Because of COVID restrictions, media at the Olympics have been subject to a "soft quarantine'' for our first 14 days in Japan. We are allowed to be in our hotel rooms, at the venues and at the Main Press Center, and no place else. We can get around only on media buses.
That's limited our ability to really get a feel for Tokyo, and for how the city is (or isn't) connecting with the Games. So columnist Jim Souhan and I were counting the days until the magical Day 15.
We reached it Wednesday and received the coin of the realm: a TP card.
The TP card allows us to ride trains and take city buses. Wednesday night, for the first time, I rode the train. I took it back to the hotel from the climbing venue at Aomi Urban Sports Park. I took it again Thursday to and from the wrestling venue in Makuhari. That's opened up Tokyo to us — in a socially distanced and masked-up way — after two weeks of being in the sports bubble.
It actually felt a little strange to be at ground level after seeing the city only through the windows of coach buses for 14 days. We were observers before. Now we're participants. Engaging with the local culture and people is such a huge part of the Olympic experience, and having lost that temporarily makes me appreciate it all the more.
The trains, and the stations, are extremely busy but very tidy and pretty easy to navigate. One thing I learned quickly: in Japan, they drive on the left, and you walk on the left, too. I figure I'll get used to that just in time to come home and bump into people on the street in Minneapolis.
Being out on the streets has provided a few surprises. On the way back from climbing, I saw a pay-phone booth. I really can't remember the last time I saw one of those in the United States. Before I got back to the hotel, I saw some standalone pay phones in other spots. Everyone here seems to have a cell phone, so I can't imagine who uses them. But they're there if you need them!
Our hotel is on a quiet street, but only a block away from a bustling area (we're in Shimbashi, near Ginza). The restaurants and bars are supposed to be closing at 8 p.m. because of the COVID state of emergency; we've heard that several have gone rogue. I can vouch for that. Around 11 p.m. Thursday, I walked past several packed restaurants on my way back from the train station.
That's another thing we're allowed to do now: Eat in restaurants! I'm hoping for one good meal before we go back home.