15 August A Japanese slow train on the American Express, but fun later on.
So we started the day by trying to cash some travellers cheques. The Japanese banking system, at least for personal transactions, is utterly abysmal. It seems to work on 19th Century principles. It has obviously served the nation well insofar as it has fuelled the construction-led economy for a long time, and the cosy relationships with industrial conglomerates have produced some fine, if now unstable, wealth engines. But for the man or woman in the street, it is primitive.
Trying to cash some travellers cheques was a nightmare. The bank we chose (not named here out of pity for its shareholders) displayed an American Express sign in its window. Entering the bank, we were greeted by well, the greeter, for want of a better title. This helpful gent looked at my documents for a minute or two, and then exclaimed American Express! in an awed voice. He had obviously deciphered the words emblazoned across the top of the cheques. (Im not knocking him: I couldnt begin to read Japanese script, so he is definitely one up on me.) He then indicated that we should go upstairs (all Japanese foreign exchange transactions take place above street level). We ascended the stairs and were greeted by well, the upstairs greeter. This greeter was in fact a young woman who, judging by the depth of her bow, was extremely honoured to be favoured with the custom we represented.
She, too, looked at my cheques and exclaimed American Express!. However, her tone was less awed than puzzled. She took my proffered cheques to a bank clerk, and conferred for a couple of minutes. The clerk took them to the senior clerk, and they conferred for a couple of minutes. The senior clerk took them to the chief clerk, and they conferred for a couple of minutes. The senior clerk went back to the clerk, and they conferred for a couple of minutes. The clerk took them back to the greeter and they conferred for a couple of minutes. The greeter came back to me. I am very much sorry, she said, These are sterling travellers cheques, not dollar travellers cheques. Our foreign currency systems cannot deal with sterling, only dollars. Try the Citibank in central Tokyo.
As we intended travelling in the opposite direction to Central Tokyo, Stephen saved the day by drawing a chunk of cash from his own bank account. MORAL: take dollar travellers cheques (and incidentally, Visa credit cards rather than MasterCard) if you want to use them in Japan.
So we left the bank with a degree of frustration, being humbly bowed to by the honourable lady upstairs greeter and the honourable gentleman downstairs greeter. We hopped on a train to Kasai Rinken Koen the Kasai amusement park. There is a huge Ferris Wheel there, but we decided to wend our way to the beach. Kasai is in Tokyo Bay, and from the beach we could see large concrete structures some distance from land. Stephen said they were part of the Tokyo Bay tunnel. We could also see a procession of cargo vessels sailing in and out of the busy commercial port. Considering this was a Wednesday, there were lots of people who had come out for a day at the seaside. The sand was grey rather than, er, sandy. I guess it was volcanic in origin. After stooging on the sand for an hour or two, paddling in the Pacific, and quaffing a Coke, we bowled along the beach and bought tickets for a cruise boat to take us south along the coast to Odaiba.
The passenger ferry boat zipped along at quite a pace, and we were refreshed by the wind in our faces. After one stop, we arrived at Odaiba and disembarked. A short walk from the terminal took us to the Toyota showroom, which was rather different from any other car showroom I have ever seen. Toyota displayed their current, past and future models, and you could sit in them, with no salesman in sight. At one location, there was a system where you could press a button to select one of fourteen (I think) cars. This activated an ingenious elevator system which raised and lowered one of three columns of cars, shifted the selected car to the centre column and then shoved it forward before your very eyes. It was an amazing bit of engineering.
It was possible to take a ride in little cars on a magnetically-steered track and visit all parts of the complex, but we elected instead to take a Megaworld ride. We queued for about thirty minutes and then sat in a four-seater vehicle. This drove off on a roller-coaster track and after a bit of gentle up-and-downing came to a halt. A screen in the car offered us a choice of rides: under the earth, under the sea, or in the air. We opted for the aerial trip. We were instructed to put on the polarised 3-D goggles provided for us and then we were off, with a huge video screen filling our vision. The roller-coaster did its usual stuff, but combined with the 3-D effect we could see, provided us with a sensation of flying. The ride came to an end rather too soon.
Leaving the Toyota complex, we strolled across to the Venus Fort Theme Park for Ladies shopping mall. This was quite amazing. The corridors and shop/restaurant fascias gave the impression of fashionable streets in Italy. On the roof of the streets down which we passed was a blue sky, with projected, moving white clouds, giving the impression of a warm sunny day. At the end of one of these streets was an Italianate piazza, and we arrived just at the end of a laser show, projected on the roof of the piazza.
By now it was early evening, and we left the international designer shops of Venus Fort and strolled a little further on until we came to the Deckss shopping complex. This gives the impression of a luxury ship (hence Deckss, I guess). We passed through the retail sectors and came to the Veranda Buffet. There we had an excellent as much as you can eat type meal, seated at tables overlooking part of Tokyo bay, with the modern road bridge spanning it. We could see little restaurant boats sailing round, and as night took hold, their cheerful overall lights made a happy sight.
Leaving Deckss, we entered Segas Joypolis indoor amusement park, where we amused ourselves indoors for a while. Val and Stephen took a virtual parachute jump, but I had eaten a good meal back at Deckss and did not wish to see it again. I did go on a car racing game, racing against Stephen in real cars wired up to a video game. Needless to say, I crashed repeatedly and was defeated by Stephen. Im just not used to automatic gears!
We walked down to the beach in front of Joypolis and Deckss and listened to the fish jumping, making cheery splashes in the evening darkness. Tokyo Bay bridge was lit up and we could see the cars driving across. Occasionally, we could see the fish leaping from the water, their silver scales reflecting the moonlight for a fleeting second before the splash. I told a friend about this on my return to the UK. His only remark was Mullets. At least, I think thats what he said.
There was a small bar on the beach, so we ordered drinks. I had a couple of Zipang cocktails, made with Schochu (a sort of half-strength Japanese vodka) and grapefruit juice. I quite enjoyed them.
We bought tickets for what I assumed was the train to Shimbashi station in central Tokyo. We boarded and sat in the seats behind the driver. It was only when we were under way that I realised that there was in fact, no driver on board. We seemed to be travelling at breakneck speed, and I felt that the absence of a driver was, to say the least, inconvenient. Feeling that attention ought to be shown to the matter, I remarked on the fact in my best stiff-upper-lip, lets-not-panic, steady-the-Buffs voice. Stephen had been playing a little joke on me. This was the monorail, and was automatically controlled, presumably by computer. Suitably relieved, I enjoyed the rest of the journey. Among other things, we could see the worlds biggest Ferris wheel, with multi-coloured lights making gaudy patterns along its ribs and around its diameter. We connected with the last subway train for Myoden, and once home, slept the sleep of the just.
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