Wed 15 Jun 2005 19 °C
We arrived in wet Tokyo with nothing but some light coats to stand between us and the weather. First things first, time to catch a train. The Keisei Skyliner is an express service that conveniently runs between the airport and Ueno station, a mere ten minute walk from our hotel. We patiently waited on the platform and watched as seats in our train were automatically swivelled 180 degrees to allow us a better view, a thoughtful touch. First glimpses along the way showed us a rural landscape with bamboo groves, lush green ricefields and err ... a windmill complete with a typical Dutch bridge. And a pleasant drizzle to complete the picture.
We soon realised that life without an umbrella may prove less than ideal today. In most cities, you tend to see a few people without an umbrella, happy to be soaked or simply unprepared, having forgotten to watch the news the night before, but not in Tokyo it seems. In Tokyo, everyone had one with them today. They must all watch the weather forecasts.
We made our way to our accommodation, the Hotel New Izu in, while refreshing ourselves in the rain. Though we were very early to check in at 10:00 AM, they already had our room more or less ready for us. Our room is small, but feels more than spacious enough. It is decorated in Japanese style with mats on the floor and simply mattresses as beds. Comfortable enough and a very good price for Tokyo at just over 10,000 Yen per night. One immediate difference you note as a westerner is that all the doorways are considerably lower. Even I am not far off bumping my head!
The rain would not let up, so we decided to brave it. Our hostess was kind enough to lend us a couple of umbrellas to walk around with, to help us fit in. Tempted by the prospect of giant pandas in nearby Ueno Park, we headed in that direction.
First lesson in Umbrella Etiquette.
Store your umbrella appropriately when entering a store.
We were in need of a caffeine fix by now and duly entered a coffee shop. Noticing a bucket near the door with someone's umbrella in it, this seemed a logical place to put ours. Well, unfortunately, the other person had set a bad example it seemed, as the shop assistant quickly came over and started tidying our umbrellas. Turns out there were plastic bags in the bucket for the specific purpose of putting one's umbrella in. So, if possible, shake your umbrella well, roll it up and bag it before entering an establishment. Most stores have these umbrella shaped bags at the entrance, some with hi-tech bagging machines to make life easy.
During our coffee break it became apparent to us that a zoo visit would be rather unwise considering the present state of the weather. So, we shifted our focus to the Tokyo National Museum, also located in Ueno Park.
Second lesson in Umbrella Etiquette
Technology can help.
Well, technology can help with just about anything; from hi tech toilets to trains, from all-in-one washing basins to umbrella storage. Entering the museum (420 Yen a person), we were presented with a rather nifty system of locking away your umbrella for the duration of your visit.
The museum turned out to be a great choice for the day. Providing shelter from the rain and an initial insight into some of Japan's rich cultural heritage with a little lesson into the Japanese culture of today thrown in.
Third lesson in Umbrella Etiquette
If your umbrella's broken, make it obvious.
Moving from Honkan, the primary building, we went to visit one of the other exhibition buildings, the Gallery of Horyu-Ji, that is part of the National Museum complex and part of the same 400 Yen ticket. While folding up my umbrella I noticed some of the spokes were loose, so I spent about 30 seconds trying to sort it out. Before I knew it, a rather friendly lady rushed out of the building offering me a new umbrella! Baffled by why such generosity, I thought I must have misunderstood her, but after some discussions it was clear she couldn't bear the thought of me carrying around a less than perfect umbrella. How nice, now I would have a souvenir and an umbrella of my own!
So, after a day of Northern Tokyo, the Japanese get my vote for the most polite people I've met so far.
View from Honkan, at the Tokyo National Museum
Who needs a seperate soap dispenser, tap and dryer when you can have them all in one device?
Gallery of Horyu-Ji, part of the Tokyo National Museum complex
and a final lesson, by the great educator Sesame Street.