Sunday, April 26, 2009

Days 4-5 Japan

Day 4-Tokyo, Japan
I awoke early in my small capsule, quickly showered and woke up Brittany. After getting organized we decided to head to Roppongi Hills, a sprawling metropolitan complex of Japanese economic hegemony. Brittany’s feet were bothering her (we weren’t having good feet luck in Japan) and she chalked it up to her shoes. She was desperate to get some relief so we headed to Birkenstock, which was closed (we were there too early), so we decided to head to the top of the building for the Tokyo City View. It turned out that it was a two-for-one ticket which included the Mori Art Museum AND a car show (I took pictures for you dad).

The Art Museum was really cool, very modern. The main attraction was this triangular form of rings with light bulbs on it, it was supposed to be confusing, yet reflexive. Also included in the ticket was a headset which guided us through the museum and told us little factoids. Some of the exhibits were really odd, such as one which consisted of a wood table in the middle of a dark room which you were supposed to touch which made it make noises and quote movies-very weird.

My favorite piece was done by a man who was trying to express what happened to his world when his family’s farm was taken back by the government to be turned into something industrial. It was spread across an entire room with names of the farm, his family, trees and other organic matters.

From the museum we headed upstairs to the car show. It was really cool because not only could you view the Japanese Bentley or a MiTo, but you could also look out the large window on the 52nd floor out towards Tokyo, a great outlook.

After taking quite a few pictures we took the elevator (and deposited our belongings in a locker so they wouldn’t get blown away) up to the official Tokyo View. The window was blowing and the view was fantastic as we looked over all of Tokyo and took more pictures (of course!).

Brittany’s feet were really killing her so we decided to go back to Birkenstock and try to find her a good comfy pair of shoes. We were successful, so we went down to the food court to get a nosh. I found take-out tempura (sticking with authentic food, all the business people were ordering it), while Brittany grabbed a bagel(with too little cream cheese).

After lunch we took another timely metro to Asakusa. Asakusa is well known for it’s Nakamise Shopping Arcade and it’s Buddhist Temple Sensoji, which is Tokyo’s largest Buddhist temple.

Upon walking up to arcade itself you pass by the Kaminarimon or the Thunder gate which is a huge gate with a large lantern with the guardian gods, Raijin and Rujin. We walked around the shopping arcade for a little while, Brittany bought some pottery for her family while I watched the locals buy discount makeup and other goods. The arcade was pretty busy and the Japanese can be a little pushy in lines (if there is a space in the queue then its up for the taking), but all in all it was pretty orderly. The color scheme is bright reds and yellows, working together to lead one to the main attraction amongst the cherry blossoms (although not as prevalent as in Kyoto, Tokyo did have quite a few), the Sensoji.

The next thing we pass by is the Kannondo. There were quite a few individuals surrounding the small circular well, each holding incense while wafting the smoke towards themselves. Before entering the temple we wash our hands in another dragon (in metal) fountain with little cups to cleanse ourselves.

We look ahead and see hundreds of white lanturns, neatly hung in orderly rows leading us to the main gate. The gate is a two-tiered pagoda which we slip through in order to get a glimpse of the main alter which is totally plated in gold. It is actually behind glass which skews the view a little bit but it is still a beautiful array of alter and flower, mixing and mingling in order to showcase Buddhist beauty.

As we look up to the ceiling we see a beautiful painting of a G-d with a red skirt, twirling different pieces of cloth. As we walk out of the main gate we see a 5-tiered red and black pagoda, Gojunoto, which is sad to house some of the ashes of Buddha. Surrounded by blossoms it is a truly a magical place.

Continuing through the garden we see more beautiful carved stones (my favorite!) as well as black stone statues of Buddhas and small prayer and donation pagodas (they look like mini-pagodas with green roofs and wood structures on top of stones). It was just so beautiful.

After reflecting in the garden we decide to head back out to the shopping arcade (its getting late) and make our final purchases. I really wanted a little container for powdered green tea (and green tea), because let’s face it, I love green tea. But, I wanted it for a really good price so we had to walk all around to find one that was more geared towards wholesale. After walking through at least 10 pottery shops, we find the perfect shop in a small ally. I purchase a small, white, condiment container with small cherry blossoms painted on it. It is beautiful. Afterwards, we managed to track down a  grocery store to buy some powdered green tea.

Exhausted, we hop on the metro to head back to the capsule hotel to drop our belongings and recharge before heading back out.

The capsule hotel is alive with travelers (including some SASers), we utilize the computers and research what to do for dinner and the late afternoon. Next, we hop on the metro and head to Ginza, famous for it’s shopping malls. Sitting on the subway at rush-hour was quite a site as the young student next to me kept falling asleep and the businessman to my right was furiously texting.

Ginza looked like any other section of any other city and we quickly bored of the shopping centers (it was all VERY upscale). We decided to head into one of the centers to grab a quick snack (I got a hand sushi roll) as we were getting hungry but didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Brittany’s foot was also starting to hurt again at this point.

We hopped back on the metro (we had unlimited passes and wanted to see as much as we could) towards Shinkjuku, famous for it’s electronics, music and department stores. We walked along the very busy streets before deciding (Brittany was having trouble walking at this point) to stop for some dinner. We ate at a Japanese version of an IHOP (part fast food but with service). We each got some very yummy shrimp tempura with rice and miso soup. After dinner Brittany decided that she wanted to return to Roppongi to try to return the Birkenstocks. So, once more, we got on the metro and headed to Roppongi. Although she wasn’t able to return them, she did get the arches hammered down which helped. Afterwards she got some Ice Cream and we started discussing if it was possible to wake up to go the Tsukiji Fish Market at four in the morning. After deciding to do it, we headed back to the Capsule Inn to go to sleep. Sleep came easy as I was exhausted and before I knew it, it was morning…

Day 5- Tokyo to Yokohama

I was in disbelief when my alarm buzzed at 4:30 am. The idea of waking up that earl and the actual occurrence of such an event are two totally different things. But, alas I was waking up early to see the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, so really I had nothing to complain about. I woke Brittany up (she was not particularly happy about it) and we got ready, then headed down to the metro to grab the first train of the morning to Tsukiji (the 5:12am). The station is roughly a kilometer from the market and we were a little disoriented, but we were able to follow a German family all the way there.

The market is alive and very real. People are conducting high stakes auctions (tuna is expensive!). As we walked into the open air building, I was reminded of Rona. The industrial fork lift thingies (I don’t know what they’re actually called) were whizzing past us(you had to be really careful) carrying everything from squid to enormous tunas. The smell was quite overwhelming, but I managed to get used to it. It was amazing to see all the different kinds of fish in little stands, the shopkeepers proudly slicing and dicing. I tried to not get grossed out as we traversed the aisles. We slowly (it was sensory overload) made out way to the back of the market where the tuna auctions were.

The auctions were held in what looked like huge storage units (with garage doors). We peaked under one and saw rows upon rows of frozen tuna, larger than a person! The back tail (or fin?) was cut off and a little hanging piece of meat was exposed to allow bidders to feel the meat (grosssss). I ducked under to snap a few shots before getting in trouble and being shooed to the ‘official tourist line’. After waiting for 10 or so minutes (while watching the whizzing carts full of fish almost collide with each other and tourists) we walked into one of the units, down a small aisle, and got a better view of the auctions. It is truly amazing that so much goes into buying sushi (lol). The chaos began to subside around six and we made our way back out of the market, viewing for the final time curled octopus legs, thousands of tiny shrimp and fish that I have never seen in my life. Let’s just say the fish market in Seattle has nothing on Tsukiji.

After we washed the smell off our clothes we took a short nap at the Capsule Inn before heading back out to explore Ahkihabara (where our hotel was located). We had decided to leave this adventure for last because we weren’t going to buy a all-you-can-ride pass for the metro and we could easily leave our stuff at the capsule.

Ahkihabara is also known as the Electric Town, Chou St. being the main drag. We arrived a little early (around 9:45) as the huge mega-shops were opening. The whole street looked like one big Brandsmart USA and each shop seemed to resemble the discount electronic store. The stores housed everything technical or manga (the Asian comic book style) you could ever imagine. Although their technology is ahead of ours, the prices were pretty similar. As Brittany browsed the multi-story electronic stores looking for ‘junk drives’ and a camera for her dad, I looked at the DSLRs. They still had D40s on the shelf! They are definitely more into DSLRs than we are in the United States (for instance a D700 or something that would be marketed at professionals in the United States is marketed for consumers!). They had lens upon lens and more camera bag choices than I have ever seen in my life. However, I was a good girl and managed to restrain myself!

As many of you know, I am kind of obsessed with Copic Markers (used for anime, or in my case, rubber stamping!), so when I heard we were staying in the anime district I had hoped that we would run into them. Since we had a little extra time before lunch (the McDonalds 390 Yen lunch special that served us well in Japan wherein you get a cheeseburger, fries and a large soda for the equivalent of 4 USD (any other Japanese lunch sets you back roughly 10 USD or much more), Brittany used her limited Japanese to ask some clerks about them. After asking 10 or so people, we managed to locate a store that sold them!

Nothing is cheap in Japan, but the Copic markers were only 399 Yen (4 USD) as opposed to 6 or 7 USD in the states. I was good again and ended up just buying two (E04 and B000) plus the starter airbrush set (I had extra yen). I was happier than a kid in a candy store and even took a video of the shop for my stamping blog!

After stopping for our fast food lunch (yucky, but cheap!) we headed back to the capsule to grab our bags then to the metro to say goodbye to Tokyo and head to Yokohama to meet the ship.

After making it to the ship (the trains were easy!) we dropped our belongings, changed our shoes and headed out to explore Yokohama for  two hours.

Yokohama, like most of Japan, is very modern and sort of reminded me of the Boston Harbor area. We walked down to the stadium, passing quite a few purple and yellow tulips on our way. From there we headed to China Town where we sipped some green tea and saw most of the items we had bought in China for triple the price. I enjoyed seeing the city, but it was basically like any other smaller city so I was glad that we had stayed in Tokyo.

I really enjoyed Japan. After seeing poverty around the world it was nice to see a country and a people who were thriving. Many comforts that we enjoy they have even improved (case in point: Toliets, there’s sing to you (the flushing noise), heat your bottom, have built in bidets and I’m just talking about the ones in McDonalds, some even blow dry you). Its amazing to me that a country that was once a great military power managed to harness that energy and turn their economy into a real prize. Successfully, they managed to avoid a lot of military spending and in turn put that federal money towards good use. I think the world could learn a lot from Japan.

Happy Sailing!


  1. HI
    Loved reading about your Japan stop. I also love copics, i have been looking at your videos about coloring with copics and trying to learn all i can. I just bought a set and if i ever learn all the tricks i think i will really love them. Hope you do more videos when you get home. Continue to have fun.

  2. Once again a great trip report! Oh,how I will miss them! Copics for $7 each? HL by me has them for $5! And I haven't even bought one yet!

    Wow, tuna bigger than a person! And many of them! I guess that can be a problem if they over fish them.