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Tōkyō My Way

A couple of weeks ago in this space I discussed how friends of mine had visited Tōkyō on package tours and got what I consider an inferior experience of the city. I suppose that such tours are good for many people who just want to relax on a trip to foreign countries and see as much as they can in a place where they do not speak the language, are unfamiliar with the customs and want to be guided by people who know what they are doing. However, that is not what I do. Tōkyō is one of the great cities of the world and deserves a knowledgeable approach. Here I would like to explain my own first visit to Tōkyō.

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I should also say that next month I will be reviewing a book, Tokyo for Free, which explains all of the great attractions to be found in the city and which cost nothing. This is the kind of book that everyone who wants to get the most out of a trip to Japan should read.

I went to Japan in 1984 to pay my respects after my father-in-law died. He lived in Hokkaidō so after I landed at Narita I immediately boarded a domestic flight headed there. I spent two weeks attending various events and also being taken around to see the sights. Then I flew back to Tōkyō, landing at Haneda Airport. These days one can take direct flights from the U.S. to Haneda, but at that time the airport was closed to international flights.

When I landed, I took the train into the city. The first stop was Tōkyō Station, a bustling place right in the middle of downtown Tōkyō. I stored my bag in a coin locker and then went directly to Ichigaya where the Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association) is located. I wanted to see the facility before anything else.

By the way, in case the reader is wondering how I knew how to get around so easily in Tōkyō, I should mention that a week before I left Los Angeles for Japan I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore in Little Tokyo and bought a Japanese guidebook to Tōkyō. Then I memorized it. Everything. All of the train and subway routes, accommodations and sights to see, places to eat, and a great deal more.

One thing that the guidebook did not mention was that in Tōkyō Station there is a small booth that will make reservations for you in hotels throughout the city. In those days they charged 10% of the hotel rate and you were given a 10% discount at the hotel. That was great. But now that 10% fee is deducted off the top with no reimbursement. And the hotel also collects a room tax. But the Tōkyō Station travel booth is still a great service today. I wanted to see as much of Tōkyō as I could in the two weeks that I was there, so I changed hotels every day. I would check out in the morning and store my baggage in a coin locker in Tōkyō Station. A little inconvenient, but I was eager to see as much as possible. And all of those hotels certainly gave me nice memories.

In fact, I even stayed at a flophouse in San’ya one night. That is skid row in Tōkyō. In those days, Tōkyō was prosperous and you only met day laborers and the like in those places. Sorry to say, these days there are often young couples down on their luck to be seen there. It is sad.

But to get back to the story, I met Richard Bozulich and John Power on that first day, and had dinner with them. It was not late when we parted, but when I went back to the Nihon Ki-in only the night watchman was there. In the old days, the Nihon Ki-in had hotel rooms right there on the premises that could be rented for the night. But that service had been shut down by the time I visited. I asked the night watchmen if he would recommend anywhere to stay. He said that the hotel down the block probably had a room. “I have sent Korean go players there when they have come to the Ki-in, so they will probably take you.” The watchman said this with a straight face, so I assumed that he was saying it to be reassuring. I was just ready to collapse, so I ignored his comment and went to check in. I still had to collect by bag from the coin locker, so I just wanted to get it fast and settle in for a good night’s rest.

Over the next days I went everywhere in Tōkyō. Akihabara, the center for electronic goods, Ueno, the college town where Tōkyō University is located (and it has a great cafeteria with the best deal for meals in Tōkyō), Shinjuku with its hyper-active entertainment attractions, Kanda for the bookstores, and Asakusa, perhaps my favorite place in Tōkyō, where one finds Sensoji/Asakusa Kannon Temple and the sumo arena. I spent the morning at the temple, where one can just sit quietly, and managed to buy a ticket for the day’s sumo bouts. I also went to Ikebukuro. At that time, there was an office building called the Sunshine Building which had what was purported to be the best observation deck in Tōkyō. Apparently one could even see Mount Fuji on clear days. But it was hazy when I went there so I did not see anything. Later I went to Zoshigaya Cemetery. I suppose that might seem like a strange place to visit on a sight-seeing trip, but Natsume Sōseki’s grave is there. He is considered the greatest of Japanese novelists. (And his portrait is on the thousand yen note, equivalent to a U.S. ten dollar bill.) There are also other famous people honored there. Perhaps this is a solemn note upon which to end this essay, but I consider my visit to Zoshigaya as a big part of that first time in Tōkyō.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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