Our time in Tokyo was very Blade Runner: dark, drizzly, futuristic.

We were met a Tokyo Station by Michiko, my Stepdad’s brother’s common-law wife. She asked us to meet her at the Silver Bell, a popular meeting spot. We were having a hard time finding it, so K asked a stranger where it was. The stranger had us follow him for about ten minutes through the giant labyrinth, all the while holding two fingers to his left temple to help him think. He had to ask directions twice. Just another example of how incredibly helpful people are here.

Michiko is in her 70s, but I had a hard time keeping up with her as she raced off to take us to the Imperial Palace, which is very close to the station. You can’t actually go into the palace, and mostly people run or walk around the perimeter for exercise. Michiko didn’t even think we could go inside the walls at all, but it turns out there are gardens inside you can visit for free. Michiko was surprised and delighted to discover this, so it was a treat for all of us.

Next we went on a search for a lunch place, and really lucked out. We discovered a farm-to-table restaurant with a buffet. They had photographs of the farmers on the wall, the food was delicious, it was all you can eat, and it was only $15 per person. I can’t imagine anything comparable existing in the U.S.

Next she escorted us through a variety of train changes to the neighborhood of our ryokan. We were surprised to see the area was a little run down looking. Michiko explained that it used to be a very poor area, but had been improving since they built the Sky Tree nearby. She noted that many small hotels had popped up.

It took a while to find our ryokan, and it was almost dark when we got there. It was *very* dark inside the ryokan. The entire interior was painted charcoal grey, and there was only spare recessed lighting throughout. When the staff person showed us our room, it just had one small lamp. We gratefully accepted her offer of another. I guess they don’t think anyone is going to read in their room.

So, we sat on floor of our dark little room with a window that faced a dark concrete wall streaked with rain, and I thought, is this some dystopic future?

We went out for dinner and unfortunately the map the ryokan had given us was useless, so we ended up at the crappy udon place around the corner. Now, I can’t eat any more udon. I really can’t. So I ordered the other thing on the menu, which was boiled rice with vegetables. And if that sounds unappetizing to you, that’s because it is. It mostly just tasted like salt.

When I got up in the morning, I was surprised that it was still hecka dark in the hallway. I realized that dark was really the design aesthetic; you were supposed to feel like you were in a perpetual night. You know, like the North Pole in winter. Which I suppose might appeal to someone, but it isn’t me.

We headed off to Asakusa to see the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji. After all the amazing temples in Kyoto, it really didn’t seem impressive. There was quite a gauntlet of chintzy souvenir shops, and walking through them in the rain really felt like being in the film Blade Runner. I half expected someone to be selling android snakes.

The temple did have a female deity guarding one side of the gate, which we had never seen before, so that was cool. There was also some female deity (or perhaps the same one) painted on the ceiling, which I really liked.

Then we headed off to Roppongi to see the Mori Museum. This museum is on the 52nd floor, and we were led to believe that by some traveler that you could get a great view of the Tokyo skyline. Which you could, if you paid another 1000¥. Our choices then were a Warhol show or one of painting of children. I’ve seen enough Warhol in my life, so we saw the paintings of children. The paintings mostly came from Musee D’Orsay, and many were of the artists’ own children. It was interesting seeing Manet’s or Picasso’s paintings of their kids. I had never seen them and I thought, well of course they would have done paintings of their children! The reason I hadn’t seen them was because none of them were very brilliant. There were a few good pieces in the show, but they were of other themes involving children.

Rippongi was very ritzy, very different from Asakusa. Next we went to Shibuya to meet up with Michiko at the statue of the dog Hachiko. Shibuya looked like every shot I’d ever seen of Tokyo in a movie, kind of a Times Square x 10. There were four video advertisements playing on the sides of the buildings across from us, each video being many stories high. You know, huge.

Michiko took us to a building that used to be the hot new place when she was young, but was now passe. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the ninth floor that was practically empty, which was great. As I looked down on the crowds rushing around in the rain, it seemed strange to be in a city I’d seen in innumerable movies and heard of forever and not getting a kick out of it. I couldn’t wait to get back to Kyoto.

So, goodbye Tokyo! I’ll probably never see you again.

But I did get to ride the awesome Shinkansen again.


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