Thursday, November 25, 2010

Impressions of Tokyo

Traditional hand washing at Buddhist temple

Count me as a fan of Tokyo. If one were to combine five Manhattan islands, connect them with the eight most efficient rail lines known and convert most--but not all--residents to Zen Buddhism, you'd have Tokyo. It's Amsterdam with rules.

Gingko tree in autumn splendor near Imperial Palace

One cannot begin to describe Japan's capital city without mentioning its toilets. Anywhere else a humdrum topic, but honestly, nowhere else approaches the creature comforts one finds in the WC's of Tokyo. Start with heated toilet seats and a console that allows one to choose the type of warm water that gently bathes one's derriere and for how long, it is typical of Japanese efficiency and comfort. And, if ever deciding to lift off of said basin and opt for a shower, one would find, upon stepping from the steamy stall, that the mirror is foggy save for a rectangular section of clear glass right above the sink. Why this has not been adopted in western hotels is beyond me.

Toilet console in hotel room

Venturing into the streets, it is difficult to find a scrap of litter in this metropolis of 12 million, yet in a discrepant turn, it is equally difficult to find a trash bin. Where, one might reasonably ask, do the residents stow their waste paper? It remains a mystery to me. Despite the order and cleanliness of Japanese society, one unhealthy aspect has not yet been resolved: Smoking. Cigarette machines are found all over the city, and restaurants have not banned the addiction from their premises; it remains an illogical yet critical part of Japanese life.

The rail system in Tokyo reduces the traffic flow to such an extent, that the air is surprisingly clean, and I never once witnessed a backup of vehicles. Bicycles prevail, pedestrians move through the city by the thousands, and institutions find ways to use renewable forms of energy.

Solar panels and wind turbines on buildings of urban university

Japanese fashion remains an enigma. Combination of clothing that would seem outrageous or silly anywhere else seems to work in Tokyo. If I could have the rights to one economic sector it would not be Japanese cars or Apple computers, it would be ladies boots in Tokyo. It is difficult to find an adult female who does not sport one type of boot or another: knee-high leather boots and fur-trimmed calf length boots dominate ladies' footwear, even though they may be causing excruciating discomfort on the cobbles or steps of the subway.

Although a modern city, there remain pockets of tradition that balance life in Tokyo. Palaces and temples in spacious green parks dot the landscape, providing respite from the high energy of the city. Occasionally one finds a corner of old Europe among the skyscrapers where artists go to capture the serenity of an 18th century garden.

Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple

Artist in Marunouchi Brick Square

Names of donors at Zojoji Temple, Shiodome

It was a short first visit, but enough to lure me back. In this globetrotter's opinion, Tokyo is one of the world's great cities.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prostitution in Thailand

Many readers are well aware of Thailand's reputation for prostitution. Few are aware, however, of the complexities of the problem. I came across a very good commentary by a young American woman who now lives in Thailand, and who has made some astute observations. You can read her blog at the following address: Those interested in all things Thai may find that following her blog will give insight into the experiences of a newly arrived "farang."