I am now safely home in Portland, but still feeling the warm glow of Tokyo. This may have been the best stop of the entire trip. It is the dead of winter in Tokyo, and the weather can be miserable, but I stumbled on to two glorious days with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-50s.
I have stayed at Airbnb’s, mid-range hotels and even a room above a saloon. For my last two nights of the trip, I went for over the top luxury, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. The hotel is located in an area of Tokyo called Nihombashi that is the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York, with stately department stores and interesting old streets. This is the antithesis of Ginza (the Times Square of Tokyo) with its neon splendor. The hotel lobby is located on the 38th floor and the views from the rooms are stunning.
I arrived at Hameda Airport after an overnight flight from Singapore. Since public transportation had been working well for most of the trip, I decided to try out the Tokyo Metro. The Tokyo Metro is the three dimensional chess of subway systems. There are two public subway lines that interconnect at certain points, but they have different rules and payment schemes. Then, there are numerous private subway lines that also have different rules and payment schemes. The largest of the private lines unhelpfully puts none of its signs or ticket counters in English. These systems also interconnect with many national and regional train networks. Nevertheless, after some trial and error, I was generally able to figure things out.
Tokyo has 13 million people, but the greater metro area is much larger. It is a city of searing intensity. However, the intensity is highly organized. Japan is very homogenous society. Ninety-eight percent of the population is Japanese. The are many customs and rules, which are strictly followed. The predominant religions are Buddhism and Shintu. These are not organized religions in the traditional sense. They are simply part of daily rituals that connect a very modern Japanese society with its ancient past.
My main activities in Tokyo were a tour of the famous Tokyo fish market, a dinner with a zen sushi master, a dinner at a molecular gastronomy bar, a visit to a local department store, a visit to Asakusa, and a visit to the Mandarin Oriental Spa. I will be reporting on the fish/sushi aspects of the visit in future posts.
My conclusion is that Tokyo is a fascinating place. The people are friendly, engaging, and they take great pride in what they do. There is an endless and non-stop variety of things to see and do. I look forward to seeing more of Tokyo and Japan in the future. Also, the toilets deserve special mention. They are high tech gadgets, that have lots of interesting features, heated seats being one of the best. For more on these amazing devices, check out the new Bryan Cranston movie “Why Him.” Then there are the urinals at the Mandarin Oriental that have views over the Tokyo skyline to Mt. Fuji. In any event, Tokyo was an interesting and fitting end to my trip.