I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Ginza while vacationing in Japan. I had heard that it was an upscale shopping district, and I’m far from an upscale shopper. It was my inner geek that won me over, as Ginza is where you’ll find one of the two Apple stores in Tokyo. A little more research proved that Ginza held more than I’d originally expected, and I made arrangements to meet my friends outside the subway station on Sunday morning.
Although jet lag coming from Hawaii isn’t nearly as severe as what you might experience coming from the mainland United States, I still found myself waking around 6am, and even after grabbing breakfast from my favorite 99 Yen store I arrived in Ginza a good hour earlier than we were scheduled to meet. The streets were surprisingly crowded for so early in the morning, especially since most stores weren’t even open yet, and it soon occurred to me why; the Tokyo Marathon. I’d noticed an advertisement that morning on the train ride over, but had completely blanked on the date (I’ve always found it very difficult to keep track of days while on vacation), and it was only the giant yellow banners proclaiming “Tokyo Marathon” that pointed me in the right direction (figuratively, as I found myself in the midst of the festivities as soon as I’d stepped out of the train station). The street was blocked off with barriers and lined with pedestrians waving signs and inflatable bats. There weren’t any runners in sight, but you could feel the anticipation.
A Japanese man approached me suddenly and handed me a cherry blossom branch wrapped in cellophane. I was speechless (much as I’d been the first half of my trip) and before I knew it he was moving on to hand a flower to the next person in line. I know it was just something handed out to all spectators, but to me it was special, and I wish I could have kept it (unfortunately Hawaii has very strict laws about the importation of any agriculture– but I’ll get into that later).
My friends joined me not long after, collected flowers of their own, and after snapping some photos of the first line of runners, we set off for our initial destination. Kabuki-za is one of the premiere theaters for Kabuki drama shows, although the building we visited is set to be demolished and rebuilt sometime in 2010. We joined the line to purchase Makumi, or single act tickets, which cost us around $10 (as compared to upwards of $100 for a full five-hour show). We followed the other Makumi ticket holders to a tiny upper floor balcony that was, by that point, standing room only. $8 got us rental of a small radio with a single earphone which broadcast an English narration during the show. I found the narration a bit distracting, as I feel like I spent more time listening to the narration than watching the show, but at the same time I feel I would have been completely lost without it. That being said, even with the earphone I found the show a bit overwhelming, and was usually puzzled when the crowd would burst into sudden applause or cheering. Kabuki is an artform cherished by the Japanese, but it contains many subtleties and cultural references that go right over the average tourist’s head. With my already aching feet protesting from the constant standing, I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I’d hoped for, but I would love to take a few years of Japanese language/culture courses and give it another go– and maybe from actual seats.
After the show my friends insisted on running across the street to get photos of the theater exterior (an act made more complex by the fact that the street was still closed by the marathon, and so my friends had to wind their way through the subway to emerge on the other side). By then our stomachs were growling, but we made a side stop at my insistence. The Ginza Apple Store isn’t the biggest Apple Store, or really remarkable in any particular way, but as a Mac Geek I couldn’t pass by an opportunity to say I’d visited one in Japan. Plus it was a perfect opportunity to check my email and give a shout out to my friends on Twitter. Geek hunger sated, we headed off in search of real food. Destination: Sweets Paradise.