The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Miriam Rutzen
Author's Note: I decided to use the opportunity between jobs to pursue my dreams of travel over the course of one year. This series covers some of my stops along the way over six months, sixteen countries, three continents, and a great deal of jet lag. I made a "bet" with my dad that I would make it to all seven continents by age 27. Up until 2016 I had ventured to Australia (2009) and Europe (2013); and this month is Africa, which leaves me with only the most difficult continent: Antarctica.
My first column in "The Quill" began last week on Peru.
TOYKO: Where can you find in one picture the look-alikes to the George Washington Bridge (NYC), the Eiffel Tower (Paris), and the Statue of Liberty (NYC)?
Any guesses? How about Tokyo, Japan?
Although over there the landmarks are called the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower, and the Odaiba Statue of Liberty replica. My friend Gino, an excellent tour guide, was fulfilling my wish to touch the Pacific Ocean, by extension of Tokyo Bay, and it is from that beach front I indeed have the iconic picture capturing all three attractions.
From visiting the second tallest building in the world, the Tokyo Skytree, to navigating Shibuya, arguably the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, my five days in Japan were full of wonder, amazement, and some serious culture shock.
Having arrived after a month of house hopping across most of Southern Europe with the exception of my visit to the UK, I spent most of my first day in Japan succumbing to serious jet lag.
My theory was that if I spent the twelve-hour flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Tokyo watching movies, I would land at 7:00pm fully prepared to fall asleep at a normal hour.
My strategy did not work, my body really never caught up, and I will never claim to be immune to the effects of jet lag again.
Quick Facts: Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world-from the top of the Tokyo Skytree the city looked massive even in comparison to New York City.
With over 35 million people in the Tokyo Metro area, one might expect to find rather unclean surroundings.
That is the exact opposite of reality; everything is kept meticulously clean, including their extremely widespread and often overly crowded subway systems.
Even the air is clear of pollution and cars are relatively rare.
Most people walk, take public transit, or ride their bikes. Most of my travel around the city was either on foot or by subway.
Located on the eastern coast of Japan, Tokyo sits at sea level on the bay, which extends into the Pacific Ocean. I flew into and out of both of their airports, Narita and Haneda, both of which were exceptionally clean and easy to navigate. Fun fact: Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics-they already had billboards advertising the event!
One of my Harvard basketball teammates had moved to Tokyo after graduation and I had always wanted to visit her. When the calendar actually fit a trip, she was back stateside, but thankfully our friend Gino was still there and excited to have a visitor.
A star running back at Harvard, he was in a unique situation where he played American football for a company professional team: his company job was to coach the running back position during the day and his football job was to be the star running back they needed at night. What a gig!
With Gino being half-Japanese and half-African American and having above average conversational Japanese skills, there was an added element of cultural awareness to my experiences as our group of friends toured the city: clearly tourists, but with a mix of comfortability.
Everything from advertisements to warning posters to instruction labels is CUTE. Those little anime cartoons that make us smile? Those are EVERYWHERE. Even on their pedestrian crossing street signs!
I spent five minutes with a group of around 100 individuals outside of a shopping mall who had gathered to watch an anime TV show projected onto the side of the building as a backdrop to a three stories tall robot that moved, danced, and lit up. If I didn't have the video, I would think it had been a bizarre dream.
And you thought Pokemon Go was a big deal in the States? I would say during my time on the subway, in a park, or in a shopping mall, around 80% of the individuals around me were playing the game. No, not texting, writing emails, or making phone calls:they were silently playing Pokemon Go. Even Gino!
Often parks would have music festivals occurring and we witnessed a cultural Japanese dance competition with flags, umbrellas, streamers and men and women wearing beautiful kimono robes-absolutely stunning.
The food was delicious and my new friends continued to be amazed at how restaurant menus and what you received upon ordering looked exactly the same, in stark contrast to the sometimes-false advertising used to promote American cuisine in the USA.
I pride myself in navigating subway systems and maps, in part due to survival and in part because I like the internal competition of saying I can find my way around by myself.
This, like my jet lag theory, fell through as I stared at a subway map that included two different train systems and names of places it would take me at least two weeks to even recognize as familiar.
One afternoon, my last full day in Tokyo, I had worked up the courage to leave the suburban apartment I was staying in to make my way across the city to visit Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. I had studied the maps, used wifi to plug directions into my Google maps, taken a deep breath:and sat back down to instead eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes that I had purchased as comfort food from the grocery store.
Thankfully, Gino was an incredible guide, so over the weekend we visited numerous famous sites, including the various temples and historic outdoor vendors.
The most challenging environmental component to adapt to was that for the most part all crowded situations were unbelievably quiet: very little talking or interaction, I never saw any casual street music, and no playing around by kids unless in the fenced in privacy of their school yard. It created a rather eery feeling. I should note that all of my interactions were friendly and respectful, albeit quiet.
Clean, quiet, expensive, tons of strict rules, and incredibly crowded but well behaved. Interestingly different beyond what I would have imagined.
And one last fun fact: in the cartoon movie Cars 2, Mater encounters a rather fancy selection board on his trip to the restroom:I thought that was fake. Actually, no:that too is real.
Photos of my travels can be found on Facebook or Instagram: mrutzen25 and more in depth stories are chronicled at www.miriamrutzen.blogspot.com.