Halloween in Tokyo

We have always loved Halloween. When our children were small, it was one of our favorite family activities. We would make costumes and carve pumpkins… decorate, and buy candy to give out to the trick-or-treaters. A big pot of chili for dinner, and one of us would take the kids out into the neighborhood to gather candy. Such a fun evening!

But, in Tokyo…

Goblins, vampires, the Scream guy, maids, faux police…the streets were filled with them in Tokyo’s Shibuya district tonight. It’s Halloween!

Although we’ve lived in Tokyo nearly four years, each previous year we were out of the country on Halloween. So, this evening, we made it a point to take the train to Shibuya, one of our favorite areas of Tokyo.

Most any time, Shibuya is a busy, energetic place. Lots of restaurants, bars, shops, and a clientele that is a bit less conservative than a lot of places in town. We had a feeling that Halloween would be little wild…and we weren’t disappointed.

Immediately after stepping off the Yamanote line train at Shibuya Station, we found the crowds. Station workers helpfully directed foot traffic, down the steps and out of the station. Then, we were engulfed in a sea of humanity (well, yeah, just a lot of humans). Shibuya Crossing most times is a crazy, crowded place. This evening, it was a shoulder to shoulder, absolutely packed pandemonium.

Of course, we were prepared for huge crowds, and to get a bit jostled. People aren’t trying to be rude and obnoxious, but with so many people in such a small area, there is a certain amount of pushing, pulling, and shoving. Best just to go with the flow, and not take it personally.

The intense crowd lasted several blocks. The sights, sounds and feeling of being in this flow of people is an amazing experience. Maybe not something I’d want to do every day…but definitely worth spending a Halloween evening.

One thing you do notice in any big event in Tokyo is the police presence. In addition to the faux police (seems police woman and SWAT costumes are popular here), there were a LOT of real police. They aren’t overbearing, or unkind, but they give you that “Welcome-to-Shibuya-we’re-glad-you’re-here-but-don’t-even-think-of-causing-us-any-trouble” look. Guess it works – considering the size of the crowd, everyone was well-behaved, and it was just a lot of fun.

Of course, we left pretty early – around 8:30 p.m. I suspect the party really gets started a bit later, for those who want to have a wild time. For us, it was just a nice evening… and we can add Halloween in Tokyo as another amazing experience we’ve had in Japan.

“Tour-guiding”around Tokyo…

We have lived in Tokyo for going on 4 years… Four incredible, amazing years. Tokyo is a wonderful city… Japan is a beautiful country. We have LOVED our time here. We have learned so much about Japan. That said… lol… we continue to experience and learn new things every day.

The past two days, I (the “she” part of this blog team) have had the opportunity to “tour-guide” a new, visiting friend around Tokyo. It has been fun, and I hope that she has enjoyed it as much as I did. I hope — especially today — that I haven’t completely worn her out… we walked almost 10 miles. I hope she has experienced Tokyo in a way that she never expected. I hoped she learned new things, and found a new and inspired interest in Japan, and all things Japanese. Because that is how we feel here… every. single. day.

Her two days here were too short. She was here with her spouse for a business meeting, and two days (!!!) is not near enough time to truly gain an appreciation for this wonderful country. But… we did our best! I walked her feet off, but tried to show her things beyond the “touristy”… to show her some of the hidden gems of this city. To not only show her the “sights”, but to help her get a feel for the culture of Japan. It is difficult in two days… and truthfully, with one off-and-on-rainy day, we had nowhere near the time we needed to experience and embrace beautiful, awesome Tokyo!

So… all that said… here are my suggestions for getting the most out of your visit to Japan:

  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you are going to spend all the money ($$$) and time (13 hours from east coast US, 12 hours from UK) to come to Japan, please invest a few hours researching the country and the culture. If you don’t like doing “internet research”, at least peruse the available YouTube videos of the places you are going. I guarantee, there are many videos to watch to tell you WHAT to see, HOW to get there, and HOW MUCH it costs. There are videos about accommodations, what trains to use to get there, and of course… the FOOD! Food here in Japan is wonderful. Delicious beyond compare. If, by chance, you just don’t “like” Japanese food… Yes… there are western offerings. McD’s, Kentucky Fried, Burger King, and Taco Bell are available. But…
  2. If you are going to a foreign country, and a completely different culture… why would you NOT want to sample the local cuisine. Be open-minded and willing to try new things. There is a reason that Japanese food is so popular… why so many people LOVE Japanese food. It is delicious… oishii desu! And largely because of that umami flavor. Be willing to close your eyes and put the food in your mouth.
  3. Along with researching what to see, where to go, and how to get there, please research the customs of the Japanese people. They are kind and respectful… please be the same, by learning about the culture. There are many unwritten “rules” in this culture. But, in general… in this culture, they try hard not to offend or interfere/annoy each other… or visitors. Please, be respectful in kind. Watch, and learn from the Japanese people. Be polite on the subway. Usually, people speak quietly or not at all on the trains. They take up as little space as possible (don’t “sprawl” across the seats!) knowing that the trains are usually crowded and space is limited. Likewise, be polite as you walk along the streets. Be polite everywhere. This is a very kind and polite society.
  4. Be adventurous.You spent the money to get here… go places and experience things you may not ever be able to experience again. See things, learn things, and internalize that experience. Most of all… observe. Don’t try to impose YOUR culture on this wonderful country! Yes! It is very different from the US… from the UK… from Europe. Be willing to embrace the cultural differences, instead of insisting that they accommodate YOUR culture. You are visiting their country after all.
  5. Enjoy the experiences you have here. Remember them always. It will enrich your life.

Be kind, be respectful, and learn about cultural differences, because in reality… this is a very small planet, and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully, and comfortably with each other.


Another Super-typhoon

A few weeks ago, we wrote about our experience with Typhoon Faxai. It was unusual, as it was both powerful, and its track took it up Tokyo Bay and through the heart of Tokyo.

We were at the little blue dot, watching Typhoon Hagibis go by

Well, today it’s deja vu, as we’re seeing Typhoon Hagibis, an even larger and more powerful storm, again coming up Tokyo Bay and into the city. This storm is bringing with it a tremendous amount of rain – the weather people are saying it is a “once in several decades” kind of storm. Hakone (just west of Tokyo at the foot of Mt. Fuji) received more than 35 inches of rain, and there are multiple warnings and evacuation recommendations due to the swollen rivers and landslides in the area.

For us, it has been a mere inconvenience. We’ve had heavy rain and wind, and everything in the city was shut down. Our plans for a flight to Shanghai today got deferred, as virtually all flights from both Narita and Haneda airports were cancelled, and train service – both local and Shinkansen bullet-train – was suspended.

Living on the 30th floor of a modern apartment tower, we don’t have too much concern about flooding. And our part of Tokyo is quite protected by a canal system, so that rain water isn’t as much a flooding concern as in other parts of the city. During the peak wind gusts, we could feel the building swaying. And, at one point, our earthquake apps alarmed, confirming that the swaying we felt was partly due to an intensity 4 earthquake — kind of a strange thing to happen during a typhoon.

It looks like the typhoon will pass us by late in the evening, and tomorrow the sun will be out and things will start to return to normal. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be so normal for many people. In one area, houses were destroyed by a tornado spawned by the typhoon – a very rare occurrence in Japan. Many others suffered damage from high winds, and from the heavy rains and storm surge.

Typhoon Hagibis will go down in the history books as a record-setting storm, and one that had an impact on thousands of lives. It’s being compared to one in 1958, when more than 1,000 people died. Today’s modern construction, better weather monitoring, and emergency preparedness thankfully prevent that awful outcome.

During our time in Japan, we’ve learned that the Japanese people are quite resilient, and capable of overcoming disasters with an amazing sense of determination. I know we’ll see the same response as people pick up the pieces and rebuild following the historic impact of Typhoon Hagibis.

Ka ni sa ra “DA”… Sushi for dinner

We went to our favorite “neighborhood” sushi restaurant tonight. I like saying that actually, because it makes me feel like I belong here. That I have a place here in Japan. This is the restaurant we went to on our very first night living in Japan, almost four years ago.

The really heart-warming thing that happened tonight, was that when we walked in, two people said to us “Long time no see!” They have come to recognize us… to “know” us… as customers anyway. It has been a busy summer, and we just haven’t been to the sushi place much. And… they noticed!

It is a nice little restaurant… nothing fancy or pretentious… and most of the patrons there are Japanese. We rarely see anyone that isn’t Asian in this restaurant, and the menu is entirely in Japanese. They do have an English menu available, but it is limited. If you really want the full menu with all the options, you need to order from the Japanese menu.

It is actually a small place… a “sushi-go-round”… a conveyor belt sushi restaurant with the sushi chefs inside the conveyor belt area. They make plates (color coded by price) and place them on the conveyor. If what you want is not on the conveyor, you ask for what you want. “Sumimasen! Maguro onegaishimasu!” “Sumimasen! Tobiko onegaishimasu!” And… they will bring your plate to you.

It is a warm and friendly place… although with our elementary Japanese skills, it can sometimes also be a humbling experience. We have discovered some favorite items from their menu, but sometimes it is hard to order those items. We can read the katakana and hiragana characters on the menu, but much of the menu also has kanji characters as well. We can read some of those, but not nearly enough! So… sometimes ordering what we want can be an an adventure.

Tonight, for example, we wanted some ika with shiso (squid on rice, with a shiso leaf). So, I boldly asked: “Sumimasen, To-Ika, onegaishimasu,” expecting the usual “hai, so desu” (yes, ok). But I was greeted with a blank look. Ika? and what? After some consultation with the wait person, we found out that what we really meant to order was “Ko-Ika.” With that clarification, we soon had our squid roll with a shiso leaf…but the lessons weren’t over yet.

Another of our favorites is a crab salad roll. “Ka ni sa ra d(a),” (sort of dropping the “a”) I asked with my simplistic Japanese. Again, a blank look from the sushi chef. Again, after some discussion, I was instructed that I should have said “Ka ni sa ra DA” with some emphasis on the last syllable. And, just to emphasize the point, the sushi chef delivered the dish…Ka ni sa ra DA!

I think if nothing else, we provide some amusement for the staff and the other patrons. The couples sitting next to us got a good laugh… but it was good-natured, and I’m sure they were laughing WITH us, not AT us (lol).

We’ve learned a lot living in Japan. Our first trip to this restaurant, and we could barely get by using the English menu. Now, we can communicate in Japanese (albeit at a flawed, pre-school level). For us, it’s a leap forward…and another rewarding cultural experience in our adopted country.