Friday, January 30, 2009


Tamachi Street

Street in the Tamachi area. Don't normally like heavy-handed processing but this one came out good, I think.

We're back from Tokyo. Wednesday and Thursday was all work, helping out with the project symposium at the Miraikan museum of innovation on Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo bay. The weather was miserable so sightseeing was not really an option, but then, I didn't have a huge amount of time to myself so that didn't matter. Ritsuko came up to Tokyo on Thursday evening, improving my mood and weather alike. I took Friday off (have plenty of unused vacation days), so we spent Friday and Saturday in Tokyo by ourselves.


Miraikan science museum was the symposium venue. Unfortunately we had no time to actually look through the museum itself, but from what I could see it should be worth visiting. Near the entrance there's a huge animated globe showing near-realtime views of Earth weather patterns and other data.

Tokyo is huge, of course - Greater Tokyo is more than twice the size of Osaka and the largest in the world - but you only ever see one piece at a time so the overall impression is not that different from Osaka. The atmosphere is different, of course, and since it's so spread out you spend more time in transit but overall it's not a very different experience.

Where Tokyo (and most capital cities) really differ is not in absolute size but the network effects of being the largest city in the country. A larger city attracts more special facilities like theaters, say, than smaller cities, and that in turn attracts more people with an interest in it, which creates even more facilities. As a result, a city like Tokyo (or Stockholm, or Paris, or London...) tends to have more special features like theaters and art-house cinemas, exhibitions, specialist shops, colleges and universities and so on than their size alone would suggest.

Tokyo Bay canal

Canal leading out to Tokyo bay in Tamachi. The elevated track is the Rinkai light rail line, I believe.

I spent the first night in Shinbashi, a somewhat seedy but very likable area south of Tokyo station and Ginza. Lots of eateries and bars around the station, then quiet back streets with small companies and living areas further south.


The entertainment area of Shinbashi, early morning, with commuters fanning out from the station. Some will be back here in the evening to eat and drink before returning home.

On Friday we visited Jimbōcho, with its cluster of used and new book stores and publishers. Meirinkan book store is amazing - they specialize in used science and math books, mostly Japanese but quite a lot of math and physics books in English too. I'm proud to say I managed to restrain myself and only bought five books altogether. I didn't even get Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming I-III in Japanese translation, much as the volumes beckoned me - this is something I now regret, to be honest. We had lunch at Restaurant Stockholm, a Swedish restaurant. They serve a pretty good if somewhat small smörgåsbord; we haven't cooked a lot of Swedish-style food lately so it was a welcome change of pace.

One thing I wonder about Tokyo is where all the bicycles are? Bicyclists are few and far between, and there's only a smattering of parked bicycles on the streets. Completely different from Osaka where many people use bikes, and they are sometimes parked three or four deep around major stations and shopping areas. Perhaps it's because Tokyo has a lot more hills; perhaps it's because people tend to travel farther within the city so they prefer the trains, or perhaps the street traffic isn't conductive to bicycles. Ritsuko has the theory that Tokyoites are more polite and concerned with appearances, so they don't like parking on the streets and walkways - and when you need to find real parking, bicycling becomes a hassle.

Hikawa Maru, Yokohama

The Hikawa Maru of Yokohama. Oceanliner once trafficking the pacific between Japan and USA, now moored in Yokohama harbor.

Seagull Lineup

Saturday we went to Yokohama. The city is part of greater Tokyo and only twenty minutes away by commuter train. It really feels like a parallel to Kobe; a smaller quieter satellite city near a major metropolis with a history of foreign influx, a nice waterfront and a popular Chinatown (Yokohama Chinatown is much larger, but I like the Kobe waterfront area better). We had ramen and stir-fry pork for lunch, walked around the harbor and bought some kitchen utensils.

One thing that struck us were the dogs. Yokohama has dogs - lots of dogs. Half the people seemed to be walking a pooch of some kind. Our informal impression was that there were more dogs on the streets than there were children. If you saw a couple with a stroller, chances were the stroller contained a dachshund or toy poodle, not a baby. I have no idea why this is so.
We returned to Tokyo and stopped by "Eataly", a combined delicatessen, restaurant and café specializing in (of course) Italian food, where we had dinner and bought pasta, beans, cheese and other ingredients before returning to Osaka. Yes, we are obsessed with food.

Finally, a travel tip: send your luggage home with a delivery service company. The last day or two you have a lot of things you no longer need - dirty laundry, italian food, second-hand science books and so on - and when you check out of the hotel on the last day you have nowhere to store it anymore. You can ask the hotel to hold it for you until you leave of course, but then you need to come back to the hotel again. Or, you could stash it in a locker at the train station, but that costs money and you'll have to get it there in the morning. And in either case you'll need to drag it on the train all the way home.

As it turns out, sending a bag directly from the hotel within the country is not expensive at all - about 1200 yen for our crammed-full bag, courtesy of Kuroneko freight company - and we got it delivered right at home the next day. Leaving us free for sightseeing without worrying about our luggage and travel home unencumbered by big, heavy bags when bone tired from the trip.

The whole set of pictures available here.

Shinkansen Salaryman

Travel home in comfort and style, unecumbered by bulky suitcases, courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood transport company. Here, a salaryman taking the early Shinkansen to Tokyo. See the lack of bags? See the relaxed yet dynamic posture as a result?

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