Sunday, March 14, 2010

River's Weekend in Tokyo - Part II

This morning the weather went from crappy to extremely crappy. Cold, wind and hard rain conspired to keep me pinned in my hotel room with the Jewel of the orient just outside. There were Tsunami warnings broadcast on the PA systems. However, I really wanted the cleaning crew to clean my room, and they won’t do it while I am there.

Undaunted, I decided to be a foul weather tourist and see if I could avoid getting lost today. Now that I know my hotel is really facing the other way I have been able to find all kinds of stuff.
A little web research revealed that the Tokyo Tower, the worlds tallest free standing steel building, was constructed beginning in June 1957. Certainly with an auspicious initiation date like that I had to visit it. Knowing that the tower and I are exactly the same age, I wanted to see how the old girl was holding up. The Tokyo tower is in the same style as the Eiffel Tower, but in typical Japanese fashion it has all kind of electronic communication equipment mounted on it.
Today I figured the chances of getting lost were much less since the Tower is really tall and you can see it from a distance. Of course I did not count on the fact that sometimes events are bigger than the plans of a single individual.

I planned my route carefully having learned from yesterday’s mistakes. So with my 400 Yen umbrella in hand, I was on my way. In spite of the pouring rain, all along the way I saw the landmarks I expected, so far so good until I got halfway there. In the distance I saw a large number of people running at what seemed like extreme speed to me. The road was blocked off for cars and I saw several thousand people running in the rain down the middle of the road. There was also loud Japanese Superhero type music playing and there were several hundred people dancing in the rain, all in sync with each other. The total bedlam was inspiring to me as I had been resenting having to walk in the rain, when I saw all these maniacs, I must say it gave me a lift.

It turned out that I ran into the Tokyo Marathon 2010. Let me just say that this was no ordinary marathon. As we all know Japanese people love to play dress up and this was no exception. A large percentage of the runners were in costume. There were several Darth-Vader’s, tons of Pika Chu’s, at least 5 Santa Clauses, a guy with multi-colored afro, a lot of old men running with trash bags on their head, and many, many characters of all kinds. The amazing thing is that almost all of these costumed avengers were running 7 minute miles or better.

Imagine the frustration of the runner who is losing to Santa Clause!
Anyways I stuck around for a while and watched until I got sick of standing in the rain, so I crossed over a pedestrian bridge that passed over the runners. This gave me a great view of the mass of running humanity. They did not even seem to mind that they were cold and wet. The spectators were also very encouraging. One great thing about Japanese is that if they planned on attending the marathon, rain was not going to affect their plans.

Go to Travel Japan Blog to see some great pictures of the Marathon.

After I left the Marathon I noticed another unique Japanese phenomenon. Remember all the roads are blocked off, so no traffic. Nevertheless at the next intersection all the pedestrians waited for the light to change, even tho there were no cars in the whole area.
So I finally got to the Tokyo Tower. Let me just say it did not look 52 years old, it looked brand new. The orange and white paint looked fresh and the tower looked clean. They charge admission to go up to the observation deck at the top, where you can see Mt Fuji. However, since it was rainy and foggy, I did not think I would be able to see anything. So I did not go up, but in the base of the tower is a Huge Mall, almost a city with all types of shops and restaurants. I was able to find stuff for my daughter there (I hope she still likes Hello Kitty).

I walked around the Mall and one of the pavilions had a history of Japan in pictures since WWI. It started with Hirohito’s surrender, showed the construction of the Tower, and showed the visit by the Beatles in 1966.  Little did they know then that Paul McCartney would be later banned for life from Japan. The Japanese still seem to like the Beatles and they imitate them at every opportunity.
I walked back and passed the Marathon route again, I stood in the area of the last 500 meters. People were encouraging the straggling runners, some runners were walking the final bit. Everyone still had their costumes on though!

Masakazu Fujiwara of Japan won the men’s marathon and Alevtina Biktmirova of Russia won for the women. I was glad to see the host country win the race. There were people from all over the world, including Africans. So Fujiwara must be pretty good.

So I headed back to the hotel only to find the guy still cleaning my room, so I decided to go back and find the Mono-rail station again so that I will not have any problem finding it on Monday. I am embarrassed to say I got there in 5 minutes. I walked around a bit to kill time and looked in some of the stores. I was amused to find a big sign in the book store “No Open Flames”, this was the only English sign in the whole store.
By now I had been walking for 3 hours and my feet were tired and I was hungry. So I headed back and hit the hotel buffet for lunch, and I ate just like yesterday. I noticed that lots of Japanese like to eat there, it is kind of like Egyptians who like to have lunch at the Hilton. At the next table were 3 old Japanese ladies having lunch, bottle of wine and all the trimmings. I was amazed that those 3 skinny old ladies ate as much as I did and drank to boot!

I went to my room and digested for a while, then the sun came out. So I headed out to the Ginza shopping district. I found that I could get there from Shiodom under ground, which would have been handy during the rain. I looked all over the place and could not find the electronic dice that my son asked me for, I guess that fad is gone and they just sell new stuff. I probably walked for another 2 hours around Ginza, but found nothing but junk and high end electronics. Niether really seemed a good gift for the boy.
I was tempted to buy him one thing though, but I thought his mother would kill me. One store had very realistic looking, and feeling breasts, complete with nipples. They were sold singly not in pairs. Everyone would go up and squeeze one and then chuckle. I thought this was the type of thing my uncle would have bought and then showed it to visitors for a laugh.

Tomorrow I fly to another city and go back to work.