Monday, September 26, 2005

Ohayo gozaimasu

Detail of the roof of Engaku-ji temple

Well here I am. I`m writing this on a kanjii-enabled keyboard on the 7th floor of our hotel in Shinagawa - the Shinagawa Prince. I`ve only seen hotels like this when I was in Las Vegas all those years ago - it`s enormous. There are thousands of rooms - the hotel is divided into about half a dozen buildings and has it`s own shopping mall, aquarium (with shark tunnel and dolphinarium), two cinemas and an IMAX, two bowling alleys (two!) and sixteen restaurants. It`s mammoth - essentially a city within a city - within a city, as Shinagawa is huge as of itself. Anyway, we arrived with no problems from Sydney, as overnight flights go it was reasonable. The plane had a party of 104 Japanese schoolkids returning from language schools in Australia, but they were down the back of the 747.

So what are my first impresssions of Japan? Well, I`ve spent so long planning this trip, reading about it, etc, that it was pretty much as I was expecting. That`s not to say it was a disappointment - the exact opposite, it`s amazing. Tokyo is so vast, so busy, so hyped with energy. The 25th floor view we have overlooks the grey tower blocks of the central city, merging with the smoggy haze hanging over the city. In the distance we can see the Bladerunner-esque lights of Shinjuku glittering away. Eveything is fast paced, people bow to you, taxi drivers wear white gloves, there are vending machines everywhere, Japanese TV is bizarre - it`s all present and correct. You just have to go into a supermarket and see how alien a place you`ve arrived in. I can`t wait to explore more tomorrow.

Dad at the Tokeiji temple

Today was by necessity a slow day, as we arrived off the plane at 6am. We converted our JR passes - the multiple-use rail ticket that covers all of Japan`s JR railways for two weeks - and were given an immediate train reservation for the Tokyo express that left within three minutes. So after legging it down to one of many platforms we were soon winging our way into the city. Fortunately our hotel is near the station, but unfortunately we arrived at 10am and couldn`t check-in until 1pm. So we left our bags with them and had a GBP15 cup of tea in the cafe before taking a train trip. Oh - that`s GBP15 for three of us, by the way, not each. We caught a local train from Shinagawa via the port city of Yokohama to Kamakura - an early centre of the Buddhist faith. We spent the afternoon wandering amongst leafy temples and cemetaries, looking at crows, eagles, and amazing butterflies. The trees looked ancient - some of the sites were constructed in the 1300`s. After a few hours the tiredness set in and we returned to the city. It was a short, but good, introduction to the Japanese way of life (and death) and was a great way to spend an afternoon. Tomorrow is the first full day, and it`s going to start nice and early...(again)