Woke up early today and caught the train to Hiroshima… sounds simple? Not really… first went to the Shinjuku Station at 8am. The JR exchange office only opened at 11 so I had to go to Tokyo Station. After going into the wrong entrance, a very nice man lead me to the correct entrance. In the station I went to 4 different JR ticketing offices to finally get to the one that exchanged my purchased ticket into the actual pass. With incredible punctuality, the train left at 9:36am. I happened to be sitting right where the train officer dispatches the train from the platform. He was looking at the clock (with seconds) and as soon as 9:35 flipped over to 9:36 he pressed a green button and 15 seconds later the train started moving. They say you can set your watch to the JR trains. The ride is very comfortable and when you think it is going fast, it accelerates even more. The train I was in went up to 300km/h (188mph)! The landscape, well, not much open country – all the way to Hiroshima (a 4 hour train ride) it is all built up with many rice fields in between houses and buildings. Very pretty how rice is always completely flat and level. Into Hiroshima I took an old tram to the center of town and found a hotel that has internet in the room. As I was about to step outside rain started pouring down, so now I am here in the room blogging 🙂 For now, here is a quick video of the train itself:
So I was wondering what is exactly opposite to Tokyo in the world… First I found out that this is called the antipodal point. Turns out that the calculation is pretty simple. – The new latitude will simply be the reverse North/South – The new longitude will be 180 – the old longitude and then reverse East/West For example, the antipodal point for Honolulu at 21.3N, 157.8W is 21.3S, 22.2E – somewhere in Northwest Botswana. Tokyo just falls off of the coast of the southern-most tip of Brazil. Here is a site showing this: http://www.zefrank.com/sandwich/tool.html
Today I went on the bike to the Shinjuku Gardens, Imperial Palace, Ginza, Hama-rikyu Gardens and the Tokyo Dome (by mistake). Inside the Shijuku Garden there is an active temple where people go to pray and to leave wishes on a tree… very interesting place and energy in it.
The Imperial Palace is truly impressive in terms of size. It is surrounded by a water filled ditch and beautiful gardens that are tended to daily. Didn’t actually go inside since I am going to Kyoto and I was told I will see some even nicer places + you don’t really see the entire palace inside – only the gardens.
After that I headed towards the Hama-rikyu Gardens but stopped in Ginza. Took a look at the “famous” Sony building and ate some lunch (Tomkatsu again – delicious). This is Tokyo’s 5th Ave – all the major shops are here – could not find the Prada store – well, OK, didn’t look for it that hard 🙂
On the bike again, I took a look at a map on the streets and decided to in one direction according to that map. I kept going confidently and saw an amusement park! Great! I am going to stop here. I must be close to the ocean, and close to the Hama-rikyu Gardens because I remember seeing that big ferris wheel on the way in from the airport. In any case, went in and hopped on to the roller coaster ride – truly amazing ride – very steep, fast, and curvy… all that for a bargain of USD10 🙁
On the way out I saw some street names, pulled out the map to try to get my bearings… nothing… could not find the name. Showed the map to the girl at the information desk and to my amazement her finger kept running farther and farther North… I had gone in the complete opposite direction I thought I was going. I was astonished at my sense of direction here… it usually is very good. I looked at one of those maps on the street again now to realize why I was so off… the maps are not oriented North-South… the are oriented with respect to your view at that moment… North was on the left part of the map!! Another factor is that the sun was not out so I had no idea what way was East and West. Finally I reached the gardens after a great ride along with some other messengers – there are quite a few of them here – all with very trendy looking bikes. The garden was worth the search… very beautiful and peaceful… which made me realize that Tokyo is a very quiet city… very little honking, people speak softly (except for when you arrive at a restaurant – they announce that there is a new customer). Everyone is very polite – everything is very clean – he attention to the details reflects their gentle and delicate manners.
Ah! There is absolutely no smoking on the streets (there are designated smoking corners where people gather around to get their fix) – but getting around is a little tricky if it is not close to a train/subway station since there are not many street names on the streets themselves and on the maps. Kind of strange… it seems like it is all done by referencing buildings and stores.
First night in town Max, Anais and I went out for dinner at Ropongi. We picked a random place and had some great skewers. The subway system here is incredible and easy to use. Taxis are outrageously expensive. The cab ride from the airport is around USD 240!! I took the bus that still cost around USD 30. Fortunately the place where Max is staying is only a 5 minute walk from one of the drop off points (Shinjuku Station). The following day I did some house work, i.e., laundry! Had no more clean clothes. Then assembled my bike and went for a reconnaissance/getting lost bike ride. Lost completely my sense of direction – on purpose. Wounded up in some very quaint residential areas. After about 2 hours biking around I finally asked for directions back home. The hardest part though was once I got to Shinjuku Station. I could not find the street to Max’s place. I found the South Entrance – had to go to the West Entrance – but there is no real visible building from the streets – it’s almost all underground! It took me about 45 minutes to finally find his street. Ok – it did not help that I forgot to bring a map, did not know the name of his street, and was too stubborn to stop and buy a map. In any case, after a while I finally recognized the street where the bus had dropped me off the previous day. At night we went to a huge night club in the outskirts of Tokyo called Ageha. A friend of a friend of Anais just moved back to Tokyo and was celebrating with some of his friends. The place is huge with about 5 different areas, including an outdoor pool area. Hero’s friends were very cool – they all did their MBA in Columbia and were now traveling as well. Today if decided not to take the bike to take some pictures and experience walking the city. It was very easy moving around in the subways. You pay depending on which is your exit point. LCD screens show you where the train is, which is the next station, how long it’s going to take to each subsequent station, and even which side the doors will open. I first walked through a park close by to see some Japanese gardens – had to pay to get into the park – about USD 2. I then went to Akihabara – the tech shopping area. Cell phones are like chewing gum lined up in racks – all colors, shapes and sizes. They even have a Pantone color scheme line… GPS, cameras, security equipment and obviously some entire buildings with video games. Ate some Tomkatsu at a street restaurant and went to Harajuku where the young punk/gothic/exhibitionist hang out. At first I felt funny about taking their pictures but then I realized that they were there for exactly that – they want the attention. Here are the pictures:
Wow… had read about how fast the average broadband speed in Japan is the highest in the world… check this out: As a comparison, in NY my download is around 5 megabits and upload is 800 kilobits. Here at Max’s place, 25 megabits download and a VERY impressive 18 megabits upload speeds! Tomorrow I will post some videos on the very interesting toilet and shower systems 🙂
So finally in Tokyo – this was the place the one that motivated me to go on this entire trip to tell you the truth… well, this and going to Portugal and Barcelona to visit my friends and cousin. Woke up at 6am and went to the airport – the city was already completely covered in smog. The security at the airport was CRAZY! If you think in the US it was bad, here it is worth. Fill out 4 different forms. Go through customs, immigration THEN you do the check-in. Then you have to open all of your bags, answer a bunch of questions, show the ticket that you are leaving Japan, then put your checked bags through scanners… then at the gate more scanners, more questions, open all your carry on items and go through yet another passport check. The flight was then delayed for 2 hours because the air corridor over Korea was crowded so we had to wait on the ground for our turn to fly over Korea. Then you arrive in Tokyo… gentle service… the buses come every 5 minutes… even the bus driver speaks English… it’s a long ride though – about 50km – but a very comfortable bus – no cell phones allowed. Got off at Shinjuku Station and walked over to Max’s apartment. Updated blog, replied to emails, and now chatting with Anais waiting for Max to come back from work. Tomorrow more pictures! Happy to be here 🙂
Wow… lots to say here since my last entry… First of all here are some pictures of the Forbidden City. Just getting there was tough – I had to know the name of it in Chinese so that people would know what I was talking about – had to call John to tell the taxi driver where to go.
Here’s a quick video:
Then I took a Rickshaw since I was at the exit of the city – the guy offered to take me for 10 RMB – about USD 1. I said OK… then he said that we could take a quick tour around the old Beijing City – I said sure… after 40 minutes peddling around he stops at an empty ally and says that I have to pay him for the tour – 260 RMB – about USD 30!!! I got so pissed off that walked away leaving 50 RMB with him. He screamed and yelled but I yelled louder attracting some attention saying that it was no good – he did not give the price before and that the “official” tour price was bullshit. In any case… tourist traps…
At night John took me to eat the famous Peking Duck – amazing – really. Went with his wife, kid, nanny, driver, father and mother. We ate until we could not any more – and all for about USD 85!! Of course John did not let me pay for a single thing during my entire stay… “My city, my treat!” The following day I went to the Great Wall with and organized tour… some tourist traps along the way but very interesting. We saw the Ming Tombs, a jade factory, a silk factory, and a traditional tea house where they explained some kinds of teas and their benefits to your body. Very interesting. Here are some pictures and videos: Ming Tombs and Great Wall Pics:
Now in Beijing – crazy city – full of smog, people, cars, and bycicles. I decided not to unpack my bike once again because it is just too crazy and if I get lost there would be no way to ask for directions. Plus the cabs here are extremely cheap. Met up with John Chen – a friend from college who lives here with his wife and kid – showing me around the nice restaurants in town and a bit of the night life. Very interesting. Went to the Forbidden City today – very impressive and huge but the day did not contribute too much for sighseeing. Apparently they force rain whenever there are any rain clouds around – so that is what they did today. Very light drizzle, but I was told that every single day it is foggy because of the pollution. Next year all building stops because of the Olympics. That will probably allow the people in Beijing to see some blue in the skies. Going to Tokyo on Friday – excited about that. No internet where I am staying so will be a while until I post some more pictures.