Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 9 - Tokyo

Sunday, June 28th was our last day in Japan. Our flight wasn't until 4pm, so we decided to do just a little more sight seeing that morning.

We got our last metro cards - by this time we were pros at riding the Tokyo metro. :)

Our destination for the day was Harajuku. This is where the Meiji Shrine is, in Jingu-gaien Gardens.

This was a some-what difficult to interpret sign at the entrance to the park. It looks like being haunted is on notice...

Outside the gardens there were lots of shops, including the flag-ship stores for a number of companies, from Forever 21 to Prada. However, not much was open since it was early in the day.

Harajuku is also where Tokyo sub-culture "cosplay" gang comes on Sundays. (Cosplay stands for "Costume Play" - they're teens that dress up in crazy costumes and hang out in the park where tourists take their picture.) I think it was too early for most of the crowd, but we saw one or two.

Before long, it was time to head back to the hotel and back to the airport! This time, the flight lasted 12 hours, but we landed before we took off! (Take-off: 4pm on Sunday, Landing: 1pm on Sunday) It was definitely an amazing trip!!!

Japan Trip - Day 8 - Tokyo

We started our last full day in Tokyo (and in Japan) with breakfast at the hotel, before heading out on the subway.

We went to Tsukiji Fish Market, first, to see the early-morning sales. The market is huge, and filled with fish, squid, octopus, and other sea creatures.

From the fish market, we walked to Ginza, an up-scale shopping neighborhood. We passed by the Kabuki theater along the way.

Once in Ginza, we made a stop at Matsuya department store. They had an umbrella section, where my mom found two really unique umbrellas to bring home as souveniers.

Our next stop was at the Sony building, where there are four floors showing Sony's most recent technology releases - and some things that aren't out yet. One of the funniest things was "Rolly" a sphereical object that rolls and spins while playing your mp3's. Its dancing even kind of goes with the music - it might sound silly, but it's pretty funny to watch.

Next, we headed to the Imperial Palace Gardens. A large area with big trees, you can almost forget you're in the middle of Tokyo.

We went to Asuka next, where we did a little shopping and then saw the Senso-ji temple. Actually, the temple was being renovated, but we saw the gate, pagoda, and area around it.

Though it was only afternoon, the day was hot, and we'd already done a lot of walking, so we decided to take a break at the hotel.

In the evening, my mom and I headed back to Shibuya for a relaxed evening of sipping Starbucks and watching one of the most famous intersections in the world.

Japan Trip - Day 7 - Tokyo

There is an incredible amount to see in Tokyo, so even with a few days to sight see, we knew we'd only scratch the surface. However, we hoped to travel the city and get a sense of many of the different areas.

We started our first day early, heading to Ebisu, home to Yebisu Garden Place mall. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that most of the shops didn't open until 10am. (It was 8:30 or 9am at the time.)

So... change of plans. We headed instead to Odaibo and Tokyo Bay. To get there, we took a cool, driver-less monorail and had a great view. Our first stop was the crazy-looking Fuji-TV building. It looks like it was put together with pieces from an erector-set. (Hmm... I'm not sure they make erector-sets any more - probably my brother will be the only person to get that reference...)

We also saw the statue of liberty. Though I never did figure out what it was doing there.

From there we headed to Decks Tokyo Beach - a boardwalk-themed mall.

Here's one interesting shop, called "Trap!" whose motto seems to be "Sound which can't finish being held,mixing feelings, and time which can't finish being supported. Anyway, let's soend every day happily." Yes, let's.

After shopping around (I found a great dress for $10), we decided to eat lunch here. And by "we decided" I guess I mean that my Mom and Mamie gave in to my pleas to eat at the great looking sushi restaurant, though neither of them really like sushi.

The food was amazing though - I got a set course and tried octopus shashimi for the first time. (And there was udon soup for Mom and Mamie.)

The restaurant also had cool views of Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge. (Interesting side note - the bridge in my earlier picture of Nagasaki Wharf is a replica of the Tokyo Rainbow Bridge, but 1/2 it's size.)

From there we headed to Venus Fort - a mall that mimics 17th century Rome and has ceilings that change from day to night. Definitely the most surreal mall I've ever been to.

After seeing Venus Fort, we made our way back to Ebisu. We decided we'd had enough shopping for the day, so we instead headed to the Beer Museum Yebisu.

The museum was short, but interesting - particulary the various adds the beer company used from the 1920s through the present. And, best of all, it had a tasting room at the end.

Mamie, my Mom, and I shared the sampler. They were all good.

From there, we walked around the corner to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Mamie decided to sit and enjoy a coffee while my Mom and I went to an exhibit of an international photography competition. It was an amazing exhibit - there were photos of current events, wars, disasters, sports, and every-day people, and the photos varied from interesting to shocking or upsetting to some that were even funny. I was wavering on whether or not to go to this museum, but after seeing this exhibit, I'd highly recommend it.

Our last stop of the day was in Roppongi Hills, another giant shopping complex. We ate dinner at a teppenyaki restaurant there. It was cool to watch them cook the food in front of us.

They didn't really do tricks and quick cutting like teppenyaki places do in the U.S., but the food was amazing, and that's what counts.

Though Roppongi Hills is a mall, we didn't do much shopping, and instead we spent most of our time seeing the Mori Art Museum, which showcases contemporary art. The current exhibition featured art that can be experienced with mulitple senses - my favorite was a room with speakers all along the walls and an old wooden table in the middle. Depending on where you touched the table, different sounds and voices would come from different speakers - really interesting.

We also saw a great night view of Tokyo from the top of the building, which was included with our Mori Art Museum ticket. Tokyo has a building called the "Tokyo Tower" that's modeled on the Eiffel Tower, and is all lit up at night.

Before heading back to the hotel we stopped for one of the best-tasting cream puffs I've ever had in my life (other than Mamie's home-made ones, of course) at a little French cafe. My mom and I both went back and bought a second one.

Japan Trip - Day 6 - Kyoto and Tokyo

Thursday was another train day, but since Kyoto and Tokyo are only 2.5 hours apart, we still had plenty of time for sight-seeing.

We started our day by learning the Kyoto bus system. We were able to successfully make our way across town to Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. This is one of Japan's best known sights, and I think the fame is deserved. It is a beautiful temple surrounded by lake and beautiful gardens.

Multiple times while we were in Kyoto, we were stopped by kids on school trips that wanted to ask us questions to practice their English. Some questions, like "where are you from?" were easy to answer. Others, like "What are your favorite Japanese words?" required a bit more thought. (I think our answer was to just list all the Japanese words we knew.)

From there we went on a (very long and hot) walk to Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple famous for it's rock garden. This was interesting, and a nice place to sit for a minute and relax.

It also had a beautiful lake with pink and yellow flowers.

From Ryoan-ji, it was time to take the long bus-ride back to the hotel and then make our way back to the train station. Luckily, we already knew how to get to our Tokyo hotel, since it was the same one we'd been at the first night.

It was evening by the time we got settled in, so we headed off to Shibuya. Shibuya is the neighborhood in Tokyo with the huge times-square like area. Tons of people cross the intersection at every light - it's mesmerizing to watch.

There is a star bucks on the corner that overlooks the intersection, so we stopped there to sip coffee and people watch.

Our last stop of the night was at a restaurant with outdoor seating on one of the top levels of the Parco I department store. (There are three Parco department stores right next to each other...) The food was good, and the weather was perfect for sitting outside.

Japan Trip - Day 5 - Kyoto

Wednesday was our first (and only) full day in Kyoto, and we wanted to make it count. We planned to do a tour of a number of the temples and shrines in Southern Higashiyama, the area just south of our hotel. We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then started walking.

Our first stop was at Shoren-in. It was built in 1895, and though it was smaller than some of the other temples we saw, I thought it was one of the most peaceful.

Our next stop was Chion-in, which is a huge temple built in the 17th century. The temple gate is the largest in Japan.

It also had a picturesque stone bridge crossing a lake filled with lilypads.

We took a brief walk through Marayama-koen, a pretty park.

That brought us to Yasaka-jinja, a big and colorful shrine.

From there, we headed away from the temples for a walk through Gion - a district where geisha traditionally reside. There were lots of shops and cute streets in the area.

We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, and had noodles and okonomiyaki.

Our temple touring continued at Kodai-ji, a temple founded in 1605 with very pretty gardens.

The last temple of the day was Kiyomizu Dera, a large temple high in the hills.

As my mom and I explored the grounds further up the hill, Mamie used the time to shop on teapot alley, a nearby street famous for its handicrafts and souveniers.

Exhausted from a full day of walking, we took a cab back to the hotel to regroup. Mamie spent the evening relaxing in the room while my mom and I went to a nearby yaki-tori restaurant.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 4 - Kyoto

After spending a few great days in Nagasaki, and learning a lot about Japan from Drew and Kiyoko, it was time to head off on our own - this time to Kyoto.

In the morning, we had one last traditional breakfast, thanks to Kiyoko.

She then took us to the train station and road along with us to Nagasaki Station, where we would catch our train to Kyoto. We were sad to say good-bye - especially Mamie and Kiyoko, who had gotten along really well and become friends. Kiyoko came on the train once to get a final picture together, and then we'd thought she'd left the station, but she came back a few minutes before we left with coke for my mom and coffee for Mamie and me - so thoughtful! We waved as our train pulled out of the station.

Again, we had a couple of train changes. Mamie took advantage of the time to get another beverage from one of the millions of vending machines. They really are all over - not just the stations, but on many street corners as well.

We got to Kyoto around3pm, and decided to get lunch before going to the hotel. The station is huge, and like Nagasaki, is connected to a mall. There was one floor dedicated to Ramen shops, so we went there. After lunch, we had some green tea ice cream, and enjoyed the view from the 16th floor terrace. These school kids stopped us to get a photo.

We were staying at the Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto, where we got upgraded to a ridiculously large room. It had multiple rooms, and included a board table.

It was actually possible to be in the hotel room and not be able to find the other two people.

And it had an incredible view.

Since it was getting late, we just finished off the evening with a short walk down Ponto-cho, a small street with restaurants and bars.

Then we went back and relaxed in our matching Westin Hotel bath robes and slippers. :)