26.03.2010 - 28.03.2010 10 °C
From the wet season in tropical Queensland to springtime in Tokyo - quite a contrast. The first day in Tokyo was warm and sunny, but today was cold, with a biting wind. Still, spring has arrived and the cherry blossoms are out in the parks - if not yet in full bloom (should have been here next week as usual).
Like Chicago earlier in the trip, Tokyo is a really pleasant surprise. The city has green lungs in the form of many parks - we've visited three of them in two days - the Ueno Park, near our hotel, Shinjuku Park, and the Meiji shrine park. Ueno and Shinjuku have marvellous cherry blossoms, while Meiji has a huge Shinto shrine for the late emperor Meiji - the emperor who Westernised Japan in the late 19th century. In Ueno we visited the Japanese Museum - modelled on the British museum. There was a special exhibit on the spread of Buddhism from China through Korea and to Japan.
At the entrance to the Meiji Park is a meeting place for kids dressed as Goths to pose for the tourist photos.
The best way I can describe Tokyo is like combining the best of Mumbai and Switzerland. It is, like Mumbai, a total assault on the senses, but, like Switzerland it is also very clean, ordered and user friendly. In fact, despite the language difference, it is very easy to get around on the train system. Yes, the trains do run on time, and everything works as it is supposed to (including the ubiquitous vending machines). You dont find a spot of litter anywhere. You might think this indicates an over-conformist society - but it also confers some enviable freedoms in everyday life. EG - we've seen thousands of bikes parked in the streets - almost none of them locked! Children seem to have more freedom to play in the parks, etc. People are mostly incredibly polite and helpful. The big thoroughfares can seem like concrete jungles, but the back streets are drawn on a more human scale - with a visual surprise around every corner. Just a first impression of course - but a very good one.
Another day in Tokyo tomorrow, and then the bullet train to Kyoto.