Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Trip to Tokyo

There seems to be so much to write about and the same time so little. I have been trying to think of what to write next the last couple of days since I posted the last bit about our arrival here in Japan. I will try to recap I suppose...
Our second week here I took a week long class title "Area Orientation Brief/Intercultural Relations Class", or AOB/ICR for short. The first day was the AOB class. Basically someone from every department on base came to talk to us about various things we need to know, or at least some of us need to know. I believe the class was originally only offered to service members. But a commander decided that the spouses also should participate in the class as well. It is also a requirement before you can get a driver's license. :) So some of the material applied to service members- such as what uniforms are authorized- blah blah blah. We did have one very lively fellow talk to us that is from hazardous materials. He reminded me of Fire Marshall Bill from In Living Color- just without the burns.
the rest of the week we had the ICR class. This was taught by Japanese locals. It was very interesting. We learned how to pronounce Japanese words, how to read the writing and the different kind of writing used. I even learned how to write my name in Kanji, very cool. Part of the class is a required field trip- an unaccompanied field trip. Basically they take you to the train station, explain how to buy tickets and how the train stations work. Then you go off on your own to whatever destination you choose. Of course we went in groups. In my group was the new dentist on base and a civilian DOD employee. We chose to go to Harajuku and Shibuya. We took three different trains to get to Harajuku, it took about 45 minutes I believe. The train stations are crazy! There is not just one rail line, there are several different companies that run their own trains. So when you change trains, you have to find the new rail line. At the bigger trains stations that can be very confusing! Sometimes you will come out of one rail line- see the sign for the rail line you need, but will go right past it because you literally needed to go around the corner, a full 360.
So we arrived at Harajuku. Let me say that it was hot, and very humid. The merchants are out on the sidewalk handing out fans with advertising printed on them. I must say that is a very clever idea because everyone uses them. I always thought that fans were something only the Geishas used, but they are actually a necessity! I thought maybe only us Americans were sweating in this heat. I felt better when I saw several Japanese with sweat soaked shirts.
So my group mates were famished so we stopped at the first restaurant that looked appetizing. I was a little disappointed as I wanted to go to a sushi-go-round. The restaurant we stopped at was very nice. The waiter that greeted us spoke English and was very friendly. the best part of course is that the AC was on and it was nice and cool. I ordered chicken and potatoes, thinking that it would be chicken stir fried with potatoes. What I received was a chicken breast on top of french fries. It was garnished with a roasted cherry tomato on top and arugula leaves on the side. I was a little disappointed at the french fries, but it was surprisingly good! There was a sort of Worcestershire sauce that went great with the fries. All of us ordered beer as well. Cheers! My first beer in Japan!
After eating we walked down the street and looked at the sights. We saw two guys, one with a giraffe head and the other with a zebra head- being filmed for what I don't know. I am bummed I couldn't find my camera in time for that one.
I did get my camera out to take pictures of the stores and signs. Th best one was for The French Connection- I'll post the picture. Condomania made me do a double take. It is condo-mania or condom-mania? It is the latter when I realize that that little smiling guy is a condom. And then there's the picture of the elephant... enough of that.

ummm- excuse me?

Crazy about condoms

The Mejii Shrine is on the other side of the train station and it is hard to believe that it is the same town. The shrine is a huge park lined with trees, very beautiful and serene. It is the perfect place to get away from the sounds of the streets and city- and one doesn't have to go far. At the gift shop I picked up a handkerchief and a fan. The handkerchief is a must have. As much as the weather makes you sweat, it is handy to have something thicker than a Kleenex to mop your brown. Also, a lot of the restaurants do not supply napkins- so it is handy to carry your own.

A Torii Gate at the entrance to the Mejii Shrine

lots and lots of Sake! Sake was considered a sacred drink, you will see sake drums like these at the different shrines.

We originally planned to go to Shibuya as well, but walking the grounds of the Mejii Shrine took more time than we thought it would. So we headed back. We got off at the wrong train station and ended up taking a very long walk back to base. I was quite hot by the time we got back.
So the trains were not as scary as I thought they would be. I had heard they shove you onto trains and imagined myself falling under the tracks. They do shove you onto the trains during rush hour on the more crowded trains, but that wasn't the case where I was at. It was actually a nice little adventure despite the heat and the walking.
So the class was a success overall. I learned a lot about the culture here as well as well as the etiquette used. Learning how to read Kanji is also quite helpful. In now way can I read anything, but I can recognize certain signs and such. I am excited to do more exploring.

Ok well I guess I do have more to write about. Next I will describe taking the kids on the train for the first time, it is a scary tale...

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