Thursday, November 29, 2018

whisky and tea

When I learned that I would need to travel to Japan for work, I came up with the title of this post almost immediately.  I like Japanese whisky and I like green tea.  In the end, there was no whisky – the duty free shop at Haneda had even run out of Hibiki – and very little tea.  But the title stuck.  I still like it.

I had business in a town an hour outside of Tokyo.  For these two days, an eleven-hour flight was hard to justify.  I tagged on two days in Tokyo to make it more bearable.  Here's what happened.

This was my first time in Japan, and I came somewhat prepared.  I had purchased a compact guidebook on the city and noted down some points to visit.  Almost all of them turned out rather silly.  The guidebook also didn't tell me about the two-day travel card I could have bought at the airport.  I survived that first day anyway.  Here's what I did.

The sights of Tokyo

  • Shibuya is famous for a crossing that inspired the one at Oxford Circus, except in London they did it right:  They painted two intersecting diagonal crosswalks for maximum chaos.  In Shibuya, there's only one.  This means no collisions but also no reward for skillful weaving.
  • The Meiji Shrine was full of tourists.  Maybe they walked up from Shibuya as I did (without a map but with a good sense of direction).  There were also plenty of Japanese there, doing the things the Japanese do when they visit a shrine.  There was even a Shinto wedding, but overall the vibe was mixed at best.  Kevin from New York had left a votive tablet exclaiming that he "felt so much", as if traveling were about reliving your favorite movie and doing better than the protagonists.
  • The Tokyo Municipal Government Building attracts unsuspecting tourists with the seemingly unbeatable offer of a free view over the city from the 45th floor.  It's hard to turn that down when the lights come out in town – and I didn't – but other viewing platforms might offer 360-degree views and less glare on the windows.  Paying for the view might pay.
  • The number one spot on this list of ignominy goes to Roppongi Hills.  What a waste!  Walking around this shopping center with its brands of international exchangeability I lost all sense of being in Japan.  One doesn't have to fly halfway around the globe for this.  Any major city will do.

What about experiencing Tokyo?  This I did on my second day, but I can't promise that the post about it will follow this one quite as closely – or at all.