Thursday, October 14, 2010
Day 2, Part 1
Woke up in our virtual cubicle and navigated the shared showers for the first time. You had to hold down a lever with your foot for the shower to work so I got some calisthenics in.
It had rained overnight and the day was very overcast. Just a white blanket of clouds (much like China was for the whole trip in 2007).
Our first stop on our first full day in Tokyo was the nearby Asakusa district. When we bought our Japan Rail Passes in Los Angeles the woman at the travel agency asked us where we are staying. We said "a-sah-KOO-sa", and she repeated "a-sah-ka-sa" super fast... no accent on any syllable at all. It couldn't have sounded more different. Almost all Japanese pronunciation is like this (so it's not "ar-ee-GAH-to", it's just "a-ri-ga-to").
Anyhow. Asakusa is a not very built up area (and therefore cheaper) with an old temple and not much else. We bought rechargeable PASMO cards for the subway en route since there are a few different subway companies, each with their own tickets, but the PASMO works on all of them.
The walk up to the temple was paved with souvenir shops. A lot of crap but Jacquie bought a rice cracker to go with the coffee and rice ball-filled-with-something-red she picked up from a convenience store (also the place where I saw a candy called "Crunky Ball Nude").
The temple was pretty, there were people tossing money into a box and praying and there was a big cauldron of incense burning out front. A five story pagoda was next door and had a nice little garden outside with a koi pond. I stepped out of the way of a dude trying to take a picture and he said "shia shia" - Mandarin for "thank you", but I didn't think fast enough to reply with the Mandarin for "you're welcome", which I do know because I'm such a relentless badass.
Wandered around some side streets with 'cute' architecture - just small shops and aesthetically pleasing colors and stylings of the second stories of each building. Found a ramen shop and went for it.
Ramen is one of Japan's biggest selling points. I hadn't had much of it but I recognized that ramen shops were the taco trucks of Japan - cheap food that people just can't get enough of because they are mind-numbingly delicious. Suffice to say they are not the cheap ramen cups from days of college past, but are large soup bowls filled with piping hot pork bone broth and various noodles, pork, shallots, bamboo shoots, vegetables, 1-up mushrooms and the like. And this place was delicious. To top it off I paired my pig cocktail with a secret weapon, something I had been waiting to try - melon soda.
And yes it is as good as it looks. It tastes like sweet honeydew mixed with Kool Aid Man. My new favorite drink (until I tried melon soda floats and Yebisu BLACK).
We walked off the porcine swill by crossing a bridge over a river and then back across another bridge. Found the subway and jumped on the Yamanote line, which circles the city. It was recommended as a good way to get an overview of the city but it was sort of a waste of time - even though it's above ground you can't see too much.
So before completing the full circle we hopped off at the geek mecca of Akihabara. Not sure why we went since we're too cool for school but it was on the way.
Neon madness... and we hadn't even hit the mega stops of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza yet. And it was daytime. I had looked up this area before we left LA and wanted to find one spot in particular. I trusted my spider senses as we navigated side streets until we gazed upon the 8-bit wonder of the world: Super Potato.
I won't lie - I could have spent a day wandering through the four floors of 8 and 16-bit systems and games in their original packaging. It was like an archeological dig of awesomeness. The Pompeii of pixels.