Tag Archives: Tokyo

Back in Tokyo

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.

A Couple Days in Tokyo

I’m in Japan with Nancy, using up the travel credit we received after our ship broke down in the Galapagos a few years ago. Our tour will take us from Tokyo to Kyoto. We’ve added a few extra days, starting in Tokyo, the world’s largest city, twice as populous as NYC. Rivers of people fill the veins of this mega-metropolis – sidewalks, trains, subways, and buses. Only childrens voices are heard on the trains, faces buried in cell phones, many with masks. Walk on the left and keep moving or get shoved. Beauty and ugliness, and let’s not forget cute. Delicate cherry blossoms against soulless buildings. Elevators silent and smooth. Surprise temples and shrines dwarfed by tall buildings, expanding endlessly in all directions. Bold, bright, flashing neon, the parks a treasured respite. Enough people speak English for us to get by, most friendly and helpful.

March 24-25, 2017 – Getting There

The Lyft ride arrived so quickly after my 4:00 a.m. request that we got to the airport a half hour before the ticket counter opened. Other than a couple short naps on the plane, we remained awake for just over 24 hours before getting to bed in our Tokyo airbnb. Fortunately, I was more comfortable in a middle seat on Singapore Airlines than on the domestic and discount airlines I’ve traveled with recently.

When we arrived, we took a train to the Shinjuku station and walked to our lodging using a series of pictures provided by our host. This is my first trip to a country that labels everything in characters (kanji) that have no meaning to me. After dropping our luggage off in our tiny efficiency apartment, we walked about a mile to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, slowly due to Nancy’s recent leg injury, and waited in line for an elevator ride up to the free observation deck. A nice view, in spite of the overcast. On our way, in the overheated airport and train, I worried that I had packed too many warm clothes, but as the sun dropped behind the tall buildings, I worried the opposite. We topped off our day with a yummy thin-crust pizza and Asahi beer.

March 26 (Sunday) – A Pleasant Drizzly Day

Up a bit early due to jetlag, I took a stroll through the quiet, wet street of the Shinjuku district where we are staying. Breakfast consisted of a delicious donut-like pastry filled with bean paste, yogurt, and powdered green tea (matcha). Nancy and I then spent a couple hours strolling through lovely Shinjuku park, very close to our lodging. The cherry blossoms are just starting, a bit later than usual due to the unseasonably cold weather. Next, we took a train across town to the Edo-Tokyo museum, dedicated to the history of Tokyo during the Edo period with a life-size replica of Nihonbashi bridge, a kabuki theater, and scale models of towns, plus more recent history through the 1964 Olympics. A nice place to visit on a rain day.

March 27 – An Unpleasant Cold Day

We took a train to the Ryogoku station to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, not a good choice for a cold, rainy, windy day. Though fascinating, we were thoroughly miserable after a couple hours, mostly outdoors, umbrellas bumping against each other. The best part was eating a delicious strawberry coated with bean paste and a rice flour layer (mochi). We skipped the other sights we had planned and returned to our room for a short rest before venturing out again, after the rain stopped. It took us a couple hours to score bus tickets to our next destination; we had to take a train across town to another station to get them. We then went on a shopping binge. I bought warm clothes and Nancy unsuccessfully tried to find a rice cooker for her husband, Steve; they don’t sell the correct voltage.