The Traveler's Journal

Adventures, tales, stories and vignettes by travel writer James Patton Jones

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Saturday the 7th of December 2019 | AM Edition Published by JRAC, Inc.
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Previous Articles:

Architecture in Columbia

To London via Train
A Bus to Stonehenge

A Flight to France
Normandy, Brittney and the Loire Valley
First Day in Paris
Walking Tours of Paris
Memories of Paris

Arrival in Tokyo
Subway Survival, Swords, Site-Seeing, and Sushi
A Week of Business Meetings, and Wonderful Food
Asakusa and Tokyo Tower
Mt. Fuji and Hakkone
Sony Building, Hibiya Park, Shopping

Memories of Mexico

Swiss Excursion, Part I
Swiss Excursion, Part II

Snow Camping in Yosemite

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Subway Survival, Swords, Site-Seeing, and Sushi

Today I awoke early and decided to have a traditional Japanese breakfast: sea vegetables (all of which transate into English as "seaweed"), miso soup, pickled veggies, dried tiny fishes (each about 2 cm long), and smoked salmon. A very interesting breakfast, indeed. I ate much of it (minus the tiny dried fish-things), but decided I would perfer a western-style breakfast.

Next I decided to brave the subway system. An interesting mixture of English, Kanji (Chinese characters/symbols used by the Japanese), Katakona (Japanese-specific characters), and Romanji (Japanese words written using the Roman alphabet that Westeners can read). I say "interesting" because I could not determine the logic of when they used which characters. (Later I learned that Katakona is used to show the pronoucation for "imported" words from other languages, like "radio" and "computer".)

[Title: "Typical Subway Scene, Tokyo"] 

I wondered around the underground station for few minutes looking for the name of the correct subway line (there are 12 lines in the Tokyo system). Very confusing, yet managable. Then once I found the Shinjuku line, I then had to find the correct ticket machine. Then I had to calculate the fare, from where I was, to where I was going, in Yen. I then deposited money into the machine, and selected a single ticket in the amount (¥) needed. The machine spat out a ticket, and change. With ticket in hand, I deposited my ticket into the turnstyle, walked through, and picked up my ticket on the other end. Next I hunted around for the correct train (direction). Once on the subway, I suddenly realized that many of the station names were not in Romanji, but rather Kanji, which I had no hope of reading. (Mental note to self: need to learn some basic Kanji.) I resorted to counting the stops since I boarded the subway train, and got off at the 4th station. Fortunately my math was correct: I had successful navigated myself to the Shinjuku station. As I exited the station, through another turnstyle, I was surprised to discover that the ticket device kept the used ticket. Most subways I have used spit the now-useless ticket back out at you, for you to discard. And most such stations are littered considerably with discarded tickets. The Tokyo stations by comparsion were all very clean. No trash or litter anywhere.

Now I needed to find my way to the Shinjuku National Gardens. I stopped a policeman, who couldn't speak English, and pointed to the Kanji character on my map that named the garden, and he explained in perfect Japanese how to get there. I couldn't understand a word he said, however, his pointing was very helpful, and I thanked him in Japanese, and headed in the correct direction. You see, I had a map, but I had been unable to orient it correctly, as it had street names only randomly (perhaps only on major roads).

[Title: "Shinjuku National Gardens"] 

The 150-acre gardens were quite attractive. (The gardens were previously the estate of one of the shogun leaders.) I saw ponds with lily pads on top, bonsai trees, several small ornamental Japanese gardens, as well as an English-style garden, and a French-style garden. I liked the Japanese style miniture gardens best.

[Title: "Bonsai, Shinjuku National Gardens"] 

Next I walked to the Meiji Shinto Shrine. Near the front entrance there was a well/fountain, with many people around it drinking from banboo dipper cups. I entered through the wooden-walled gate, and wondered around the courtyard, before entering the Shrine area. Inside people were saying prayers. The general form of the ritual seemed to be: approach shine, place feet together, toss a few coins into the grated area on ground, bow head, pray, clap hands twice, bow head and pray again.

[Title: "Entry Gate to Meiji Shrine"] 

As I was leaving the park sourrounding the Shine, I met a guy from Sri Lanka, and we chatted a bit. He had been in Japan for 12 years, and was currently waiting for his girlfriend, who was attending a Karate class.

A few notes about my walkabout... This time of year, Tokyo is very hot, like Atlanta in the summertime, and just as humid. I found that I was stopping every few hours to buy a juice beverage or water. But fortunately this was an easy task as there were vending machines everywhere. And right next to them were assorted recycling bins. It turns out that the Japanese do not eat or drink while walking. Rather they finish their snack/beverage, dispose of it properly, then continue on their way. This applies to all the vending machines on the street as well. Another point: Tokyo is very crowded. Not an inch of land is wasted. Furthermore, the American style "zoning" of restricting land use within city limits (e.g. certain ares for business, certain areas for residential, others for construction/manufacturing) does not exist in Tokyo. As you walk around the city, you have no idea what will be around the next corner: sky-scrapers are built right next to 400 year old shrines, right next to housing, right nest to every imaginable kind of business. And there's an occasionialy empty lot, but not wasted-- rather its planted with rice. Farmland right beside major business buildings. I have never seen this (lack of) urban orgnaization before.

Next I walked to the Japanses Sword Museum. For a national museum, it was smaller than I expected, but it had an impressive array of swords from the 8th century forward, mostly in the 12th-16th centuries. Also of interest was that only two of the swords had hilts, handle-covering, or scabbords. Perhaps these parts did not last over so many years. But it was also intersting to see that each sword was signed on the part that is normally conceailed by the handle. Unfortunately, they would not permit photographs in the museum.

I visited a couple of department stores, to just look around, and then took the subway back to my hotel. For dinner tonight, I decided to try the same resturant at which I ate breakfast, hoping for a traditional Japanese meal. I was shown to my table, then the server said, "I'm sorry sir, but we don't have any English menus". With that, she handed me a menu written entirely in Kanji. I took one look at it, then turned to her and asked if they had sushi or sashimi. She told me, "no sushi, yes sashimi". So I asked for a plate of assorted sashimi, chef's choice of selections. When my food arrived, I could identify only about one third of the fish, but all of it was tasty. Including something that was either a very large crawfish tail, or a very small lobster tail. The tuna (toro) and clam were excellent. I ordered hot sake to accompany the meal, plus green tea.

More articles about Japan:
 Arrival in Tokyo
 A Week of Business Meetings, and Wonderful Food
 Asakusa and Tokyo Tower
 Mt. Fuji and Hakkone
 Sony Building, Hibiya Park, Shopping

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