Tokyo

I touched down at Haneda Airport, having not been searched once (hurrah!) but did find that for the first time ever, I had to hand over my baggage claim sticker before I was allowed to wheel my case away, which I duly did. I was growing in confidence - I travelled by train, which involved 3 lines (and interminable stairs, making me wish I'd taken advantage of the baggage delivery service I saw at the airport) and the somewhat confusing incident where I got turned back from an automatic turnstile because I had to put my ticket through a machine in order to tell it that I wanted to transfer to another line (subway lines in Tokyo are operated by different companies - although you can buy a ticket to take you your entire journey, you do have to tell the machines this). It was almost as confusing as when I got turned back from one in Osaka because I'd paid too much...

Tokyo is noticeably different from Osaka. There are more foreigners, for a start. I'd got used to not hearing English spoken (except to me - my Japanese was still at the "hello/thank you/goodbye" stage). In one surreal incident I was surrounded by Germans at breakfast as my tour came full circle. The other noticeable difference is in tourist information. In Osaka I got hold (very easily) of a subway map with the station names in both English and Kanji. In Tokyo I had to juggle my Rough Guide (English) with a Kanji map. To make matters worse, they'd chosen different topological representations.

Being the person I am, I didn't stay in my hotel, but went exploring. Firstly in Roppongi (one of the areas where the Japanese come to party, apparently) and then in Ginza. Ginza is synonymous in Japan with shopping - so much so that shopping arcades are often called "little Ginzas", apparently. Chuo-dori in Ginza is one big department store after another. And when the Japanese do big... it's no wonder they have floor plan leaflets available as you walk in. In Kanji, of course. Undeterred, I just wandered. I think I managed three before my feet decided the "cake and coffee" (note the order) sign on the other side of the road was too tempting to resist. It was there that I tried out my Japanese "thank you". The cashier's face lit up when I did. Possibly at my poor pronunciation, of course.

Bose PA speakers as hi-fi?

I'd been told about Akihabara (see "techie heaven" in Osaka) but had to see it for myself (just research, honest). The first store I went in had 8 floors of techie stuff: computers, cameras, watches, peripherals, hi-fis, TVs and so on. As did the next. And the next. I decided to take a break and headed off down a side street. To walk through the biggest computer fair you've ever seen. There were non-techie shops, of course. Mostly selling comics or related toys. Food? Not a hope.

Akihabara

I eventually located food at about 4pm. To be fair, it wasn't the first place I'd seen, but it takes a certain stage of hunger to overcome the potential (language-borne) embarrassment that lurks behind the welcoming aromas. However, I'd not sunk so low as to eat at McDonald's, so I wasn't going to start here. I eventually settled on an "all you can eat" restaurant beneath one of the railway arches. The table had a gas cooker in it. Just as well, as a lot of the buffet was raw. So I cooked & scoffed my way through a very nice (and cheap) meal, before making my way out of Akihabara and back to the relative sanity of Ginza, where I found HMV. It takes a lot before I'm all shopped out, but Tokyo beat me. Itís not just the quantity (and, letís face it, quality) of the shopping, but also the incessant noise: every electronic item bleeps and whistles for your attention, many shops have someone outside shouting the virtues of their emporium (at least I assume thatís what it is - they could be reciting Shakespeare for all I knew) and then thereís the traffic. Shopping in Tokyo is a real assault on the senses. Not that I was complaining.

The reception of the Cancer Centre

Monday and back to work. I turned up at the National Cancer Centre to meet Dr Ben Ishikawa and be introduced to the Hospital Information System - especially the design features which he was responsible for (and is rightly proud of - I must nick some of the ideas before he patents them). It's a small hospital, being only 19 floors. And 3 basement levels. The view is rather good, though.... (from the restaurant on the 19th floor, not the basement).

Views from the 19th floor
Views from the 19th floorViews from the 19th floor
Views from the 19th floor
After discussing views, Ben persuaded me that the Tokyo Tower was worthwhile - Tokyo by night being rather good (he said). As it's in Roppongi and therefore just around the corner from my hotel, I went to look. You can buy two tickets: one for the observation platform (a mere 150m high) and one for the special observation platform, 100m above this. I'm not too good with heights, but I'd come all this way... The view from the top is rather spectacular. Ben was right. He might have told me that it also sways in the wind - and this was a calm night. Just to prove that I've a stomach for adventure, I took myself off to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. After all, you're only 44 once.

Tokyo backstreets

Tuesday was spent looking lost in the company of Prof. Mabuchi as we made our way to the Tokyo Womenís Medical University (a women-only university in terms of students rather than patients) - itís good to know the Japanese get confused by the Tokyo subway, too. Here we met up with a party of American Germans (talk about full cycle...) to attend a tour of an open MRI surgical unit. It was in the middle of the operating theatres, so it wasnít just our shoes that we had to change, but everything bar our underwear. It was worth it, though. As was the French restaurant we went to for tea and discussed soccer (more Gordon Banks & Bobby Charlton than Beckham - Prof. Mabuchi is a long-time fan) along with the state of the world today. It must have been the wine. Iíd never talk about football for that long otherwise.

The Imperial Palace ParkThe Imperial Palace ParkThe Imperial Palace Park
For my final day, I had a morning to sight-see, so (feeling all shopped out) I went "cultural" and visited the Imperial Palace. Well, the gardens anyway. Finally Japan had got cold (must be preparing me for England) so I took shelter in a nearby Starbucks (a Seattle-based chain, so I was still eating local, if displaced by two weeks) to thaw out before making a pilgrimage of my own: to the Budokan.

Shrine next to the Budokan

This theatre (originally built for martial arts displays) became synonymous with live Heavy Metal albums in the 70s & 80s - indeed, some of the finest live HM was recorded there. When I visited it was hosting a Marching Festival (whatever one of those is) which sounded from outside like one long drum solo - just like those 70s HM albums, in fact.

The Imperial Palace Park

In the afternoon, I visited the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS for short) where I was shown their population model for Japan - the simulations were interesting and some of the Maths behind it frightening. Iíll tell you just how frightening when Iíve read the papers they gave me.

The Imperial Palace Park

I was getting very tired, so I knew that finally it must be time to leave. Iíd had a very good week in Tokyo, a great two weeks in Japan (a land where your headphones and mobile phone say more about you that your credit card) and an excellent seven weeks away. The only cloud was that Rachel had spent the last week in hospital following a bad asthma attack, so my homecoming wasnít going to be as simple nor as pleasant as Iíd hoped.

I could tell that I'd been in Japan and had acclimatised well when the Scandinavian stewardesses walked past the check-in staff and looked so incredibly tall.


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