about We 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.