Tag Archives: Tokyo

Sayonara Japan

 

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Kyoto yakatori

I never heard any Japanese people use the word “Sayonara” while we were here but it seems the right word as we sit in Narita Airport, waiting to board a flight home via Minneapolis. (The Japanese guy at the Delta check in machine looked at our final destination DSM and said “I don’t know that one.”)

We had a last walk around Ginza and the Tsukiji  Fish Market  this morning and had enough time to take the bus rather than the Narita Express train from Tokyo Station. (The bus was 1000 yen/$10 – one third the price of the train and took about a half hour longer. The bus turned out to be faster than advertised (1 hour 15 minutes, with no traffic issues) and in some ways easier than the train. We just stood in line and paid the driver, rather than having to figure out the machines for the train track and navigate Tokyo station in search of our track.

We had four hours to kill at Narita and started by visiting Sushi Go Round, a conveyor belt restaurant where we scarfed down some more tuna shashimi and fried chicken. Nearby is an outdoor observation deck where you can watch the plans come and go so we trudged around in the heat and humidity briefly. Then time to try to spend as much of our yen as possible. We never did find the wasabi Kit Kats we saw in the Yamanashi bus station so settled for green tea Kit Kats and Oreo cookies to give as gifts.

Last night, I met a nice Japanese woman in the bath who was traveling with an American woman from Maine – both are involved in organizing an Andrew Wyeth exhibit. That was fun. Now starting to board. Goodbye Japan. Great trip!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday in the park with Tokyo

We went to Yoyogi Park this Sunday morning to do some people watching, thinking we’d KNOC4926 (1)see more Japanese kid culture.  Instead we ended up at a Brazilian festival, complete with performances by martial arts dancers and drummers and Brazilian churrasco (grilled meats). Like  the Japanese, we  went with the flow and it felt like we were in Central Park at times, except for the giant shrine nearby, Meiji Jingu, which was very Japanese and hosted several elegant wedding parties. From there we walked in the general direction of Shibuya, where we encountered more crowds. It’s pretty astonishing how many people there are out and about in this city.

We were not entirely sure which crazy intersection was the famous Shibuya Crossing. Several qualified. Traffic stopped in all four directions while a sea of people crossed the street in all directions, including diagonally. It was crazy to not only watch but join in. The stores didn’t interest us much but it was fun to see more kid fashion trends…including a store of baby doll fashion. (That get up is expensive.)

At about 4 pm we stopped at a chic coffee cafe called 24/7 where people we eating stacks of fluffy pancakes. It didn’t occur to us to eat them any time other than for breakfast but must say they looked delicious. My ice coffee was served in a ceramic soup bowl with a giant block of ice and a little pitchers of milk and simple syrup. Made iced coffee quite exotic. Must try that at home.

Back in our neighborhood near Tokyo station we ended up having tapas for dinner at Zion, a popular place, we noticed, with Japanese people and, it turned out, for good reason. The food was great and we sat at the bar watching the chefs prepare paella and mussels and plates of jambon. Time now for our last bath of the trip. Tomorrow home. It’s time but we loved getting to know Japan!

 

 

 

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Harajuku craziness, Aoyama class, Andy’s, Omotesandro Dori – Tokyo

imageBoomeranged back again to Tokyo from the countryside, which has turned out to be a good way to deal with the craziness and rush of this big city (i.e., in small doses).We left our little rustic Fuji Hakone Guesthouse in Hakone and took a slightly out of the way route so we could ride the old narrow gauge mountain train from Gora. It was fun creaking along a narrow track cut into the mountain, lined tightly with purple hydrangea.

image After one bus ride, three train and one subway (not as hard as it sounds) we were back at our sleek business hotel in Tokyo, Super Lohas where the lovely female staff  greeted us as old friends (this is the third time we have stayed with them during this trip.) After lunch at what turned out to be a Chinese, not Japanese, restaurant near our hotel (we went where diners were. Chinese was a nice change) it was time to brave the crowds and check out the crazy teeny bopper scene in Harajuku on Takesita Dori and beyond.

Takesita dori, Harajuku

Takesita dori, Harajuku

Walking along Omotesando Dori, we were in the quintessential dense crowd we’ve seen in movie depictions of Tokyo, with clans of kids dressed in all kinds of  costumes, from baby dolls to punks. (This is the first place in Japan where I’ve seen tattoos and pierced and trans Japanese.)  It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of but everyone seemed to get where they were going and keep moving without crashing into each other. I wonder if people are so orderly here (for example, lining up for various subway cars) because it’s the only way to make a city with this many people function well.

Dinner tonight was at a packed hole-in-the wall tucked underneath the Yamamote train line rail in Ginza called Andy’s. Excellent, affordable, quick service. It was also one of the few places we’ve been that seemed to do it all, rather then specializing in say, sashimi, or yakatori (grilled meat/veg on skewers).  We had excellent everything–  asparagus, mushrooms, gyoza  stuffed chicken wings, fried chicken and garlic prawns (small portions so not too much food….) We walked back to our hotel through Ginza, with all its fancy stores lit up and flashing.

imageI bought a yukata (the traditional  cotton robe we’ve enjoyed at almost every hotel we’ve stayed at here) at the Oriental Bazaar.

We also wandered the narrow streets of Aoysama, an upscale neighborhood of fancy little shops and modern architecture homes that reminded me of London’s Covent Garden (even before we chanced upon a store called Neal’s Yard, an old Covent Garden favorite.)

 

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Ginza, hole-in-wall ramen, moving feast – back to Tokyo

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The farmers stayed later than planned in Yamanashi (many wanted to try the roller coaster behind our hotel) so we went back to Tokyo on our own, finding an incredibly convenient and on-schedule bus that went directly to Tokyo Station from the bus station smack dab next to our hotel. Much easier than expected.

Two hours later we were back at the Super Lohas hotel and soon after, having the classic experience of getting lost in Tokyo. But with time, we found our way to fancy Ginza, a 20-minute walk from our hotel, once we figured out where we were and needed to go. We managed to find a popular,  hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Andy’s (a Brit named Andy who married into a restaurant family here) but it was only open for dinner. Not to worry. We found another hole-in-the wall place, ban-nae,  underneath the Yamamote subway line (It was kind of eerie when the train rumbled above the ceiling we sat under) that had fantastic pork ramen, gyoza and edamame. There was a reason the place was packed with solo Japanese diners. The restaurant staff didn’t speak much English but were very kind and even walked us over to Andy’s, a few doors down (where we met Andy and reserved a table for Saturday night).

On to the two grand department stores, Matsuya and Mitsukoshi, where we toured the food halls in the basement and saw all kinds of amazing stuff, including square watermelon,  very expensive cantaloupe and waygu beef and Yamanashi peaches selling for about $8 a piece. We also managed to find an famous old coffee shop Cafe de L’Ambre, a kissaten/coffee shop that serves only coffee  and unusual coffee at that.  I had a #7 hot and cold coffee with a meticulously poured layer of sweet milk on top, served in a shallow wine glass. (“Don’t stir,” I was instructed)

Tonight we had a lot of fun at Nemuro Hanamaru, in the 5th floor of the  Kitte building on the elegant side of Tokyo Station– a “conveyor belt restaurant” where different dishes (mostly sushi but also some great fried chicken/karaage and odd stuff like grape juice, tiramisu and French fries) glided by on a moving belt while we sat, at the counter.

A nice young guy and his 13-year-old son (in photo above) sat next to us and helped us figure out how to do various things and even insisted on buying us a plate of tuna sushi.  People  here have been so incredibly nice.  In Tokyo Station, no fewer than four people asked today if we needed help. And we did. And they helped. (I’ve learned it pays to ask even when you think you know what you are doing because often you don’t. Or the people offering to help have a better idea!) I love this country!

 

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Iron Chef, Onsen, Tsukiji Fish Market – Toyko

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With the Iron Chef

Never a dull moment. Today’s close encounter was with the Iron Chef Masahara Morimoto, of  television fame (that’s him in the hat).  Eight of us when to what I gather was one of his restaurants, Atelier XEX, and he happened to be at the restaurant, which is very rare, so he stopped by our table to say hi.  Just one of several noteworthy experiences today.

We began with a visit to the amazing Tsukiji Fish Market, where our guide led us through throngs of people carrying umbrellas in the rain, along narrow corridors lined with fish merchants. Lots of sights and sounds – massive chunks of tuna that looked almost like beef, huge tuna heads, dried bonita fish flakes used to make a salty broth (dashi) for miso soup.  Then we were ushered into a tasting room to try like all kinds of sushi (I loved the tuna varieties  but not the octopus or squid).

This afternoon I went by myself to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, a hot springs bath theme park of sorts that was pretty crazy, packed with kids, families, very thin women. I  joined dozens of naked women in the women’s bath area, sitting in hot water, cold water, lukewarm water, a steam room and sauna. Met a nice young woman from Austria in one pool of water.  I paid extra to have “fish therapy” which was bizarre, with fish feasting on the dead skin on my feet. They made some head way but needed more than the 15 minutes I was willing to pay for. I also got a Japanese body and foot massage, which was different – lots of pressure points work. I could have spent longer at the onsen. There were other treatments, plus food, some sort of live floor show, God knows what else.

Tonight’s dinner featured all kinds of delicious food cooked on a hot grill in front of us: shrimp tartar, “sautéed use” lobster, oyster foie gras, waygu beef. Wow.

 

 

 

 

 

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Seeing Ambassador Kennedy – Tokyo

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We did lots of interesting things today but the coolest for me, hands down, was being about two feet away from Caroline Kennedy, now Ambassador Kennedy, during  a visit to the U.S. Embassy. I have admired her for years. Maybe  10 years ago I wrote an essay about her for a newspaper, when her mother died. Or maybe it was when her brother died. Anyway, there she was right in front of me, standing at a lectern, welcoming over 100 visiting farmers  who came to the embassy for an ag briefing. She looked smaller, thinner and more fragile than I expected. And older, her skin stretched tight across those sharp, almost bird-like, Kennedy features that reminded me most of her grandmother Rose. She was warm, funny, low-key. I was star struck.

Beyond that, we spent much of the morning  on an air conditioned tour bus seeing some major sights with the help of a tour guide, going up in the Tokyo sky tree for an amazing aerial view of the city, visiting the old shrine at Akasuka (and the street leading up to it lined with good craft and souvenir shops), gazing out at the imperial palace.

We ate very well too, at Gonpachi, a  place made famous in the movie “Kill Bill” and we had the good fortune to sit by people who didn’t like sushi so we ate their’s.  More fabulous Japanese food tonight at an elegant resort in the city,  Happoen, with a lovely Japanese garden lined with ancient bonsai trees.

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“Lost in Translation” land- Tokyo; overnight at Kyoto ryokan

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Talk about a change of scenery: now we are in a super modern new development area in Tokyo Bay at an enormous convention hotel, Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba. (Yes this is the portion of the trip we did not plan or pay for…). Out our 16th floor room is a sweeping view of high rise towers lining the bay and, oddly, our very own Statue of Liberty.

The bed here is about three times the size of the futon at the Hiirayaga ryokan (traditional inn) we slept on last night. Fortunately, the futon wasn’t too hard and my back held up (so far) but at around 1 am I woke up with what I later self-diagnosed as heartburn or acid re-flux and a vague upset stomach. Too much weird food during our kaiseria dinner at the ryokan last night. We opted to have breakfast not in our room (which was getting a tad confining) but instead in the dining room of the new wing, a gorgeous room with solid glass walls on all four sides that made it feel like we were dining in the lovely garden just beyond those walls. I ate the western breakfast (couldn’t deal with a Japanese breakfast of tofu, miso, pickled stuff but I did eat the good smoked fish). I am glad we stayed at the ryokan, it was truly an adventure, like stepping back in time and the people running the place were lovely. But one night was enough.

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In our tiny room in Tokyo

Dirck tries out his onsen robr

Dirck tries out his onsen robe

We haven’t been in this small a room since Bordeaux in 2006 but it’s what we expected from our “inexpensive” hotel (which cost about 22,000 yen or  $220). Unexpected was a really nice onsen, or public bath, for women only that I found very relaxing after a very long day and flight.  I knew the flight was long when I realized after the first six hours that I’d be in London, by then. Instead we had five more hours to go. This on top of two hours waiting nervously in the Des Moines airport, which was dealing with pop-up summer storms, and two hours in Minneapolis, after the one-hour flight from Des Moines.

So far so good with my bum back post-flight. I made sure to get up every few hours to do odd stretches in a relatively clear space near the bathroom (in front of rows of passengers). I wasn’t alone. There were a few other Japanese people doing stretches, foot-stomping and what look d like Tai Chi. Delta was impressive, especially after our dismal Air Canada flight to Lisbon last year. Great entertainment system, lots of movies, music (Deer Hunter, Fritz and the Tantrums) and cool flight tracker map that showed us just north of Kodiak, Alaska during one check.

We took the Narita Express train into Tokyo Station, as our Japanese friend Tom suggested, and although it was much more expensive (62,000 yen/$62 for two) than other options like the bus,  it was very efficient and we were eager to get to our hotel. We were hugely impressed by the fastidiousness of the train. When it pulled up at the airport and passengers got off, we had to wait while men carefully cleaned the floors and dusted. Imagine that happening on the Long Island Railroad at Penn Station.

Tokyo Station was as bustling as expected but we managed to find the tour office where we picked up our discounted tickets for the bullet train to Tokyo tomorrow and after a little bit of wandering we chanced upon the hotel we had reserved, Super Lohas Tokyo, which is very pleasant. We ate delicious tonkatsu (pork cutlets from black pigs) at a branch of Maisen, the famous tonkatsu place that is conveniently located in a department store next to Tokyo station. Exhausted and must get to bed.

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