Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tokyo Day 2: Yokohama (Quest for the Dragon)

The next day we took a train from Asakusa to Yokohama (near Kamakura) where Shinya had reserved another hostel for us. The hostel was next to Tokyo's Chinatown--the biggest one in Japan. The guy at the hostel (who was really very nice) told us there was a parade in Chinatown that day that only happens once a year, so we decided to delay our trip to Kamakura and check out Chinatown. Since it was Golden Week in Japan (first week of May when there are a couple of national holidays and pretty much everyone takes the week off and goes on a trip--including the people who put money in the ATMs we came to find out!) there were tons and tons of people everywhere. We actually had our first experience that morning of being on a train that is so crowded you can't move and more people just push the crowd back to wedge in. Everybody was very calm and polite about it, though, so it wasn't so bad--but when the crowd wants to get off, you have to get off too, like riding a wave, and if it's not your stop you just have to jump back on the train. Apparently it's like that everyday during rush hour in parts of Tokyo.
Anyway, we made our way through Chinatown envisioning a dancing Chinese dragon type parade with firecrackers and all that, but when we found it, it was a conventional parade with marching cheerleaders, a bobby-soxer-and-rock-n-roll-band float, and even the U.S. Army military band! Interesting, but not quite what we had in mind...
We did see this golden dragon on a building on the way back,
And lots of steaming pork buns (which are Dana's favorite, if I'm not mistaken).
So we went on to Kamakura (which will be in the next post) and came back later that night. Here is the big gate to Chinatown at night.
There were even more people there at night!
Finally, we found a real dragon! This one is coming out of a shop. They go from door to door bringing good-luck. There is a little band of drummers and cymbal crashers making the music the dragon dances to, and even a guy setting off fire-crackers. It was so cool!
When the guys inside the dragon stood on each others shoulders and the dragon suddenly stood up to it's full height and looked down at you, it was actually a little scary, especially when you're wedged into the crowd right up close and you're not expecting it, with all the drums and fire-crackers going--but it was a lot of fun.
As you can sort of see here, they really got pretty crazy with the dragon-dance.
Back at the hostel. We had the neatest little room that was only 3 tatami-mats in size (about 6 by 10 feet). They were brand new mats that smelled really good, like fresh straw. The hostel was a couple of the floors in a building that was otherwise government assistance housing, mainly for the elderly. You wouldn't have guessed it except for the size of the rooms and the dorm-style shared bathroom and kitchen area. It was very clean and nice (it was a new building actually) and the manager was really nice too. He told us that when the economy was so bad the last 10 years, alot of older people had to move to places like this.

This is a shot of the robotic toilet at the hostel. These are really common in Japan, with heated seats and lots of surprise features (especially when you can't read the button labels.) I've even seen them with motion sensors that raise the seat for you when you enter the stall--a little creepy.