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Japan - Day Four – Shrines and Temples PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 October 2018 02:52

oday after breakfast we met with Mike-san, our Tokyo guide. Nice gentlemen, older and state-side savvy so he served as a good cultural bridge. He was to provide more than capable at maneuvering us through the null space between our various attractions.

First stop – the Meiji Shine at Harajuku, a beautifully wooded park and complex. Mike explained the facets of Shintoism and invited our participation. I even paid for a charm (token? Not sure) to keep me safe from car accidents – I’ll tuck it onto my bike and we’ll see. Also sent a paper prayer to Mookie – she’s always in my thoughts. Then a long subway bomb across town to…











Harajuku and its Sensonji Temple (Tokyo’s oldest). Bought JB a spoon to celebrate thirty years together. We went into the temple, pausing before the massive barrel of burning incense (you flutter your arms to draw in smoke over your affected areas, Mike noted (have you ever tried to push a cloud of smoke over your crotch hernia in public?))

After this, much more shopping. JB picked up a set of those Japanese hair rods (you know, the ones female assassins drive into the eyes of inattentive guards).  Now she needs to learn how to do it herself (hey, I learned to fold a Brompton!). Then lunch at (finally) a full Japanese restaurant, with lounging in socks around a low table, crazy-different food, cute bowing waitresses, all that. All through it, I kept and eye on JB’s hair rods, making sure those expensive things didn’t slide out. But a good meal all the same.

And now across town to Shinjuku (near the hotel) to walk to Shinjuku Gardens (like Leu Gardens with fixed Oriental dominance). Quite pretty.

Samurai  Jane with hairpins!Next, a Samurai museum that should have been better than it was – honestly it was a bit like keystone cops. Our guide barely remembered his lines and when asking for questions, was unable to come up with answers (like how swords are hammered out – really?). From here, a few blocks walk through the seedier section of Shinjuku (“Sin”juku?). Saw a man lying on the ground and several hard-bitten Yakuza-like fellows standing around him and let that be. But soon enough, hotel-home.

Trip question: Are the new people two doors down going to keep me up? Crying babies? Shouting? What next? Gunshots? And I thought Pachinko Parlors were loud. So we shall see.

Trip answer: No, they did not.




Last Updated on Saturday, 20 October 2018 15:44
Japan - Day Three – Towers and Clocks PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 20:35

e’d picked up a Minato City tour book from the Tokyo Met building the day before and used it to fragment out some of the longer self-guided tours into short Raymond jaunts. This being the case, we trotted through waves of morning commuters to get to Shinjuku Station to head to our first looksee – the Tokyo Tower. However, for this, we needed to hop on the Oedo Line (like London’s Circle Line, it loops ‘round the city). So it goes like this – image a triangle pointing to the left. We enter on the lower right point, Shinjuko Station. Found some sort of signage for the Oedo line and walked possibly a half-mile (through a department store and down long open-air concourses. Finally got to the escalator and down to the platform. But none of the adjoining stations (which is how you figure out which way to go) are anything like the adjoining stations we were expecting. Stood there in confusion until some nice Japanese housewife (everyone is so helpful) explained it in broken English. We’d gone to the upper-right point of that triangle I’d described and were actually on another part of the Oedo loop. We’d have to backride one station west (to the left-pointing point) and then switch trains to go back through Sandjuku (directly under our first point-of-entry). This we did. Sure, we burned 45 minutes, but we got to do a lot of subway gawking.

Finally got off at the Akabanebashi stop and walked through nice urban parks with the Tokyo Tower in a comforting loom, just looking at the people and various shrines and temples. Just a nice stroll, really. Got to the base of the tower but decided not to go in – once you’d top-of-the-towned from the Met Building, this just doesn’t compare. So back to Akabanebashi for one of the most aggravating subway maneuvers any rider faces – a two-stop journey with a long platform/train change in the midpoint. We should have just walked over.

Old and new

Got off at Shimbashi Station (where I saw more trains in one minute than you’ll see on American railroads in a week). Took a bit of time getting orientated (oddly, most Japanese station maps do not orientate north-top – they lay them out on a whim, it seems. So if you are standing before a wall-map with North to the South-West, holding your own map around and trying to orientate, well, nothing screams tourist louder than that). Anyway, this is the communications district – all the studios and networks are here. We strolled over to the original Shimbashi Station, a rail museum that was unexpectedly closed for that day (the nice old guy sweeping leaves up pulled out an Iphone, muttered into it, then showed us the “It so closed” translation – bowed and thanked him). But the station is there and we walked around it. They even had some of the old rail spiked down (the station had been sited in the 1880s and once it had been torn down, the rail had been reused in a refinery siding. Once the station was rebuilt, the refinery donated the century-old rail back to the museum). Still, had a nice broken conversation with a Japanese man about gauge (since this appeared to be narrow-gauge). Even with different languages, rail-heads can converse.

Then over to Nippon TV where they have a gigantic clock mounted to the outside wall, commissioned by Hayao Miyazaki (the animator of Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, among many others). We had an hour until it “struck” (whatever that would be) so we hung around a nearby executive Taco Bell, sipping colas until it was go-time.

And what a go it was! At the hour, the clock began to whir and gong, the arms spun in different directions and the figures began to dance. Cannon turrets rotated towards up, music played and huge mechanical arms lifted to display inner treasures. It was a great five minute show!

Strange lunch – stopped at a “British Pub” and ordered meals. JB’s came, along with my beer, and I told her to start (she’s a slower eater). But my food (rice and curry)? Nadda. Oddly both the waiter and waitress came out to other tables, not scanning to see how we were doing (with me in the midst of my hunger strike). Finally I went in to ask. Blushing and bowing, the waitress took my order (again) and they brought me a salad (I was so hungry, I ate that). But when my curry finally did arrive, the waiter carried off my salad bowl with my fork. So there I am, trying to figure out how to eat my long-overdue meal. Went in and asked the waitress for a fork and she bowed but no fork arrived. So to hell with it; I ate my curry with the serving spoon. And it’s too bad you don’t tip in restaurants because I wouldn’t have either way. Usually the Japanese are efficient to a fault. This time they were just faulted. Still, I was more amused that angry about the goofup.

Having survived lunch, we decided to run up the subway a few stops and visit Akihabara again, just to see more of it. And while it was fun, it wasn’t quite the amazing sight of the first time. Thought about picking up a figure as a souvenir but they want serious scratch for their crafted ones. Almost got a Ryuk demon (from DeathNote) but the cost and the likelihood of his wings surviving the trip home quashed that idea. Still, I did find an English manga copy of All You Need is Kill, which I bought and will review (it’s about an inch thick!).

While going into the station, I actually stopped in my tracks – there was a poster with a man and a cat and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think I was looking right at Mookie, my late cat. It comes from a movie soon to be released, The Travelling Cat Chronicles, a sad and wonderful story (I now know) about a man who saves a street cat that has been hit by a car and eventually keeps it. But he is forced to find a new home for it after a few years. Okay, so watch for that one to show up in my reviews soon – it’s apparently been translated to English.

An easy ride home – 30 minutes across this large metropolitan area. In Orlando, half that distance will take twice as long (Chevy tough, indeed). Coming out of Shinjuku Station, I saw a man hunched over a bike, going through eerily-familiar motions – a Brompton! And red, just like mine!

After a nap that ran three hours, JB shook me awake for dinner. We were still pretty full (after all, my delayed meal hadn’t been that long ago). We went over to the 7-11, which my buddy Omar had told me worked well for fast and easy meals. And he was right. You can get a pretty good light dinner out of that place. Picked up some cold sandwiches, drinks, and after-dinner ice-cream cones. Watched incomprehensible Japanese TV while eating in the room that night. Called it an early evening – we’d be meeting our guide for a tour of Tokyo tomorrow and had a pretty early start time.

Travel Note: Everyone here are on phones. They don’t talk to other people on phones much (that is considered impolite (I wish more loud-mouth Yankee Cell-yellers would take note)) but they text like mad. On the train, everyone is head’s down. In restaurants, likewise. It’s strange and quiet. In ways, you feel like a ghost moving through crowds of face-illuminated zombies.




Last Updated on Friday, 19 October 2018 18:01
Japan - Day Two – Anime and Altitude PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 19:21

fter a nice “American breakfast” (which was a casual-slow ordeal and had things I’d never seen in a rodeo cookup) we slipped out. Strolled through the Shinjuku Golden-GAI district (narrow streets catering to electronics and eateries) but in this early hour everything as closed and the only motion were the cut-through high-stepping commuters. Nosed into Shinjuku station but were unsure what to make of it, with the noise and flow of humanity. Backed out of that madhouse and decided to look in a different direction.

Just west of the hotel, in the shadow of the fifty-story Metropolitan Government Building, there lays the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. We drifted through its quiet early-morning lanes and slipped into a shrine. Found a young couple getting ready to be married, with a small crowd of moms and a photographer. And one mother was quite nice; she had us share a photo with the bride and groom (she didn’t quite understand my weird focus settings).

Geektown!We also walked by “Niagara Falls”, a little artificial waterfall that started up just as we were passing (how hauntingly reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower doing that exact same thing years back). We also chatted briefly with a Toronto couple who gave us valuable tips to getting subway cards. Went back to Shinjuku Station and got it to work this time. With total freedom of travel now, we crossed over to my big thing – Akihabara! This is the huge manga (comic) anime (cartoon) nerdfest geekout section of Tokyo. Just stunning – block after block of stuff. My favorite was the Shosen Book Tower, a building with the footprint of an American pharmacy but stood ten stories tall. We got pitched by maids from the cafes, saw all sorts of animated movie trailers (new one for SteinsGate). Had fruit drinks out of street-side vending machines. Later, stopped in a hole-in-the-wall miso soup joint (you ordered from a machine on the door and handed your receipt to the cook, then had a seat at the bar). Great place! On the way back, we dropped off at Jimbocho Station to check out the Kanda Second Hand Books area. Of course, everything was in Japanese but it was still fun to nose through their stacks.

After an afternoon nap (I love these when I travel) we went up to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, up to the observation deck on the 45th floor. Great view of the city which runs all the way to the horizon. Could just make out Mt Fuji (a hint of a shadow in the gloom of dusk).  Once we’d checked out this, dinner time. We chickened out and ate in the hotel, in a little “Italian” restaurant in the basement level. The pizza was strange but pretty good, with a crust rather like Indian naan bread (which made it about the best pizza I’ve ever eaten). Then we walked through the nighttime Golden-GAI district (now in full swing), just to bask in the crazy neon of the place.

Fuji is just in the shadows. But the city goes on forever!

Travel Note: A very interesting trait of the Japanese people is their use of crosswalks. I don’t think I ever saw a single jay walker. But they would patently wait for the walk signal before starting across the intersection, even if it was in front of a narrow side-street and nobody was coming. I did see one or two cyclists skip lights but nothing like the US or Amsterdam. The civility of the Japanese people was something I’d notice over and over in our trip (and, sadly, its contrast once we returned to the states).




Last Updated on Thursday, 18 October 2018 18:17
Japan - Day One – Transpacific PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 16:45

vernight, JB and I were both restless, both worrying about that 3am wakeup alarm. What could go wrong?

But the trip to the airport was a breeze, security easy and casual. The fight to the first stop (Texas, another foreign country) was full except for one seat on our row, the empty seat making picking up extra sleep a little easier. And unlike Newark on that horrible rainy night so long ago, Houston was sharp. Crisp gate instructions, good signage (a color-coded E turned into a back-and-white E, which cost us one hundred paces each way). So we settled in for the long jump, Houston to Tokyo.

Thirteen hours on the plane. Hard to do. Watched Solo and American Soldier. Tried to watch Ready Player One but it was a bit afield from the book. And finally, after movies/reading/videoing and catnaps, we were making our descent over Haneda Airport.

The bus in was easy. We should have had it arranged as part of our limited tour (they were handling one day of guided sightseeing in both Tokyo and Kyoto, but we’d come early). I’d pre-scoped it and knew exactly what to expect and where to go.

The ordered chaos of the airport bus stand!

We rode the bus with wide eyes, taking in all the alien forests and eventually buildings. A little confusion at the hotel – we were told we’d base out of the Shinjuku-Washington for our two extra days and then trudge four blocks up to the Hilton. But we were in Shin-Wash the entire time (I hadn’t noticed the change in the tour docs). Fine with us. The Tokyo guide had left a welcome package so we were all set, and Tokyo was ours for two days.

We’d gotten settled in and went out into the early evening. The Shinjuku area is in the western part of the city, centered around a massive train station (with not just shops but a huge department store). A million commuters come through every day. The landscape is one of order and purpose, huge skyscrapers, wide streets, rushing phone-locked commuters. We walked up and down the boulevards, just taking in the fact that we were now on the other side of the planet. It was quite a place, and the adventure was only beginning.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 October 2018 20:38

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