Continuing on from our fishy expedition we spent the day with some colleagues, both Japanese and foreign. During the day we gleaned a range of interesting facts about the Japanese culture, augmenting our existing observations:
- Japan is a very safe country to travel. It pays to watch your pockets in Tokyo but that's about it.
- In Tokyo you stand on the escalators on the left, Osaka you stand on the right.
- Locals can tell the difference between people from Tokyo and Osaka.
- The Japanese government has many mechanisms to control the value of the yen.
- The Japanese have lots of respect for technical people but don't care much for sales people.
- It's accepted to talk boastfully about your own business.
- 30,000 Japanese commit suicide each year by jumping in front of trains.
After work we went back to the hotel, collected our bags and headed off for our hotel near the Makuhari Messe Convention Centre. This meant taking the JR rail train up to Tokyo's famous central station and changing to a different line at a daunting 6pm.
The Tokyo rail network looks like a ball of spaghetti. The photo above is of the rail network for greater Tokyo but it shows just the JR East Rail company lines. There are similarly crazy maps in the stations of the rail networks for the other rail companies in Tokyo. It's no wonder that they created a service for their mobile phones to tell you which lines and trains to get you from one place in Tokyo to another. When you layer the multiple companies maps on top of each other, combined with the different levels of trains, it has the potential for chaos. Fortunately the maps and signs are generally very good and go a long way to making things clear.
Whilst Tokyo central station was certainly busy it was far from utter chaos. Apparently the Shinjuku station, just to the north of Tokyo station, is the busiest in the world. We made it through the main station, negotiated the 10 minute walk underground to the connecting Keiyo line and boarded our train heading south east. Our train journey took about 1 1/2 hours, hastened by the presence of a chatty, slightly drunk, young Japanese guy. For an hour and a half we were his best friends.
Apparently the busiest time at Tokyo station is around 8pm or so, as all the regular businessmen go home from work later than in the west. Are they just being industrious? According to a couple of locals the Japan the women tend to have such tight control over finances that it's difficult to find time & money to hang out with your mates. As such, the men stay behind at work and have a drink, free from the control of their domineering wives. It's so widespread that allowances for this sort of thing are factored into company budgets.
Arriving in Makuhari it felt like a town waiting for all the people to come. Everything was neat, new, orderly and planned, but it was also eerily quiet after the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo. It reminded me of the Truman Show.
For dinner we ate at a restaurant where a gas cooker was located in the centre of the table and the food comes out raw. After deliberating over the completely Japanese menu for an eternity we eventually ordered a range of different things and had a thoroughly scrumptious meal. There's nothing quite like food going from cooker to mouth in mere seconds!