Friday, August 29th, 2008

For my first night sleeping in a ryokan, I didn't get wonderful sleep. The mattresses in ryokans sit on the floor, and these mattresses were on the thin side for futon mattresses. So all night, I would get sore and have to move around. I can't sleep on my back, and the pillow wasn't fluffy enough to sleep on my side, so I ended up sleeping on my stomach most of the night. Because of that, my ribs hurt really badly, as well as my back since the floor was hard. After I was up and moving around a bit, I felt better, but I really wished I'd had a thicker mattress.

We slowly roused ourselves, and I went downstairs for my first shower in the "shower room." Just as the name implies, it was a room the size of a normal bathroom with a square tub on one side and a shower on the other. There was a window in the room, but it didn't look out onto anything except some plants, so keeping the window open wasn't a problem. There was no soap anywhere except for a bar of soap...super disgusting when you consider how many people could possibly be using that soap. I did manage to find some shampoo that I used as soap...got me equally clean I guess. I enjoyed the size of the shower...I'd like to have one of those in my house!

After I was dressed and hair was done, we headed out for the day. The day before, Kevin had wondered what was inside the "Big Box" store that was near the train station, so we decided to check it out before going any further.

On our way, we passed the Saint Germain bakery, so we both grabbed breakfast. Mine was a chicken katsu sandwich and a chocolate chip scone with some peach nectar to drink. It was very yummy, but the scone was a little dry. After finishing breakfast, we headed inside Big Box, which was really just a mish mash of clothes stores, a gym, some restaurants and a 100 yen store. I went in the 100 yen store, but there wasn't much there that I wanted. I did think it was funny how they have foods like nori and marinated fish in their dollar stores! You'd have to find those in specialty grocery stores in the States, and the price would be through the roof! haha

Leaving Big Box, we took the Yamanote line around to the Shinbashi station, then another train on to Shiodome. Kevin used his GPS to lead us to Hama Rikyu Garden, which was the first stop on a Frommer's tour we had decided to do. We had to wander a little bit before we found it, but once we got there, it was worth the walk. It only cost a few dollars to go in, and it was very pretty inside. The first thing we noticed was how the bugs were so loud! We had to almost yell at each other at times just because we couldn't hear over the buzz of the bugs!

The grounds and the garden were lovely, and everything seemed very well landscaped. My favorite part was a large field that was full of small flowers of all colors. We spent a lot of time hanging around and taking photos of the flowers. I got a few great close ups...one of a bee on a flower...

...one of an unopened bud with a blurry background...

...and one of a flower and a building up against the sky. They all turned out great!


Me in the Hama Rikyu garden

There was a small shrine in the garden that we visited, as well as a lookout area that we climbed up to. We walked along the river and took in the view, and explored all the paths around a bamboo forest. It was pretty hot, so I grabbed an Amino Suppli3 out of a machine and sat on a little overlook with Kevin.


The view from the overlook in Hama Rikyu garden

It was very nice and calm (wish I could say it was quiet too, but the bugs took care of that!) and it was nice to slow down and just observe the beautiful scenery around us for a few minutes.

After a little while, we decided to move along, and headed off towards the Port of Tokyo. Kevin wanted to hunt down a geocache in the area, so we just followed the directions in his GPS until it led us to the pier. He didn't have to look very hard before finding the cache...it was under a rock on an middle level of the dock. He signed the logbook, put in a coin and let me pick one of the little things inside for myself...

...I took a little cell phone charm of a bear drinking a bottle of soda...awww! After messing around with an overly friendly pigeon, Kevin tucked the cache away and we tried to find the dock for the water bus we needed.

It took us a few minutes of walking around before we spotted the dock for the boat that we needed. We ended up walking all the way up to street level, then looking down to figure out where it was. Once we were there, we purchased our tickets to Asakusa, then sat inside the building at the dock to cool off. Kevin grabbed a hot dog and I got a strawberry shaved ice, and we both sat directly in the breeze of a large fan nearby. When it was time for us to board our boat, there were only a few other people on the entire boat! We sat on the lower level so we could have a better view, though I think the other level was air conditioned. Oh well...there was a nice breeze as we floated down the Sumida river.

All along the river are bridges, each of which looks unique and has its own story. I managed to get a photo of every bridge, though I would never be able to recount the story behind each one! Kevin went to the snack bar and got a bag of shrimp chips, and we enjoyed that ever-so-Japanese snack as we rode.

When we arrived in Asakusa, we decided to find some lunch before heading off on the rest of the tour. Not too far away from the dock, we found a noodle shop that had a huge menu that looked great. The place was small (but not as small as we would eat in later!) and it smelled fantastic.

We both got the shrimp tempura soba and it was really great. Very tasty, very reasonably priced, and served very quickly. We also drank a bunch of water since it was hot and muggy outside and we didn't want to get dehydrated.

Following the directions from the Frommer's guide, we found our way to the Kaminarimon Gate, which was this huge red gate, with a huge red lantern hanging inside it. Inside the sides of the gate were large statues of the wind and thunder god, with lots of other statues all around them. The lantern was hanging so low that you could touch it if you jumped up.

Just on the other side of the Kaminarimon Gate was the Nakamise Dori, which was a long street lined with tiny little shops selling all kinds of stuff. Some had knick knacks, some had kimonos, some had food, some had toys, some had electronics...there was a little of everything there, but I didn't end up buying anything.


Sensoji Temple

At the end of the Nakamise Dori, we came to the Hozomon Gate, with the Sensoji Temple just beyond.

Between the gate and the temple was a large incense burner, which Buddhists believe will help you heal if you rub the smoke on you. While we were there, a family arrived with a young man in a wheelchair and started to rub the smoke all over him. It was pretty cool to watch since that is not something I have ever seen in the US. Plenty of people were wafting the smoke onto themselves, rubbing it on specific body parts and rubbing it onto others. It smelled great too, as did every temple and shrine we were near. Inside the temple, lots of people were praying and throwing coins into the offering boxes.

To the right and left of the main altar, there were these sets of drawers containing fortunes. You put a 100yen coin in the slot, then shake a box full of sticks, tip it on its side, and one will fall out. Then you match up the symbol on the stick with the symbol on a drawer, and take one of the fortunes. Mine was "good fortune" but Kevin got "the best fortune" which had lots of great things to say (not the least of which was "the lost item will be found"...one that came true three times throughout the trip!)

We took a good look at the large five-story pagoda in the area, but then Kevin had to backtrack down Nakamise Dori to one of the electronics stores to get some more batteries for his camera. We tried to get in to see the Garden of Demboin, which the guidebook said is one of the nicest gardens in Tokyo, but there was a sign up saying that it was closed that day.

The next stop on the tour was the Asakusa Shrine, which was just off to the right of Sensoji Temple. It wasn't terribly large, but it was scenic and smelled good. After our brief visit, we made a bathroom break (these bathrooms were like little round pods, with round doors) then headed to the next stop, Hanayashiki Park. Along the way, there were people setting up parade floats with stuff like pigs and sinking ships on them. We were never able to figure out what it was for, but it certainly looked like fun from what I could see!

Arriving at Hanayashiki, I was quite excited to be getting a bonus credit that I had not planned on for this trip. The admission price was $9, but then you had to pay to ride the rides on top of that. I didn't understand that at first, despite Kevin saying it a couple of times, since I did not see the ticket vendor booth. But finally when we tried to board the little suspended pirate ship ride, we were told that we needed tickets. So we went back downstairs and bought 12 tickets...4 for the roller coaster and 2 for the pirate ship ride for each of us.

We decided to ride the suspended pirate ship ride first so we could get a nice overview of where things were in the park. It was a nice, slow ride that went all around the park, and we got a great look at the nearby Sensoji Temple and five-story pagoda as well.

After the ride, we went down one level to the roller coaster...aptly named "Rollercoaster" haha We were near the back of the train, and the ride op waited until most of the train was full before dispatching. It was a fun ride, but nothing compared to some of the coasters I'd ride later.

I bought a Coke, and we sat down for a while trying to decide what to do next. Hanayashiki was the last stop on the Frommerís tour, so we decided to go Ueno park to do some geochaching, then over to LaQua for dinner and to end the night with a ride on Thunder Dolphin. After playing a couple of claw machines in the arcade, and being completely befuddled by other machines, we left and strolled over to the Asakusa train station. On the way, we stopped in a free museum that had lots of cool little odds and ends inside, including a cloth that had a lady on it who looked like she was holding one of my cats! Aww. Once at the Asakusa train station, we grabbed a train over to Ueno station.

Once at Ueno station, we followed Kevin's GPS to Ueno park. The first cache he wanted to find was on the outside corner of the park, near a busy intersection. The hint on the cache said something about where people walk, and being on the right hand side. And the people who had found the cache all said stuff like "This cache was so well hidden!" and whatnot.

Well, we looked around for probably the better part of half an hour and never found it. We looked on all the poles lining the street, under the traffic cone, inside all the bushes, under all the rocks, and never found anything. I found a couple of small boxes of trash hidden in the bushes, but I certainly didn't want to touch them to see if they were geocaches! Ultimately, Kevin gave up since it was getting to be dusk and he wanted to try and find a couple of other ones before dark.

Heading into the park, we walked past the science museum, but it had already closed for the day. The next cache Kevin wanted to find was a microcache, which he found easily tied around a tree. He originally thought it was hidden in a nearby bench, but when he dug it out, it just turned out to be trash...eww...such are the chances you take when geocaching I guess! But the cache ended up being a magnetic business card holder stuck to the back of a metal dog sign that was tied to a tree. Presumably, the sign said to pick up your dog's poop. Kevin managed to get a geocoin inside the cache, but there wasn't anything interesting inside to take.

After wandering around a little bit more, Kevin's GPS led him toward the next geocache. We couldn't spot it at first, but based on the clues, we assumed that it was inside a hollow fake rock.

Kevin eventually climbed to the top of this big hill to look there, and found it inside a rock, just as we suspected. With the three geocaches taken care of, we strolled around a little more taking in the scenery. We passed by a kids amusement park that was already closed, as well as a shrine inside the park. When we got to the shrine, all the lanterns were playing Old Lang Syne softly. We both thought it was very weird, but figured that the song was signalling that the shrine was closed. On our way out, we spotted a cat who looked just like one of my parents cats, and there was a man crouching down painting it! I should have taken a picture of him, but I didn't. It was cool...he was just randomly there with his little paint set, painting a tiny painting of this stray cat.

Eventually, we found our way back to Ueno station, then took the train to Akihabara. At Akihabara, we transferred to the Chuo line and went to Suidobashi so we could visit LaQua.


Yeah, now that's what I was expecting Tokyo to look like!

The park was a fair distance from the train station, and there was obviously a baseball game going on inside Tokyo Dome. There were tons of people around, and lots of people holding signs with company names on them. It was fun to just watch everyone. Once we arrived at LaQua, we looked around at a few of the restaurants, then went to buy our Thunder Dolphin tickets. The signs were a little confusing as to which way to go to get to the station, since some signs said up the stairs and some said down, but we found it.

To be $10 a pop, I was expecting no wait for this coaster, but we ended up waiting well over 10 minutes for it I'd bet. There were way more people than I expected waiting to ride. The crew did some kind of little dance thing before each train was dispatched, assumedly telling the riders how many drops there are, how tall it is and stuff. It was entertaining even if I didn't understand a word of it!

The ride...wow...the ride was so great! The first drop was fantastic, but my favorite part was a large overbank that was really high off the ground! You got a great sideways view of Tokyo, and it really gave me that "OMG I am on a rollercoaster on top of a building in Tokyo!!" feeling! I'm not sure that I'd be willing to spend $10 on it too often, but it was an incredible coaster, and I am very, very glad we went out of our way to get to it! When we left, we had a really funny on ride photo, so we each bought a copy.

The first photo is taken just as you pull out of the station...of course neither of us knew this, so we are just looking blankly at the camera! I saw the flashing and looked over like "Is that an onride photo?" Then it took my photo, looking all puzzled haha The second photo is from somewhere on the ride, and we are both having a great time in that one. Plus they weren't very expensive. I don't tend to buy many onride photos since they cost too much, but these were only a few dollars.

After the ride, we were both famished and wanted dinner. We walked around and checked out all the restaurants in the area, and even went inside a supermarket. We had spotted an Italian restaurant near Thunder Dolphin that looked like a safe bet, so that's what we decided on. There was no wait to get in, and they seemed to have a very traditionally Italian menu. I got the chicken parmesan (which came with mashed potatoes instead of pasta, not what I was expecting, but it was ok), and Kevin got a gratin of some kind that he said was pretty much just mac and cheese. The waiter was very friendly, and I suspect that they gave us a waiter who spoke some English since we were Westerners. A manager came by to chat for a bit when he noticed that my shirt said "I'm like a superhero with no powers or motivation" and wanted to know if we were fans of the show Heroes! I've never seen it, but he said that it was a great show and I should watch it. We also decided on some panna cotta for dessert, which was yummy.

During dinner, we noticed that it was starting to rain and storm, so we had pretty much given up all hope of getting to ride the Big O Ferris Wheel. Sure enough, when we got outside, all the big rides were closed because of the storm. In an attempt to stay out of the rain, we wandered around inside the mall at LaQua and popped our heads into a few stores.

I also had my first encounter with a high tech Japanese toilet in the bathroom there! It had a whole control panel, with options such as heat, front spray, and "flushing sound," which I dubbed the "I don't want anyone to know I'm pooping, but since people only use this sound when they are pooping, people will know anyway" sound! I had to take a picture of it since I thought it was cool, and very Japanese.

It was still storming when we were done in the mall, so we walked down towards Spinning Coaster Maihime just to see if it was possibly open so I could get the credit. When we got there, we realized that it was under some huge awning. It was still outdoors, but I guess it was considered just covered enough to be able to run when it was storming. So when I went to get a ticket, I couldn't figure out which button on the computer screen was for the spinning coaster! There were no pictures, and I obviously don't read kanji! So I stopped a nearby couple, told then I didn't speak much Japanese, and tried to ask them which button I needed. Eventually, through pointing at the photo of the coaster, then pointing at the screen and looking confused, they were able to show me which button I needed. I thanked them, then proceeded to buy my ticket.

During my ride, I was given a train all to myself, so I opted to ride backwards. The ride was really fun, but was kinda freaky since it was lightning outside! Kevin opted to sit this one out since he's not a big spinning coaster fan, plus his stomach was full. When I was done, I found him in the seating area across from the coaster, where he showed me some of the photos he'd gotten of me during my ride. As we walked toward the coaster, I had noticed some Qoo in a nearby drink machine.

Since my friend Monica raves about how good Qoo is, I had to try some, so I headed back to the machine and got myself a can/bottle of it. It was pretty good...kinda of like orangeade. Over the course of the trip, I tried four different flavors, and the orange was my least favorite...so I can see how she loves the other flavors hehe. Kevin bought what he thought was grape Fanta, but when he started to drink it, the can was full of jelly! Weird! You had to actually suck the grape jelly soda out of the can!

We were both pretty much wiped out at that point and wanted to sleep, so we started off for the train station. On the way out of LaQua, we passed a gift shop selling Japanese baseball merchandise with Disney characters on it...we both thought that was pretty cool. We also passed a line of large, colored, blinking bears. Not sure what was up with that, but they were interesting nonetheless! Once back at Suidobashi station, we took the Chuo line back to Shinjuku, then the Yamanote line on to Takadanobaba. Back at the hotel, it took us no time at all to collapse into bed (well, onto the floor!) I tried to send an email out to my friends, but after three unsuccessful tries with Kevin's iPod, I gave up and went to sleep.

Go to Day 3 - Yomiuriland, Tobu Zoo Park and Yokohama Cosmoworld
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