Those of you who have been following the panda blog know that the last few months have been rough here in the House of Panda. A few weeks ago I even started considering – for the first time ever – going back to America after my contract expires. While I’m still very much up in the air, I realized something on this last trip – so many of the things I have issues with in Japan seem to be artifacts of the deep inaka: the bullshit staring, out and out racial discrimination, gawking country bumpkins, incredible boredom, sickening industrial wastelands, garish pork barrel monuments and so forth. Of course, all of these things exist in Tokyo to one extent or another, but they’re mitigated by several key factors: a) people there are used to “foreigners” and don’t so much as bat an eyelash at you, much less treat you differently in most everyday situations, b) there’s never a shortage of things to do and interesting places to explore, c) there’s actually more urbanized nature in Tokyo than in most every other Japanese city of any notable size – trees along the street that don’t have their branches hacked off (ala’ Kyoto), actual grass and parks, foliage that consists of more than glorified vegetables (more about that later) and so forth, d) delicious food around every corner and perhaps most importantly e)the feeling that you might actually be able to find some sort of fulfilling work if you try hard enough.
Living in Tokyo can be rough – it’s expensive, noisy and uber-competitive, but every time I step foot in the city I am reminded of everything that captivated me about Japan the first time I came here (on a study abroad in Tokyo) – and that overwhelming rush of fondness, nostalgia and ambition fills me, wiping away the depressing monotony and despair the endless gray concrete expanses of the Japanese countryside and everyday grind tends to instill in you.
There were more interesting things to do in the 5 block radius outside our hotel room than exists in my entire city (and quite possibly the entire prefecture) – more beautiful trees, lovely cafes, art exhibits, public transportation, lakes, shops – everything… ! – and the bustling lively noise of tens of thousands of people criss crossing along their everyday lives in a myriad of clothing styles, attitudes and personalities makes you want to become a better person even as you sit in a cafe and watch them go by every second. Returning to the depressing little dump of a city I call home, where the most exciting thing to do on a saturday night is crawl the same overpriced, underwhelming played out dozen or so bars for the umpteenth time to talk to the same people you talked to the last week, and where places to go on a weekday afternoon consist of one of three identical starbucks or shopping at the same shitty little department store as everyone else, I couldn’t help but feel deeply dejected inside. This is not to say that the ‘hood hasn’t been good to me – it has its attractions, for sure, but I’m so worn down after living here for a 2.5 years that I really thought Japan had lost its magic for me.
Going back to Tokyo though, reminded me of why I came here in the first place. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it there or not, but suddenly for the first time in a while, I really, really wanted to stay in Japan and try and give it a go. We’ll see.
Anyway, onto the pictures then. You know the deal. Click on a pic to pop up a larger sized image.
When I lived in Madison, there used to be this Vietnamese joint across the street from my house. Actually, it was run by a guy from Hong Kong who loved gadgets, tight stretch shirts, sparkly gucci belt buckles and flashy cars. As an owner, he wasn’t exactly what one would call an upstanding human being – his hiring policy consisted entirely of hitting on attractive asian girls eating at his restaurant and later inviting them to come “work for him” – turnover was high, as one might expect, but he did manage to put together one of the most consistently attractive waitstaff in the madison campus area. Of course, those who happened to fall into a category outside of “attractive asian woman” tended to take exception at his attitudes (unless you were a latino of dubious resident status, in which case he was happy to work you to the bone in the kitchen) and of course, the egalitarian in me chafed at his sexist, racist approach.
On the other hand, and perhaps proving how weak I am in terms of my convictions, the food there was delicious and cheap – not to mention they were the only vietnamese restaurant within walking distance for miles around. So I often found myself eating there, silently hating the guy and his bling blinging belt buckle as he strutted about, yet unable to resist the savory taste treat sensations floating about in the giganto bowl in front of me. Food or morals? Food or morals? *sigh* Food.
Surprisingly, Vietnamese food is hella hard to come by in Japan anywhere outside of Tokyo, so when we realized there was a sweet little Vietnamese place close to our hotel, we decided to stop by before heading out. It was delicious, and cheap (well, by Tokyo standards), and the ambiance was quite nice, complete with supar tall bamboo chairs that made me feel like a Very Important Panda whilst I ate. The only thing is that the food was a little bland, so I started adding in all these spicy sauces that were on the table to give it flavor, including some suspicious looking mystery oil which Nc cautioned me about. Nonetheless, it smelled so good I added it in, which was wonderful at first, but a few hours later, I paid the price for my adventerous culinary approach when my tummah started making some rumbling noises disturbing enough to startle people walking past us.
But that’s the price we pay for tasty treats, and when you live in the inaka, you have to try and take maximum advantage of the diversity offered by the big city whenever you visit.
On an unrelated note, Monkah was very proud that his clothing matched my Pho! (^_^)v
Speaking of matching, here Monkah notices that the Hanzomon line matches my shirt, which he thought was pretty cool. I agree, and point out that the Yurakucho line matches monkah’s duck outfit, at which point he started chattering away excitedly in french. Somewhere along the way, people queuing up beside us started to stare, presumably wishing their outfits matched the Tokyo subways!
Nc posing happily with monkah. This is actually the third picture I took – in the first two she was trying not to laugh so hard (Monkah has that effect on people) that it kept looking like she was constipated! Like
je suis dans le train!!! je suis dans le train!!! Monkah looks excitedly out the window as we take the train to Roppongi. Monkah loves trains!
You can see the rest of our adventures in the full entry by clicking the link below!
FREE MASON MONKAHHH!!! The top sekrat Free Mason Headquarters near the heart of Roppongi in Tokyo. I had no idea these folks were still around! I wonder what they do these days? I looked around, but alas, there were no informational brochures to be had. I was a bit disappointed, so I had to settle for this commemorative photo op by the signstone outside. For a top sekrat organization dedicated to world domination, their building sort of sucked. Oh, and they did that stupid Japanese thing where they grow a bunch of cabbages (yeah, cabbages) in chintzy plastic planters then line them up along the sidewalk and pretend they are hedges and “foliage”. Psst, free masons of Japan. Cabbage was not, is not and shall never be a legitimate form of landscaping. Just some free advice from your local resident panda.
Monkah poses for a blurry out of focus shot in front of Tokyo Tower. Ironically enough, we arrived at 9:45 to find that the observation deck closes at 10:00pm. Nc still really wanted to up to view the yake (night scenery) so up we paid our 800 yen and made a mad dash for the elevator. It took us a couple of minutes to reach the observeration deck and get our observation on, so in the end we only got to gaze out over Tokyo for 10 minutes or so. But it was an absolutely breathtaking 10 minutes!
Monkah gazes out at the endless stretch of twinkling city lights below. There’s nothing quite as stunning as being way up high in a tall building at night, looking out out and down across a massive metropolis below you – it’s the contrast between the silence and solitude up where you are, and the ruckus and nonstop auditory assault down on the ground. The other thing that is intriguing is how the audio and visual stimuli are seperated – you can see the lights, the cars, the flashing pachinko billboards, myriad of office lights, little black dots of people swarming across intersections, streaking lines of trains criss crossing in the distance – all the visual cues that define a massive cityscape like Tokyo – yet you hear nothing. Nothing at all. Just the steady hum of the air conditioning somewhere vaguely above you in the murky dark recesses of the observation deck ceiling, and maybe a few hushed whispers of couples giggling behind you, but that’s it. It’s so eerie to have the two be divorced of each other, but I love that feeling. It’s so…. nebulous.
Since I suck at teh night time photography, you can see how the professionals rock it: Tokyoyakei – view of Tokyo at night from the Tokyo Tower.
More shots of Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Yakei front page
Is Monkah playing dentist? Or is a hungry Nc trying to eat Monkah!? They both remain mum on this comprimising situation. Just to be safe, we decide to go get something to eat – just in case.
A drool worthy Aston Martin gleaming away in a dimmed showroom on our way to Roppongi Hills. Actually, I couldn’t care less about cars (and really, what’s an Aston Martin compared to my 13 year old Supar-Hondar-Civic-with-the-broken-mufflar?? Psshaw!) but Nc positively flipped out when we passed it, pressing her nose against the glass to get a closer look. Wow. I guess we all know why guys buy fancy cars now, don’t we?
oddly enough, this showroom was right by the Russian Embassy, which is guarded at night by rows of stern looking J-police men with riot shields and long wooden sticks (I really couldn’t figure out that last part, since they were literally just long wooden dowels. They didn’t even have hooks on them to snag people or anything, and really, if you whacked it hard against something, I wouldn’t exactly bet on it not breaking…). They kept looking at us – two foreigners and a monkah dressed in a yellow duckah outfit chattering away in english (well, monkah in french), hands pressed all over a 1/4 inch thick piece of glass separating us from a quarter million dollar car less than 12 feet away from a high risk terrorism target – then looking at each other, consulting with their radios, then looking back at us again. Finally managing to pull Nc away, we kept on walking and tried not to make direct eye contact with the half dozen or so heavily armed (errm, with sticks) policemen staring at us as we walked by the front of the embassy and crossed the street. Eeeps! I’m certain our pictures must have been entered into some “potential terrorist” database by now!!
The car in question, by the way, is a 2005 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish and retails for a little over $255,000 US.
Walking around in Roppongi when what do we see but Banana Republic!! Or rather, the site of the soon-to-be-opened future Japanese Banana Republic. I was excited, but also fairly certain I’ll end up being disappointed. While the prospect of being able to get all sorts of stylish and colorful stripah shirts and accessories in this land of the plain white salariman biz shirt and ugly arse ties is tantilizing, at the same time I’m pretty sure that this being a Japan, this particular BR won’t be having any a) discount sales and b) clothes in my size. And those are the two reasons why I shop there back home. *sigh*
Looks like it’s still http://www.bananarepublic.com for me…
Heading back close to the last train, we got to witness the beginning of the infamous Tokyo jam-packed-to-the-gills-with-people subway cars. There’s two main times when the trains get extremely crowded – in the morning when all the people are commuting in to work, and at night when they’re trying to get home. As well, certain lines seem to experience nearly non-stop crowding – the Keio private line, lines leading and out of the surrounding “residential areas” where most people who work in Tokyo actually live and certain subway lines to popular destinations.
Monkah wanted to be in this picture but he was so scared by the people jamming and pushing that he couldn’t bring himself to peek out of my bag…
Mexican food! As I have written about in the past, lately I’ve been absolutely craving mexican food lately. Hard to come by here in the ‘hood, but down in Tokyo it’s a lot easier to find! Nc happened to know a wonderful little place oddly buried in the basement floor of an odd frosted-glass and gleaming steel office building in the eastern end of Shinjuku – it was so strange! If you looked at this building from the outside, you’d swear it was all business and political nonsense going on, but little would you realize there’s all this delicious food inside!
The thing that really set this place apart was that not only did they give you free chips and salsa (UNHEARD OF in most places here!!!), but it was ALL YOU CAN EAT chips and the salsa was delicious and while not-quite-authentic, at least several notches above the lame bland tomato-paste like stuff you usually get. Oh and the tortillas were all you could eat too. My god, did we ever gorge ourselves…
Arriving in Ueno zoo, we glance up and see this sign. Hmm, I wonder what they could mean by “Giant Panda waiting area”…?
Emerging from the station to a large sunny expanse of drab tile, we feel cheated by the lack of giant pandas until suddenly Nc, turning to her right, exclaims “Oh my god look at that there!!” and runs over.
Yes, GIANT panda waiting area indeed!
At the entrance to Ueno zoo, Monkah peers up at the admissions sign and tries to figure out how much it costs for cuet french monkahs. Turns out it’s free. O(^_^)o~~
KAWAII!!! Posing by the worn out Panda dolls right inside the entrance to the zoo. A mandatory picture every time I come to the zoo…
PANDARSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Finally, the moment we had traveled all this way for! This is the younger male panda, sitting in a tire eating his bamboo for the delign of the crowd. Nothing else to be said, except for you to stare at its cuteness and be amazed *(o.O)*/
The female panda, sleeping on a bench and occasionally making cute sounds for the crowd. Upon seeing her, Monkah decided to join in and take a nap too. (^_^)zzZZZZ
Tired of floating, Monkah takes a break on Nc’s shoulder as she stares captivated by the pandas before us.
Nc hugging a panda in the gift shop. She ended up buying a bunch of cookies in a vaguely zoo/panda themed container, proudly proclaiming “I love to collect these commemorative tins!”. Ahh, so now I know who they make those things for! Whenever I go into any place’s gift shop and see things like generic cookies in odd little tin containers with the respective logos of their organization, I always wondered “who the heck would buy such a cheesy (sorry Nc!) thing!?”.
Panda, meet Panda. Like Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”, if only “Adam” had been “a cute fuzzy panda doll”. I am certain the almighty would have been nuzzling his tummah then too. The little girl next to me stared while Nc snapped this pic of me fawning over the panda, and after I put it back and left, I glanced back and saw her pick it up and start playing with it too. How cute!
This poor giraffe is in the stocks!!! Oh giraffe, whatever did you do to deserve this most cruel medieval punishment?
A while back Monkah left a comment on the blog indicating “Je veux voir des autres singes aussi, et des pandas, si tu le veux.” which, if you don’t read french (I don’t, but I cheated and used an online translator ) is something like “I wanna go see the monkeys and pandas!”. Here Monkah finally got his wish and spent a long time staring at the other monkeys in the zoo. He was a little disappointed they didn’t speak french, but he thought it was cute how they hung from the bars and frolicked with one another. Then they started hurling their feces, and we decided that was enough bonding time for us.
Another very-in-focus shot of monkah by the monkey exhibit. It was such a beautiful summer day – the sky a brilliant, unmarred azure expanse, with a warm breeze in the background and only a few people walking around amongst the cooling shade of the trees. What a wonderful time to go to the zoo!
We stopped by a shrine after leaving the zoo. Here I show Monkah how to purify his hands before entering the shrine. We were going to burn some incense, but Monkah only had bills but no 100 yen coins (the incense was 100 yen and we weren’t about to give them 1000 yen with no change), so we didn’t.
Just as well, Monkahs duckah suit is flammable!!!
The water scoops laying above the fountain. You use these to scoop out some water and pour it on your hands (the more adventurous/traditional japanese also rinse out their mouth with it) to purify yourself before entering the temple/shrine grounds. I always like to take pictures of them – I realize it’s cheesy, but it seems so…Japanese.
And just because: another image of a water scoop outside of a Japanese temple.
And now some of the funniest shit I’ve seen in a while…
Nc’s feet were starting to hurt, so we sat down on a bench in Ueno Park for a little while to rest. As we were sitting, talking randomly, we noticed these two guys standing a few meters in front of us. The one guy in the foreground had what looked like pads taped to him – at first we thought his arm was broken or something and his friend was helping him get dressed.
However, it quickly became apparent that something was amiss, because the guy in front kept moving his arms naturally. If you look closely (like where the arrow is pointing, for instance) you will notice that he has what appears to be a thick pad of tissues or padding attached to his shoulders and biceps (there was a little on his chest as well) with electrical tape. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, or why he was putting on a tight long sleeved sweater in the middle of summer (it was a good 32 degrees C at this point). That is until….
We saw this. THE MAN WAS TAPING FALSE MUSCLES TO HIMSELF!!!!!!!!!!!! You can see where he’s suddenly become “buff” around the shoulders, biceps and pectoral region. After we snapped this picture, he started strutting around the park, like all in front of girls and whatever. It was unbelievable…. just like that old Saturday Night Live skit!!! We couldn’t stop laughing and they looked at us as we snapped the picture, but we were like “whatever dude, you’re the one taping fake muscles to yourself in full view of everybody!!!
*sigh* Some words of advice to all you would-be-padders out there. If you’re going to pad yourself to enhance your assests – be it your biceps, ass, bust, whatever – DON’T do in the middle of a crowded park filled with thousands of people….!. Crazy kids, man. Crazy kids.
Anyway, that’s about it for this post. Hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as Monkah enjoyed going to Tokyo!!!
Now watching: “Tokyo Friends”
Typical over-acted, uncovincingly melodramatic, mind-numbingly sugary, rip-off J-drama schlock. But it stars Otsuka Ai, and goddammit, I admit it, I’m a guy, I think she’s cute, so I watch it for her.
You can view the website here. (watch out, it’s a flash beast that takes forever to load and plays the entire theme song at an annoyingly loud volume.)