Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ueno Park, Electric City, and Ginza!

Glitz, Lights, Noise, and Little Maids

Days 4-5

After the Fish Market on Day 4 we rounded out the day with a trip to Ueno Park. This is a huge park with the National Museum and an Edo era temple. It was surprising to get off a train in busy Northern Tokyo and, after climbing just a few steps, find ourselves in a tranquil park. The jarring juxtaposition between "Zing" to calm was welcome.

It was also nice to see Tokyo in bloom. While most Japanese identify June as Tokyo's worst month of the year (rainy, hot and muggy - a perfect trifecta!), it is also when the hydrangeas and irises bloom. I should also say that (to be fair), the temps (at least while we have been here) have remained in the 76-80° range and the humidity has been very tolerable. Then again, maybe it just feels that way because we just came from Savannah a couple of weeks ago.....

The Beautiful Hydrangeas

A Street Performer Charming a Little Girl in The Park

Our hotel is located on the edge of the Ginza, so we have been spending a lot of time in and around it. Historically Ginza has been Tokyo's most fashionable old line shopping district. Every major design house in the world has a boutique on the Chuo Dori. Ginza also has lovely restaurants and branches of most of the City's department stores.

Of course, we eventually made our way to Itoya. In my opinion this store ranks as the best stationary store in the world. It has fountain pens ranging in price up to a little over $185,000 (wrap up two). It has beautiful Japanese handmade paper. It has fine Italian leather work, all kinds of calligraphy tools, and even some pens and pencils for us common folk. 8 stories filled to the brim. Two good hours here. Drool.

The Food Courts in the Basement of the Department Stores
Endless and Amazing
Home to Every Cuisine, Culture, and Species

On the edge of Ginza and near (soon to be restored) Tokyo Station, is the Imperial Palace and gardens, the Nihombashi office towers, Japan's major government buildings / consulates, and the tour-de-force Tokyo International Forum.

Amazingly, despite extensive meandering about in Tokyo's financial district, so far we have seen only one US bank (Citibank). After much searching we have still only found three ATM's that actually work with US ATM cards! This in a city that still does NOT take credit cards for much of anything. We also found out (the hard way) that American Express has closed its Tokyo office (whoa - no AE in the world's twelfth largest city?)

When we needed cash we found that we had to go get it at Banco Itau SA - a Brazilian bank! The world is changing.

Rafael Vinoly's Tokyo International Forum Building
A Showcase for Tokyo's Exhibits, Culture, and Attractions

The Skyline of Akihabara

So now we move on to Day 5, a day devoted to bookstores and Akihabara (sometimes referred to as "Electric City").

For me it was a shock to see the changes in Akihabara since our last visit. When we were here before it was a dazzling district filled with electronics shops showcasing the latest in cutting edge technology.

Today, there are still a lot of brightly lit electronics shops, but the atmosphere seems to be more like a cheap flea market than anything approaching cutting-edge high tech. I'd stack up any Fry's Electronics store in the US to anything found in Akihabara for variety and cost. Maybe I've become jaded, but the array of electronics on display here all seemed kinda ho-hum (although the cell phones with real time TV for salarymen to watch on their hour long rail commutes in and out of Tokyo did seem kinda cool).

In fact, in a time when we feel kind of like America is losing its grip in the world of technology, the demanding Japanese were overwhelmingly wearing I-pod headsets and the classiest stores (by far) in Akihabara were the Apple store and the Bose store!

For the most part, what Akihabara is now is all about noise. Noisy Pachinko parlors, noisy manga shops, and noisy kids dressed in whatever they can get away with. It is also home to costume stores to help young women dress as risque schoolgirls or maids. I mean stores with 7 full, escalator filled, floors of this stuff.

And the girls are wearing the maid outfits on every street corner passing out leaflets or working in "Maid Cafes" (who knows what thats all about?) serving coffee and cake at long counters. Guess Roadboy is gettin old as this will certainly be my last trip to Akihabara. It is now more of a noisy carnival / freak show than a world class showcase of future technology.

Manga, Games, and Noisy, Smoky Pachinko Parlors Now Rule Akihabara

Manga Culture is Everywhere

Schoolgirl & Maids on Every Corner

Tomorrow's post will look at lovely Asakusa. This is the district that best retains the feel of old Tokyo. After a day in Akihabara, Asakusa was a welcome relief!

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Look forward to your next post! I feel like I'm there with you guys; well...almost! Hydrangeas are beautiful, it is neat to see the buildings, sorry Akihabara wasn't more fun!