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weill in japan: day 32

Today was the busiest travel day of my three-day weekend, with a stop in Asakusa followed immediately by a trip to a fireworks festival.

the ancient art of tourism

Our first stop was the historic district of Asakusa, with a boat ride up the Sumida River to show us the many bridges and buildings in the area. This is the same river where I saw fireworks last Saturday, but I didn't see much of it during the daylight hours on that day.

One downside of declining camera prices: everyone brought a camera with them on the boat ride, and there were at least four times when one or two poor saps took a group photo with ten cameras. Since most of them were digital cameras, we could have saved a lot of time by using one camera and sending the file around.

Upon arrival in central Asakusa, we headed for the area around the Senso Temple. Due to the large numbers of foreign tourists who visit the historic grounds, an enormous marketplace has sprung up selling clothing, traditional-looking Japanese gifts, and food. Although the number of vendors is pretty impressive, the prices are not. I saw a World Cup t-shirt selling for ¥2900 ($24.20), despite the fact that I bought a sweater for about one-third as much just two days earlier. Toys and games were equally marked-up: a Pikachu plush toy which looks exactly like the one I have at home was selling for ¥7410 ($61.75), triple the U.S. price. Nevertheless, I bought a few gifts, inching closer to finishing my gift shopping.

Sighting: Japanese baseball stuff. After 4 1/2 weeks, I finally found shops selling caps and gifts (but not t-shirts or jerseys) related to Japanese baseball. Apparently only tourists like that stuff, since all the other baseball merchandise I've seen for sale in Japan centers around American Major League Baseball.

Milestone: I have eaten okonomiyaki, sometimes called "Japanese pizza." After an hour in the shopping plaza, the group reconvened at the temple gates and went to a small okonomiyaki place. The food is delicious and inexpensive, but more labor-intensive than just about any other kind of restaurant I've visited here. Patrons order various okonomiyaki, and are given bowls containing all the ingredients. While nearly all of the mixtures include egg, the "pizza" label is misleading: very few contain cheese. After mixing the ingredients thoroughly, the patron pours the ingredients onto a grill on the middle of the table, flipping and seasoning it appropriately. The result is delicious, although the only thing it shares with a pizza is the round shape. Our table of six people cooked four okonomiyaki, and that was more than enough food for me. Total cost per person: ¥370 ($3.10), including all the cold water and tea that you can drink.

After a little Dance Dance Revolution and Taiko no Tatsujin 3 (where I set another high score on "Susume! Dorira!") it was off to my second destination of the day.

another saturday, another matsuri

I was to meet a friend of my older brother's today for a trip to the Todakoen Festival. After leaving enough time for transportation, I made a snap decision that turned out to be horribly wrong. Instead of taking the Chuo rapid line from Kanda to Shinjuku, I took the Yamanote loop at its most distant point. That meant that instead of traveling three stops, I passed through fifteen. Instead of a five-minute travel ride, I was on for 25 minutes. Fortunately, a friend of mine had a mobile phone, so I was able to call ahead and warn that I'd be late. Lesson learned: always check the shortest route.

After getting all excited about spending a Saturday night with a Japanese gal, I met Shell at the station. She was with a group that totaled 11 people in size, including the two of us. Whatever you'd call it, don't call it a first date. The group was largely Korean, and consisted of people whose Japanese was substantially better than mine but not quite fluent. I spoke to a ton of people, shared many experiences, and took in the night's fireworks.

Unlike last week's excursion, I traveled with at least a couple of people who understand the whole matsuri routine. After finding a spot, we laid out sheets and newspaper to minimize the amount of dirt we'd get on our clothes. The seats, which we claimed about 2 1/2 hours prior to sunset, were close to the pedestrian walkway but still allowed for an outstanding view of the fireworks. I took a ton of pictures, including several that included members of the group. I felt kind of guilty: food and beer was provided by other group members, but I didn't pay anything for it.

As I noted last week, prices at festivals tend to be exploitatively high. Today's high price: one of the people in our group bought a six-pack of beer from a street vendor. Total cost for six 12-ounce (350 ml) cans: ¥3000. That's about $25.00, and more than four times the normal price for a six-pack in Japan.

After battling my way through the crowds for an hour, the group decided to go its separate ways. A few folks went out for drinking and karaoke, but I dragged my exhausted body back through the rail system to head home. It was a great day.

Milestone: This was the first day when I completely exhausted 96MB of memory for my camera. Even after dropping the resolution down to 1280x960, I filled up both of my cards. In total, I took some 128 pictures, and about 100 of them were added to my library of more than 400 pictures tipping the scales at 303 MB. My pictures overall are approaching the limits of a standard CD-R disc, when you also include the hundreds of photos I took before this trip.

It was a tiring day, but the weekend's not over yet: tomorrow brings me downtown to see the Godzilla statue in Tokyo. I'll have to do my homework at some point before Monday at 8:30 AM, too.