Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Little Earthquake at the Ginza - How Japanese

16 September 2014

We managed to get around Tokyo today via train (not quite subway, it was above ground) as well as on foot - about six miles of walking (yes, that is roughly 10 km).

I'm including a map of the Tokyo train system so you can understand how confusing this is.  Not only do we have some trains that are subways underground and others that are totally above ground, we have at least two or three (maybe more) different train systems.  And some lines might go in one direction but not in the opposite, or not stop at the same stations when going in the other direction.  Or some lines stop at certain stations that aren't on the map.  We ended up coming back on a different line than planned, even though on the map only one line goes to/from Shinagawa.  Oh well, we figure we'll just be confused much of the time we're travelling on the trains.

We found one of the wonderful manhole covers that looks like some sort of video game - and yes, this is obviously where firefighters will hook up hoses for water during fires.  But it's sort of hard to take firefighters seriously when they look like little boy Manga figures.

The other manhole covers in Tokyo seemed to have the same floral design as the ones we saw in Shinagawa, which makes some sense since Shinagawa is almost a suburb of Tokyo.  I was hoping for another design altogether, but I liked the floral design set into a larger manhole cover with a repeating clamshell design.

Our plan was to walk around central Tokyo, beginning at the Tokyo Station and heading to the Ginza district, one of the best know shopping areas in Tokyo.  We figured we'd see various buildings, sculptures, pocket parks, and all the things that make places unique and interesting. 

Most of the buildings in Tokyo are rather modern, and few are taller than maybe ten or twenty storeys - although there are a few that are true skyscrapers, but not quite like tall buildings in other parts of the world.  Given the number of major earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis that hit Japan, one can understand why you don't see 70-storey buildings here.

And yes, as we were having lunch at a little café in the Ginza, there was a little earthquake.  It started as just a little vibration, the kind you might feel if a subway was going by underneath the street, or a large truck on the road.  But then our seats started shaking back and forth, and this went on for an appreciable amount of time - earthquake, we all thought, as everyone in the café looked around and tried to decide if we should run outside or duck under something or what.  It gradually abated, and we tried asking people how to say the word for earthquake in Japanese.  People thought we were asking if that was an earthquake, and they kept saying yes, earthquake!  

Turns out, according to news reports, this was a 5.6 quake at the epicenter, but far enough away from Tokyo that the tremors measured only a 4.0 here - sort of what we thought, compared to tremors we've felt in the Virgin Islands.  Anyway, just one more little bit of excitement.

One of the things that makes earthquakes here a little scary is that the roads and highways and train lines create a spider web of a network, with pedestrian overpasses and underpasses all over.  And I definitely wouldn't want to be on an elevated walkway over one of the highways during a major quake.  I get dizzy enough walking over all that moving traffic without the pedestrian bridge moving too.

The first overpass we took had gorgeous tiles on the walkway, just four decorative tiles scattered along.  I'm not sure what they say, I tried doing an online translation thing but can't figure out what the phrases are here.  My favorite, of course, are the cherry blossoms, so delicate even in glaze on clay.

We walked all around the Ginza area, getting a bit turned around and asking for directions - some people were very fluent in English and were interested in where we were from, how long we're in Japan, all that.  Other people could speak only a little English, but still more than our tiny bit of Japanese, and could mostly just point us in the right direction.

So we continued walking, this way and that, finding little parks and interesting flowers, shrines, and sculptures, and having our usual good time.  It was a beautiful sunny day, quite hot for mid-September.  In fact, if the weather keeps up like this, we may never get to see the gorgeous autumn foliage for which Japan is known; the nights will need to cool down drastically before the maples and gingko leaves begin the change color.

But I think my favorite sculpture of the day was the giant happy cat statue.  You know those little mechanized cats that wave a paw and supposedly bring good luck to shops?  There was a GIANT cat like that, though without the waving paw.  Probably a five foot tall cat.  Just so silly and funny.  I loved it.

And mysterious jars assembled alongside a building, holding, well, who knows.  Just looking like inscrutable earthenware jars.  With colorful red tops.

They went well with the mysterious signs we'd find.  Don't put cheese in the bushes, the mice will come?  Use this area to catch mice?  We have no idea.

And then, there is was, the kabuki theatre, celebrating 125 years of performances here in Tokyo.  It was a gorgeous building, and the posters out front are works of art.

People were lining up to buy single performance tickets.  Usually, a kabuki performance consists of several stories, each taking close to an hour, with intermissions and maybe a lunch between performances.  You can make a full day out of attending a kabuki show.  But single performance tickets are also available, and the price is much more reasonable.  I chatted with the young man who was helping people on line.  Unfortunately, one can only buy tickets for that day, and the tickets go on sale about one hour before the performance.  I'll try to get in to one show, just a single performance.  I attended kabuki when I was in Japan in the 80s, on my way home from Liberia - so I know how exciting and dramatic kabuki can be.  I'll report back if/when I get to see a performance.

About this time of day we decided we were pretty tired, having walked close to six miles.  So we headed to a different metro station that was on the route or line going to Shinagawa - although it was a rather confusing route, and a nice man showed us the way.  We also encounted one of the most convoluted pedestrian overpasses I've ever seen, going up and across and then over and around and across in a different direction - we could have used a map just for the overpass.

And that's where we found that other train lines go to our station of Shinagawa - even though the maps show only one line going there.  Even though at the station they sell tickets for only one line.  And even though you can get on only one line at Shinagawa going to Tokyo.  There are other lines that go from Tokyo to Shinagawa.  Counter-intuitive, confusing, and hard to plan.  But, well, we go with the flow and we follow signs and somehow we made our way back.  Hot, tired, and ready for a cold drink of Happiness.  Yes, my peach and raspberry iced tea was labelled Happiness.  So I had a lovely cooling drink.  Of Happiness.  Which of course is pink.

We feel ready to travel farther afield on the Tokyo metro, and will start getting more adventurous.  Plus figuring out where we'll go next week, since we won't be travelling by camper.

But we'll go with happiness, right?


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