Michael Taylor was flown to Tokyo, Japan, by United Airlines. This is the seventh in a series of travelogues based on his trip to the Japanese capital.
After exploring the Hama Rikyu Gardens, I boarded a Water Bus bound for Tokyo's Asakusa district on the Tokyo Mizube Line, or Tokyo Waterway Line. The Water Bus Pier was located within the Hama Rikyu Gardens.
The voyage took about 45 minutes and cost 720 yen, taking me under several bridges. There are only nine sailings per day, with two additional voyages on Saturdays and Sundays. There are a handful of other waterway lines in Tokyo linking tourist attractions situated along the banks of the Sumida Gama River and Tokyo Bay.
When I arrived at Hinode Pier in Asakusa, one of Tokyo's most picturesque neighborhoods, I noticed a gaggle of rickshaw pullers hustling their services.
I was both surprised and fascinated to see rickshaws in the middle of Tokyo as rickshaws had disappeared from the landscape in Hong Kong, where I live, about 30 years ago. They were pulled exclusively by wizened old men that appeared to live in abject poverty.
By the time I arrived on the scene, rickshaws had become a politically incorrect mode of transportation in Hong Kong.
The only way that the dwindling number of rickshaw pullers could earn a living in their final years was by charging tourists for taking their photograph. Any tourists that actually climbed in one for a ride were usually given disapproving looks by passers-by.
Made in Japan
I quickly gathered that there were no such negative connotations associated with rickshaws in Japan. Both the rickshaw pullers – all of whom were both young and fit – and their passengers appeared to be having a jolly good time.
Perhaps it is because the rickshaw was invented in Japan that they don't carry the negative connotations that they do in China and Hong Kong, where they were introduced by British colonialists and came to be associated with colonial exploitation.
I couldn't resist the temptation so I approached a puller and asked the cost. He showed me a rate sheet. A 10 minute ride was 2,000 yen for one person and 3,000 yen for two persons.
I decided on a 20 minute ride, having no idea what the exchange rate was. As it turns out, I paid US$50 for that 20 minute ride, but it was money well spent.
My 15 Seconds of Fame
Any residual suspicions that I might be doing something culturally insensitive were quickly to put rest. Within seconds of our departure, a Japanese film crew came into view, and when they saw me in the rickshaw, they all broke into big grins, and their cameras started rolling.
The rickshaw puller took me past temples and along some narrow alleys, where he pointed out shops in which I could buy souvenirs – but there was no pressure for me to get out and buy anything. The idea was that if I found something of interest, I could return later.
I was surprised at how many people smiled and waved at me as I passed. When we entered a park, an elderly Japanese man gave me the thumb's up and took my picture. When I indicated that I wanted to take his picture, too, he smiled at me enthusiastically.
If I have any regrets, it is only that I didn't return to the shop that sold the kind of shoes that my rickshaw puller was wearing. They were made of heavy black fabric with tan soles. They fit snugly around the big toe, with the other four toes bunched together. Very, very, very, very cool!
Why on earth didn't I head back to that little shop and buy myself a pair?
To Be Continued
For More on My Adventure in Tokyo, Japan