I just finished my first trip to Tokyo, Japan. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a terrible traveller. I have a rotten sense of direction and hate planes. Plus, I am a creature of routine. Traveling is the exact opposite of routine for me. With that said, I had a wonderful time in Tokyo and highly recommend it as a city destination. Some of my memories:
It’s a 10+ hour flight from California. I invested in some newer over-the-ear noise canceling headphones from Sony. I also downloaded a bunch of shows and movies on Netflix. Overall, the 10 hours went by quickly and the earphones did a good job. I also bought one of those neck pillow things. It did not work well for me, but I have hopes that a different style might work better.
One thing I found interesting is that if the headphones or the top bar on top of my head touched the side of the plane in any way, the noise came back in a rush. The noise canceling is ruined if you lean against the plane. This is bad news for anyone with a window seat.
I upgraded to economy-plus for $100. It gave me a few inches in leg room. First class was 1-5K more more. I declined, too rich for me. That’s an expensive 10 hours right there!
Food was mostly trash as expected. They handed out these peanuts with Wasabi,. which were pretty spicy. I did not appreciate it. Yuck. Last thing, I appreciate that planes now have usb ports and electrical outlets to charge my iPad.
The first thing to understand is that Tokyo metro area is home to 36 million people. By contrast, the NYC metro area is only 21 million. It’s a modern miracle that so many millions can get to where they are going quickly and efficiently. The Tokyo subways are incredible. There are throngs of people everywhere all of the time.
At first, the subways were difficult for me to understand. Then I realized a simple trick. All of the subway lines have letters and each stop has a number. So you can listen to the voice on the subway says “Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese A-14” – just listen for the last bit. If you are heading to A-12, you have 2 more stops. This is a brilliant innovation and should be used everywhere.
There are so many stops and so many lines, it really makes moving throughout the city a breeze. Also, the subways were clean and relatively quiet. Compare that to the BART line in the Bay Area and it’s a huge difference.
I visited a “historic” site at Senso-Ji Temple. It was pretty crowded and looked very pretty.
It was cool, but then I saw this plaque.
This made me very sad. A structure that was built over a thousand years ago and fixed almost 500 years ago was destroyed by war 75 years ago and then a replica was built 50 years ago. So all of that cool architecture was a mirage. It wasn’t original. All of the sudden it felt like the castle at Disney Land. It wasn’t history, it was something else. War sucks. This is why we can’t have nice things.
The food was spectacular. I wish I had more sushi. The taste made me think that the sushi I eat all of the time is the equivalent of fast-food-gas-station sushi. It was moister, tastier, smoother, and lit up my senses like fireworks. I ate at a farm-to-table restaurant where the vegetables were ultra fresh. I ate at a place that specialized in squid. They literally showed you the squid wriggling around in a bucket, fully alive, right before they cooked it for you. I took this video of the first dish they brought out.
I took a bite, one of the ones with suction cups on the tentacle. I swear to God, it grabbed onto the roof of my mouth and then my tongue and wouldn’t let go! It didn’t want to be eaten! It was the strangest food experience of my life.
This was a work trip, so the meals were usually being ordered by other people in our party. They kept ordering and ordering. There was so much food. Some dishes weren’t even being touched! I felt guilty and just tried to eat as much as I could. I gained 4 lbs on the trip.
Interestingly, very few deserts after dinner. I did find that people often have sweets early in the morning. Like this sweet bread with ice cream inside of it. It reminded me of waffles and ice cream for breakfast, but handheld.
Overall, delicious food. I ate too much.
Walking around with Scott Edmonds (who was in town to watch the Sumo Wrestling Championships) we stumbled upon a fish market. It was intense. There was fish everywhere. Fish of every variety. Also, they sold yakatori (meat on a stick) skewers. (Delicious!) They even had fish heads!
People eat the eyes. Ick! However, there was a ton of energy and love at every stall. There were so many little sushi places tucked into corners. I bet the food was terrific.
We stumbled upon a garden a few blocks away and were transported from the hustle and bustle of the market to a serene park. They had guys in the trees giving the tree a haircut.
This park was great, and capped off the morning perfectly. They had “duck blinds” which were places to hide while you shot ducks in the pond. Nearby, they had a statue in honor of the dead ducks. A little hypocritical, but ok.
This was the one phrase I tried to master. I thought that the word was Arigato. Unfortunately, I was deeply mistaken. Here are the different versions of “Thank You” that I heard.
- Arigato Gazaimas: This is a formal thank you. It was hardly every spoken fully this way except by westerners.
- Ah Gazaimas: This was the most common version. It’s basically just an abbreviated, mumbled version of the one above. It’s like “Arigato is too long, so let’s just go ahh and move on.”
- Ah-zus: This was reserved for people you were very informal with like friends or family. It’s a much more causal way to thank someone. It’s like saying “Thanks fam!” – you wouldn’t do that with your boss.
- Arigator Gazaimas Shtah: This is a special situation “Thank you”. It’s reserved for the end of the encounter. Like when you are leaving someone’s office and you want to say “Thank you for everything and I am going to leave now.” The schtah part makes it past tense.
Japanese is actually a beautiful language to listen to. It has a musical character to it that I enjoyed. I think I like it more than any other foreign language purely from an acoustical aesthetics point of view. Interestingly, I could tell a bit of what was happening purely based on facial expressions and body language. People are people, no matter from where.
I actually visited to do work. It was very productive. I learned alot about how our Japanese customers used our system. I validated our personas and collaborated on a design of a new way to organize information. Plus, I got a ton of detail on specific use cases we were considering.
Additionally, I spent a good amount of time with our internal Japanese staff. The sales team are a wild bunch of people. They kept one-upping each other at dinner in crazy ways. They gave me a terrific birthday surprise and more importantly, were great business partners helping understand the context and details of the Japan market.
I adjusted fairly well to traveling west to Japan, but struggled a little on the way back. I tried Melatonin and it worked, maybe too well. I took 10mg but maybe 5mg would have been fine. I stopped taking it before I get hooked on it.
Great trip. I am glad I went even though I hate traveling. I found Tokyo to be an overwhelming place with reams of visual stimulus. Everyone was really nice and the food was terrific. I hope to visit again someday. I am leaving out a bunch of details, but blogs can’t go on forever.
Arigato Gazaimas Schtah!