I got away early from the Hostel and wandered around Kuramae and Asakusabashi for a while. I found a Cafe Veloce. Unfortunately not like the super cafe next to Kyoto JR Station, this one was a pale imitation. No latte!
|Volunteer Fire Corps station|
Of more importance and interest though was finding one of the numerous Volunteer Fire Corps ‘garages’ in Asakusa, just up from the hostel. The whole volunteer fire corps thing is amazing to me, and I harbour the notion of one day training with them! Fire brigades in Japan are some 400 years old, and originated when castles had there own fire teams to protect the rulers as well as the buildings.
In the context that the conurbation of Tokyo has 23 million people, the Tokyo Fire Department is a massive organisation with 81 Fire Stations (and 205 fire branches of that station) literally every few kilometres. The fire corps structure sits under the fire branch, is made up of volunteers, with the equipment usually being a hand-pulled pump. I kid you not! It is somewhat counter-intuitive. How can it be?
But think for a moment about the context. High density, adjoining buildings. Lots of wooden or light construction buildings. Congestion. Regular earthquakes. When you look up at a thirty storey building, it is easy to miss the little Fire Corps shed tucked away in the laneway. Volunteer Fire Corps in Tokyo exist primarily as the first responders in their immediate local area in disasters. The Corps are organised and disciplined. The minimal equipment is mobile.
Going in to the Toei Kuramae Station, and having to buy a ticket, it was only a few seconds of me staring at the instructions before the Station person came up to me to help. The smiling and earnest support he wanted to provide bought a smile to my face as well. Another great service interaction, but it is just more than that. I believe it is genuine interest in my welfare both as a customer and as a visitor. Don’t expect this service in Sydney!
|Shinagawa ~ where’s the traffic?|
The Toei Line trip finished at Shinagawa and with 30 minutes to spare I took a walk around. Shinagawa is a working centre, made up mostly of high rise offices and government buildings. Of course on a Sunday morning I would not expect it to be buzzing, but it was literally deserted, with only a few ‘company men’ with briefcase in hand going off to the offices.
|A baseball family|
In a little park I did see a family of four practicing baseball, and what a peaceful and beautiful sight it was. Mother and son, father and son, amongst the concrete and glass.
The river side was quite nice and it too, peaceful. A great pathway lead around the river for some 3 kilometres. In quiet contemplation I could only imagine the teeming hordes of humanity that will occupy these spaces this time tomorrow.
|Nozomi 221 – Kyoto here we come!|
In to Shinagawa Shinkansen station. Did I mention that I love trains? Since I did not have a Japan Rail Pass (which prohibits travelling on Nozomi bullet trains) I splashed out and had bought a ticket on a Nozomi Shinkansen to Kyoto. Stopping only at Shin-Yokohama, then Nagoya, then Kyoto. 560 kilometres in 2 hours 15 minutes! Yes, that makes it about 260 kph.
(Sunday 13th March, 2011)