Saturday, January 8, 2011

토오쿄: Tokyo

DWEEBY AFRICAN HISTORY/CULTURE/METAPHOR TIME. Bear with me, the good shit's coming up...

When I was living in Ghana, I noticed that a lot of the Ghanaians I talked to had a major inferiority complex about a certain neighboring country looming like a big brother to the east. Not only is Nigeria more populated than Ghana (did you know that 20% of all Africans are Nigerian?), they have more money from oil, are generally more successful in football, and have the third largest film industry in the world (Nollywood). Most stories Americans read about Africa are set in Nigeria, and in all likelihood, if you know an African person in the U.S., he/she is Nigerian: they are the largest African immigrant group in the U.S. Therefore, there is Ghanaian jealousy, which I fully understand. Why should a country like Nigeria--that is rife with corruption/scandal--get more attention than democratic Ghana? Especially when Ghanaian history/culture/geography is just as interesting as anything Nigeria has to offer?

Korea's relationship with Japan is similar--except some Koreans flat out HATE Japan/Japanese people, because of the whole Japan attempting to colonize all of East Asia/occupying Korea at the first part of the century/raping/pillaging/destroying Korean national treasures thing. Of course, a lot of young Koreans/Japanese have completely disregarded that history, and fully embrace one another's technology/music/television/movies. But. This doesn't stop a lot of my students from telling me about how much they hate Japan, or how they are plotting to crash Kim Yuna rival Mao Asada's fanpage, or how Korea's alphabet is phonetically perfect in comparison to Japanese, which is a lot more crazy, ect., ect., ect.

I have been living with this Korean-Japanese Inferiority Complex for over a year now, and it has certainly colored my opinion about Japan/Japanese people. However, I also have a wonderful friend, Jennifer, who spent a semester abroad in Japan and raves and raves and raves about it. With a significant surplus of won in my bank account from several months of saving, we decided to meet in Tokyo for a week way back in August when I saw her in New York last summer. AND THUS, NEW YEAR'S IN TOKYO 2010-2011 COMMENCED

And now, some Japanese things:

  • Awesome Beer: Orion Beer


  • Though I tried sake, plum wine, and Shochu, this Okinawan beer was the tastiest alcohol of all

  • Favorite Neighborhood (by Night): Shibuya

  • This area was is filled with lots of shopping by day and has one of the most famous/busiest intersections in the world, famously featured in one of my favorite movies, Lost in Translation:



    Pretty in the daytime--but so, so beautiful at night:


  • Favorite Neighborhood (by Day): Harajuku

  • Famous for its crazy teen fashionistas, Harajuku reminded me of one of my favorite areas in Seoul, Hongdae. Both are full of hipsters pouring over clothes in tiny boutique shops and couples on dates at cafes and restaurants. Funfunfun. The clothes here were SO, SO cute! I did a lot of retail damage here--I spent over $200 on two new coats, a pair of pants, and a skirt ><


  • Favorite Free Thing: Uneo Park
    Parks are always great when you're in a city like Tokyo: it was so nice to stroll around Tokyo's equivalent of Central Park in the afternoon one day and wander through the shrines that are scattered all through the grounds. The park also has a zoo, an amusement park, and a lake where you can rent paddleboats and a buttload of museums. Best of all, it was FREEFREEFREE


    Asian pose like whoa

  • Delicious Food (meat): Unagi

  • Freshwater eel, grilled and coated with a special sake/sugar sauce. Sososo delicious

    I recently learned that freshwater eels are slightly endangered, which makes me feel bad about them being so tasty ><

  • Delicious Food (carbs): Kitsune Soba

  • Delicious buckwheat noodles, served in hot dashi with a big 'ole slab of sweet, chewy, deep fried tofu on top


  • Delicious food (street food): Okonomiyaki

  • Cabbage + octopus + mayonaise + veggies, fried like a pancake. NOM NOM NOM


  • Delicious food: Bento boxes

  • When Jen and I took our train to Nikko, we picked up bento boxes to go. The food wasn't awesome but the boxes were SO DAMMED CUTE:

    Mine was chicken + rice + pickles

  • Delicious food: Vending machines


  • Not only can you get tea, water and soft drinks from vending machines in Japan, you can also get hot chocolate, hot tea, hot coffee, and my favorite, hot cans of corn or tomato soup. SO SO SO COOL

  • (Not as) Delicious food: Japanized Korean Kimchi Jjigae

  • Jen and I saved money by eating in lots of cheapcheapcheap Japanese style diners, where you order your food from a machine. The machine gives you a ticket, which you give to the server at the counter, who doles out your food in five minutes or so. One of the more...interesting things I ate was a Japanese version of Korean style stew: it was sweet, not as spicy, and oiler than REAL kimchi jjigae. Not necessarily BAD...just not as good.

    I felt like one of the best and worst things about Japanese food is that it is really, really simple. Specific flavors and elements are isolated--a piece of fish, white rice, noodles--and not a lot of extra shit is added to flavor it up. Which can be great when it is done well, and terrible when it is mucked up...

  • Delicious food (dessert): Beard Papa's

  • I spent a full minute laughing about this cream puff chain's hilarious name/bearded, smoking pirate label that seems completely inappropriate for a pastry stand selling custard-filled puff pastries:

    But Jen assured me that Beard Papa's was in fact delicious, and she was right:

    The pastry was soft and buttery, the inside was sweat, creamy, and a little tart. DEELISH

  • Food That's Not Food: Window displays


  • Isn't this zany how real this looks? This stuff was all over (fake food, that is)

  • Best view: Roppongi Hills Observatory

  • Though most people go to the top of Tokyo Tower to really see Tokyo, Jen and I opted to admire it from Zojoji Temple:

    And instead went to the top of Roppongi Hills, where there are fewer crowds and better views:


    Despite my surly expression, I am, in fact, happy in this picture

  • Badass Modern Art: The Mori Art Museum

  • I love Old Stuff and History just as much as anyone else. But when everything you're reading at a history museum is in Janglish, you appreciate it less. Modern art, on the hand, needs no translation, especially when the exhibitions are collassal tubes that you can stand inside, and feel like you are rushing through an endless vortex of water:

    The exhibit was called "Phantom Limb," by sculptor Odani Motohiko.

    This one was HUGE, and the details (etching, woodwork) were AMAZING up close

    My favorite

    This was a video of soap bubbles mixed with the artist's own blood (!) falling slowly and popping on the floor. Disturbingly gorgeous.
    (The source of all of these photos)

  • Once in A Lifetime Experience, Better than Expected: Rocking out to a bunch of indie Japanese bands on New Year's Eve

  • Jen and I went through a lot of hand-wringing, wondering if we would be able to get tickets to the show we went to at hole-in-the-wall Daisy Bar on New Year's Eve. But everything worked perfectly! We bought tickets at the door, didn't get lost at all, and got to watchThe Suzan shred (just downloaded their album; it's awesome) and the adorable Czecho No Republic open for them:

    One of the best New Year's Eves I've had in a long time.

  • Once in A Lifetime Experience, Slightly Underwhelming: Seeing the Emperor of Japan on January 2nd

  • Unlike in Korea, the solar new year is a Big Deal in Japan: lots of things shut down for a full week. January 2nd is actually the only day the Japanese Imperial Palace is open to the public, and the emperor himself actually makes an appearance (albeit behind glass) to wish the general public a Happy New Year.

    JEN WAS JAZZED
    It was really crowded:

    I only managed to get one crappy photo of the Emperor:

    And though it was exciting to watch the largely older crowd get pumped up when the Emperor spoke, it was a tad anti-climactic, overall:

    But the Palace was gorgeous:


    And I'm definitely glad we did it.

  • Most Confusing Thing Ever: Tokyo's Subway System + lack of street names

  • Though Tokyo's Metro is clean, and relatively easy to navigate if you have a map with you at all times, once you are on the street it is SO SO SO damned difficult to locate things!

    We got lost/frustrated a least once every day. I suppose it would help if we spoke Japanese fluently, but I found myself seriously missing the easy and efficiency of Seoul's metro, which I do believe is the best in the world

  • Most fun two-person party: Izakaya

  • Jen insisted that we go to an Izakaya, or a Japanese style pub, on one of the nights that we were in Tokyo. I was delighted to find the establishment to be very similar to a Korean hof (호프) bar, where you order vasts amounts of alcohol with a few side dishes, the end result being that you get very intoxicated rather quickly. The food was delicious, the booze was cold, and the company was GRADE A

  • Best Day Trip/Gorgeous Old Stuff: Nikko

  • The day before we left Tokyo, we decide to travel to the nearby city of Nikko, location of three World Heritage sites. The train ride was gorgeous--it was so cool to see a bit of rural Japan along the way:

    And the city of Nikko itself felt like a ski town in the Alps--all huge trees, with a view of the mountains to die for:

    The shrines and temples that we visited were in an extremely forested area, surrounded by trees that were huge and clearly hundreds of years old. I could stop saying THISISSOGORGEOUSOHMYGOD and I think I took well over a hundred pictures in the span of three hours or so:






    Once again, I swear I am happy in this picture

    Yes, these are the famous "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys







    Aa skeptical as I was...as much as I thought I, like some of my more opinionated students, would hate Japan...I have fallen in love with Tokyo. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of an amazing place, and am looking to someday going back to eat more food, drink more shochu, and get lost in translation again^^

1 comment:

  1. Wow Maddie great mondo blog entry. Japan looks like great fun. Wish we could have been there.
    Mom And Dad.

    ReplyDelete