Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Thanks to my new little Land Dog plush, I slept a lot better the third night than I did the first or second. Keeping him tucked under my arm the whole night kept my arm at just the right angle to make sleeping on the floor more comfy. It was still uncomfortable, but not as bad as before.

Our plan for the day was to head to Tsukiji Fish Market for breakfast, then head over to Harajuku for some shopping and people watching. We were up and out of the hotel around 8:30 after a quick shower. There was a Tozai subway entrance literally feet from our hotel's front door, but we forgot about it and ended up walking most of the way back to the JR station before realizing that we needed to take the Tozai line. So we ducked into the nearest entrance and found our way from there.

Kevin grabbed a bottle of Pocari Sweat, and I grabbed a bottle of Kirin Nuda (because I thought the name was funny) and waited for our train. My drink wasn't that great...just club soda with lemon...this is exactly how the bottle described the drink, but I decided to try it just because of the name hehe. I didn't end up finishing it (one of only three drinks I wasn't able to finish through the trip).

After our train arrived, we took it to Kayabacho, and then changed to another line to go to the Tsukiji station. Little did I know that the directions I had were woefully incorrect, and that the Tsukiji Fish Market wasn't at the Tsukiji station. So Kevin pulled out his guidebook and discovered that it was at the Tsujiki-Shijo station. Not only that, he also discovered that the market wasn't even open on Sundays! I'm not sure how that important bit of information flew under the radar, but I swear, I never saw any of the stuff I looked at say that it was closed on Sunday. So there we were, standing around in an area we didn't intend on visiting, trying to figure out what to do.

Ultimately, we decided to go to the Edo Tokyo Museum, which was a museum we both had spotted and wanted to visit. We ducked into the nearest train station, and found a Hokuo Bakery Cafe and decided to have breakfast there since we weren't going to be having sushi!

My "chicken sandwich" and "English muffin"

I got a sandwich that looked just like the chicken sandwich I had gotten previously, something that looked like a cheese covered English muffin, and a Pocari Sweat. As soon as I bit into the "chicken sandwich" I discovered that it wasn't chicken at all! I think it was some kind of horrible ground pork mixture! Blech! I quickly passed it to Kevin, and moved on to the English muffin. Having learned from the "chicken" not to just bite into something, I tore it apart, and discovered some weird concoction of something...not something I was going to eat without knowing what it was, so I passed it over to Kevin as well. He later said that he thought it was mushrooms. So I went back and perused the offerings again, and settled on a puff pastry filled with cheese, peppers and mushrooms. I could clearly see what it was, and it looked pretty good. Luckily there were no weird surprises hidden under the veggies, and I was able to eat the whole thing! Kevin also gave me half of his banana pastry thing.

The Edo Tokyo Museum

After breakfast, somehow we found our way over to the Ryogoku station on the Sobu Line, which is where the Edo Tokyo Museum is. After buying our tickets, we locked up Kevin's umbrella in this awesome umbrella stand... put the umbrella in, and you turn a key and it locks your umbrella in place. Then you take the key, and only you can get your umbrella back out. Again, it took the Japanese to figure out something this handy! On the way up to the museum, you had to ride a huge escalator that had a flat spot in the middle of it...we both thought it was really cool.

Once inside, we found the information desk where the English speaking volunteer guides are.

Our guide was Masaki, who seemed very knowledgeable about everything in the museum, and answered all of our questions very well. The museum is all about the history of Tokyo (which used to be called Edo...see, I learned something from the museum!), and it is presented in a very interesting and informative way. I don't think I would have gotten as much out of the museum as I did had we not had the guide. He gave very detailed explanations of some of the exhibits, and gave us information that we would have never known by just looking at them.

My favorite part of the museum was a diorama of daily life in Edo, which had about 750 small dolls in all different situations. As Masaki explained what was going on in the diorama, I looked at it through the binoculars provided at the edge of the display, and marveled at how detailed the scenes were. There were people talking to each other, selling food, even two men having a scuffle, yet each doll was only about 2-3 inches tall. Masaki then asked us how much we guessed each doll cost. I initially guessed $20 each, but once he explained how each one was hand made and was wearing real silk clothes, I upped my guess to $200. Turns out that each doll cost over $2000 a piece, for a total of over a million and a half dollars in dolls!

When we were done with our tour, we thanked Masaki very much for his help, then explored what was left of the museum on our own.

A diorama of life in "modern Tokyo"

Me sitting in a traditional Japanese room

Kevin pretending to cook in a traditional Japanese kitchen

Me doing my Japanese homework

A diorama of a kabuki theater

We paused for a while to watch a drummer, a storyteller and a man who was cutting cool shapes out of paper, but since we couldn't understand what was being said, we ducked out early (well, we ended up leaving just before the show was over). In the gift shop, I decided to buy a cloth wall hanging with a picture of a cat on it.

I love Japan

After retrieving Kevin's umbrella from the spiffy umbrella stand, we pondered what to have for lunch. As we walked, we spotted a place that had a large display of food out front, one of which was a sushi, tempura and udon combo that looked great. After some discussion, we decided to stop there because it looked good, was reasonably priced, and you really can't get much more Japanese that the three items in the combo!

Inside, we were shown to a seat and handed menus that were all in Japanese. After a few minutes of "What do we do?" kind of conversation, we hit the button on the table to call the server. Someone sprang to our table almost immediately, where we asked if there was a menu in English. I don't believe that person spoke any English, but soon someone else arrived, who took us outside so we could point at the food display and tell her what we wanted. After being led back inside, we sat quietly at our Sumo ring side table, waiting for our food.

After a few minutes, a server arrived with a big plate of random bits of food, none of which looked like what we ordered. So we sat there for a moment, just looking at each other in a very puzzled way. Neither of us had any clue if this was our food or not, much less how you would go about eating it if it was! After a few minutes of uncomfortable giggling and saying "I'm so do you eat this??" a server came up and whisked away the dish, apologizing since it wasn't out food! Whew! Thank heavens we didn't have to figure out how to eat it!

After a few more minutes, our food arrived, looking just like it did in the display outside. It came with nine big pieces of sushi, a bowl of udon noodle soup, two tempura fried shrimp and some tempura beans and potatoes. It was huge, and everything was so good! I couldn't identify what kind of fish was on one of my pieces of sushi was made of, so I passed it over to Kevin. As we ate, we exchanged a few pleasantries with the people at the other end of our table, and did our best to be friendly despite not speaking the language.

After paying for lunch, we practically rolled out of the restaurant and tried to decide where to go next. We knew that Harajuku was on the agenda for that afternoon, so we also decided to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine while we were so close to it. We hopped on the Sobu line back to Shinjuku, then changed to the Yamanote line and got off at the Harajuku station, then walked to the Meiji Jingu-mae station exit.

As soon as we arrived in Harajuku, the vibe of the place was completely different than anywhere else in Tokyo. There were tons of people hanging around and having fun with each other, unlike the rest of Tokyo where everyone seemed to be travelling solo. People were dressed in interesting outfits, some were playing music, and the whole place just looked fun and cool. After stopping to look at a nearby map, we easily found our way around the corner to the Meiji Jingu Shrine since there were crowds walking in that direction.

The main torii entrance gate to the Meiji Jingu Shrine was under rehab when we were there, so we got a lovely, glorious welcome from a tarp covered torii gate. The walk up to the actual shrine was very long, and very hot. I felt like I was just sweating buckets the entire time, and was really struggling to keep myself hydrated in the heat. I had also worn flip flops that day, so the pebble walkway up to the shrine was quite the challenge for my feet.

Along the path, there was one section that was lined on one side with barrels of French wine, and Japanese sake on the other. A plaque nearby explained that the wine and sake were a symbol of friendship between France and Japan.

The shrine itself was lovely inside, with lots of terrific photo ops of the architecture. One of my favorite things there was a large rack of wooden plaques that people had filled out with prayers. You could buy a plaque, then write your prayer on it and hang it on the rack.

There were hundreds - probably thousands - of them hanging all over this huge rack in the main courtyard. Most were in Japanese, but some of the ones in English said really profound and touching things. Oh yeah, except for the one that said that the person hopes Barack Obama wins the election hahaha Kevin filled one out and put it on the rack, but I took my little wood plaque home as a souvenir.

While we were there, we also happened to be able to see part of a Shinto wedding ceremony! The wedding procession walked slowly from one side of the courtyard to the other, then after a while, they all walked back across, with the bride and groom wearing much more elaborate outfits than the first time across. I thought it was very cool, and was really a unique thing to be able to experience while in Japan.

When we were done perusing the main temple, we were both sweating buckets and needed something to cool us off. On our way out, we passed a gift shop with a snack bar attached, so we decided to pop inside and cool off for a bit. While in the gift shop, I picked up a handkerchief (to wipe sweat...disgusting, I know, but all the Japanese women had them!) and a brass bookmark that I intend on using as a Christmas tree ornament. While I was in there, Kevin had stealthily gone into the snack bar and come out with a yummy looking snow cone. We both sat down at a table, but after one bite of his, I decided that I needed my own. You could put your own syrup on it, so I chose lemon, but I didn't end up putting enough on it. It was still great though, and did the trick to cool me off.

While inside Meiji Jingu, Kevin discovered that he had somehow misplaced his umbrella. He pinpointed it down to when we stopped at the map near the train station, since he had put it down to tie his shoe. Figuring that it was hopelessly lost, he continued and left Meiji Jingu. When we backtracked our steps up to the train station, wouldn't you know that his umbrella was still in the exact same spot where he left it! The area was swarming with people, yet no one bothered the umbrella. I LOVE this attitude about things, and really wish it was that way in the US. In the US, someone would have said 'Oh look, free umbrella!" and walked away with it. But in Japan, people see it and think "It's not mine, so I won't touch it" and leave other people's stuff alone. Later, Kevin chalked this umbrella recovery up to the fortune he'd gotten in the Sensoji Temple that said "the lost item will be found."

Not far from where the umbrella was found was the main drag through Harajuku, Takeshita Dori. The place was packed with almost wall to wall people, all of which were interesting in one way or another. The first place I stopped in was a sock store because I saw these little lace footie things that I wanted. I had noticed that a lot of Japanese women wear lace footies with dress shoes, which gives them this little ribbon of lace all around the top of the shoes. I thought they were very cute, and very Japanese, so I got a black pair. In hind sight, I wish I had gotten a couple of more pair because I love them, and I bet they will wear out quickly.

The main place on Takeshita Dori that I had wanted to visit was Harajuku Daiso which was...wait for it...wait for it...a four story dollar store!! Almost everything in the whole store was a dollar or less! This was where we spent the most time, by far, and I ended up buying 13 items. One was a towel with a photo of a dog on it that said "Sleeping dog - imagine your refresh scenes." That was definitely my favorite purchase from that store, and it is now proudly gracing the towel rack in my bathroom with its presence. I also got a couple of lingerie bags that I intend on using to pack when I travel, a cell phone holder and some chopsticks.

Just one of many very interestingly named shops in Harajuku!

We spent a lot of time browsing the shops and people watching, and ultimately reached the end of Takeshita Dori opposite the train station. Taking a left, we found the Harajuku Togo shrine, which was a small Shinto shrine. It was very nice inside, and seemed very out of place considering the crush of humanity less than a block away.

It was peaceful and pretty, and we had a nice rest while we were there. There was also a large koi pond with a dock over it, so we enjoyed watching the fish, and watching a mom and her son feed the fish.

Leaving the Harajuku Togo shrine, we made a right and walked away from the shrine through another shopping area. There were tons of large department stores including La Foret and the Zen Mall, but the one place I was intent on seeing was Chicago, a store specializing in vintage American clothes. The guidebook said that this store had a great selection of used antique kimonos for sale along with the American stuff, so I was hoping to purchase a nice silk kimono there.

Chicago was easy to find, and when I went inside, they had a really fun collection of American stuff. They had a large rack of flannel shirts, rows and rows of jeans and ironic t-shirts, and hundreds of patches.

The one I thought was the most peculiar was a very large AWANA patch. My mom has been an AWANA leader at our churches for close to 25 years, so I thought it was hilarious to find one of these patches in Japan! And this wasn't just a little patch...this is one of the huge ones from the back of the leader shirts. I had to get Kevin to take my photo with it just because I knew my mom would find it funny.

When I got to the Chicago basement, I was very disappointed in their kimono collection. I didn't see any silk ones, with most of them being polyester. I definitely didn't want to buy a polyester kimono, so I decided to pass on all of those and hope to find one in Kyoto when we were there.

Leaving Chicago, we passed Condomania (which surprisingly has its own stop on the tour!), then found Kiddy Land.

Kiddy Land was this HUGE toy store that was six stories tall and contained everything you could possibly think of to entertain a kid or a playful adult. My favorite part was the entire floor devoted to Snoopy! I could have spent a thousand bucks there easily, but I had neither the money nor the room for the stuff in my apartment! The only thing I ended up buying was a little miniature Disney food set that had a little Mickey plate of spaghetti, and even a piece of garlic bread with Mickey toasted onto it! Too cute! I'm just glad I made it out without blowing my budget!

After Kiddy Land, we found Oriental Bazaar, which was the last stop on the tour. I went in for a few minutes, but I thought it was very boring stuff...not stuff I would ever purchase for myself. It seemed very touristy, and most of the merchandise looked just like stuff I'd buy in the Japan pavilion at Epcot. So I left Kevin inside to browse a bit while I sat on a bench outside. My feet were killing me, so I was wanting to sit down anyway. Kevin ended up buying a t-shirt and couple of other little trinkety things.

By the time we left, we were both really hungry, so we decided to make a stop at McDonalds...y'know, in the interest of experiencing other cultures! hehe But seriously, McDonalds does have a lot of stuff on their Japanese menu that isn't on the American one and vice versa. I'd seen ads for a spicy chicken sandwich, so that was what I got, with fries. After finding our seat in the upstairs seating area, we began to chow.

Unfortunately, my sandwich was fairly disgusting since it had this huge rubbery ribbon of lord knows what going through the middle of the sandwich. I guess it was probably skin...but yuck, no way I did want to eat it. The fries were pretty standard though.

After I ate all I could eat of my meal, I needed to use the bathroom, so I went to the nearby restroom. They had another one of the high tech toilets, and it astounded me how intuitive it was. As soon as I arrived, it warmed the seat. As I sat there for a little bit, the toilet flushing sound came on. And as I sat there even more, it started to deodorize the whole bathroom! hahaha Hilarious! The toilet judges what it should do by how long you're sitting on the toilet!!

After dinner, it was still fairly early, so we decided to go to Akihabara Electric Town to check out the neon and electronics stores. So we hopped on the train at the nearest train station, and while we were on our way over there, it started to rain. By the time we got there, it was a full downpour, and I had accidentally left my umbrella at the hotel that day. We walked around a little bit, but weren't even able to find the big, main intersection in Akihabara that everyone has pictures of.

We popped our heads into two electronics stores, but the stuff actually seemed more expensive than it is in the states, which was exactly opposite of what I was expecting. After walking around for a few blocks, I was almost soaked, and ready to go home. I'd worn my flip flops that day, and they were soaked, and my feet were slipping everywhere as I walked, which made me scared that I was going to fall. Kevin didn't seem to be looking at much either, so we decided to go on back to the hotel.

After a quick trip back to the hotel on the Yamanote line, I checked my email on the hotel's computer, played with the resident fat cat for a little while, then retired to my mattress on the floor after hanging up my clothes to dry. Kevin was fast asleep by the time I arrived back in the room, having crashed out at about 8:00pm. By the time I was done looking at my photos and whatnot, I was asleep by about 10:00pm.

Go to Day 5 - Nagashima Spaland, Toba
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