6 June, Heisei 22 (Sun)
Wake up aound 5:15 AM. Bed is comfortable and surprisingly, long enough for my frame. A/C is not too harsh. I felt a bit killjoyish sleeping through a Saturday evening, but again, I was a walking corpse and in no condition for sensory overload yet. Didn’t have an appetite for anything other than water and sleep…slept about 12 hours total and woke up refreshed and more or less adjusted to the time, somehow. My Verizon phone even displays local time, but is roaming.
After briefly exploring my hotel, I buy a UCC Black Iced Coffee and start out; around 6 AM. Unlike my afternoon arrival, the city is almost deserted and silent, with the crowing of enormous ravens and bus engines being the dominant sounds. The skyscrapers loom overhead like a grove of mammoth trees. Like yesterday, my route is somewhat random…N, E, N, S, NE…but I am hungry so when I happen upon the first of many Tokyo McDonalds, I go there to grab breakfast. The place is three stories, everyone working there is pleasant and affable, the food looks precisely like it does in the pictures, and the portions aren’t immeasurable. An Egg McMuffin, hash brown and OJ cost 460 yen.
After a few attempts, I find an ATM that takes my card (at a 7 Eleven; Family Mart ATMS will only take Citibank) and procure funds for the coming days. Then I continue weaving through the streets of Shinjuku, passing soda/coffee/tea/cigarette vending machines every 100 feet or so. They’re absolutely everywhere. I swear, I don’t see how anyone who has 120 yen could ever be thirsty in this city.
As I walk, my legs grow weary, so I head south to the lovely and expansive park called Shinjuku Gyoen, only to find it’s not open yet (too early) so I do a loop around it, find a smaller park to rest at and then head back to the gyoen. On the way I experience how cars/pedestrians/motorbikes negotiate the narrower streets of the city, and am also absorbed by the feeling of a pleasant, sunny Tokyo Sunday morning.
Shinjuku Gyoen is gorgeous. There’s a Japanese garden, in addition to English and French gardens, and a picturesque asian pavilion from which to view the scenery. There’s a more modern facility under construction near the entrance. There are sun worshippers here, but no dogs allowed. As the morning grows later, more people arrive. I spot an Oriental Stork in a pond, as well as a turtle identical to a friend of mine’s floating in the same. As I write this, we’re closing in on noon. I’ve walked more than two miles, and need lunch.
I procure lunch at the park’s cafe. A common means of getting food involves inserting cash or credit (its very much still a cash economy) into a machine, pressing the buttons that light up for what you want to eat/drink, and it prints out a ticket. A waitress shows you to your seat and rips the ticket. When you get your food, which I got promptly, she takes the stub. Wonderful procedure. Soba with Prawn Tempura isn’t bad, either, and quite filling. Along with a bottle of ringo (apple) juice, the whole meal is 1000 yen.
I head out of the park shortly thereafter, passing through what appears to be a mini Barnes & Noble just for anime/manga. When I return to the shopping blocks I’d passed through much earlier, they are all open and bustling. The shops sell clothing, cameras and electronics, watches, anime/manga, and restaurants and pachinki/slot and karaoke parlors are interspersed between them. Whatever the business, most of them have someone outside the entrance beckoning for customers to take a look at their wares and handing out fliers.
All the walking (~5 miles) have taken their toll on my ankles/shins, so I walk back to my hotel to recharge; buying a Kirin Cola and some broth-flavoured chips and relaxing in my room with some televised Go and, I find not soonafter, Japanese baseball, which is quite entertaining. The fans in the stadium are constantly singing/chanting like they would at a European soccer game. The teams are typically named after corporations/holding companies rather than the cities they play in, in this case the Hanshin Tigers vs. the SoftBank Hawks. Teams have the occasional white or hispanic player on their roster, just as MLB teams have the occasional Japanese player. When it becomes an 8-2 lead in the Tiger’s favor, I take a shower and head back out.
I end up on the 42F of the Sompo Japan Building, one of the skyscrapers that make up the Nishi-Shinjuku grove. This floor is an art museum, exhibiting a retrospective of the French painter Maurice Utrillo, as well as three permanent pieces in a special dark gallery – flanked by a Gaugain and Cezanne is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, purchased by the museum during the Japanese economic bubble for 5 billion yen. It’s pretty neat to see it in the flesh, and the views of Tokyo from the observation lobby are well worth the price of admission.
Back down to earth, I find a Japanese barbeque restaurant in the basement of a building (most buildings have 2 or 3 basements with more shops/restaurants, in addition to those above ground) and settle in. The hostess and waitress didn’t speak English, but they were extremely friendly, polite, and helpful, and thanks to a menu with pictures (a necessity for me here) I successfully order a platter containing all kinds of delicious morsels, including grilled marinated beef. With beer, dinner didn’t cost much more than 1000 yen. They provide customer service cards you can mail in, but I don’t seen how service would ever be anything other than exlempary. Three food joints today – McDonalds, the Shinjuku Gyoen cafe, and the barbeque joint…three very tight ships.
It isn’t just cashiers and waitresses though…whenever I asked a random Japanese passerby something, they tried their upmost to assist me, despite usually not knowing any English. A security guard on duty led me nearly a whole city block away from his post to point out where the Art Museum was. There’s something to society here that’s lacking back home; a sense of pride in their work and in themselves and a strict decorum to business that isn’t allowed to come up short. If anyone was unhappy in their jobs, they didn’t look it. Far cry from heart-on-sleave Americans in low-wage jobs, who can rarely contain their contempt for their plight. To that end, I felt it my duty to clean my plate completely, to honor those who served me so well. I returned to the shopping blocks as night fell, getting my first tast of the electric circus Tokyo is famous for, but by 9 PM I had been up 17 straight hours and needed sleep.