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Wood block print by Hokusai KatsuhikaAug 25-30, 1999  Tokyo, Japan Part II

We find ourselves back in Tokyo after spending the last two weeks in a handful of other cities and towns throughout the country. And, after a few opportunities to 'toss a few back' with some folks in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokushima, we're now much more comfortable with the people of Japan overall, and specifically, those who live here.  Now back in town with our newly 'loosened up' attitude, the city seems a different, more relaxed, and friendlier place.

Cuttin' loose with the gals in TokyoCase in point - just this morning, no sooner had I pulled a map out to check our bearings, than a passing businessman stops and does his best to help us (we didn't actually need any directions, but it's the gesture that counts). Heck, even the vending machines talk to us as we pass by. Admittedly, it was a bit of a surprise the first time this happened, but now we break out in laughter each time that one of them calls out to us in its funny little digitized Japanese voice.

Spending the day at Sega's JoyopolisWe're now surrounded with those funny digitized voices. And they're coming from everywhere. This morning, we've decided to apply the age old creed of 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do', and join in the local style of fun. And there's no mistaking it, the Japanese style of fun is digital and virtual. And the epitome of this style of Japanese fun is Joypolis, the indoor amusement park by the leader in digitized reality games, Sega. Our first ride is 'Treasure Panic', sort of a big screen shoot-em up video game mixed with a tame roller coaster. From there, we're off to 'Horror Ride'; 'The Crypt', a wicked cool 360 degree 3D tour; 'Lost World', with its in-your-face dinosaurs and digital tranualizer guns; 'Power Sled' and 'Boat Race'. 

The kids love this cool catAnd then to 'Halfpipe Canyon'; 'Rail Chase'; 'Aqua Nova'; 'Sky Chaser', a virtual hang glider race; and finally VR 2002, an upside-down, spin-you-around, hammer you with G-forces, twist and turn 3D roller coaster that's gotta be one of the wildest virtual rides ever invented. Almost seven hours later, with heads still spinning and stomachs still queasy, we board the subway back to Central Tokyo to grab some dinner. We're bumped, pushed and knocked around a little by the crowd of people squeezing into the cars. Oddly, it's not irritating or aggravating, but rather amusing and comforting, to have the feeling for the first time in Japan, like we're just two of the crowd.

Menus posted on fans outside this inviting tea house"Irasshiamase!" "Irasshiamase!" they each sing at us as we walk under the noren of their yakitori restaurant. Ahh, yet another Japanese practice that we now also find rather amusing and comforting - screaming at new guests as the walk in the door. In fact, 'irasshiamase' sorta has a nice ring to it, now that we know that it means 'welcome', and not 'go away, you goofy white people'. Not that they'd ever say that. Not to our faces anyway. Nope, quite the contrary. The Japanese are, as we've discovered the past few weeks, exceptionally nice and polite people. While for some skeptics, their level of sincerity may sometimes come into question, there's absolutely no question regarding at least their visible (and audible) effort to welcome new guests, familiar or not. And one other thing's for sure, the restaurant staff get plenty of chances to practice their 'irasshiamase', since dining out is one of Tokyo's most popular pastimes.

In Japanese slang - a 'Chanelah' arguably the world's busiest shoppers with a particular taste for ChannelAnother recreational favorite of the Japanese is shopping. And, as evidenced by a stroll down Shinjuku-dori in Shinjuku or Harumi-dori in Ginza, or by visiting one of the two or three of the world's biggest department stores that make their home right here, Tokyo is just the place to pursue that spend, spend, spend pastime. It's so popular that the Japanese have invented their own slang word for those who do it. 'Chanelah' is used to describe those who pursue browsing and buying (especially for Channel goods) with an especially reverent passion. Prefer shopping from stores, or from machines? To the Japanese it makes no difference. Actually, they may prefer the machines. In fact, it can be said that the folks here are absolutely in love with their vending machines. Always one, and sometimes as many as twelve or fifteen, can be found on the corners of most intersections, walking paths, and hotel lobbies. Estimates put the number of these machines, selling everything from beer, to wrist watches, to adult videos, at around one for every twenty-five people living in Japan.

Is that a hair-dew, or a hair-don't?But right now, we're just hoping for a cold bottle of water out of one of these fancy do-it-yourself cabinets of commerce. Man, it's hot! And humid! I don't see how the musicians are able to stand it. They look like they're getting quite a workout strumming, pounding, and singing their hearts out. We're in the Harajuku area, specifically Yoyogi-koen Park, strolling around a taking in a sampling of the younger Tokyoans form of recreation - playing and listening to music. All kinds of music, from rap to rock to blues the reggae.

We be jammin' in Yoyogi-koen ParkThe regular Sunday afternoon jam session draws not only 20-30 bands (with widely varying degrees of talent) and 2-3 dancing troupes, but also the regular parade of faithful and colorful fans. As we look around and 'check out the scene, we spot a group to our left dressed in all black leather, sporting pompadours and dancing to American oldies. The group across the street whose singer is doing his best to mimic Muddy Waters competes for an audience with the four girls down the walk who're doing a respectable job of imitating the sophisticated choreography of Janet Jackson. But it's the two young ladies in kimonos, singing along with a pink bleached-haired guitarist wearing American flag jeans, that really makes me thankful that we came back to spend some more time in Tokyo - that we came back to experience its 'other side'.

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Last modified: October 10, 1999    Photographs and text 1999 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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