Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Konnichi wa from Tokyo, Japan

That and four other phrases sum up my Japanese language skills. This is probably why Tokyo, or Japan for that matter, was not in my list of places to visit. Not even after seeing the movie 'Lost in Translation'. Other than my brother and my sister-in-law, I don't know anyone else making a big deal about Japan.

When my travel agent returned my phone call to give me the confirmed schedule of my Manila-SFO flight on Japan Airlines, I asked her what would be the difference in price if I stop in Tokyo for a few days. The price is almost negligible. Even the Salvadoran who wasn't planning a trip to Asia suddenly became interested to join me. I booked the flight for two, bought a Tokyo guidebook, and sent a couple of emails to a cousin who now lives in Tokyo.

I am kindof familiar with Narita since this is my stop-over whenever I fly back to Manila but I never got beyond Immigration and Customs. It took us a while to figure out how to get out of the airport, and whether it is cheaper to take the Narita Express train or the limousine bus. To make it easier for us to convert, we rounded up to the nearest hundred. According to our exchange rate a US dollar is equal to one hundred Yen. We took the limousine bus because our hotel is actually one of the stops and it is cheaper. We needed to transfer to another train from the Narita Express and we didn't think we were up for the challenge. We got to the hotel after a little over an hour.

Tokyo is sprawling, cold and well lit. The hotel was nice. According to our map, it is close to everything. Our first dinner was roughly dismal. The clock had just turned 9 p.m. so we thought it was a little too late to sit down at a restaurant. We were exhausted and so hungry that we got impatient. Good thing the hotel is close to a convenience store where we got some instant noodles, sodas and candies. Back in the States, you wouldn't catch us inside a 7-11 getting dinner even during a financial crisis. It was comforting though, to see that we were not the only one that night trapped in that misery. The store was packed with famished looking locals getting a quick meal and seemed in a hurry to get home. We promised we'll try do a better job in the next days.

We woke up at 3 a.m. the next day. Even having slept for over 5 hours, it still felt like I just took a nap. By 4 a.m. we were walking on the streets of Tokyo in search of the 'freshest' sushi breakfast around the Tsujuki market place which happens to be where the 'tuna auction' is held. I probably saw over a hundred types of fish, octopus and clams. It was wonderful to see where Tokyo gets its food from but I felt bad being a nuisance and a distraction to the busy locals trying to go about their early morning business. We ran into another group of brave tourists inside the market place. I just smiled. They might be using the same travel guide.

Thanks to the very effecient Tokyo subway, we got to almost all the major points of interests in two days including a trip to the pachinko (Japanese casino), soba and ramen houses. We liked the fact that Tokyo, despite its concrete-glass-steel image, is in touch with its heritage. Temples, parks and tea gardens dot the metropolis. Being one of the largest cities in the world, we expected a New York reception but we got welcomed with Japanese courtesy instead. I was telling the Salvadoran that I have a lot to learn from them. Just like what my brother and sister-in-law told me, the city is sparkling clean and orderly.

We were always at the mercy of the friendly English speakers wherever we go. From the time we boarded the limousine airport buses going to the hotel up to the moment we got on the Narita Express train when we left Tokyo, we were assisted by very polite locals.

Tokyoites love to dress and we love their tastes in clothing. Despite the exorbitant prices, we managed to do a little shopping within our budget. Remember this clothing store - Uniqlo. :)

I wanted to spend more time with my cousin, but as tourists, we were always on the go. Two evenings was not enough time to catch up with her. I promised her there will be another time. Now that I know what Tokyo is like, I might stop again for another day or two the next time I fly to Manila. Maybe I'll see a wrestling match, or a Kabuki performance next time.

Sore yo! Matte ne, sayonara!

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