSMT: 'generally nothing special: the displays are limited in scope and qualtity, and can be covered in less than an hour.'  this is patently not true – i hope the disparaging remarks refer to the museum ten years ago (it's a 1997 LP edition)  and have been updated, because i have rarely seen more engaging and well-thought-out natural history galleries.  the museum also has a spherical theater – not just imax or omnimax, but an actual full sphere, with the audience standing suspended on a walkway through the middle – which is worth seeing in itself, and while i was there, there was a very entertainig exhibition on robots that included the most advanced bipedal robot designed to date, asimo.  however, robots aren't really my thing, and photography wasn't allowed inside the exhibit, so let me divert you rather with the more esoteric things that tickle a teuthologist's fancy. sadly, i didn't get a shot of the life-sized blue whale model inside, but don't worry, i did get both the plastinated whale intestinal tract (oh, the memories – remind me to tell you about that sometime), and the whale stomach chock full of nematodes.  yummy.  oh, and both the stone carving of the ?plesiosaur (at the front of the site where i was working), and its skeleton on display – this was a new species several years ago.

AmmonitesCrazy ammonitesWhale intestinesWormy whale stomach

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one of our evening excursions was to asakusa, a part of town with an interesting mixture of shrines, market stalls, statues, and stray cats.


we also went to the top of the mori building, in roppongi hills, to gawk some more at the lights and sheer enormity of our surroundings.

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over our only weekend in japan, my cousin ww3 and i headed out to nikko, a beautiful spot about 2 hours from tokyo by train.  it boasts a wealth of shrines and historical Things To See, and the autumn colors were in full swing.  as for the weather, well, read on…

did i mention the weather up there?  hmm, yes.  we had the only snowfall i saw on the entire trip!  just crispy little hard flakes, but the wind was roaring, and the ears, they were freezing.  unfortunately the only hat i could find in the local shops was pokemon-yellow and sported two ears of its own.  well, when you have brain-freeze, you make poor decisions, i guess.

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meiji shrine

the friday after i arrived in tokyo, i got up early and went to the meiji shrine, to take advantage of the morning daylight.  this is what it looked like. 

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and i thought it was just shampoo

hoo boy, japan.  last stop on this trip and undoubtedly memorable already, for the combination of familiarity and strangeness, for being the first place i’m visiting where i don’t speak the language at all (and i mean at all – france was nothing compared to this), for the hole-in-the-floor toilets, which are something like recessed urinals.  without any kind of apparatus for steadying yourself – bar, prayer rope, athletic rings hanging from the ceiling, nothing – so you better have good balance.


it looks like uploading photos will be difficult while i’m here, so they will have to come in very small installments, and/or later.


the guy who’s hosting me at the museum, whom we shall call ika-san (japanese for ‘dr squid’), is someone i have met several times and is good fun.  although he did take me from the train station yesterday straight into work, walking literally past the front door of my hotel on the way to the museum, with all my luggage.  (‘what do you mean, you just flew across the planet and you want a shower?  there are IMPORTANT SQUID TO SEE!’)


and speaking of my hotel.  it’s mostly fine – cleanish (only one small cockroach so far), extremely conveniently located two minutes’ walk from the museum, corner room so i get cross-ventilation, which is excellent considering that the heating doesn’t turn off and it’s about 65 degrees outside during the day, western toilet (never to be undervalued again!), and with a decent shower, albeit in a ‘tub’ that is mid-thigh-deep but about the size of a normal shower stall.  and there is a tiny fridge for storing any small accumulations of groceries i might care to keep cool. 


which brings us to food.  i debated being vegetarian for this part of the trip because there are a lot of relatively staple japanese foods i don’t eat, like, oh, seafood.  so far the score between ‘this was an accident but tastes good’ and ‘i’m eating this to be polite’ is tied.  last night i went out to dinner with ika-san and had a tempura set, which was mostly very tasty, but did include shrimp (with a side of conscience pangs) and something i think, but try not to, might have been a moray eel fillet.  having had an airplane ‘breakfast’ and a bowl of ramen noodles for lunch, i was hungry enough to eat everything except most of the potential moray. 


there is also a convenience store across from my hotel where i’ve been doing most of my food shopping, with reasonable success so far because i can stand and scrutinize (inscrutable) labels for a while before purchasing.  so far i’ve managed to organize a decent breakfast (well, two danishes – i chickened out on the traditional japanse breakfast which, according to ika-san, involves rice, miso soup and some fish), yesterday’s ramen noodles, and another bowl of noodles for lunch today.  and i’ve just come back from my first dinner on my own, which was a partial success.  i had planned to have don-katsu (pork cutlet), because it has the huge double advantages of me being able to say it and enjoy eating it.  but i managed to find a place that was displaying it in the window but mysteriously didn’t serve it.  so i pointed at something else on the menu that looked like potatoes and dumplings, but proved in fact to be tempura mushrooms (score one for ‘accidental but tasty’).  i studied a few phrases while eating, so i was able to say ‘that was good’ in japanese by the end.  i think this surprised the waitress, after my caveman-like point-and-grunt ordering routine.  on the way home, after giggling quietly to myself for a few blocks after passing the ‘bee snop’ (unfortunate result of different-sized letters letters on the sign), i bought what turned out to be a delicious ice cream bar packed inside a waffle-wafer-type crispy coating with chocolate on the inside. 


and now i plan to sleep for another 11 hours.

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