Bar, Golden Gai

Tokyo wind-up

 

 

Welsh onions

“Welsh onions” – Shinjuku

 

Not that you’ve necessarily been gagging to hear, but Tokyo was fantastic – easily one of the most interesting and worth visiting cities we’ve seen to date. If it wasn’t so far, we’d have booked a return visit already, perhaps supplanting our long-time favourite, Singapore.

 

The delay in writing has been the result of flu. Both of us were poleaxed by it last weekend, 36 hours before heading for home. Individually, Di succumbed first, with me about 18 hours behind her.

 

Between bouts of sleeping, we sat in our hermetically sealed, air conditioned hotel room and did nothing other than mope and yet more sleep. By Sunday morning, it was clear that the walk back to the bus terminus at Shinjuku station that we’d done on arrival, was now way beyond our abilities and a taxi ordered to get us to the bus stop, bus and airport.

 

Fortunately, the next hurdle; the bus to Narita went off like silicone. Made all the better by getting a sizeable pensioners’ discount. Check in, immigration and the security formalities came next, the pair of us like zombies, just wanting to get on the plane and sleep (more).

 

Twelve hours to Dubai, three hours wait for our Cape Town connection – sounds like a drug deal – not – and another nine hours in the air, saw us arriving on time with just the baggage, customs and drive home left to endure.

 

Asakusa shrine

Asakusa shrine

 

That was Monday. I’m writing this eleven days later, both of us are finally past the worst – still largely incapable of any kind of enthusiasm, exercise or appetite. Independently, we’ve both been out during the intervening week and a half, both arrived home exhausted, ready for little more than to sit and stare at the ocean outside.

 

On Monday, we both agreed that if we didn’t go out and get some shopping, we’d starve. So, we did a big pre-Xmas shop, the fridge is full to bursting and all we need (apart from our kids to show up and surprise us) is the energy to eat and drink it all.

 

Morning, Shinjuku

Morning, Shinjuku

 

Rewind.

 

I’m not sure if we’d ever have gone to Tokyo if Emirates hadn’t written to me a couple of months ago, offering a whole e-mail full of bargain-priced flights to just about everywhere. Having recently returned from Laura’s wedding, we weren’t much interested, that was until I followed the link in the e-mail and found yet more budget city flights.

 

“How would you like to go to Tokyo as a kind of joint Christmas present?”

 

Moments later, the booking was made, hotel reservation done and the anticipation started.

 

Outbound, we flew to Dubai and then on to Tokyo’s Narita. It was smooth, easy and on arrival, we opted for the Airport Limousine (a bus), which dropped us at Shinjuku Station – about 800m from our hotel.

 

Street scene, Tsukiji Market

Street scene, Tsukiji Market

 

Checked-in, baggage dumped in our room and in seconds, we were out on the streets of Shinjuku to explore and find something to eat. We found the latter in a yakitori – chicken grilled on tiny skewers over a charcoal fire – bar (izakaya) about 250m up the street from the hotel, pretty much the first place we tried.

 

Fed and watered, I paid, expecting a massive bill – this is Tokyo after all – and was very pleasantly surprised. For lots of yakitori, a couple of side dishes and beer/wine, I got a bill for a bit less than R300.

 

That set the pace for the rest of the trip.

 

Autumn trees, Yoyogi Park

Autumn trees, Yoyogi Park

 

Our travel days easily fall into a new city routine; I wake early and go out to photograph, Mrs P sleeps. I’m usually back around 07:30, we deal with the daily ablutions and head for a good breakfast.

 

The Best Western we were staying in fitted that need perfectly, with both European and Japanese buffets. Grilled mackerel, deep fried chicken and rice porridge for breakfast was a novel experience and begged to be tried. Other days, toast, marmalade or a couple of boiled eggs held a bit more appeal.

 

Usually, by around 10:30 we’re ready to depart, having agreed a destination for the day. Shinjuku is huge and it’s only a matter of minutes into Yoyogi, Harajuku (the Carnaby Street of Tokyo) and various nearby suburbs. Other days, we braved the Metro for Shibuya and it’s famous scramble crossing, Ueno, Ginza and the Imperial Palace.

 

Grown up fishing, Shinjuku

Grown up fishing, Shinjuku

 

Ginza

Ginza

 

Fortunately, we’d finished our must-see list as the flu struck. We still missed returning to a couple of places that just cried out for more time and exploration. For every one of the twelve days we spent in the city, we ate in bars, restaurants, izakaya, markets and street stalls. What we ate was often a bit of a mystery – most Tokyo-ites will attempt English, but ordering food can be a lottery. We ate what we got irrespective. In the main it was fantastic.

 

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

 

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

 

I bought some kitchen knives in the the Fish Market at Tsukijki – there are hundreds of stalls selling sea food of a bewildering variety and shoehorned between their stalls, a vast variety of cutlers, offering knives for just about every occasion. That was after a street stall don lunch – a bowl (don) half filled with rice, topped with a variety of raw sea foods (mainly tuna), gari (pickled ginger) wasabi and soy sauce. It might have been chilly sitting out on the pavement, but the food was fab.

 

Getting around the city is pretty straightforward. That said, the Metro map was a complete mystery, until unravelling it to get to the Imperial Palace became a motivation. In sum; the station you are in lies at the centre of the map and the place your wish to get to (when you finally find it amongst the coloured lines) is shown with a number on it.

 

That is the fare in ¥ (yen), usually between 170 and 330, depending on distance.

 

Use the ticket machine, press the English button (you’ll only need to do this once as the process is actually, very simple), select two people and the fare, chosen from the map above. Ticket machines accept anything up to ¥10000 (R1000) notes and give change in notes where appropriate, instead of a million small coins. Along with your change, two tickets pop out of he slot. You’re now good to go.

 

The Tokyo Metro goes just about everywhere and the odd station it doesn’t serve, is accessible on the JR Yamanote line, a Japanese version of London Underground’s Circle Line.

 

Shinjuku skyline

Shinjuku skyline

 

And, that’s about it. Tokyo is a fanastic, exciting city and now, we’ve recovered somewhat are already planning a return to see Spring in the city in 2016.

 

One final note; our pre-departure research told us that the Japanese are not great credit card users and so, I drew a not particularly large sum of Yen to tide us over on arrival. It was planned to cover the first few days travel, sightseeing and meals until we figured out how to draw more cash. As it turned out, ATMs are readily available in the many 7/11 stores around the city, so we needn’t have been so concerned.

 

Better still, instead of lasting a day or so in what we expected to be a frighteningly expensive city, our cash lasted almost ten days – providing you don’t plan to eat and drink in top-end of restaurants and bars, Tokyo is no more expensive than Cape Town.

 

That was a surprise.

 

Tokyo night

Tokyo night

 

Tradition

Tradition

Unexpected find

Tokyo in colour pt. 1

 

After last evening’s post, I got a note from a reader asking why such a colourful city was being shown in black and white.

 

Answer; right now, that’s what I am focussing on. I’m not forgetting the colour – I’m keeping most of those for the InSight: Tokyo guide that will be published shortly.

 

So as not to disappoint though, here’s some Tokyo colour.

 

Red light Shinjuku

Red light Shinjuku

Shinjuku street morning

Shinjuku street morning

Shinjuku sunrise

Shinjuku sunrise

Flatiron Uedo style

Flatiron Uedo style

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

Shinjuku shrine

Shinjuku shrine

Restaurant lantern

Restaurant lantern

Shinjuku street scene

Tokyo in black and white pt. 1

 

A week in Tokyo with a new camera – there’s lots to see, plenty to do and an entire world of interesting food to eat.

 

I’m hoping to get to the food posting shortly, but we only have three days left before the great trek back to Cape Town, so we’re making the best of it. In the meantime, enjoy this small sample of the images I’m bringing back with me.

 

More soon. Promise.

 

Level crossing, Yoyogi

Level crossing, Yoyogi

 

Meiji Temple

Meiji Temple

 

Yoyogi bar

Yoyogi bar

 

Yoyogi bar

Yoyogi bar

 

Shinjuku street scene

Shinjuku street scene

 

Didn't make it home

Didn’t make it home

 

Well fed, tired in Shinjuku

Well fed, tired in Shinjuku

Hygiene Japan style

It’s just one of the oddities of travel

Hygiene Japan style

Hygiene Japan style

 

“It’s weird. It’s warm and feels like someone’s just got off it.”

 

As ever, Mrs P has hit it on the head. Well, the backside actually.

 

It’s the lavvy, loo, bog, khazi, whatever. It’s the toilet seat in our Tokyo hotel room. Not only does it have an entire bathroom attached to it, it’s pleasantly heated as well.

 

They’re clever these Japanese chaps. Not only do they make good cars, cameras and TVs, this is clearly the pinnacle of lavatorial technology – probably the biggest breakthrough since Mr Crapper invented a way to flush those nasty, odiferous jobbies away more than a century ago.

 

If you’ve not encountered one before, the idea is to settle and perform whatever function you choose, calmed and cosseted by the delight of a warm botty – now made especially enjoyable in an otherwise near-Arctic air conditioned hotel room. I’ve been in hotels where the lavvy seat was so cold that my skin has stuck to it on contact.

 

Finished?

 

Don’t clean up manually, yet.

 

Look down and to your right and press the green shower button. In seconds, a warm jet of water squirts onto that little puckered spot from whence everything has just flowed. Wriggle a little to ensure that there are no Klingons – oh for fuck’s sake, how did you think they got their name? – and switch off.

 

Wipe with KP* as usual, except this time, you’re just drying.

 

Done.

 

For the lady, I imagine it all works in much the same fashion, with the additional benefit of an extra button for washing their other naughty bit. Us blokes can shake or wipe it on the curtains, but for the ladies, a gentle warm post micturation (or other activity) spray must be very nice.

 

So one up for the Japanese. I’d quite like one at home – except when it comes to maintenance – I’m occupying an idle moment with the terrors of a badly adjusted jet, a thermostat set too high, or worse, an improperly insulated electrical connection…

 

* kak papier – it’s a Burger family thing apparently.

Set-top box bollocks

In around six months, South Africa’s commitment to the international broadcast community to move from terrestrial to digital (satellite) based TV broadcasting will fall due. Despite many years to solve and implement the technology and an endless stream of assurances of compliance, this deadline is now almost certain to be missed.

 

The official line is disagreement over standards, design, manufacture and digital rights – should the boxes be encoded and supply their content only to registered (and one imagines, licensed) viewers?

 

As many government ministers as years have gone by while these critical issues remain unresolved. And, the cynical amongst us inevitably opine that it is much more likely to be squabbling about who will get the (financial) benefits from the multi-billion Rand manufacture and supply contracts that is holding up a decision.

 

Meanwhile the nation’s sore tarnished international image, gets a little more grubby.

 

Here’s an alternative suggestion; the rate of change of technology is such that in recent years, we have seen the demise of many household processes and big names. Pre-conceived ideas and plans have disappeared as the Internet makes its presence felt in every facet of our lives. Here’s a reminder or two;

 

Nokia used to make the 6210 and 6310 – the best cell phones ever. That was until Apple came along. Today, Nokia is a Microsoft subsidiary. ‘nuff said.

 

Retail music stores have all but disappeared.

 

In many countries, book shops have disappeared as we buy from Amazon, the iTunes store and read on Kindles and iPads. Meanwhile, many international bookselling giants have shut their doors. In SA, we’re a bit behind this one, but it won’t be long…

 

In a similar vein, how long will retail pharmacies like Clicks and co. remain? As soon as someone troubles themselves to work out how to same-day deliver orders placed over the Interwebs, these chaps with their huge staffs, stock and retail spaces are doomed.

 

So, what has this to do with the set-top box?

 

If you’re as pissed-off with DStv as most subscribers seem to be, you will already have explored the world of VPN connections and streaming TV content and movies – IP television as it’s sometimes called. Making it work is a little convoluted and costs a few dollars a month, but it works and around a fifth the cost of DStv.

 

It would work even better if we had just a bit more bandwidth at a competitive rate.

 

So much so that a limited-option domestic 3G (or better) router easily could deliver everything the set top box would offer with much, much less hassle and far superior management control.

 

Most of the country is already covered with the cellular network, much of it 3G and some already 4G and better. And, as 3G technology is upgraded in urban areas, that kit could be moved into the rural areas and provide plenty of bandwidth for the foreseeable future.

 

With government sponsored (free) bandwidth in return for paying a TV licence, a simple home router could be devised to connect to the network, log in to a ID and licence-based connection to the TV resource, to allow the viewer to select feeds from SABC and/or eTV as free viewing, or alternatively DStv, and/or other selected services as paid, proprietary content, programme by programme.

 

Away go all the arguments about locked systems and what’s free-to-air as now if you can pay for it, it’s available. No cables, no uplinks, easy licensing and payment, simple.

 

Job done. All with existing technology and end-to-end protection of rights. No satellite costs, so set top boxes to enrich the decision makers and a choice of TV programming that can be delivered from anywhere and anyone with a feed and a server.

 

What are we waiting for?