On top of the world in Tokyo

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Japan  ,
Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Attention passengers, we are turning the plane around and returning back to San Francisco, due to a fuel pump having "packed it in".  Please do not be alarmed as we do have a backup... This may result in delays to your connecting flights - Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for flying with Air Canada."
Our first thought: if the backup fuel pump breaks, how many seconds before the plane becomes a floating brick?  This was followed instantly by our second thought:  If we miss the connecting flight in Vancouver, that means we'll miss out on Japan, Australia and end up, much to Melissa's disappointment, not seeing the promised kangaroo tied up in Colin's mum's backyard.
Fortunately, as you are reading this, the plane did not crash. The title of this blog which contains the word 'Tokyo', will give you a clue that somehow we made our connecting flight on time, despite the fretting, worrying and frantic calls to our travel agent while on the tarmac back in San Francisco.
After spending two days enjoying everything that Tokyo has to offer, all we can say is that we are very much enchanted by Japanese people and by this beautiful city. Our hotel room, on the 45th floor, has a stunning view of the city below. The Park Hyatt, located in the heart of the Shinjuku district, is where we are staying. This was the hotel that much of the movie 'Lost in Translation' was filmed in and it is really a beautiful place.
From the in depth view from our tour guide Mina, to walking lost amongst the neon city lights of Shinjuku, to traveling in a spiral up the multiple levels of the Sony store, to fighting the sweltering heat as we walked through the countless malls of the Ginza district. There is literally so much to do here that we intend to return for a much longer period and also during a cooler portion of the year.
There are a lot of differences between Western and Japanese cultures. Compiled below is our list of the 'Top Ten Things that you probably were Unaware of about the Japanese' (we had no idea until now):
10. There are 12 million people in Tokyo, which represents 10% of population of Japan and all in 1% of the land. Tokyo is a very crowded city.
9. Many bicycles, unlike Toronto, are left unlocked. People trust that no one will steal their bikes, as to do so would be dishonorable.
8. Tokyo is filled with streets that are on multiple levels, sometimes there are as many as three levels used. The purpose of this is to keep the traffic running smoothly and efficiently on arterial roads by doing away with traffic lights.
7. According to Mina, our deadpan tour guide: "Doctors say that the Gingko trees are good for your memory, so we must eat them before we forget."
6. Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world. This is due to their very healthy diet and their superlative health care system.  This country is also efficient, clean, safe and organized.  The crime rate in Japan is very low. No one can carry a firearm except the police, which in some ways ties in historically with the Samurai.
5. On average a Japanese person will perform 50 bows a day. The Japanese do not shake hands as a bow is traditional and for them, means the same thing.
4. There are no forward facing seats on the local metro trains. This is to provide more room during rush hour for people to stand. For safety, a wall is erect between the train and the passengers. When the train has stopped, gates open up allowing the people to enter and exit the train. Mostly no one talks on their cell phones on the trains, instead they text message each other (out of politeness).
3. Due to limited space, Shops are built upwards (ie: Multiple levels) rather than across. The signs for each shop are listed vertically on each level of the building.

2. Japan is seismicly active.  This was demonstrated at 4:15 this morning when we were shaken awake by a moderate 5.4 temblor (no damage or injury resulting, thankfully)
1. There are two styles of toilets in Japan:  Squatting over a hole in the floor style, and Western style.   In contrast to the simplicity of the first style, the Western style toilets are elaborate in that they have heated seats (which when sitting on in 40 C temperatures equates to the same shock as sitting on an unheated toilet seat in Toronto on a typical February night.  Public toilets also have automatic flushing 'noises' that are activated for, well, privacy.  All Western style toilets have numerous bidet functions - we won't go into specifics, but suffice to say that when you go to the bathroom in Japan, the best advice is to sit down and hang on!
Next up we will arrive down under in Australia, to visit Colin's mum & brother!
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