A Travellerspoint blog

Day 4: Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shibuya, Omote-Sando and Harajuku

O-hai-yo gozaimasu from Tokyo. I'm taking it over for JJ for this blog entry. I'll start off by saying that I love it here. haha. From the sights and the very amicable people to the overall efficiency of how things are done, when they are done, and such and such. I'd easily move here if I could. Of course, the biggest hindrance is not knowing any Japanese, and the only way we get by is really on the efforts by the Japanese people to acknowledge us as tourists and helping us out. But, really, JJ and I will make the effort to learn the language if we do make good on living here. Anyways, enough about that, we did a lot on Day 4.

JJ and I didn't leave as early as yesterday (7am) so we waited closer to 11am to get out. Again, the 7-11 was our source for breakfast. We left for Tokyo Station and this time, stopped downstairs to their mini-mall or sorts. It's one big shopping floor below the station that should facilitate all the consumer needs for anything and everything. We gravitated towards the "Character Store" area where there are little shops devoted solely to cartoon and other kid-related characters from Snoopy to Sanrio to Studio Ghibli to Disney. We aren't doing much purchasing shopping since we know we can buy all this stuff at the end of our trip, and also to get a good price check of things. Regardless, we are enjoying our "trial run" of where to get what we want. We stayed around for about an hour just looking at all the craziness of the stores and really getting a good impression of how busy travelers come and go and pick up little trinkets and/or novelties. We headed up for lunch onto the Kitchen Street floors above the station floor.

Lunch was again noodles, much like our dinner from the day before. Given our sitting time of about 12:30, it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be, given the mass rush of workers who flood the stations for the quick lunch. Oh wait, haha, there are about a thousand little noodle shops within Kitchen Street. We just so happened to go to one that was not as busy. Check out the photos to see what we ate, and yes, it tasted just as good as it looked. I'm not sure if JJ mentioned this, but the stigma of how Japan is an expensive country is true. However, the caveat is that what we equate to tax and tip is included into all the prices. Our meals may cost the equivalent of ten dollars, but when you subtract tax and tip at a restaurant, the base price for the food would be closer to $7.50-$8. Given the type of food we eat, that is actually better than back in the states. We haven't done much of cheap eats at the local McDonalds or other fast foods joints to really give you guys a true comparison. Japanese food in general is still expensive.

After lunch, we made our way over by train southwest of our location to the Harajuku/Shibuya districts. These areas are known to be hotspots for the young with a lot of shopping and clubs. The origin of the harajuku girl (a very distinctive dress attire that I can't quite describe) comes from this area. However, we didn't come down here for that. We came for the Meiji Jingu shrine which houses the "spirits" of the Emperor and Empress Meiji from the Meiji Era (circa end of 19th to early 20th centuries). The complex is quite large and we did quite a bit of walking. Despite the traditional Japanese look and feel of the complex, it is not that old. Again, the Meiji emperor lived to the early 20th century and the complex was finished close to 1920. Much of it was destroyed in WWII and thus rebuilt to it's original intentions closer to 1950. This all does not deter from how retrofitted you feel into that time frame. I took some time to sketch out the architecture and JJ took plenty of pictures. I'm not sure what we just so happened to be there for, but we were able to catch some ceremonial event (perhaps daily?) where there is a big beating of a drum and two monks going into shrine to offer prayers/blessings. It is encouraged for everyone to offer prayers for themselves and/or others and so many tourists came up to the edge of the shrine to do that. The two monks spent closer to 15 min. offering their prayers. I really liked the symbolic nature of the drum beats, obviously due to the mere size and sound it makes. After this event, we made our way to the gift shop and relaxed for a bit before heading out to the rest of Harajuku and Shibuya.

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Since I'm a bit of a Japanese architecture fanatic, I made good of my intentions to see some of the important historical architecture in Tokyo as well as some of the modern architecture. We only saw a few today, but there are plenty more to see. As a result, some of the images you will see may not be the perfect postcard-esque photo. You'd have to be an architect or have an architectural lens to understand why I took some of the photos I did. haha... Anyhoo, the first one we saw today was the National Yoyogi Stadium done by Kenzo Tange. Kenzo Tange is to Japan as Frank Lloyd Wright is to America when it comes to architecture. Among the other photos include Toyo Ito's TOD shop in Omotesando, a neat Audi Gallery dealership and towards our trip back to our hotel, some random modern mixed-use building. You'll have to find them in between all the Kiddy Land photos that JJ took.

Which of course, leads me to the next part our trip, KiddyLand in Omotesando, where its just an orgy of limitless cute. We all are aware of how obsessed with cute things the Japanese are (in particular the girls) and of course how much of a global influence this is. There are a lot of designer clothing stores in Omotesando and dispersed all over the area are little cute shops for trinkets/stuffed animals and collectibles. The KiddyLand store is about 7 stories, which JJ said was originally only for Snoopy. Due to some temporary relocation changes, Snoopy was reduced to just one floor (sad Thomas, haha). I'll let the photos JJ took of KiddyLand to suffice in explaining what we saw, haha....

Our last stop before we headed back to our hotel was in the Shibuya district, where the famous intersection that allows for probably several thousand people to cross each time is located. I took some photos and a video (too large to upload but will try with youtube). It is quite overwhelming to say the least to see that many people at rush hour. It is one big swarm. To allude to a Dmitri Martin skit, "Brothers, Hold!.......Hold!.......Attack!" JJ and I just stood there and watched several crossings and of course crossed ourselves.

Dinner was in Shibuya and was at a random ramen shop. Paying was different since it was at a machine. The waitress told us to pick out a number and pay at the machine, then sit down and the food will be served. The epitome of Japanese efficiency. My bowl which I had no idea what I ordered (I always go with #8 when in doubt) but it was very good (I think it had miso in it). We were in and out of the little ramen shop in about 25 min. I believe. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and basically relaxed, cleaned up and went to bed....all before 8pm. With all the walking (averaging 8-10 miles a day) and of course the tolerable but still hot temperatures, we're exhausted by that time. Plus the fact that we have a bit of laundry and packing to do before we check out, it was in our best interest to keep it simple the rest of the night. We'll party like there is no tomorrow during the weekends with the rest of Japan. haha. Wow....that's it for Day 4. Plenty left in us the rest of the way. We leave for Kyoto in the morning and will update again when we can. Thanks for reading and hope I didn't bore you too much.


Pictures: July 3

Posted by kalara 04:57 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 3: Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Imperial Palace, Ginza, and Shinjaku

Woke up pretty early this morning and got ready for the day. Thomas and I slept really well from our long journey. We watched a bit of Japanese TV before we headed out (about 7 in the morning). On our walk towards the Imperial Palace areas, we stopped at the 7-11 to get some quick breakfast. If I could I would import Japanese 7-11’s to the U.S. They are so much better! We got some onigiri rolls (rice balls with some sort of filling inside and covered on the outside with seaweed) and orange juice. It was so good, that I think it’ll be our breakfast everyday (and it’s pretty cheap!).

We walked through Tokyo Station towards the Imperial Palace area. We stopped at the Wadakura Fountain Park. It
was a wonderful mix of traditional Japanese and contemporary Japanese building. The birds were also not very shy at the park. As soon as they figured out we had food, they kept jumping closer to us. Thomas fed one some rice.

The rest of morning we walked around the park, sketched (well Thomas did) and took pictures. We then headed to the Ginza area and walked up and down for a couple of ours. We had lunch at this restaurant called Sakura. It was really good and for a reasonable amount. After lunch we headed back to the hotel for a quick break. At this point we walked about 5 miles. The break was really nice and cool. We then went out again and headed for Shinjaku.

Shinjaku wasn’t too bad. It had a lot more people than the Ginza area. We walked around and headed towards the government building. They have 45 floors and we went onto their observation tower. It was a great view of Tokyo city. We then walked around the Shinjaku area and stopped in a department store. They have one floor devoted to different kiosks. Very tempted to buy some food there, but we had no place to eat it. Thomas was able to get one picture before we found out we weren’t allowed to. We got some dinner at a noodle shop and then walked around a bit more. We stopped at the Little Tomatoe for some drinks and desserts. Then we headed back to the hotel.

On a final note for the day, Japanese people are very well-mannered and courteous. For instance, when in the US would a cashier run out after you because you don’t have a straw for your drink? Everywhere we went I don’t think I met anyone who was rude. I would love to bring the service of these stores and restaurants to the US, but then again I think people in the US would take advantage. Anyways, the level of service so far is very excellent. More another day!


Posted by kalara 16:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 1 & 2: Monday, June 30, 2008 & Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We’re waiting at the airport right now to board our flight. Surprisingly, check-in and the security check point was pretty quick. I think we got to the airport at the right time. As we left the ticket counter the lines had gotten a lot longer. The security check was also the shortest I have seen it in a while.

Our flight is pretty full today – overbooked I should say. Fortunately for us, because it was overbooked our seats were upgraded to the next class. So from economy we now go to “premium” economy - supposedly we get extra leg room.

The trip still hasn’t quite “hit” me yet. I’m still waiting for the moment where its “Yes, you are finally on your honeymoon!” I’m sure when it hits, I will quickly add it on to this. To celebrate going on this trip I am wearing my pink Godzilla shirt with him holding a sign that says “Tokyo” trying to hitchhike. It’s pretty cute and I’ve been waiting to wear it for a while, holding off until today. I tried to convince Thomas to wear it, but alas, he doesn’t do pink. Haha. He also doesn’t do matching shirts with me.

Since there is plenty of time to wait at the airport, I thought it would be a great time to write my observations thus far which is mainly about the people around me. There is this Japanese man who has the brightest lime yellow newspaper boy hat on and a similarly matching color shirt. It’s quite bright and noticeable. The other thing that I noticed is the amount of flight attendants that are on our flight. They take up a good chunk of seats and they all seemed to arrive at the same time. They seem to have the same hairdo too – ponytail in the back, colorful scarf at the neck. Granted they are all supposed to be matching. Other then the flight attendants and some of the people who are waiting for the flight, the airport seems rather quiet. Not that is a bad thing, but for some reason I feel that
Mondays should have more of a hustle and bustle feel to it.

We are now a little less than hour before boarding and I’m surprised at seeing how few people there are – or that they are all stuck at the security gate. We are taking ANA and I’m pretty excited about going on a Japanese airline. Not only because I heard the service was great, but also to help really set the mood for our trip.

~ * ~

We just got onto the plane and the premium economy is very nice. The seats are wider and much more leg room. They even have a foot rest that comes up. The plane is very Japanese. They had a program running showing the do’s and don’ts on the flight ~ very cutely animated. They even provide slippers which we can even bring home. They are so comfy and soft ~ beats wearing my sneakers on the plane. Another thing we noticed right away, were the remotes for the TVs. It’s in the seats which you can pop out when you want to use. It comes with an instruction manual. More about it later.

So as we’re exploring the gadgetry and watching the cutely animated do’s and don’ts the plane starts to move. After the safety video – 3D animated, the screen switches to a camera that is on front of the plane. This is pretty neat since we get to see what the pilots see out their window. It was quite mesmerizing. So as we went through the different runways we could see where we were going. It’s quite interesting to see the difference in color of the regular “cruising” lanes versus the take off lane. To put it mildly, regular lanes are concrete color (very light) and the take off lane is black. Now they are made of the same material, so you can imagine the amount skid marks that would make it black. Then off we went and it was quite fun watching us take off and actually see the plane lift from the ground. Kind of like an amusement park rollercoaster ride. The best part is that camera doesn’t turn off once we take off it seems to switch views so that you can see what is underneath the plane. This is great since those of us not next to window can see. I watched it rather intently as we slowly ascended through the clouds. They turn it off on the main screen, but we have the option to turn to it to watch whenever we want.

Soon afterwards when we started to level off they started the cabin service. First thing I have to say is that the flight attendants are very nice and polite. At first I thought they were color coordinated by the cabin they were servicing, but I was wrong. They are all in nicely coordinated blue and pur-ple attire. They started the service by handing out hot warm towels (as well as a very very long international survey. This was followed by drinks and a Japanese snack. I think I prefer the Japanese rice crackers over the peanuts that are usually served. I was quite happy when Thomas didn’t want his. Hehe.

Now to go back to the electronics, because this is why I think I will always fly ANA for any longterm trip. First off, the remote is also a game controller, movie controller and just about everything else. We can start watching a movie whenever we want, stop it in the middle, fast forward, rewind or even start another movie. There are about 14 movies to choose from which is great. I had watched “21” and will follow that with some other ones. The other fun thing is they have some neat games that we can play. For instance, solitaire, blackjack, and some other fun computer type like games. Bonus, is that it’s in all the cabin classes. Many kids are quite occupied by the Disney game. The kids are quite quiet on this flight when I think about it. There are at least 3 babies on board and I haven’t heard them!

The other great thing is that the upgrade gave us seats with an A/C port. So we are able to work on the computer without killing the battery while on the plane. Thomas was quite excited that he could work on his thesis. He already started sketching things in his notebook. So I got the computer to start typing up this blog. Not sure that I’ll be able to keep this up over the course of the trip, but hopefully I’ll have several entries. Granted there are only so many things you can on a plane for 14 hours- so a long first blog will be the result.

At this point we are a quarter of the way to Japan. They have turned down the cabins for “sleep/night” time I think to help us adjust for the day we lose going over. Problem for me is that it’s only 5 pm here. But we got a nice pillow and blanket and some bit of extra room which helps.

So periodically they show a clip of 3 Japanese stewardesses doing exercises in the seats. It’s kind of funny, but at the same time helpful. They were saying to make sure you don’t get too sore to do these different stretches in your seat. The funniest part though - is that once they finish demonstrating a stretch, they all put their hands back together in their seat and just look straight at the screen.

~ * ~

We finally landed and some adrenaline kicked in. I will admit it didn’t really hit me we were in Japan until we got to the hotel and even then not quite. The trek between the airport, train and hotel wasn’t too bad. We rode the Narita Express from the JR line (big train company in Japan). It took about an hour from the airport into Tokyo Station.
We got there and we faced the problem of trying to figure out where we should exit. It’s kind of a crazy station. Fortunately we chose the right exit to take and found the taxi stand. The person was very kind to help us and we got to our hotel pretty quickly. Once we got there we got our room which is a traditional style Japanese tatami room. We decided not to venture out, just showered and let everything sink in. Then we went to bed. The futons were really, really comfortable!!!

Sorry this was so long!

For pictures please go to our albums in photobucket.
Pictures: June 30
Pictures: July 01

Posted by kalara 16:01 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

A Week Away

Our trip is about a week away. We're pretty excited and can't wait for the trip. I'm including a map of the major areas we'll be visiting while we're away this summer. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hong Kong and Guangzhou in China. As we do more trips around the country and visit different cities, I will try to add it on.

Posted by kalara 19:53 Comments (2)

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