We returned to Tokyo and met with our travel group. The tour, Backroads of Japan, is offered through G adventures. It’s advertised as a twelve-day tour, but is really ten days, since nothing is planned for the first or last days.
March 29 – Met our Tour Group
When we returned from Mt Fuji, we took our first cab ride, from the bus station to our hotel, and shortly thereafter met our six fellow travelers: Dori and Marty, a retired couple from Chicago, Raj and Katy, a younger couple from Toronto, Laila, also from Toronto, and Alana, from Canberra, Australia, born the same year as my younger son. They have turned out to be a nice, fun group. We went out for a welcome dinner at a Japanese-style restaurant; we took off our shoes and sat on the floor, but there was a hole under the table where my feet were surprised to encounter a warm surface. We sampled a great variety of dishes. I’m not a vegetarian, but if you are, beware, the Japanese put meat in many dishes where you wouldn’t expect it, like green salads.
I could definitely get used to heated toilet seats, but I don’t like the one in our hotel that rushes water beneath me as soon as I sit down, not a water conscious invention, unlike some of the toilets we’ve encountered with water that flows above the tank for hand washing as it refills after flushing. Some toilets are quite complicated with buttons for multiple types of spray (bidet and shower), volume control for the spray, a stop button for the spray, music/sound effects, all labeled with Japanese characters. It can take a while to figure out which one to push to flush.
March 30 – Picnic in the Park
We were pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel included breakfast, a large Japanese buffet, filled with meats, salads, yogurt, miso, and numerous other choices. Yum. Our first day with our tour started with a train ride to the Shinjuku district, where Nancy and I started our trip. We returned to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (what a mouthful); the line to get in was much shorter on a weekday morning than it was on Saturday evening, though the view was hazier. We walked through streets we hadn’t seen before, then using our one-day JR (Japan Rail) pass continued to the Shibuya station to see the famous dog statue and Shibuya Crossing, rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world with hundreds of people crossing at a time, coming from all directions at once, many of them tourists taking pictures with their cell phones.
We then backtracked to the Harajuku station and stopped to pick up food from one of the basement food markets beneath a department store (another delicious salad) on our way to Yoyogi Park for a picnic. The weather was perfect, one of our few sunny days. Mari surprised me with sparkling sake and the group sang Happy Birthday to me. Nancy and I sampled a white strawberry (milder than the red ones w/hint of pineapple). The Meiji Jingu Shrine was our next destination. Located in a peaceful forest, this shrine was rebuilt after its destruction in WWII. Much of it was covered in construction netting as it is undergoing restoration.
Raj and Katy had read about cat cafés becoming popular in Tokyo, so we all decided to check one out; they treated me. Unlike a few cat cafes that have opened recently in the Bay Area, these cats aren’t available for adoption. They live here and people pay to visit them. We washed our hands and put on slippers before entering the cat room. I’ve never seen a more mellow group of cats, which we petted and photographed while drinking tea.
March 31 – Ueno Park and an Art Exhibition
In the morning, half of us joined Mari for a walking tour of nearby Ueno Park, filled with temples, shrines, and fruit trees beginning to flower. Decorative cherry, plum, and peach are the most common.
Afterwards, Nancy and I took a subway to Nogizaka to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the The National Art Center. A passageway from the station leads directly to the back entrance. It was a large fun exhibit with a large room of recent work. Kusama, famous for polka dots, is currently 88 years old and still painting. After being on our feet all morning, and standing more than a half hour in line at the gift shop (I bought a couple postcards), we only skimmed the exhibit of all twenty of Czech artist Alfrons Mucha’s “The Slav Epic”, large paintings of the history of the Slav people.
A light rain started when we arrived at the Uguisudani station. (I’m getting the hang of Tokyo’s huge subway and train system, but looking forward to leaving this crowded city). We rested for an hour, then headed out for an early dinner. What our hotel listed as a Japanese style bar turned out to be a shoes-off restaurant. We ordered a variety of items from a pictorial menu; our best meal yet, everything was delicious, especially the tuna sushi, which we reordered. This put sushi in a whole other league than I’ve had at home, much fresher with the best ginger I’ve tried. We got back early enough for me to finish sorting and post a few pictures from Mt. Fuji.