First week in Nippon

Trying to shake off whatever jetlag I might face I go straight to work. Well, after unpacking and showering that is. My new home is a 30 m² flat at the third floor out of twenty four of Bureau Shinagawa, just south of central Tokyo. Think of it as living just south of Söder in Stockholm in terms of travel time.

The apartment has floor to ceiling windows towards the river which is actually the sea and the little island I’m on is as far as I know man-made. I jet off to work which is 20 minutes to the south by train. The reception lady gave me a map detailing how to get to the Ericsson office from the station, but I manage to get lost anyway. A couple of nice ladies help me out with vague instructions that regardless get me there.

Yokohama is a rather sterile neighborhood with nothing but office buildings, my coworkers tell legends about a old Yokohama where people actually live, but so far I haven’t seen it. Ericsson office is on the 7th to 10th floor of a rather nice building (they’re all nice actually) and I work on the 7th floor. The office itself is rather sad, just a large space with hardly any walls, just a large collection of desks. It feels a bit like the movie 9 to 5… My team consists of about 50% swedes and 50% other nationalities of which only two are actually Japanese. The office is structured as a so-called flex-area, which means that seating is at a first come, first served basis. So if you’re late to work, you might end up sitting nowhere close to your team mates. Exceptionally silly if you ask me, but noone has so far… We also have tiny 19″ screens, making me feel like I’m back in the 20th century again. Looking under the desk I find an Ericsson-branded helmet and an emergency kit, probably to be used in case of severe earthquakes.

The first few days go by fast as I struggle to get the programming environment in place and as the weekend approaches I plan for my first round of serious touristing. The fish market is first in line but it doesn’t open to the public until 9 am (to come earlier and see the tuna auction you need to book a tour) and it’s easy to understand why; the place is chock full with small trucks zipping every which way. Most of them runs on electricity, so they easily go unnoticed until they’re inches away from running you over. At which point you usually get yelled at by a surly fisherman. It’s absolutely fascinating to walk around just looking at the motorcycle sidecar-sized tuna, the colorful octopi, the live squid swimming around in tanks, the rubber -banded lobster, or the sheer volume of wonderfully strange fish.

After maybe an hour I’ve explored most of the market and go looking for something to eat. There is a regular market right next to it and I figure the if I am to go for sushi anywhere in Tokyo, it should be right here. All the restaurants here are tiny and all of them have a sizable line outside. This is nothing unusual however, in Tokyo there are often many people in line for restaurants, some of the even have benches for you to sit while waiting.

The wait is probably 45 minutes or so, but I have nowhere I need to be and besides, the long wait is probably a good sign. Finally they let us in, they take in people to capacity and then serve us all at the same time instead of taking in new people as we finish eating. It makes for a really nice and quiet dining experience, especially since photography isn’t allowed. Contrast that with the conveyor belt sushi places where the chefs continually shout out welcoming phrases and the names of the sushis they’ve just placed on the conveyor belt.

Orders have been taken care of while we were waiting and I chose the slightly fancier menu of ten pieces at ¥3680. Somewhat pricy, but there are certainly places where you can pay a lot more. The restaurant is really cramped and the chefs stand right in front of you so you get a great view of them performing their craft perfected over the years to a handful of elegant gestures where all of a sudden the sushi just appears in front of you, seemingly out of thin air. All this while the chefs idly chat with each other as if they weren’t even paying attention to what they were doing.

The sushi is served on a large leaf and one after another they’re plopped down, each one stranger than the one before. Two stand out in particular, both are so-called Gunkanmaki rolls (battleship rolls – no, I have no idea why, neither do my colleagues) where you have a the classic seaweed-wrapped sushi standing on its end but with a topping. The first topping is an orange goo that I’m pretty sure was sea urchin-guts, the second one is a pinky-sized squid lying there eying me accusingly. It’s a bit hard to eat food that is staring at you but after getting my gag reflex under control I find the taste rather nice.

Their serving strategy is a double edged sword however when it comes to slow eaters like me. It’s really stressful when you’re the last one in the restaurant and there’s a fifteen meter line outside waiting to get in…

On then to the next item on the agenda: Yoyogi park and the cherry blossoms. It’s a really beautiful park with a temple shrine in the middle that my team leader Ken claims has five hour lines at new years. People here apparently take their rituals seriously I guess. I can’t seem to find any cherry blossoms though, well some, but not the quantities I was hoping for. After some more fruitless searching I decide to move on and try my luck in some other park tomorrow. I exit the park at Harajuku Station, this place is known for the kids who cosplay as various manga characters, but they’re mainly here on Sundays so I make a mental note to return tomorrow. I proceed to stroll down Omotesando street (also called the Japanese Champs-Élysées) and find that it’s mostly high fashion stores like Gucci, YSL and the ilk. Not that interesting so I move on to Shibuya and Shinjuku.

Shibuya is home to that crossing you’ve probably seen in many a movie. It’s a shopping and nightlife Mecca with neon signs as far as the eye can see. People are dressing really stylish here and it’s full of, very polite, barkers trying to get you into their clubs or restaurants. It’s an awesome place for just strolling around and look at stuff.

I happen across one of the numerous Pachinko parlors, a game which appeal is a mystery to me. It appears to be just a smidge more interesting than bingo and the noise in there is deafening. There are several floors with other games however so I wander around silently wondering how these places can survive when video games in most cases look so much better than the games here. At last I reach the top floor where things take a turn for the weird. There is nothing here but photo booths and strangely dressed girls running around giggling. I don’t get very far before I’m shooed out by the staff though: “Women only!” Ooops…

I’m rather tired so I sleep in a lot more than I should have so when I eventually get my ass to Shinjuku Goyen – alledgedly the very best park in Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms – I am met by a wall of people leaving. As I make my way to the entrance a guard informs me that the park is closed. Awww, fucksticks! I try my luck at a couple of other parks but they’re all closed so I have to settle for photographing the ones planted along the street.

I stop by Harajuku station as well to find a few dressed up people: a goth lolita, a guy in a Pedobear suit, a girl in some sort of generic manga costume that I don’t recognize and a bunch of rockabilly guys. Not bad, I’ll have to make this a Sunday tradition! I do manage to salvage the day somewhat by taking the monorail out to Odaiba, an artificial island in the Tokyo bay that has a magnificent view of nighttime Tokyo. After taking a lot of pictures I go back and while I sit there on the train I spot Tokyo tower. Since the night is still young I decide to hop off and walk to it. It doesn’t seem all that far, but the scale fools you, the tower is slightly larger than the Eiffel tower so it takes me almost an hour to get there. It costs 800 yen to go up to the first platform at 150 m and then you pay again to go up to the special observatory at 250 m. But since it took me so long to get here the tower is just about to close so I never get to go up to the special observatory. The view is great though and I don’t mind much, there’s always next time!

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