I took my third trip to Tokyo over the weekend. This was the first of these
trips that was purely for pleasure. I went on this voyage with Jon Collings
and Mr. Wocher, who was there for only part of the day.
The first order of business was to go to Akihabara, the electric town within
Tokyo. This area is paradise for anyone who loves computers, stereos, and
other home electronics devices. I set out with only one purchase in mind, a
memory upgrade for my digital camera. I wanted to expand the memory of my
camera from 4 MB with a 16 MB card. I eventually found the card and
successfully upgraded my camera. I can now take 60 pictures on the highest
resolution mode. I took full advantage of this during the day, taking
pictures of many different places. I hope that these pictures give people
who aren't able to visit Japan a better idea of what it's like.
We were in Akihabara for around two hours before deciding to move on to the
next area of Tokyo we wanted to visit, Asakusa (pronounced, Uh-socks-uh).
When we stepped off the train in Asakusa, we ran into Jessica Howell,
another Iowa Citian, in Tokyo. The odds of running into someone you know in
Tokyo, a city with 12 million residents, is so minute it nears
impossibility. She was on a shopping trip in the area and decided to
accompany us for lunch and a tour of the area.
I read an article on CNN's web page about Tokyo area restaurants, focusing
on local favorites. From my experience, these less trendy places serve
better food at a reasonable price. This is an important consideration in
Tokyo, where you can spend hundreds of dollars per person on a meal. From
the CNN page, I selected an inexpensive restaurant (less than 2000 yen, or
$20 per person) that served giant tempura. Tempura, breaded meat or
vegetables, is not particularly exotic, but is a Japanese favorite. One of
my favorite people here, Dr. Kokubo, reinforces his love of tempura with
Since the restaurant CNN recommended was known for their giant tempura, I
could not resist. I ordered a bowl of soba noodles and a pair of giant
shrimp tempura on top. Jon ordered the same thing, while Jessica and her
co-worker ordered their tempura with rice. When the food was delivered to
our table, I was not diappointed. The tempura were huge. The shrimp (if
you can call them that) were over six inches long. This restaurant appears
to select only those shrimp that can be classified as monsters of the deep.
Everyone in the group enjoyed the food a great deal. If I had the chance, I
would likely return for more, but time is running out for me here.
After lunch, we went to the temple area of Asakusa to check out the
buildings and do some shopping at the area around the temples. The area is
designed for foreigners and there is a lot of souvenir shopping available.
The shops were great and I was able to purchase a few things for those
people back in the US who have helped me out this summer by picking up my
mail, storing my electronics, and letting me know when bills arrived.
The temple at the end of the shopping area was quite beautiful. There were
throngs of people all around the area. I took some pictures of this area as
well, and they are in my picture gallery.
After the experience at the temple and a renavigation of the shopping area,
Jon and I (Jessica left to go home at this point) took the train to the
world-famous Ginza shopping district. This area houses the Sony Tower, home
to many of the newest technological innovations. They had a robotic dog on
display costing the equivalent of $2500. It wasn't all that impressive, but
I suppose someone in Tokyo that wants a pet would be willing to pay a
premium for a companion that doesn't bark or make "messes" in the house. At
the Sony Tower, Jon and I also got to play a brand-new baseball video game
for the Playstation 2. It featured Japanese teams, of which I knew the
basics from watching games all summer. The graphics were absolutely
beautiful. In the words of my good friend, Tom, it looked "better than real
Aside from the Sony Tower, we saw a series of beautiful buildings throughout
the Ginza area. Many of the buildings had video screens built directly into
the side of the building. It really impressed me to see high-quality video
being broadcast on the side of a building. We just aren't there yet in the
Ginza highlights extreme opulence. For this reason, I classify it as the
defining area of Tokyo. It is architecturally superb, clean, wealthy, and
interesting to the eye. If you are ever in Tokyo, I would highly recommend
a visit to Ginza.
After Ginza, we moved on to Tokyo Station, the center of town and the hub of
our journey. We spent some time walking around the station, enjoying the
scenery. After seeing women wearing kimonos all day and itching to get a
picture of the phenomenon, I talked two girls into posing for a photo. I
was under the impression that kimonos were not frequently worn anymore, but
I was wrong. Summer kimonos were in full force in Tokyo on that day.
Not feeling particularly adventurous, Jon and I dined on McDonalds food for
dinner. As I may have mentioned before, McDonalds in Japan in like
McDonalds in the US, except it is GOOD. I generally don't eat at American
McDonalds restaurants, owing to an ugly incident involving a Shamrock Shake
in 1993. The temptation to eat American food overwhelmed me and I gave in.
I tried a bacon and potato pie, recommended by Jessica Howell, and was
pleased. The pie has the flaky crust used in the warm apple pies served at
American McDonalds restaurants, but replaces the filling with scalloped
potatoes and bacon. Very tasty. The Big Mac I was served also closely
resembled the picture emblazoned on the wall. The rarity of such an event
in the United States closely parallels the presence of laughter at a Carrot
Top performance in a prison. In other words, it doesn't happen too often
(if you aren't familiar with Carrot Top's abysmal work and its
incompatibilities with prisoner demeanors).
Most of our remaining time was spent walking around Tokyo Station, seeing
the shops and learning what I could about the place. A few gems:
-Though plastic food is popularly used to represent the food served at
restaurants, no one has mastered the art of making a convincing plastic
-An arcade in Tokyo Station had a series of porno games in the back. They
weren't walled off. They were just there at the edge of the room. I don't
see that flying in the US.
-It is impossible to deposit money in a US account from a Japanese ATM,
even if it accepts your card. D'oh!
Jon and I met Mr. Wocher at 9:00 for the bus ride back to Kamogawa. Buses
are rather nice in Japan. The two-hour ride cost $24.00. The buses are
clean, air conditioned, and pleasant to ride on. After my 52 hour Greyhound
bus fiasco in 1996, riding from Iowa City to Sandpoint, Idaho, this was a
step in the right direction. Japanese buses also have the added benefit of
allowing passengers to drink beer while riding. This makes the ride much
more enjoyable and further demonstrates the lax Japanese attitude toward
alcohol (free samples in grocery stores and no open container laws). By the
time we arrived in Kamogawa, it was 11:00 PM. The pleasant day in Tokyo had
come to an end, with me gaining yet another sunburn that would never turn
into a tan. Lousy Eastern European genes!
Sunday was spent quite differently from the Saturday in Tokyo. Jon and I
decided to take care of a nagging deficiency of our experience...drinking
three liter beers. I wanted to experience this fully, so I drank mine in
less than two hours. Jon opted out of drinking it at once, instead saving
some of his for subsequent days. After the beer was gone, we went to the
yakitori man (skewered meat) for a bite to eat. The rest of the afternoon
was spent quietly, with time split between rest and working on the images
for my web page.
Back at work, things are coming to conclusion. The big project I have been
trying to get finished is my informed consent paper. Most of the work on
this paper has been done. The paper profiles physician behavior in giving
informed consent and the use of substitute truth disclosure. We had some
problems with sample size, but I think the paper has some interesting
results. The paper helps explain what components of the decision-making
process determine how patients will be informed of a serious diagnosis, like
Along with this project, I am having a lot of fun working out the technical
details of some future computer plans for Kameda. Things are coming
together nicely. I have worked on a draft of several strategic plans for
bringing Kameda into the late 20th century as far as their computer use
goes. (Yes, that date reference was intentional).
As I have implied several times, I am almost done with my time in Japan. I
leave a week from today. The time here has passed very quickly and I have
had a great time. I have enough stories to last a long time. When I get
back, my first objective will be to find some people from the new MHA class
that might be interested in spending their summer in Japan. Whoever comes
here will have a great experience and learn a lot about healthcare, Japan,