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Published: March 16th 2007
After the Mitsui symposium on 14th and 15th March (refer to my previous posts), Victor left Tokyo while Mingxian and I stayed back in Tokyo for more exploration. Mingxian had 5 semesters of Japanese lessons in NUS and he did a 6-month internship in Mitsubishi Chemical, so he can speak fluent Japanese and he knows the Japanese customs and etiquettes. Mingxian booked a room in an inn in Otsuka (near Ikebukuro), so we travelled from Chiba to Otsuka to deposit our luggages in the Otsuka inn.
After putting down our luggages, we took a tram to Sunshine City, one of the largest shopping malls in Tokyo. Sunshine City boasts an aquarium, a planetarium, a history museum, a office tower with an observation deck at the 60th floor, a Namja theme park (Namja is a Japanese cartoon character), a "ice-cream-land", a "dumpling-land", and more than 200 shops and eateries. However, all the attractions required expensive admission fee. Somemore, when we arrived at the mall, most of the shops were not open yet. In the end, Mingxian and I decided to go somewhere else.
We saw the Toyota's Amlux car showroom on the other side of the road, and we
Toden Arakawa Tram-line
This tram-line from Waseda to Minowa-bashi is the only surviving tram-line from the huge network of tram-lines in the early 20th century. The other tram-lines were all replaced by subways.
went in to explore. The showroom was awesome! The showroom not only contains cars of the latest models, it also provides free simulation rides and interactive computer games. Mingxian and I tried one of the simulation rides and it was fun! We also took photos with the latest hybrid cars, SUVs and limousines. (I never had a chance to drive in Singapore, so I took the opportunity to take a lot of photos of myself sitting on the driver's seat of various cars. Haha.)
Later we took a stroll in Ikebukuro, one of the busiest shopping district in Tokyo. In fact, according to a guide book, the JR Ikebukuro Station is the second-busiest station in the entire Japan! The station and the surrounding areas were indeed bustling with activity and energy. Several top department-store chains set up their shops in Ikebukuro, and the whole place is basically a shopping mecca. Mingxian and I walked across the station to West-Ikebukuro, where we visited the Japanese Traditional Crafts Centre and the Ikebukuro Bosai-kan (Life-saving learning centre). The crafts centre is very impressive, as it displays handicrafts from all over Japan, including a grand gold altar. The Bosai-kan is equally interesting, as
From the floor plan, you can tell that the mall is huge
the centre teaches important life-saving skills in the event of a disaster. The centre offered courses in first-aid, fire-fighting, survival in a smoky room, and self-protection during earthquake. We signed up for the earthquake course only, as we already learned basic first-aid, fire-fighting and chemical defence during our national service. Haha. A friendly staff brought us to the earthquake-simulator, where she explained to us the safety procedures (e.g. cover head with a pillow, leave the door open for easy escape, switch off electrical & gas supplies, hide under a table, etc). Then we were left inside the room. Suddenly, the place started to shake. We followed the safety procedures, before hiding under the table. The "quake" lasted for around 20 seconds, and it was an eye-opener for me. (I never experienced any earthquakes for my whole life, since Hong Kong and Singapore are earthquake-free.) The staff also showed us a video-clip of the 1995 Kobe earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 6000 people. She also taught us prevention measures, such as securing shelfs and cupboards to the wall, so that the shelfs and cupboards will not topple and squash anyone underneath.
Later, we had our lunch in
McDonalds. During our lunch, we were dismayed to see (and smell) everyone smoking inside the restaurant. At the same time, we were pretty amused, because in Singapore and Hong Kong, it's forbidden to smoke indoors, so everyone smoke outdoors. But in Tokyo, it seems it's the other way round. Everyone smoke indoors, while nobody smoke outdoors. Anyway, thanks to all the smokers inside McDonalds, Mingxian's and my clothes stinked of tobacco for the rest of the day.
After lunch, we went to Harajuku, home of the Meiji-Jingu, as well as the most fashionable and stylish district in Tokyo. Meiji-Jingu is Tokyo's premier Shinto shrine commemorating Emperor Meiji and his empress Shoken. Alighting at Harajuku station, we were greeted by an overwhelming crowd of youths. The street in front of Harajuku Station was lined with trendy cafes and boutiques, and the whole place was crowded with people. However, crossing the railway track into the other side, the environment took a 180Â° change as we entered the garden of Meiji-Jingu, . Tall trees lined the wide boulevard, and everywhere was quiet except for the crunching noise caused by our walking on the pebble road. The place is indeed a good refuge
Sunshine City 3
Namjatown - a theme park based on the cartoon character Namja
from all the noise and crowds of downtown Tokyo. After walking for some time, we saw a 12m high Torii made fom 1500-year-old cypress prine tress from Taiwan. (A Torii is a wooden gate built for the birds to rest, as ancient Japaneses believed that birds were messengers from the heaven.) After walking for several more minutes, we reached the central hall. We paid our respect in the shrine, bought some souvenirs (good-luck charms) and then made our way to the busy streets of Harajuku.
Once we walked out of the Meiji-Jingu garden, noise and crowds of people greeted us again. We walked along Omote Sando, the main shopping street in Harajuku. The whole road is lined with exclusive boutiques and cafes. We saw the stores of many famous brands, such as Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc. Each store has an interesting architecture, but no store is as impressive as the Prada store, which occupies an unique glass-building with randomly-arranged flat, convex and concave diamond-shaped windows. Some other stores have a "Classical-Greek" design, and one store look like a Japanese shrine. These stores reminds me of temples, where many people come to pay tribute to the
Sunshine City 4
A preview of the food available in Dumpling-land and Ice-cream-land (We didn't enter because of admission fee and the high prices of the food.)
fashion gods. Haha. Later, Mingxian had to go to Shinagawa again to meet his another superior in Mitsubishi Chemical, so I have 3 hours to explore Tokyo on my own. After Mingxian left, I walked back to Harajuku Station through the Takeshita-Dori, a narrow street lined with the funkiest and trendiest boutiques in Tokyo.
From Harajuku, I travelled to Shibuya, another busy shopping district in Tokyo. (Tokyo has so many shopping districts, and all of them are crowded with people and traffic!!!) Shibuya is similar to Ikebukuro - a lot of department stores, a lot of people, a lot of traffic. I wandered through a few streets in Shibuya, and I found Shibuya too noisy and too crowded for me. I went back to the plaza in front of Shibuya Station, where I took photos of Hachiko the dog and the crowd of people that crossed the traffic junctions. (I have never seen such a crowded place. Even Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Shanghai and other big cities cannot compare to the crowds at Shibuya.)
From Shibuya, I made my way to the Tokyo Tower to take some photos. I didn't go up the tower because of the long
Sunshine City 5
A giant fish on display at the aquarium entrance
queue and the high price. Nevertheless, Tokyo Tower looks very pretty and impressive from the ground at night. From Tokyo Tower, I went to Roppongi Hills, a 280-billlion-yen complex of shops, museums, offices, and residences. The architecture of the complex is indeed modern and impressive, but I only explored the place for half an hour because I had an appointment with Mingxian at night.
From Roppongi, I went to Tamachi Station to meet Mingxian. There, Mingxian told me that he was having dinner with his Mitsubishi bosses, and the Mitsubishi people wanted to invite me to the dinner too. So I followed him to a small restaurant, where I met some of the top people of Mitsubishi Chemical. Although everyone at the table had high posts in the company, the dinner was an informal one. The people ordered a lot of sushi and sashimi, drank beer, and told a lot of jokes and gossips. I didn't manage to appreciate their humour, as I don't understand a single word of Japanese. Mingxian occassionally translated what the people are saying, and the people occassionally tried to chat with me in broken English. Despite the language barrier, this group of people was
Sunshine City 6
An animal show in the aquarium
very friendly and hospitable. Even though I didn't understand the jokes, I joined them and laughed whenever everyone started to laugh. It was quite an enjoyable night, and the food was excellent. (The sushi and sashimi were very fresh and tasty. In comparison, Japanese food in Singapore sucks. Not only is Japanese food expensive in Singapore, it is not as fresh, and the servings were pathetically tiny.)
After dinner, Mingxian and I made our way back to our inn in Otsuka. The day was an exciting and fun-filled one, and I enjoyed every single moment in Tokyo!
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