Travels in Tokyo, Part 1

by Laura Fawcett

2007 World Championships News and Starting Orders

This picture summed up what we have seen in Japan - happiness! These two women entertained a small crowd with juggling at Hama Rikyu Park.

(3/19/07) - The things you think about when traveling from the Narita Airport to Tokyo after a very long day of flying …

So much of what we know of a foreign place is built on the images we see and hear every day through the media in America. Some of it is true, some of it is stereotypical. But on that long drive, trying to really place myself in Japan, I could only think of one thing.

Godzilla.

O.K. two things. Godzilla and the “War of the Gargantuas.” The latter is the silly Russ Tamblyn (yes, Riff of “West Side Story”) Japanese monster movie from the 1970s that was the seeds of all my nightmares as a child.

The former, well, I couldn't stop thinking of the running gag on the syndicated morning “Bob and Tom” talk show. The gag is essentially that every time someone says “Godzilla,” Japanese people scream in terror.

Thinking of that made me think “Godzilla, Godzilla, God-zil-la” over and over, which led naturally, for a child of the 80s, to “… and God-zuuuuu-ki” in a sing-song voice. C'mon, I'm not the only one who watched that great cartoon show on Saturday mornings.

O.K., I'm in Tokyo. So is most of the team now, excluding the ladies, who arrive either today (that means Monday) or tomorrow (that's Tuesday).

The flight, for being around nine hours, was fairly uneventful. I traveled with Director of Media Relations Lindsay DeWall, of course, and also on our flight were team physical therapist Melinda Couch, Ryan Bradley, and his coach Tom Zakrajsek.

Once we arrived, made it through immigration without being deported (an irrational fear of mine), the five of us waited, and waited, and waited … Transportation was there, but we arrived early and had to wait for another plane to arrive, which included Canadian Emanuel Sandhu and his coach, Joanne McLeod.

Ryan no sooner got off the plane then he was desperately trying to learn how to make a call home. The reason? Well, seemed like he needed some college basketball scores. Duke's loss didn't bode well for his bracket. Note: I did pick VCU over Duke, but my bracket is still a mess.

The conversation shifted to the third season of “Lost,” which Ryan had brought with him to watch. Since I stopped watching after season one, Lindsay was happy to have someone to talk to about the series, but she kept almost slipping up and giving away things Ryan didn't know. Hearing them talk, I'm kind of glad I gave up. It might have driven me crazy.

Once we got on the bus (which included India's Ami Parekh and her coach), the rest of the day was a blur. We were hustled directly into accreditation upon arrival at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, and then our keys and baggage were already waiting for us.

Those of you who read my Torino blog will hopefully be happy to know that this room is much better. The view is mostly of a rooftop, but it beats the junkyard. After two days, though, I'm still trying to figure out the thermostat and lighting systems. The toilet seats are heated, and the beds are like rocks, but at least CNN in English is available for company.

More toilet talk: It's not America, so of course the toilet includes a bidet option. But there is a also a button on the toilet that says “shower.” Hopefully that is something lost in translation. Neither Lindsay nor I have had the guts to just push the button and see what happens.

Random stuff from the first 24 hours:

  • Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov warned us not to eat in the hotel. A cup of coffee alone is $11. Melissa pointed out a convenience store in walking distance where we could get pre-made sandwiches and stuff to store in our room.
  • My first meal in Tokyo was pizza. My second was McDonalds. But in my defense, the BLT at McDonalds was not something I had ever had in the States.
  • The subway system is fabulously easy to use. We only got rejected for paying too little once!
  • Tanith Belbin is now a brunette.
  • Had dinner last night with Lindsay and Phil Hersh, who is here covering for the Tribune papers in the States. He is really only one of two U.S. dailies in Japan. The other is the Baltimore Sun, with Candy Thompson here to cover Kimmie. Of course, the Associated Press is here, along with stalwarts George Rossano for Blades on Ice, Sandra Stevenson, Bev Smith from Canada, and hundreds of Japanese press.
  • Stephane Lambiel is here … passed him outside the hotel.
  • Johnny Weir arrived and had practiced Friday already, I think … I didn't see him but spoke briefly to his coach, Priscilla Hill, and mom, Patti, in the elevator.
  • If the pairs aren't practicing in the main rink, they have to be shuttled an hour away. Apparently the ceilings are so low in the main practice rink, that pairs can't practice there. At least, that's what I've heard.
  • The second time I saw Ryan Bradley after we parted ways upon arrival was in the team room on the computer … checking basketball scores of course.

Yes, we stopped to take pictures of schoolchildren ... and we weren't the only ones. They were so cute in their little outfits!

Final story for the first blog: Once again, it just goes to show how connected you are to your own culture. Lindsay and I took a water boat tour yesterday down the Sumido River. We exited at the Hama Rikyu Park without the accompanying ticket to get in. The young man taking tickets stopped us and informed us that it was 240 yen (about $3) to go into the garden. Lindsay looked up the lane about 30 feet at a booth and said “Do we pay up there?” The young man said. “No. You pay me. OK? You pay me.”

Our first thoughts? A scam! It was so weird. In America we would be automatically suspicious of someone stopping us like that and saying “You pay me.” Was he overcharging us and about to pocket the extra? Would we end up paying more?

Of course not. This isn't the United States.

O.K. I lied. Our favorite moment from our first full day in Japan - Ueno Park dancers, that's right, they were just there dancing. Check out the two videos here and here. (both in .wmv format).

Men's Practice
All three U.S. men were on the ice at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gym for Monday practice. The arena is as small as I have been told, so it's no wonder it sold out so quickly. Actually, let me clarify. The building itself feels and looks cavernous, but seating is limited and far away from the ice.

Ryan Bradley spent a lot of time working on his triple Axel. I thought I counted 300 or so. O.K., maybe not that many. He told me after practice that he just wasn't “feeling his skid” due to the ice conditions.

Yesterday he skated on cleaner ice, and today, he said it was a little choppy in the place he does the Axel for his short program.

“You want to feel confident when you leave the ice,” he said, “so you keep working on it until you feel it.”

He did a full run-through of his short program in front of the 4,000 or so fans who bought practice tickets. But there's no sense of intimidation for Bradley in his first Worlds.

“I more excited just to be a part of it,” he said. “Being here is refreshing.”

Part of his happiness today is also due to basketball … Kansas won its second round game.

Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir both performed their free skates in practice. Lysacek fell on his opening two jumps (quad toe and triple Axel), but he later worked on the sequence and hit both of them. Weir tripled his quad toe in his run-through, but he did stand up on a quad or two during practice.

It was Lysacek's first practice, as he arrived only last night. Weir's music is slightly different ... perhaps different cuts of the same overall piece of music. More details to follow.