aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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that alternate universe
Tokyo high rise Tokyo building

Tokyo high rises

We left New York after visiting my brother on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. and arrived on Wednesday to a city that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike New York (with all due respect to Douglas Adams.)  The gleaming high rises, bridges, shining lit towers, and ubiquitous Starbucks mimic the Big Apple that we had left behind.  Except for the insistent throbbing in our head and an urgent desire for a hot shower, we could have forgotten that we were on the opposite side of the world.

Shopping center in Ginza


Yet, everything is slightly different, as if we have stepped into an alternate reality. 

Japanese signs

Signs in front of sumo stadium

We don't understand 95% of the words that pass by our ears and the cars drive on the left instead of the right.  Everyone wears suits, dresses, and pants but, occasionally, we catch a person in a kimono with wooden sandals.

Sumo wrestler walking down street Woman in kimono in Ginza

Sumo wrestler walking down street; woman in kimono in Ginza

The subways are too clean.  There are no rats, graffiti, litter, offensive odors, or random people slumped against the tiled walls.  Everything gleams quietly and the Tokyo citizens exit and enter the subways briskly and orderly without pushing or shoving. 

Tokyo subway Tokyo subway
Tokyo subway Tokyo manhole cover

Tokyo subway and manhole cover

Clean seems to be a national obsession here.  Yet, unlike New York, where there are trash cans every twenty feet, in Tokyo, searching for trash cans is like the search for the Holy Grail.  Occasionally, we have gotten lucky and found one but then the lids are covered with plastic as if the Japanese cities are trying to protect the trash cans from getting trashy.  As you can see, our friend's dad and I were really excited when we finally found a trash can to throw away our empty soda containers.  

Finding a trash can in Tokyo

Vending machines

Getting excited about trash cans; vending machines

So, we end up carrying several empty bottles throughout the day because vending machines populate every block.  If this was an alternate reality, we could believe that the vending machines are robots ready to take over Tokyo.  

Kimono clad women in Ginza

Kimono clad women in Ginza

If the vending machines did put up a fight, I am afraid that they would win because the Tokyo citizens would capitulate out of sheer politeness.  After our time in New York, where crossing the street in the wrong way can lead to a barrage of epithets tossed at you, it is bizarre and strangely calming to be confronted by formal politeness at every turn.  

Laduree in Tokyo Hydrangeas in Ginza
Ginza Kids picking up trash in Tokyo

So much like New York yet . . . (and, yes, those are Laduree macarons in Tokyo)

There are so many little things that are almost the same but just not quite like the United States.  We pay when we get off the bus rather than when we get on.  We are given wet wipes before every meal but there are no napkins on the table or paper towels in the restrooms; the little Japanese ladies carry small handtowels in their purses but we walk around with damp hands most of the time. 

Tokyo Winston cigarette ad

The Winston guy selling cigarettes

What really boggles our mind is that this guy in his denim daisy dukes, shaved legs, bulging muscles, and tank top is selling cigarettes to the youth of Tokyo.  Apparently, he is the height of cool in this alternate reality.  



Except for the Winston guy, everyone, from the man holding the advertisement on the street to the taxi drivers, wear black or dark gray suits with white shirts and dark ties.  Those same suit-clad workers enter loud, fluorescent Pachinko parlours in the evenings and play slot machines for hours on end to win food items from the convenience stores. 

Man on a pink bike

Man on a pink bike in Ginza

And, no one blinks, points, or laughs when a businessman in a suit and tie rides a bright pink girl's bike across a main street in Ginza, the Times Square of Tokyo. 

Sumo wrestlers

Sumo wrestlers

I don't think we're in New York anymore.

06/04/2010 12:40
So true about the lack of trash cans! We were so perplexed, though we never had the chance to ask a Japanese person why it's the case. Hope you're having a great time - enjoy the food!
Jess's recent blog post: Snapshot: Revisiting Dehang
06/04/2010 14:10
For some reason I have been dreading visiting Tokyo but I think your photos have actually peaked my interest
Stephanie's recent blog post: Friday Postcard: Rio de Janeiro
06/04/2010 14:16
I love this little profile on the city, I really don't know much about Tokyo. That manhole is so freaking great.
06/04/2010 15:03
Really enjoyed this. Much like Candice, I know very little of Tokyo but I got the sensation of being there through this post. Thanks for that!
Keith's recent blog post: The Precipice
06/04/2010 19:08
This post brings back such great memories of Japan. It is such a unique place; it really is an alternate world. We lived off the iced coffee from those vending machines. Can't wait to reminisce on your next post!
PS - see if you can catch a Japan League Baseball game. It's a good time - they're nuts about baseball
06/04/2010 20:45
Lakshmi Sankar
Thoroughly enjoyed your post, Akila. Hope you both are having fun! Love, Mom
06/04/2010 22:35
Ram Mohan
Thanks for bringing back fond memories of Tokyo. I have never experienced a Tokyo subway as empty as the one in your photo (it might be because I was traveling it during rush hours in general), but it was quite a mad melee.

Look forward to hearing about your visits to temples and shrines and communal baths and other Japan delights.
06/06/2010 22:23
You are making me travel sick for Tokyo! And I love it that when I look at your photos, I am reminded of my own. Those manholes and vending machines are awesome!
06/07/2010 20:22
What a picture tour! I enjoyed reading about your first impressions. Tokyo is on the list, of course, when we do Japan. Not quite sure when that will be, but my interest has officially been increased with this post!
Lori's recent blog post: Travel Tips: Ask the Right Local
06/08/2010 22:56
@Jess - We actually just found out why the Japanese don't have trash cans everywhere. Apparently, it's to encourage recycling and sorting of trash.

@Stephanie - It's a cool city though we preferred Kyoto.

@Candice - The manholes are awesome here. We've been taking so many pictures of them.

@Thanks Keith!

@Cam - Patrick loves the vending machines iced coffee. We'll have to check out a baseball game while we're here.

@Thanks Mom and Mohan Chitappa! We're already trying out some of the other unusual things here and it's quite fun.

@Gourmantic - Thanks!

@Lori - It really is a cool country. Very different than anywhere else we've seen in Asia so well worth visiting.
Akila's recent blog post: that alternate universe: tokyo
06/09/2010 22:45
Great post. We thought of Japan as an alternate universe, literally as well. I guess great minds think alike :)

Japan was funny for me. Just when I thought I was getting bored with the gentility and the regimented cuisine I fell head over heels. I miss it terribly!

We were absolutely amazed by the variety of experiences it was possible to pursue in Tokyo. Thanks for this great post!
Eva & Jeremy Rees's recent blog post: A Traditional Gift of� Beer
06/12/2010 17:46
Really enjoyed my latest read at your blog. Great post on Tokyo! The more cities in the world I visit the more connections I find between them.
Sonya's recent blog post: Seeing India Differently
06/15/2010 10:48
I love their vending machines. They sell everything! And I mean, everything! :P I was so shocked to see one selling used underwear in Akihabara last time I was there :|
Lilia Cornelio's recent blog post: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
08/05/2010 11:56
Vinay Gangoli
That was refreshing! Felt like an "at your desk" excursion into the life, culture and beauty of Tokyo. Amazed by their cleanliness.

@Lilia: That's hilarious! I would take a picture, but that would be walking a fine line between capturing evidence and being gross.
05/04/2012 06:26
Gosh, I love the Japanese culture. I was an English teach there in 2002, such a juxtaposition of old and new. I loved the 100 Yen stores, similar to our dollar general and how the always yell welcome very loudly in them and almost every other store.

thanks for the post,
megan's recent blog post: Best travel apps
05/23/2012 13:48
Megan, thanks! And, yes, love those 100 yen stores. The whole culture is so insane but wonderful, all at the same time.
Akila's recent blog post: why take guided tours
05/11/2012 01:35
Wow... that was really well written and I loved the photos~
I found this when I was putting together my own post about the lack of trashcans in Tokyo (http://www.thejapanrants.com/blog/tokyo-garbage-cans/), and came across this post.

A lot of really great shots on here~
Thank you.
05/23/2012 08:25
Thanks so much TJR! The lack of trash cans is definitely an issue in Japan, aren't they?
Akila's recent blog post: why take guided tours
10/19/2014 12:13
Such a beautiful city. Haven't been there for 20 years but pretty keen to get back there now! Thanks for posting your wonderful pics :)

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