Thursday, January 31, 2008

Big

Beijing is big. The streets are big, the buildings are big, and the city area is big.


Beijing is also very beautiful at night, especially close to Tiananmen Square. Neon, bright lights, and light strands are used in great quantity. Some parts of Beijing almost felt like the Las Vegas Strip except without the smut on the street corners and a heck of a lot colder.

The only cultural tourist attraction I had a chance to see was Tiananmen Square, which we drove through on our way to dinner one night. How would I describe it? Big.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Welcome to China


My first impression is that Beijing looks more like Bellevue than Tokyo, especially if you compare style and spacing of buildings. Of course, Beijing is huge - it's like downtown Bellevue for miles and miles. Modern 30-story office buildings sit next to ratty, old five-story apartment buildings. There are also smoke stacks, which are apparently for heating. The picture above is the view from my hotel room.
I only saw the new Olympic stadium from a distance (from the taxi on my way to work), but it does resemble a giant bird nest (below).

Time to go...

And now I'm on my way to China. It was snowing on my last day in Tokyo, but that didn't deter the huge line in front of Krispy Kreme. The line was much shorter than the 45 minute wait that you usually see in the early evening. At least it was sunny during the rest of my trip to Tokyo.

I'm all bundled up for China. It's about 27 degrees F in the middle of the day and dips below 20 at night, but at least it's sunny.

Meiji-jingu



Since it was Tony's first trip to Japan, we stopped by the Meiji Shrine near Harajuku. It's only two subway stops south of Shinjuku. The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine (as opposed to Sensoji, which was a Buddhist temple). There are a lot of similarities such as they both have fountains for cleansing your hands and mouth and they both sell fortunes and charms. Meiji Shrine looks a lot more natural with lots of wood and parkland around. Sensoji is more Chinese in style and much more ornate.

Even Meiji Shrine had a few ornate elements. The face below shows the original roof decoration.


Harajuku


Sunday mornings are always a great time to see Harajuku. All the goth-punk and goth-loli types come out in their fancy outfits and hang out or shop. It's great for people-watching, though it does get pretty crowded.

There's also some great stores on Omote-sando including the Oriental Bazaar and Kiddy Land. After all that shopping, Tony and I were hungry so we had lunch at an okonomiyaki restaurant.

Shopping!


Right across from my hotel is Takashimaya Times Square. It's a mall with a department store, three floors of restaurants, Tokyu Hands (similar to Target), a music store, and many more. The department store even has food items and bento on the bottom floor. In the evenings, I often stopped by Takashimaya to do a little shopping or to get dinner.

Shinjuku is very pretty at night. Because of the holidays, they had many lights up on the terrace leading to my hotel.
There's also a nice view from my hotel room.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Akihabara

I walked alone through Geek Heaven - also known as Akihabara. I spent a couple hours in just one store. In fact, I only got to three of the seven grocery store-sized floors in Yodabashi Camera. Imagine an entire grocery aisle with only computer mice! Imagine having several hundred keyboards, mousepads, USB hubs, or headphones to choose from! The MP3s and cellphones took up the size of the average produce section. It was overwhelming!

Besides gadget geeks, Akihabara is also a haven for otaku (anime geeks). I visited several anime stores and even walked past a maid cafe. The clientele waiting in line outside was not the most reputable-looking bunch, so I decided not to go in.



Next to Akihabara station, some wanna-be idol singers were entertaining the crowds. Each one had a small amp, a microphone, and a sign (usually with their URL). I'm guessing that some of the songs were anime theme songs, because the men standing around with video cameras were similar to those by the maid cafe, though there were also salarymen and a woman or two listening. Some of the men must not get out much - they got WAY too excited about the lackluster singing.


video

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Edo-Tokyo Museum


Tony and I spent several hours at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. For a musuem focusing on Tokyo history from the Edo Period, it sure has a modern exterior. Inside, the top floors are very open - large enough for models and facades of various buildings. We were lucky and were able to get an English-speaking guide to walk us through the museum.

We started with the feudal era, when warlords were powerful and the government was controlled by a shogun. I got to sit in a warlord's palanquin.


We also saw many small models including a Kabuki theater, daimyo's mansion, a tiny apartment, and a shop selling woodblock prints. Apparently, woodblock prints were considered art for commoners - or rather, the samurai didn't consider it art at all. It's interesting to me that in the late 1800s, they started binding them together in books with text written on the pages - a precursor to comic books!


The museum covered up to the 1960's. There were exhibits on damage done by the Great Kanto Earthquake and on World War II. Did you know that the Japanese bombed the Western United States many times during the war? (And I don't mean Hawaii.) They launched giant, unmanned balloons. The balloons would take about four days to cross the ocean and would then drop all of their bombs. Many of the bombs fell in Washington State. I think they grossly overestimated the population density of the Western United States at the time though. Very little damage was reported, so I suspect most of the bombs knocked down a tree or two or landed in the Cascades or Rockies.
The museum also had a small stage for performances and we caught the tail-end of a lion dance and some other dance of a more recent style (below.)

video

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sensoji Temple


Sensoji Temple is in the middle of the Asakusa area and was supposedly built there after two fishermen pulled up a small golden kannon buddha from the nearby Sumida River. Since the public is never allowed to see the statue, it sounds a little fishy to me. :)

Other than the famously large gate with its huge red lantern, there wasn't anything unusual to see. We walked around for a while and then walked along the Sumida River to the sumo hall. The January tournament happens to be going on right now, so we decided to stop by and see if we could get some of the general admission tickets that are available in the morning. Unfortunately, they were already sold out. We did see some sumo wrestlers walking around in their cotton kimonos, but none of them looked particularly impressive. Most of the wrestlers that would be around that early in the morning are the newbie wrestlers. Apparently, the famous ones don't show up until the afternoon bouts.

Back in Japan!

It's Tokyo Time again! I'm happy to be back in Japan.

Even despite a two hour delay, I had a great flight from Seattle and settled into to the Hotel Century Southern Tower in Shinjuku. It's the same hotel I stayed at last time.

Saturday morning, Tony (an interaction designer on Surface who's also in Tokyo at this time) and I decided to start the day in Asakusa. Due to starvation, we stopped in the first shop we could find that was selling breakfast-type food.

OK, so it's not exactly a Japanese establishment. :) But I did order the green tea donut and the green tea latte. (For future reference...too much green tea - especially the dense green donut.)

We also began our quest for an ATM that takes Plus...