David Chart's Japan Diary

July 10th 2004

The first week of the new term is over, and things still seem to be going well. The only significant thing that's happened is that, for the first time, I've met my next door neighbour. The current holder of that position is called Marlene, and she's Swiss. She's here for six months, so she will doubtless get used to the times I tend to do my laundry.

I think it got even hotter on Thursday and Friday, and even the Vietnamese students were commenting that it was hot. Today is a little cooler, and wetter, but it's still very warm. Still, I don't have the air-conditioning on right now.

Other than that, I'm actually keeping up with homework and reading at the moment, and starting to look for more freelancing to do when I finish on Ars Magica. I'm also continuing to recruit English students.

However, the main point of this diary entry is to catch up a bit more on the first family visit, since it's now three months since that finished.


Our timetable gave us two full days in Tokyo, and they were very different.

Hama Rikyuu Mum, Silver, and Ray in Hama Rikyuu garden.

The first day was devoted to traditional touristy things. In the morning we walked to Ueno station through the park, pausing to take Ray's photograph under the statue of the samurai with his dog. (Dad's spontaneous reaction to seeing the same statue was 'I bet Ray liked that one'.) Then we got the train to Shimbashi, to visit Hama Rikyuu garden.

The weather at this point was not ideal; it was a bit windy and it kept raining a bit. Fortunately, the rain never got too heavy, and we were able to enjoy a leisurely stroll around the garden. Silver liked the 300-year-old pine tree, and Mum and Ray liked the garden in general. Mum commented that, having seen it, she now knew what was wrong with all the Japanese-style gardens she'd seen in England. It's true that Hama Rikyuu is a very nice garden. I even like the view of the skyscrapers over the trees.

The water bus Ray, Mum, and Silver on the Water Bus, with cherry blossoms in the background.

From there, we got the water bus up to Asakusa. The trip was slightly different from when I took it, because the cherry trees along the Sumida river were all in blossom. As a result, the boat went a little bit past Asakusa and then doubled back, to give the passengers a chance to see more of the cherry trees. By this point Silver declared herself happy with the cherry trees; they were in full bloom, and actually looked like she'd imagined them looking.

Kaminarimon in Asakusa Silver, Mum, and Ray under the paper lantern hanging in the centre of the Kaminarimon in Asakusa.

While we were in the water bus, the weather brightened up considerably, which made the next stop, Sensoji, rather more pleasant. The first thing to do was walk straight through the Kaminarimon, up Nakamisedori, and to the temple itself, before having a look around at the various other buildings, and the shrine. We found a small shrine with lots and lots or little fox statues in it that I hadn't seen when I was there before, but I don't know what it was for, or which kami-sama it enshrined.

Then, we walked slowly back down Nakamisedori while various people did some shopping. Silver wanted a yukata as her big souvenir, so after abandoning the stall that wouldn't let her look at the men's yukatas, she found one that was willing to sell the customer whichever yukata she liked. Unfortunately, there were several designs that rather appealed to her, so the decision took a while. Fortunately, there are lots of good souvenir shops on Nakamise dori, so Mum and Ray wandered round several more and picked up some nice things. I spent my time popping back and forth between the two groups, making sure no-one was lost, and interpreting or offering opinions on choices as required.

I've completely forgotten what we did that evening. It was three months ago...

The next day was very much modern Tokyo. Silver had some specific shopping she wanted to do, for some of the polished stones she makes into pendants for her necklaces, and I'd got a recommendation from Yuriko for the best place to get them. We started off by walking to Nippori station through the Yanaka cemetery. The weather was glorious, and a number of the graves are remarkable. Silver had me take her picture several times.

From there, I think we went to Shibuya. This was where the shop Yuriko recommended was, and it's also one of the main shopping areas in Tokyo. It was packed. I think it was outside Shibuya station that crossing the road involved joining a solid mass of humanity. Surprisingly, Mum really enjoyed this experience. She admitted that she really wouldn't want to do it every day, but as another new experience in a holiday of them, she thought it was really good.

The recommended shop proved even better than we expected. Silver, as a result, spent several dayshours choosing her new stones. In the end, she bought more than she had planned, including several that she had never seen anywhere else, such as bits of meteorite, and native copper nuggets. None of the stones were actually from Japan, in the sense of being dug up there, but they were still, I was told, excellent Japan souvenirs.

Pizza! Ray, Mum, and Silver, with very, very traditional Japanese food. Or not.

The next stop was Shinjuku, where we had lunch in an Italian restaurant. After eating almost exclusively Japanese food for the previous week, I decided we should try the Japanese version of western food. The food was very nice indeed, and after lunch (I think, or maybe we had dinner at the Italian place and this was before dinner) we walked through Shinjuku to the Metropolitan Government Offices.

Once again, Mum, surprisingly, really liked the area. Her argument, which I can't fault, is that the skyscrapers are well done. They don't feel crowded into a space, and they have different and interesting designs. The reason for going to the TMG offices is that the building is a very high double skyscraper, and has observatory floors in each tower. These are free, are the view of Tokyo from them is fantastic, at least in nice weather.

The next day, we took Silver to Narita airport, and saw her into security screening. The queues were enormous, so we waited with her for a while to give her someone to talk to. After we got back to Tokyo, Mum and Ray went to the Tokyo National Museum by themselves, while I went off and did something else. I think I went back to Shinjuku and looked around the bookshops, then wandered around Kabukicho for a bit and got propositioned by three different brothel-keepers. Interesting experience.,,

Mum and Ray started on their independent holiday the next day. I met them on the Tuesday evening in Nagoya, after they'd got back from Hakone and were on their way to Hiroshima and Miyajima, and then joined them on the train back to Tokyo when they'd finished. They coped really well, never getting seriously lost, and finding that looking helpless and knowing where you should be is actually a good way of navigating Japan; they got good help on several occasions.

Back in Tokyo, and back at Sawanoya, we had a last meal at the local sushi restaurant, and the next day I went with them to Narita airport, and saw them into the check-in queue. It was very long, and I had to get back to Tokyo to meet Yuriko for lunch, so I left them to their own devices. Obviously, they got home safely.

And that was the first visit. Very enjoyable, but very tiring indeed. The main strain was that I had to do everything, because I was the only one who spoke the language. I don't think I'll become a tour guide in the future.

So, now I just have to write up Sheila's visit in Golden Week, and then Dad and Joy's visit a week ago. Fortunately, there are no more major family visits planned, so I might even be able to manage that.