Before we head off to Tokyo, one last photo from Atami, which I forgot to put into the first trip report. In the UK, all hotel rooms come with tea, coffee and the wherewithal to prepare them; in Germany, much to the horror of a stereotype-fulfilling Brit such as myself, they do not. In Japan, I was pleased to see, the situation is more like that in the UK, only, of course, the tea on offer is green, not black.
Which segues, tangentially, into something I noticed during my time in Japan. When I went to South Africa, I was, in much of the country, in a small minority having white skin. I felt a sense of insecurity as a result, which might be summed up as 'my good treatment in this country is entirely dependent upon the favourable attitude of the ethnic majority' (leaving alone the fact I'm not sure there is an ethnic majority in South Africa). I expected to feel something similar in Japan, where the native word for non-Japanese, gaijin, carries, as I understand it, the same pejorative overtones as goy or gadje. To my surprise, I didn't feel any such insecurity (and indeed never heard the word gaijin during my time there, or at least not knowingly). I'm at a slight loss to explain this. Maybe it's because in the city where I grew up there were plenty of people of oriental and Hindustani ethnic origin, but few blacks, leaving me conditioned not to feel the former as exotic.
Although Japan, as I said beforehand, adopted western culture wholesale in the wake of the Meiji revolution, there were a number of people in traditional costume visible on the streets. Some of them were tourists, others, as our tour guides pointed out, were simply not knowledgeable enough to be wearing appropriate combinations of clothing, but some were. In particular, anyone serving in a temple or shrine in a religious role would invariably be wearing traditional clothing, along with servers in teahouses traditional enough to have a tea ceremony, and in our ryokan (on which more when I get to it).
And so, on to Tokyo. Tokyo is, as I discovered to my surprise, the largest city in the world, numbering forty million people. (I expected this to be somewhere in the Third World.) Maybe due to this, it didn't really seem to have one centre, but many.
Here's a few view from halfway up the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest building in the world, saving only the Burj Dubai:
Whilst we're up the Skytree, take a look at the headquarters of the Asahi beer company: the building is constructed to look like a glass of beer, with orange glass windows most of the way up and a white head on top.
There was an eighteen kilometre long road tunnel in Tokyo, which we were told was the longest urban tunnel in the world; and a station in the area, Shinjuku, was, we were told, the busiest in the world.
Speaking of stations, in Japan, rather than waiting in a disorderly fashion for trains, people would wait in queues lined up with where the train doors would open. In some stations we heard canned birdsong playing.
Of course, Japan has a reputation for an extremely efficient (and extremely fast) train train service, but it wasn't really justified in our experience: When everything was working well, it was fine, but during the course of our two and a half weeks in Japan, we twice had to put up with a three-hour delay on our train (one time was because of a fire on the line, I don't think we ever found out the cause of the other delay), and whilst all the regular announcements are signage are in English as well as Japanese, announcements when things go wrong are not and we were left scratching our heads until we found someone to translate for us.
We spent our time in Tokyo staying in a place called Shibuya, which, if you want to get an impression of it, just take Blade Runner and remove the flying cars. (And also add a bit of canned music on the streets for bonus effect.) Here's the junction outside our hotel, which featured a set of traffic lights where at rush hour a thousand people at a time would cross:
But enough with this; let's go and do a bit of tourism in Asakusa. This is the Kaminarimon Gate:
...leading on to Nakamise Shopping Street, lined with vendors selling tourist tat:
Three teenage boys latched themselves onto us here and offered to show us around for nothing. I was a bit suspicious—there's no such thing as a free lunch; were they trying to find a moment to pick our pockets?—but it turned out, as we only learned once we had taken our leave of them, that they were wanting to use us to practise their spoken English, the English tuition that they receive at school being rather formulaic.
At the end of the street we encounter the Hōzōmon Gate:
...then the seventh-century Sensō Ji temple: