Friday, September 26, 2008

The Beauty of Sensoji Temple

Sometimes it can be forgotten just how important the temples and shrines are to the landscape of Tokyo. In the mix of old and new which has always been apart of the makeup of the city; the temples and shrines can be overshadowed in post-modern Tokyo. For a while I lost all interest in seeing the temples and shrines in Tokyo. Sadly, like many, I developed a `been there done that` attitude` towards checking out the temples. Those days are gone as I have renewed my interest in all the wonderful temples Tokyo has to offer.

I am now of the opinion that it is important to go to these places from time to time as a reminder that the city I call home is really a unique place to live. There are so many things here which would jaw drop many of the people from my old home in West Virginia. To become jaded in Tokyo is to deny some self of so much wonder and beauty. I almost became jaded but I stopped myself before I reached the point of no return.

Sensoji temple is a great place to cure the jaded Tokyo blues. If this place does not inspired some wonder in your heart then you really are in trouble. Located in Asakusa Sensoji is popular among tourist and Japanese alike. It is an ancient Buddhist temple and Tokyo`s oldest. After WWII the temple has become a symbol of rebirth and peace for the people of Japan. It is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon or Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. There are many shops to visit along the entrance to the temple. Also, there are many drinking bars which offer seating along the street. The drinking bars are very popular during the evening hours as they usually full up quickly.

Sensoji temple is one of the most beautiful temples in Tokyo. I could not help but be taken aback by its beauty. It has the traditional Japanese look and feel that serves as inspiration and renewal that many Gaijin living in Tokyo need from time to time. Sensoji can remind you of what a great and unique city we call home. Take the time to check this temple out. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Duality of Tokyo

It comes as no surprise that Tokyo is a city of extremes. Being one of the largest cities on the world, Tokyo can be gentle as a babies behind or as a wild as a bobcat. If Tokyo was a women I would have to spend years putting much effort into understanding her odd nature. This city has the unique ability to change its overall vibe like day and night; literary!

During the day time Tokyo is one of the mellowest places in the world; as far as international jewel cities are concerned. While the city basically stays in a constant state of semi-chaos there is a calmness which befalls it providing an unspoken and strictly followed social order. As I am not born of Japanese blood it is hard for me to understand how a tightly ordered social structure has developed though the many years of Tokyo`s history. Yet, the Japanese have a nature sense of order which is not found in America.

The morning rush in Tokyo is a thing of legend and a perfect example of `order out of chaos` which is the hallmark of day times hours. Between the hours of 5:30 and 9:00 am on a weekday do not travel on the trains in Tokyo unless you have a good reason. It is during this time in which a mass of people make their way to work. A sea of humanity pack the trains to way over capacity. You would be hard pressed to find another city in the world in which the trains conductors push and shove people into the trains just to be able to close the doors. The people are sandwiched into the trains like a can of sardines. In a lot of places in the world this kind of transportation situation would be grounds for a mad rush in the morning requiring a heavy police presence just to maintain the peace. In Tokyo the morning rush is an ordered and clam experience despite the overwhelming amount of people using the train system.

All rules, both legal and social, are followed to a point during the day time. It is very rare to see someone get so-called out of line with the norm. The city operates like a well oil machine. A beast of a machine cranking out human production rolls down the highway of progress seemingly without a hitch. Almost everyone stops and waits for the cross walk stop light; no matter how narrow the street. Excuse me, thank you, and bowing is done all day long in what appears to be the most polite society in the world.

Although, when the five o`clock bell sounds in most parts of the city an alter ego surfaces to reveal a 180 degree shift in flow and attitude.

When most people start to get off work Tokyo changes. The bastard child of a high pressure and ordered society comes out to play. You can almost feel this change in the air. The city speaks to its residents tempting all with her pleasures and hidden delights. If you listen closely there is soft voice in the air saying, `You have worked hard enough my children. Come and enjoy the fruits of your labor.` There is a break down of social order in a way. Many things which would be considered rude during the day become totality acceptable during the night hours. You can be just about as loud and drunk as you choose as long as you do not get violent or make too much trouble. Many of the excuse me and thank you policies are thrown out the window in favor of wild times and drunken excess.

Yes, Tokyo is a city with a split personality. It can be a huge shock for some people making their first trip to the land of the raising sun. The best advice to handle the duality of Tokyo is to simply go with the flow at times. Try to keep your head straight and remember do not let these two very different personalities take you under.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Green Fairy in Tokyo

Of all the drinks that are available to me in Tokyo the one I never thought about was Absinthe. The odd green drink of legend never crossed my mind in the land of the raising sun. I did not give much thought to the idea that the Japanese had developed a taste for the green fairy. Considering the rep that Absinthe has, and the Japanese government`s view of anything that provides a little extra groove, I assumed that the chances of trying the stuff out in Tokyo was next to nothing. Yet again, Tokyo has surprised and amazed me.
I was throwing back a few at the Hub in Kita-Senju on Sunday after work. You know, just the usual drinking binge nothing special. I wanted to try something new and realized that I had never really dug deep into the Hub`s offerings. I usually just stick to a tower beer or a Cuba Libra and all the good with the world. Well, after downing a tower beer(one liter of beer) I desired a change of pace. Towards the back of the drink menu there is was; Absinthe Classic. I could not believe my eyes. A drink that I had heard so much about yet was never allowed to have due to some fucked up US law(which was recently lifted at the end of 2007). I had to have one; or two.

I want up to the counter and order one. The gal gave me some messed up attitude but served me one glass of the strange green drink of lore. By the way, why do so many gals who work at all the Hubs around Tokyo have a messed up attitude? I guess the world may never know. Anyway, I got this thing back to my table and just kind of stared at it for a bit. I really did know what I had in front of me. Over the years I had heard so much stuff about Absinthe that I was almost a little afraid to try it. I have heard tales of actually seeing a sexy green fairy to being able to gain the power of witchcraft. I only half believed most of the stuff I had heard. After all it is just a really power drink that gives you a slightly different effect from normal alcohol; plus it is green!

Well, after taking my first taste I was hooked. It taste really good! This is due to the manner in which Absinthe is served. It is a really power drink so sugar is dissolved into it using a special spoon and really expensive mineral water. This gives it a nice sweet taste. Although, there is no getting around flower taste which comes cutting right though the sugar.

The thing which has given Absinthe such a lore is the fact that it contains a chemical called thujone. Thujone is a psychedelic chemical found in Absinthe which acts on the GABA receptors in the brain. It is believed to induce a slight psychedelic experience to the person who drinks Absinthe. Although, this fact has never been proven. Well, after drinking two traditional Absinthe drinks and one hard cocktail(without bring watered down). I have to admit that I did not feel drunk but not sober either. It felt like some strange mix of a alcohol and weed. I felt as if spiders were gently crawling on my skin. You know, kind of like a whole body tingle. I do not know if Thujone was causing that or if my body reacts different to strong alcohol due to my experiences with moonshine. Either way Absinthe is a great drink and I suggest it to anyone. So, the next time you are at the Hub order you a few rounds of Absinthe and see how it effects you.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Does Tokyo Drink Too Much?

A big issue that is rarely addressed in Tokyo, as well as all of Japan, is looking at how much we drink. Anyone who spends any amount of time in Tokyo will notice that there are a hell of a lot of bars here. You can get a drink at any time day or night in Tokyo. It is very easy to have a stiff shot of Jack at four in the morning; I know because I have done this. It would seem that getting drunk is a way of life in Tokyo.

There are very few social rules concerning drinking in Tokyo. I have heard and personally had enough experiences with drinking in Tokyo to get a very clear picture of the attitude towards staggering drunks. The Japanese tend to be friendly and helpful to slobbering drunks most of the time. Now, there are times when some people go way over the line to the point in which not even the Japanese can forgive; but you have to get pretty drunk to reach that point. For the most part being drunk off your ass is viewed as funny rather than disrespectful. Most people in Tokyo have been one of the `last train` people who are only one more drink away from being unable to stagger onto the train. The train workers, in most cases, will help you out if you cannot handle the task of getting into the train on your own power. Even the police take a light heartened attitude towards those of us who have had one too many. Why does a culture, which at times is as straight laced at they come, have a deep acceptance of drunken hijinks?

The answer to this question could be found in the fact that the culture is so straight laced and thick upper lipped. Drinking is one of the very few accepted ways of letting off steam in Japan. Many people in Tokyo work their balls off sometimes to the point of near insanity. With a very hectic lifestyle, a high pressure social order, and sometimes very long work hours it is no wonder that Tokyo people are some of the biggest drunks in the world. I, like many people in the land of the raising sun, have a love of a good drink. I can also admit that I have been a little too drunk a few times. Although, I have never gotten to the point of loosing total control of myself. This cannot be said of everyone. Most people have got the one story of witnessing someone who got totally out of hand and did something that will go down in Tokyo drinking legend.

Work hard and drink seems to be the battle call of Tokyo city. During the day it is a mostly well ordered and square place as you could find in the world. Most people are all dressed up in business wear and serious as a hand grenades.The great exodus of people marching to work from six to nine a.m. is like an army of working class drones right out of 1984. No one showing any hint of drunken madness, just a sea of ties and blank faces. One would think that such a hoard of uptight working people would never resort to daily mass drinking and merry making. This show of order and conservative behavior is just a front induced by a culture which demands focus and conformity in ones daily life. The social and cultural pressures placed on people on a daily basis can be overwhelming at times.

Once five o`clock rolls around and the sun starts to set a very different atmosphere takes hold of the city. When the sun sets Tokyo becomes a play ground of sorts for both young and old alike. It is time to get drunk, laid, and cut business deals in a nightlife with a very different set of rules apart from the day time hours. What is forbidden behavior during the day can at times become all well and fine during the night. I have said many times that in the Tokyo nightlife if you turn over enough rocks you will find exactly what you want.

So, does Tokyo drink too much? Well when compared to some cities in the world yes. Although, within the aspects of Japan the level of drinking in Tokyo is only a reflection of the alter ego of a tightly ordered social structure.