Tokyo: The Metro Maze, Persimmons and A Couple of Quaint Neighborhoods.

After an impressive four cups of tea at Jonathan’s this morning (I’m developing a pretty severe addiction to green tea flavored drinks), I felt ampted and ready to navigate the subway system. And with the help of a newly acquired, prepaid Suica card, I could just swipe away and easily go wherever I desired within Tokyo via train or bus. It’s only my second full day, but already the subway map, which looks a bit like a Candyland game-board on acid or a Pride postcard, is beginning to make a lot of sense.

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I got off at the Shubuya station to witness and participate in the famous pedestrian crossing, but I wasn’t particularly impressed and didn’t like the big crowds. Then on to neighboring Harajuku known for its youngsters dressed in unique fashion depicting anime characters, Goth girlies and anything bright and extravagant. I forgot these teenagers have to go to school, so the street was eerily quiet and disappointingly ordinary. I looked for Gwen Stefani too and her girl gang, but she wasn’t around either, so I was left with little choice but to eat some sushi!

I decided that I had to partake in conveyor belt sushi at least once in this fine city, but I think I made a bad decision in a rather touristy and chichi section of town on the gingko-lined Omotesando boulevard. The little containers of powdered green teas and personal hot water spigot at the bar impressed me the most, and I did enjoy watching all the colorful little plates roll by enticing and flirting with hungry diners.

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After lunch, I decided to ditch the guidebook and wander by foot. Turns out I discovered lots of great little neighborhoods and non-touristy sections of town.

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Some of the architecture was extraordinary.

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And I loved the mix of old and new, small and big, country and city in some of these smaller less-trodden blocks.

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Persimmon season is my absolute favorite. Turns out I also love orange.

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These hanging hachiya persimmons reminded me of similar drying endeavors by my pals Trilby and Zack, although I’ve never seen it done outside like this.

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These lily pads for sale outside a small hardware store made me smile.

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You can take the elevator up to the 39th floor in the Yebisu Tower in Ebisu for a great view of the city, especially at sunset.

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Doggy beauty parlors are big in Tokyo, and that little black poodle was about as cute as ever, and significantly less furry based on the floor coverings!

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My evening ended with a stroll around the hipster Nakemeguro neighborhood with loads of adorable specialty shops, cafes and restaurants.

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Tokyo: Sleeping While Present in Multicolor.

I came to Tokyo thinking I would be lost in a sea of people, stuffed into bulging subway cars only to be groped by wandering hands, a nameless gaijin crossing the street with thousands of other pedestrians. With close to 13.3 million people in the world’s largest capital city, Tokyo is surprisingly quiet. At least that was my first impression from the airport to my hotel the evening of my arrival. Compared to Oakland, this city is on mute.

This quiet theme played out my first morning in Tokyo, when I was certain I stumbled into one of those prank TV shows with undercover cameras. My hotel provides breakfast at the adjoining diner, Jonathan’s, (imagine Denny’s only with green tea and bowing servers), and all the patrons were asleep. Well, almost all of them. A couple of the other confused hotel guests were milling about half-dead with jet-lag trying to decipher the 100+ beverage options at the highly mechanized drink bar, but sleeping teenagers and middle-aged business men sporting untucked button-down shirts with crumpled suit jackets occupied the rest of the booths. It’s common for the Japanese to sleep in public. There’s even a word for it, inemuri, which roughly translates to ‘sleeping while present,’ which is both culturally acceptable, necessary for an over-worked population and perfectly safe in such a crime-free society. As I was gulping down my green-tea latte and watching the drooling diners around me, I was liking this city more with each gentle snore.

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For those diners awake enough to appreciate it and/or chew, breakfast was a tasty and perfectly un-American combo of pork soup, rice, pickled radish, seaweed and Natto, an ooey-gooey mess of fermented soybeans coated in their own slime. Natto is best described as somewhat rotten tasting soy-beans rolled in uber sticky snot. Forgive me for not painting a very pretty picture, but really, it’s quite dericious and nutritious. Really.

Since I wasn’t in the mood to deal with more forms of transportation, exploring the city on foot seemed like a good first day plan, and according to my guidebook, there were all sorts of notable things to do in my neighborhood. A quick ten minute stroll from my abode, and I was in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where I admired some grandiose gingko trees and enjoyed a chrysanthemum exhibit.

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Just in case you were curious about what types of ferocious insects and bugs live in the parks in Tokyo...

Just in case you were curious about what types of ferocious insects and bugs live in the parks in Tokyo…

I traveled from the tranquil park to the bustling shopping district near Shinjuku station, then through the sleepy, neighboring red-light district and on to Korea-town where I sampled the most divine stuffed grilled pastries with sweetened red beans, walnuts and other yummy things I couldn’t decipher.

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I know, I know. I flew all the way to Japan to eat Japanese food, but since I was in Korea-town during lunchtime, I decided on a make-your-own-Bibimbap-bar for lunch, primarily because the place was packed with people and they had bright-colored chairs outside. I even got a token piece of classy looking gum when I paid my bill!

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I don’t consider myself a rookie traveler, but I made the mistake of taking a nap in the afternoon because the voices in my head were strongly persuading me to close my eyes. The natto slime from breakfast must have had something to do with my eyes being glued shut, because I couldn’t get them open. Finally by belly won over the drowsy war, and I realized I had bigger, better things to do in Tokyo.

Like eat.

A tiny ramen shop on a deserted side street was home for dinner. I tried my darndest to duplicate the slurping sounds of the pudgy diner to my left, but gave up after splattering my shirt with too much flying broth. Table manners in Japan encourage zealous slurping as a sign of true enjoyment.

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What’s struck me most about Japan in these first 24 hours are all the colors and incredible design. Here are a couple more favorite images from the day.

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These clever machines serve hot drinks if you see a red line underneath, blue lines mean cold.

These clever machines serve hot drinks if you see a red line underneath, blue lines mean cold.

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I’ll catch y’all tomorrow over a cup of green tea.