The BIG City

Here in Japan the school year is just beginning, so we had last week off work to give the kids a small break between the grade changes. We took advantage of the vacation to spend the week in Tokyo! This was our first time to the big, big, BIG city. We flew in late at night after our last class finished to make the most of the week. However, leading up to our vacation it never really set in that we were actually leaving, so we never made hotel arrangements. But we fly like to fly by the seat of our pants, so we figured after we landed we would find a suitable hotel. This turned into wandering Tokyo at midnight looking for an available hotel. After landing we hopped on the metro to get into the city. What we weren’t expecting was the spider web that the metro turned into. Tyler who is ordinarily a navigation genius got a bit overwhelmed, so we decided to wander on foot in search of our hotel. Finally at 2am we found a nice hotel in Shibuya. The area of town known for the most busy intersection in the world, Shibuya crossing. It is estimated that 1,000 people walk through every crossing. That is roughly 500 people per minute. Surprisingly though, wandering around Tokyo at unsightly hours felt completely safe.  The next morning we woke up bright and early to start our adventure. We went all around Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. These areas are 3 separate downtown districts that are popular for the fashion and food savvy. We walked down Takeshita Street which is dotted with dozens of shops for everyone’s tastes. We also found our way through Yoyogi park, one of the many city parks. Afterwards, we headed over to the Metropolitan Museum of Photography to see three really fantastic exhibits, followed up by Tokyo tower and admired the cherry blossom viewing party at the temple in front of the tower. Much of the rest of the week went along like that. Museums, city parks, and endlessly wandering through the concrete jungle of the massive metropolitan areas, with two major exeptions. Samantha had made it a bucket list goal to go to all of the Disneyland’s. And while in Tokyo she had to take advantage of the opportunity to see what Tokyo Disney was all about. If you have no interest in all things Disney then you may want to skip this part.. Tokyo Disney is made up of two parks. The classic Disneyland and Disney Sea. Disney Sea is the most different from any of the parks. It had new rides and attractions not at any of the other parks. Our favorite ride in the park was the Journey to the Center of the Earth. The whole park is made for a slightly more adult audience and is built on a Sea, Exploration, Discovery theme. Disney Sea had an entire Renessaince Italian Mediterrean port, swanky 1920s America, King Triton’s castle, Agrabah marketplace (which Tyler loved), Mayan temple grounds, and a place for new discoveries during the Renaissance era. It was a huge theme park. Disney Sea had some of the classics, too. Both the Indiana Jones’ ride and Tower of Terror found there place there, but with a new twist on things. The Indiana Jones ride was very similar layout but set in Central America. Instead of a giant cobra attacking, it was a giant rattlesnake. And instead of searching for good fortune in the temple Mara, Indy is searching for the Crystal Skull. Though, this is not to be confused with the 4th movie. The ride was actually made first. The Tower of Terror was completely redone, as the Twilight Zone is not well known in Japan. Instead the storyline is about a wealthy adventurer named Harrison Hightower who traveled the world collecting, and stealing, ancient artifacts. However one of the relics he steals turns out to be cursed idol, that takes over the hotel elevator. Something we weren’t quite expecting about Tokyo Disney was just how packed it was. Lines for even the dopey rides were over 1 hour long. Lines for the more popular rides were over 3 hours! There were even 30 minute lines just to get fastpasses, and all the fastpasses were used before 12 o’ clock! And after snatching up some fastpasses for Tower of Terror right at the parks opening, the earliest fastpass we could get wasn’t until 9:00 at night. All the other times were already taken. We couldn’t believe it. When we went to Disneyland California on New Years Day, we didn’t even see that many people. It was unbelieveable. As for the Disneyland park most of the rides were the same. However, the most popular attraction in Disneyland was called Pooh’s Honey Hunt. It takes riders through the story of Winnie the Pooh in little honey buckets on a trackless course. It was a technology that was designed specifically for Tokyo Disney. Without a set track it made for a really unique ride that swirled the honey buckets all around eachother through the themed storylines that made the course different everytime. All in all, were were able to go on 17 rides, and throughly enjoyed all of them.

But I digress, back to our Tokyo escapades. We were able to see the Bridgestone Art Museum, National Western Art Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Crafts and Textiles Museum, Tokyo Science Museum, and Tokyo Film Center Museum.  These museums were wonderful, with amazing collections of artworks.  We were able to see a full Jackson Pollock exhibit that included Mural on Indian Red Ground a piece from Iran being the first time since the 1970s that an artwork has left that country, and just by coincidence it came to Japan.  We had the chance to see many prominent artworks of both Japanese and Western artists.  We also saw an enormous collection of “citizen” artwork, somewhat like a State Fair show but more professional.  The Bridgestone Museum had a large variety of artwork from all over the world.  One interesting thing about this museum is that its collection and owner are from our city Kurume.  We have a small art museum in Kurume, which you may have seen in some of our library park photos, but we never knew the Bridgestone owner was quite the collector.  Wandering around Tokyo looking for all the museums almost felt like a Utah gallery stroll, but on a huge scale.

Also in our exploring of Tokyo we were able to visit Sky Tree Tower.  For those of you who don`t know Sky Tree is the 2nd tallest structure in the world, after the “Lord of the Rings fortress,” as Tyler likes to call it, in Dubai.  Sadly though Sky Tree doesn`t open for visitors to go to the top, until May 22nd, so we were only able to get some outside shots.    

Before moving to Japan, we had certain stereotypes in mind that differed from what we actually came to experience. We imagined robots would do everything for us, crazy fashion trends, streets flowing with bubble tea; but in the two cities we have lived in, these expectations were nowhere to be seen. What came to be, was more rice paddy fields and millions of grannies zooming around on funny looking bikes than robots and the kind of things Gwen Stefani sings about. This wasn’t what we expected at all. But, going to Tokyo full-filled all of our Japanese fantasies. Suffice it to say, Tokyo is quite a different Japan than what we have become used to. We saw zillions of different fashion trends, neon lights, and life-like robots that are so realistic you get a bit of a chill up your spine. Some of the streets were actually “dirty”, well in Japanese standards. Meaning, we actually saw little bits of graffiti!  Also we are such a minority in this country that it’s a rarity to spot other foreigners, but this was like Kyoto New Year’s all over again with foreigners everywhere.  It was nice not to be stared at for once while on a train.  The peoples’ personality was very different from those we interact with, I don’t know how to really explain it; maybe somewhat like a LA vs. NYC thing.  We really enjoyed Tokyo. Whether or not we shall revisit Tokyo is in question, it is indeed a big city, but it is just a city.  We still have so many others to visit: Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.