Destination: Japan

J2PA few more hours until the wedding, so I finally have time to document a bit of our travels so far. For those not aware, my wife and I have flown over to Japan to attend the wedding of a good friend of mine in Tokyo. Due to the time (and financial) investment to travel such a distance, we have decided to take a few days to travel and see the country as well. Working for IBM, I have been to Tokyo a number of times, but have never made it out of the office/hotel/airport other than a quick trip to Tsukiji fish market and a few business dinners in the city.

Having taken the Airport Limousine (ie bus) from Narita to Shinjuku pretty much every trip to Japan, I thought it to be the best option, yet forgot that it was a weekday and ran into a horde of people – barely getting a seat on the bus. With that being said, it was also blistering hot – and a 2 hour ride in this condition (after a 17 hour day of travel) put us pretty much out of commission for the night (getting into the hotel at around 8:30pm). A quick run to 7-11 for some essentials and we called it a night.

J1_temOn the first day into the city we met up with another old friend (and her family) from my work in Nanning China (via the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC)) and headed over to the Sensoji temple (a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa). Having overdosed on temple visits from my travels in China, I was not overly enthused, but being my wife’s first time, I was excited to experience it again with her.

Japan Tokyo Cat Bags

We spent about 2 hours (or so it felt) on the shopping promenade leading into the temple annex. There were perhaps 5 or so blocks of merchant stalls hawking everything from chopsticks and fans, to Hello Kitty purses. While I waited for the gals, poking in and out of stalls, I searched out some of the more unique eateries for some tasty treats.
One of my favorites was the fresh ‘sweet’ sake

100 Yen Sweet Sake Stall

100 Yen Sweet Sake Stall

stall. For 100 yen (roughly a bit over a US dollar) I received a Dixie cup serving of warm, creamy white sake that absolutely refreshed the soul on such a cold and rainy day (tasted way better than it sounds). There were bits of soft rice in the drink as well – and it filled the belly in a positive way. A runner up for the best treat was the deep fried rice ball filled with pumpkin, yet my wife gobbled most of that one up.

J1_bunsThe temple itself was flocked with tourists, but was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Since we were so far out of town (compared to where we were staying) we decided to take a water taxi down the waterway and into Tokyo bay. This was a interesting and efficient way to view the city from a different perspective. I’m not sure if it was planned or not, but out tickets had us docking at Odaiba Island – a man made island in the harbor that housed a number of entertainment and shopping complexes, including the Fuji TV building.

J1_NinjaAfter a few hours touring, we headed back to the mainland via a driverless monorail that offered some of the best views of the city. We had reservations at ‘Ninja’ restaurant (yes, start laughing) wanted to get back in time. The restaurant was a bit cheesy – but was a very enjoyable experience. The highlight was definitely the stone soup – of which a 380 degree ‘stone’ was dropped into a cauldron of soy milk, vegetables and raw pork –cooking it on the spot. Everyone should try this place once – but for the cost, you can find better food in this city.

On day two – We split from our friends to venture the city alone. We had been travelling the easy way, following others – but if you have never seen Tokyo’s metro and rail map before – it can be quite a overwhelming experience.

J2_PalThe fist stop was the Imperial Palace and the Imperial Gardens. This was a bit of a ride (and walk) – but after running into a # of dead ends and ‘Do not enters’ we found the entrance into the Imperial East Gardens. Fall foliage had started, yet most of the autumn flowers in November had already dropped their petals. The weather was fantastic today, so it really did not matter – Was a very enjoyable 2 hour stroll.

J2WedThe 2nd stop we made was back to western Tokyo at the Meiji Shrine – A Shinto temple that was tucked back in a well wooded park right outside of the hustle and bustle of the Harajuku shopping area (…think Tokyo teens wearing the craziest ensembles that you have ever envisioned). While also overwhelmed with tourists, the Meiji Shrine was home to a number of Shinto wedding ceremonies this day. I was actually in the middle of taking a photo in the courtyard when a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move for the procession… within 30 seconds, the entire wedding party came walking through.

Shinto Shrine Purification

Shinto Shrine Purification

Along with the weddings, there were countless Tokyo children dressed up for the ‘7-5-3 festival’ this week and were everywhere, visiting temples and taking pictures with family.

We closed out the day visiting some of the shops in Harajuku and called in an early night. This was quickly disturbed at around 8pm or so where we abruptly felt the aftershocks of a 5.4 earthquake that happened across the bay in Chiba. For those that have never experienced an earthquake on the 24th floor of a high rise hotel – I pray that you never do. Having your entire room (and hotel) sway and shake is one of the most unnerving experiences I have ever encountered. As I write this a day later, I still think that I can feel the room moving.

View prior to the earthquake

View prior to the earthquake

In many ways, the 2 story Ryokan in Kyoto could not come soon enough.

An hour or so left til we leave for the wedding – which should be an awesome experience. I’ll update pictures, etc as there is time – perhaps on the bullet train to Kyoto tomorrow morning.



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