Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm in Japan!

Well, my pre-trip post appears to have bitten the dust (probably a victim of an errant auto-save from an outdated tab), but my wife and I are in Japan!

This is the view from our hotel window.  (That's a stitched panorama with about a 170 degree field of view; the original's huge.)  We're staying at the Grand Arc Hanzomon, which is a really nice hotel for a pretty cheap price.  I gotta say, I know how to pick hotels, and I always pick based on the view.

I know that the first question people are going to ask me when they find out I'm here is "but what about the earthquake??" or some variation thereof.  Is there any electricity?  Are there aftershocks all the time?  Are there rubble and bodies in the streets?  Is Tokyo a ghost town as everyone flees nuclear disaster?  Is anything open??

The answer is pretty much what I expected before I got here: a few things are different, most things are the same as always.  Obviously that's not completely true further north, but down here in Tokyo not a whole lot has changed.  Japanese TV is as insipid as always, for example.

There are a few reminders of what happened/is happening, however.  Enough so that a western news outlet hellbent on telling a dramatic story could find enough material if they looked.  To whit:

This is a roof covered in blue tarp.  (You can see a second one in the left side background.)  Traditional houses like this dot the landscape; the blue tarps are covering roof damage.  There's not enough roofing material to fix them all, so they sit like this.

This, however, is not earthquake damage.  This is just an interesting building.  It is important to note the difference.

This ticket machine in the Tokyo subway is out of service to conserve electricity, given that the Fukushima nuclear plant #1, which supplies power to Tokyo, is out of commission permanently.  You do see signs like this in various places either talking about things that are out of service or asking people to conserve.

But I was kind of expecting to see lights out everywhere, no air conditioning and maybe even rolling blackouts, and there is just none of that.  Tokyo's never had very good air conditioning so it's hard to know whether they're conserving or it's just generally crappy climate control, but I don't really detect much difference in a/c use versus any normal year.  As I look out my hotel window right now at 8:40PM, I see lights on all over the city (including Tokyo Tower being lit up like a Christmas tree).  And there hasn't been a rolling blackout since I've been here.

I also haven't experienced an aftershock yet, although my wife says there was a 4.0 before I got here.  Still, the ground doesn't seem to be shaking much anymore.

Mostly, everything is normal, including Tokyo's questionable taste in music:

That's just one of the many thousands of displays for the all-girl pop group AKB48 dotting the landscape right now - they apparently have a new album out and everyone needs to know this.

A little hard to see (sorry), but that's Don Quixote, a sort of mecca for geeks in Akihabara, where AKB48 is ostensibly "from" - they've got a wrap all around the building, and signs all over it.

Also intact is Japan's vending machine research and development.  They are decades ahead of us in vending machine technology.  This is a full touch-screen LCD vending machine - first time I've seen one of these here. I personally like the machines where you can see the actual can or bottle of the thing you're ordering, but I know that touch-screens are all the rage with the kids these days.

And let's not forget Japan's often unfortunate incorporation of English slang, which is intact as always.  (Obviously this has nothing to do with surviving an earthquake; I'm just looking for an excuse to post this picture.)  Oddly enough, this is not the only questionable use of the term "titty" that I have seen on this trip.

This is Omotesando, one of the main streets in Harajuku - looks like a pretty normal, functioning city, doesn't it?

One thing we did notice, and this is kind of a sad self-fulfilling prophecy, is that there are almost no other westerners around right now.  Usually about half the people milling around Harajuku are western; today we saw maybe three or four.  Hopefully as reports from regular people like me trickle out, more westerners will realize that Japan is open for business and is not a big panic-filled mess of debris and nuclear fallout.

As for any potential radiation issues, I actually brought my goddamn Geiger counter (that is its official name, according to me), and it's not registering anything out of the ordinary.

One sign of normalcy, and this will bring me back to my earlier post that got nuked (for anyone who read it): we simply could not get a reservation on either of the overnight trains we wanted.  They were booked solid.  Oh well, we'll try again next year.  Seems like the kind of thing where you have to know someone who works for JR.  But we'll be staying in Tokyo for the entire trip.

Well, I'll post more tomorrow!  I think I'm probably past the point where I can or even want to post every little thing about Japan anymore, but I will definitely have some more updates while I'm here!  Right now, though, jet lag has caught up with me again and I'm about to let my head fall into the keyboard here and sleep.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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