Tokyo on the Run

Written by admin on January 13, 2006 – 4:09 pm -

The adage that you take yourself wherever you travel couldn’t be truer albeit sounding trite. Visiting Tokyo was a prime example of integrating my American and French backgrounds with a bit of Japan. No two cities are identical but Tokyo struck a chord in incorporating some of Paris and much of New York City, while maintaining its powerful cultural uniqueness. Plus as a Caucasian, there was no way we weren’t going to look like tourists.

Driving from the airport to the Conrad is a minor case in point. The Japanese drive on the on the wrong (e.g. British side) of the road and battle incredibly heavy traffic no matter the hour. Contrasted with their French counterparts, drivers are incredibly well-behaved. Even though the JAL trip took more than 13 hours, we weren’t dreaming as we passed the “Magic Kingdom.” Disney’s theme park loomed over the distant horizon. I was so well rested that had there been time, I would have been curious to compare it with Euro Disney on the outskirts of Paris that opened in 1993. Whereas EuroDisney has taken years to be accepted, Disney-Tokyo was an immediate hit since opened in 1983. It’s a big dating destination among the younger Japanese and tourists from all over the world.

Skyscrapers are spouting like mushrooms as is the pollution level. Areas that were previously water are now landfills where some of Tokyo’s most expensive real estate sits. Some of the architecture and “public art” are examples of architectural muscle. When a building is showing wear and tear, rather than renovating it, it’s torn down and another is built. Some say this is an attempt to protect the city’s buildings from earthquakes and typhoons, which are more likely to hit the Pacific Rim as time progresses and Tokyo’s density increases.

During our stay at the Conrad, we took a quick cruise along the waterfront. Passengers were able to get on and off at various stations. We might have been riding on a Bateaux Mouches and were privy to seeing a replica of the Statue of Liberty at the Rainbow Bridge. We had a glimpse into the type of housing where the Japanese live – if they’re lucky enough to be able to live in the city. It’s not usual for people to commute more than an hour each way to work. For the time being, the buildings on the waterfront are low-rise; they have balconies where the residents hang their laundry to dry, a sign of prosperity since it signifies that the apartments are south-facing. Mixed-use development is forbidden as it’s been the cause of devastating fires.

During our four day stay, we attended a tea ceremony in a beautiful timbered shelter situated in a relaxing garden. Tea salons have made the Paris scene but there’s no comparison when it comes to the Japanese ritual. We first removed our shoes and were given white anklets. The mistress of the tea house stated it takes three decades to learn to serve tea properly. I tried to feel a sense of spirituality. Rather, my legs hurt from sitting with them under me for over an hour. Japan also is going more modern and has a Mariage Freres tea room that Parisians know and love.

We walked through the very beautiful and peaceful Hama-rikya Gardens which was the official hunting grounds for the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century. The garden is an enigma with its duck ponds, an inner moat, the only sea-water pond in Tokyo and 1200 peony bushes showcasing 57 varieties of the flower that blooms in late April. The garden offers a complete sense of tranquility and is home to a 300-year-old pine that’s reputed to have been planted by the sixth Shogun.

Why the Japanese come to Paris is shop is a mystery to me. Racing through the Matsuzakaya and Mitsukoshi department stores, it’s easy to find more French labels than at Paris’s Galeries Lafayette or New York’s Barneys. I bought the few souvenirs I needed at the Oriental Bazaar which has a good selection of traditional gifts. The Japanese are very upscale label oriented by now that Paris’s Louis Vuitton has placed a quota of two leather items per customer without having to pay the VAT. Coming to Paris to buy for your sister, cousin and best friend no longer makes sense. Born to Shop Suzy Gershman (URL for Paris Shopping Guide) reports that the Japanese have been known to hire “buyers” at 100 Euros each, the Vuitton label is so much in demand and costs approximately 50% of what it does in Japan.

New things I’ve never done in Paris or in the US.

Going to a tuna auction at 5 a.m. and then visiting the fish market. This gives new meaning to sushi or sashimi – something for which the sushi restaurant at the Conrad is already famous, since they hired the most revered sushi master in Tokyo. Forget mundane things such as California rolls. At the Conrad, the fish is a delicacy like none other. It is so beautifully prepared it’s an art form. Be creative and order a hand roll specifically prepared for you.

No tourist goes to Tokyo without visiting the colorful stalls of the shopping alley Nakamise that leads to the Asakusa Kannon Temple complex.  There we first inhaled incense that’s said to have curative powers. We then bought fortunes. If you didn’t like your fortune, you tied it on a wire so as not to take it with you or your journey through life. Luckily, there was a wedding taking place that day and the bride and groom were all too happy to have us snap away with our digital cameras.

Everyone seems to be carrying a cell phone taking and taking . Even though I have a tri-band, I couldn’t get it to function.  Only after returning home did I learn I needed a quad-band or a new phone with a local Sim card.

Four days in Tokyo is only a glimpse into a country and civilization begging to be explored.

When (not if) I return, I want to be spoiled by flying on Japan Airlines, (http://www.jal.co.jp/en/) stay at a dream hotel such as the Conrad (www.conradtokyo.co.jp).

For that matter, Tokyo is a city comprised of dream hotels ….

And, I’d want to explore much more of what there is to be seen.

Visit the Japan Government Tourist Office in NY Site (www.jnto.go.jp) and however much time you’ve scheduled to be in Japan, you’ll realize it isn’t enough.


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