Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 1 & 2 from Steve & Kristi

Thursday, July 30th - It was all day travel to Tokyo arriving at 3:30 pm on the 31st @ 3:30 pm. I was spacey from travel, and forgot that I had put my cash in my money belt. I used an ATM to get cash, and also converted some cash. We never had money problems.

The trip into Tokyo on the train was exciting. That was in spite of the fact that we’d been traveling for a long time, and were all falling asleep. I noticed bamboo forests along the tracks, and large expanses of rice fields interspersed with indications of approaching urbanity.

Our hotel room was about 15 X 15 with windows that really didn’t want to open. There was a small refrigerator, and a small TV. The beds were thin cushion mats, and the floor was of woven straw (or could it have been shredded bamboo?), called tatami mats. We had been cued on taking off shoes, so were barefooted in our room. We mostly crawled around the room, very seldom actually standing up. My knees, and other joints adjusted to this reality while we were in Japan.

Saturday, August 1st: In the morning we all woke up really, really early. We were out by 4 am. By 5 am we were at the Tsujigi fish market. By 9 am we were back at the hotel. Joan, Karen, Kristi and I went shopping late morning, early afternoon. We found a department store to visit. The main thing we did on this day was meet with the Japan Peace Committee.

It was good to be in Tokyo first, and have some time to get used to the idea of being in Japan. The neighborhood where our hotel was was hardcore urban. Kristi and I never did get to some of the sights that were around there. I could guess that everyone had a different experience in Tokyo, and that was probably true of the entire trip.

The walk to the fish market was informative. We were typical tourists. We were called on for standing in the middle of sidewalks, and also we found ourselves in a place of business (fish biz) standing where people were trying to work. Our friend, fellow traveler, Mitch Kojima interpreted some of the irritated comments of the people we interfered with. (From Kristi): If the entire business had been filmed from the ceiling it would have looked like a movie set to fast-motion with a group of idiots trying to stall the pace. We were the idiots.

On the schedule that we were on, the days were exceedingly long. Food was our individual responsibility. Of course that first day was all a learning experience. The restaurants had pictures of the food they were serving, which were plastic representations of the food. It really didn’t convey the information needed to make a decision without being able to read Japanese. They had vending machines that you put money in that gave you a little ticket that you handed to the waitress, who gave the ticket to the cook. You ordered beverages directly, or there was a water dispenser as well, and you could just serve yourself water. It was a pretty efficient way for a restaurant to run, when the clientele doesn’t speak your language. I just gave up on being any kind of vegetarian for that period of time. (From Kristi): Most of what I ate was unidentifiable to me. The ubiquitous pickle in particular appeared on every plate in varied forms of vegetables which I imagine don’t grow here. That said it was all excellent and I did NOT lose weight in spite of walking blisters into my feet.

Kristi and I had to find wrap for the CDs, which were supposed to be gift wrapped. We also needed scissors, and tape, and ribbon. There was a substantial market place just across the big boulevard from the area where our hotel was located. It took up several streets, and was maybe a half a mile long. There were buildings. It was like an outdoor mall. There were guys selling fish, and drugstores, and jewelers, and shoe stores. There was no gift wrap though.

The department store we finally found had a little of everything. The basement was a grocery store. The ground floor had specialty foods, and clothing. There was more clothing on the second floor, and the third floor was almost all booze. The fourth floor had what we were looking for. We did buy some Japanese whiskey though, as well as tape, scissors, ribbon, and paper. Karen, Joan, Kristi, and I did well at splitting up, and finding each other once again. I think we all had fun in the department store.

(From Kristi): We joined the group later and made our way to the headquarters of the Japan Peace Committee. The group formed around sixty years ago and has a membership of 30,000 in groups throughout the country. They sat us at tables set with a meal of hors d’oeuvres and set out to formal introductions with all. We listened to speeches from their leaders and one by one each of us spoke briefly about our intentions regarding our trip and nuclear disarmament. The Japanese are coming closer and closer to reversing Article 9 of their constitution which demilitarized them offensively; an election forthcoming will soon decide the issue. Japan, to my way of thinking, took the most wise and prudent course of action in response to our own nuclear barbarism of 1945. Would that all nations have followed their lead with Article 9; then our job as peace advocates would have been aborted long ago. Our meeting began to end with mutual favors exchanged. As is the custom, we gave wrapped gifts and received them. Our group gave teeshirts and Native American dream-catchers. They gave each of us fans. We began to exchange cards and friendly conversation. Then a wrapped large card-like gift was given to Bix. He boldly opened it, probably at the urging of the giver. Inside was a drawing of a beautiful human face inside a dove. Underneath was an inscription to the Japan Peace Committee, signed and dated by Pablo Picasso. Bix joked, “Oh boy, now I get a new home! “ It occurred to me that the custom is to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. So maybe all of us delegates now should sign over the titles to our houses to the Japan Peace Committee.

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