We've changed hotels and are in the Saga neighborhood, which is part of Koto, a sub-city of Tokyo. I know, this is confusing, and we're confused too. But, well, when we can't read a simple sign or menu, we just accept the confusion and move along.
So, our hotel overlooks the Sumida River. Turns out there are several rivers that run through Tokyo, as well as a number of man-made canals that connect the rivers and other canals, making this part of the city seem almost like Venice. The Koto/Saga area is bordered by the bay to the south, the Sumida to the west, and the Arakawa River to the east. With land to the north, so we aren't really an island, just a peninsula.
But it means that we're surrounded on three sides by water. And where there's water, there are fish. So we're finding fish everywhere - giant fish advertising a restaurant. Fish designs in gorgeous tiles embedded in the sidewalk. Sushi and seafood tempura and fish restaurants all around. LOTS of fish! (Of course, there are bird tiles too. I guess we just have tiles showing the nature around us.)
I'm not sure about this cat logo, though. It seems to be the symbol for some business that we've seen around Japan, and I vaguely remember it from somewhere else. I do like the slightly abstract and geometric cat carrying the kitten in its mouth. It goes well with all the fish in this area.
This region seems to be apartment buildings, small businesses like cafés and mini-marts, and some office buildings. Across the river, we see major office buildings: IBM, RMB (Royal Bank of Malaysia maybe?), things like that. No apparent industry, but plenty of working people walking to and from work.
And of course boats on the river - tour boats, water taxis, boats that serve as buses, fishing boats, and tugs pulling barges. Tokyo is a major port, and the rivers are all part of the working network of transportation for the various industries involved in export/import.
Our hotel is sort of an apartment-hotel combo, often called an aparthotel. We have a three-person unit because we thought it would give us more room. So we have a tiny kitchen along one wall of the main room, with two beds, a couch, and a desk. The smaller room has a single bed, desk, and the closet. The bathroom is tiny, as in we're had showers larger than this bathroom. Most interesting is the tiny shower, in a deep tub, which is attached to the sink. So you turn the water on/off in the sink, flip a switch, and the water comes out in the shower. Not the most convenient setup for adjust water temp or even turning the water off after a shower, but I'm sure it made the plumbing much easier.
To get across the river, we walk across a blue bridge. Not only is it painted a pale blue, but it's lit up with blue lights during the night. Interesting and slightly eerie, in a pretty way. (I like blue.)
Across the river things are a little more business-oriented, getting progressively more city-like as we head west, sort of in the direction of the Tokyo station. Tokyo, like most major international cities, has the tall buildings and white collar industries and all the support businesses such as internet and mobile phone providers, copying services, slow food and fast food. But there are vestiges of old Japan that can be found everywhere: a small wooden vending cart; a little restaurant built like an old style Japanese house, but now part of a tall office building; the little curved bridges over branches of the rivers and the canals; the occasional woman wearing a kimono and obi, walking amongst the suited-and-white-shirted men and women from all those offices. It's an interesting mix.
We've mostly been exploring both sides of the river. The past few days were very windy and rainy; a storm that hit Okinawa in the south travelled over to the mainland (Korea? China?) and bounced back to Japan, and there was flooding in a number of towns. At least it wasn't a typhoon, so everyone is relieved it was only intense rain and moderate wind, nothing devastating. Though there were a few cities with flooded subway stations, but given what other years have been like, people are thankful it wasn't worse.
Today, finally, the rain has stopped, the skies have cleared, and while it was breezy we could finally go out without rain jackets and umbrellas. Not that we went anywhere major, just walking around and exploring.
We found a few parks, which are always interesting. The first park seemed to be attached to a school, or at least near a school. There were numerous swings, slides, and other apparatus for children. There was also a fountain, and a shrine that was being repaired. And the whole park was ringed with gingko trees, the national tree of Japan.
There was also the foot reflexology walk - this includes the diagram showing what part of the foot is associated with what part of the body. At least, I think that's what the diagram says, I can't read Japanese so I don't know. It just looks like the reflexology charts I've seen.
And then there's the walk. I tried it. I had to try it, right? And oh my wow that is painful!!! Those stones aren't just little smooth bumps to massage your feet and feel good. Oh no, we're talking tall pointy rocks that stick up a good inch and bruise the bottom of tender little feet like mine. They don't apply therapeutic pressure, they dig in and make the feet throb and ache and probably leave dents and black and blue marks. I tried them, I really did, but I ended up limping across the stones and trying to avoid the biggest stones and finally just gave up.
I haven't seen anyone else using these reflexology walks, so maybe it isn't just me. Maybe only masochists use them.
Anyway, another fox shrine, a bridge with an interesting scallop shape theme (both ends of the bridge, the design between the bars, and even the sidewalk all had the scallop shape) and a little metal relief sculpture showing how the river was used as a floating market as well as for transportation. More lanterns indicating restaurants, more banners fluttering wildly in the wind, a sake keg or two, a cherry blossom embellishment - more of the little indications that this is Japan and not some nameless, cultureless, soulless international city that could be anywhere in the world.
Well, then we found the elephant park. Just a little pocket park with trees, benches to sit on, swings and slides and such for children, and a few elephant sculptures. Which is very strange because while there are elephants in SE Asia, they aren't this far north nor native to this island nation. So yes, there was a life-size cement elephant, in a realistic style. And a little elephant in the fountain or wading pool, much more like a little cartoon elephant, all cute and round and cuddly. Just one more thing to make us giggle and wonder what is going on.
By now it was getting dark, and we decided to stop at a grocery and get some things to have dinner at home. Japan has wonderful prepared meals of katsu (panko crusted and fried) chicken or pork, with soba (noodles) or rice; or there are trays of sushi; or various noodle dishes where you just add water; all kinds of freshly made meals that just need heating and are so much nicer than frozen meals.
Well, there was a strange heating contraption at the market. It looked something like a movie theatre's popcorn maker, all shiny metal and panes of glass and plugged in. And warm.
But the interior was full of stones. Just a single layer of nice grey and white small rocks - bigger than pebbles, and not rounded like river rocks. Just, hot rocks in the machine.
My curiosity got the best of me. I just HAD TO KNOW what the deal was here. Were they selling hot rocks for some reason? Maybe for people to use for massaging their feet, like the reflexology trails? Or for their shoulders or something? Why were the rocks there, heating up? What was going on?
The two women cashiers didn't speak English, so they couldn't help me. A woman who was bagging her groceries tried to explain, and was saying something about not in October but maybe in November. She could tell I had no idea what she was talking about. So she looked around and found a sales clerk who seemed to know what was going on. They asked if I wanted one or two. Rocks? I'm thinking. I don't want to buy hot rocks, I want to know if they are selling them and why. They said they were ready in 10 minutes. Rocks? Ready in 10 minutes? What??? They don't understand my questions, I don't understand their answers. We were ALL confused at this point.
Another woman walked by and kind of nodded hello. I asked if she spoke English, she said yes. I explained that I wanted to know what the rocks in this machine were for. She said the machine was baking potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the rocks are where the potatoes will go when they are ready to buy. And would I like to buy a sweet potato? I explained that no, I didn't want to buy a sweet potato, I just wanted to know what the rocks in the machine were all about. She laughed and explained all of this to the sales clerk and the very nice woman who was trying so hard to help me get whatever it was I wanted, even if she didn't know what it was. They both laughed when they realized I was just being curious. And then we had a whole series of saying thank you in Japanese (domo arrigato) and bowing, and then more thank yous and another round of bowing. It was just so funny! And the bowing and thanking didn't end until I smiled and walked out the door, with the two women calling arrigato and something-touchy-mustah as I walked away (I really don't understand what they are saying, I have such a little bit of Japanese I know).
Adventures in travelling, LOL!