S: Tokyo.Japan November.2007
BC: Until we meet again . . .
FC: Tokyo.Japan November.2007
1: This was Ryan's first time using his passport. We flew coach on Northwest. We didn't realize how far the international departure wing was from the entrance to the airport. It's at the very end! | Ittekimasu!
2: Wednesday.11.14 Could you see the excitement in our faces? Our first international trip and we're going to Japan! It was a smooth flight but it felt like forever. We couldn't stop looking at the time, trying to figure out how soon we were going to arrive. Biko was meeting us at Narita. He decided that he wanted to join us at the very last minute and purchased a ticket from Japan Airlines.
3: Thursday.11.15 Finally arriving at 7:00pm, we met Biko right outside the arrival wing. He arrived a few hours earlier on a JAL flight. We decided to take the Narita Express into Shibuya because we would have had to wait an hour for the next Limousine Bus. The crappy thing was the last train was leaving at 7:15pm. | We raced to the bottom of the airport with our luggage and managed to buy our tickets and hop on the train by 7:10pm, still managing to pose for pictures before departure. We weren't about to miss any photo opportunities!
4: Shibuya This is our hotel in Shibuya. It took us almost 30 minutes to find it. The best part was the fact that it was right across the train station. How embarrassing. We walked up and down alleys and streets but couldn't find the narrow entrance for the Shibuya Tokyu Inn. Biko stayed a few blocks down at another hotel because it was cheaper. Sure enough, his room was nicer and much larger than ours. The Tokyu Inn was central in location but was the smallest room we stayed at in Japan. Thursday.11.15
5: Shibuya at night is the Tokyo of your dreams. The streets are crowded with people all through the night and you don't even realize that it's two in the morning. Big screen T.V.'s. flashing lights and people calling you into their stores...
6: It's so easy to get lost at the Shibuya Train Station. They had multiple exits and if you take the wrong one, it could take you almost 20 minutes just to walk around and get back to the right side of Shibuya. Getting lost wasn't an option with two English-only speaking tourists who's never been to Japan.
7: Hachiko Memorial Wall During his owner's life, Hachiko greeted him at the end of every day at the nearby Shibuya train station. Even after the owner's death in May 1925, Hachiko returned every day to the station to wait for him, and did so for the next 10 years until he died. Hachiko, the dog, is now known as "faithful dog" and was built a memorial for in 1934. | Everything was mini-sized in Japan. From sweet treats to burgers and Starbucks coffees, everything seemed so much smaller. Speaking of Starbucks, there were so many on each block that it almost seemed like we were in America. It didn't taste any different from our Starbucks at home.
8: Thursday.11.15 Our first dinner in Shibuya was at a Ramen shop who sold their meal tickets through a vending machine. We walked in, looked at the picture menu on the vending machine and purchased a meal ticket for what we wanted to eat. Next, we handed it to the cook who then made it for us. This vending machine concept was in almost every restaurant in Downtown Tokyo.
11: Sumimasen! Please help! Can you read these train station maps? We had to figure out what train, what line, train track, price, transfers to get to each destination. Although June's been to Japan before, she never had to figure out the train pricing and schedules on her own because she traveled with people who knew how it worked. This was her first time and we got lost a few times, having to hop on the train across the track to get back to the last station but she did a good job. The secret to traveling in Japan's railway station is the Suica pass. Thank God the Tokyo subways and railways had English signs all over. The Kyoto metro subway was only in Kanji!
12: Our first full day in Tokyo Friday.11.16 Our first stop was to Ikebukuro, the second busiest station in Tokyo. We went to Sunshine City, which is one of the tallest buildings in Asia. The building is built on ball bearing stabilizers to withstand earthquakes. Although we didn't explore the 60 story building as much as we wanted to, we had a lot of fun.
14: Akiba Electric Town Friday.11.16 Our second half of Day 1 was in Akihabara. The home of all the geeky Otakus in the world. It was home for Biko and Ryan. Since we didn't allocate our time well, we arrived at 4pm. It took about 30 minutes from Ikebukuro on the local train and the sun was beginning to set by 4:30pm. We ended up returning on another day to explore more of the town.
15: Don Quijote Saturday.11.17 This Don Quijote is nothing like Hawaii's. It was seven floors of complete madness! It carried capsule toys, school girl outfits, cos-play costumes and a burlesque show on the top floor. It was a complete one-stop shop with an arcade center, billiards floor, and a pachinko parlor in the basement. Oh, let's not forget the Maid Cafe that has maids who will play 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' with you for 500 yen.
16: The Don Quijote Story So this weird guy comes up to Ryan outside Don Quijote and starts talking in Japanese. Everybody else was inside shopping and Ryan couldn't understand so he tried talking to the guy in English. Ryan finally radioed June to come out and translate. Apparently he though we were cool tourists so he wanted to meet for dinner the following night and bring his English-speaking friend. When Biko came strolling out to meet the guy, he surprised him even more. The guy was amazed at Biko's height, deep voice and stature. He said that it was almost like he came out directly from a comic book.
17: Capsule Toys Capsule toy machines were everywhere in Tokyo, especially Akiba. Ryan wanted to get at least one toy from each area. They seemed so inexpensive because it only required 3 coins; however those 3 coins ended up costing about $3.00 so it wasn't that cheap after all. It was hard to remember the value of coins since in America they aren't valued as much. Vending Machines Ryan took so many pictures of all kinds of vending machines and drinks. You can find them everywhere! From batteries, cameras, soup cans, cold beer, hot tea and sexy underwear, Japan's got every idea explored and loaded in machines.
18: Beginner's luck I tell you! I don't know what I'm doing. (Following the instructions that the Japanese worker told me.) Put the balls in, turn this knob, and what now? Watch the anime screens and just pray that the small silver balls go into the slots... So nice of the worker to teach us how to play. | So you trade your trays of balls in at the front counter for coins in a plastic collector case. Then you go outside the back door, turn the corner, through an alley to a booth that buys the coins back from you. What a way to get around the law! Biko and June lost 1,000 yen ($10) each while I won 4,000 yen ($40) and a whole bunch of food items.
19: The weather was so cold. It was comfortable with our scarves and sweaters during the first two days we were in Tokyo. All of a sudden, the temperature dropped from 16 degrees Celsius days to 6 degree nights. Almost 45 degrees Fahrenheit; colder than our San Francisco trip in 2005! It was so cold, we ended up returning to Don Quijote to buy gloves and ear muffs. | Good bye Akihabara! Definitely on our revisit list. Ryan didn't get enough time to spend there. Next time, we need to visit for an entire day. Ryan wants to explore it more... instead of just staying around the station. Ryan will never forget the maids in their short mini-skirts and fish net lace stocking roaming the streets handing out flyers; Don Quijote and the crazy shop, Love Mercy.
20: Odaiba Saturday.11.17 We were impressed with the vast amounts of open spaces and the lovely architecture. It has a very futuristic landscape with contemporary buildings and makes us feel like we're on a movie set. Odaiba is also surrounded by sea so it was very cold. It was the first place we saw so many leaves turning color. It was breath-taking.
22: Design Festa In Odaiba Saturday.11.17 We went to Odaiba for the art exhibition, Design Festa. It is Asia's biggest free-style international art event. It reminded us of a really big craft fair for very interesting eccentric things. We didn't buy much from there but left with a lot of pictures, flyers and memories. This was Ryan's first picture with Cos-play Girls.
24: Food and meals weren't planned out as well as shopping and attractions so we found ourselves buying a lot of snacks at convenience stores. We had corn dogs, dorayaki, yakisoba and menchi katsu sandwiches as well as onigiris and curry pan. This is something we have to improve on for next the next time we travel!
25: Daikanransha When it opened in 1999, it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel. It has the same 100-metre (330 ft) diameter and took 16 minutes for a full turn. As of 2010, it is the third tallest Ferris wheel in Japan and Asia's 10th tallest and the world's 12th tallest wheel ever constructed. Ryan and Biko were over it as soon as we were half way up. They couldn't wait until it was over.
26: One of the attractions at the Odaiba Palette Town other than the Giant Ferris Wheel is this Haunted House. Inside a large warehouse, they had games and a ton of sticker picture "Puri-kura" machines on the bottom floor, a small food court and a haunted house on the top floor. Biko and Ryan just had to check it out. As cheesy as it was, they said that it put on a good show and they were happy. Afterwards, we ate at the food court down stairs and called it a night, catching the train back to our hotel in Shibuya.
27: Sunday.11.18 We deliberately came on a Sunday morning to experience the cos=play at the famous bridge but we went too early. We saw a few kids but not as many as we hoped. Next time, we'll return in the afternoon. We went shopping on Takeshita Dori, separating our own ways but remaining in touch with our walkie-talkies. | The crow in this picture is real. This was the first time Ryan had ever seen one and he was intrigued by it. The crows in Japan are pests and said to be really smart. | We also met up with June's childhood friend, Non Chan and her family. The first shrine we visited in Japan, Meiji-Jingu was also in Harajuku. | Harajuku
28: Here are some Cos-play kids for you. This man dressed in pink begged us to take his picture. Gothic Lolitas "They don't look so gothic to me with their frilly clothes... but it was still exciting to take a picture with authentic cos-play in Japan. Of all that we saw in Harajuku that day, this was probably one of the coolest. The really cute ones didn't want to take a picture with me." =( -Ry | The Bunny Man "WTF was that? I swear he kept following us. Short skirt, granny panties, tube socks, and bunny ears. He was straight out of a really bad horror flick. Somebody, PLEASE WAKE ME UP!" -Ry
29: Meiji-Jingu Shrine
30: Year of the Rat
31: Shichi Go San This was Ryan's first shrine in Japan, complete with a children's right of passage demonstration, where they celebrate 3 and 7 year old girls and 3 and 5 year old boys on November 15th. We also witnessed a Shinto wedding ceremony. Ryan loved the sake barrels. This was also where we got the little wooden shrine Omamori temples. We gave one to Uncle Mel.
32: Non Chan is a childhood friend of June's. They knew each other since they were toddlers. Their mothers are close friends. Recently, we found out that Non-Chan had a baby girl, Hanako, and got married. June met her husband back before they got married but this was the first time she was meeting Hana. This was also the first time Ryan and Non-chan was meeting. They grew up together as kids and now they are raising their own families. Hopefully we can all stay in touch and visit each other again! | Hana didn't want to sit still. She liked to kick herself backwards to feel the blood rush to her head and see where her mommy was at. She was so warm and cuddly.
33: Sunday.11.18 Omotesando There were only a couple shops we liked here. Condomania had creative ways to package and gift condoms and Kiddy Land was a one-stop shop Sanrio and toy place. Eight floors of pure fun and on the top floor is where they had Dunny, Panda Z, and Gloomy! We bought the bulk of our collectible vinyl toys here. Both Ryan and June spent about $150 each here. Good thing they took credit cards! | Walk through Takeshita-dori in Harajuku and you end up here. I had a crepe in Harajuku because thats what they were known for but it was too cold to eat ice cream for Ryan and Biko. We got a bite to eat before we took a 10 minute bus ride back to Shibuya.
35: Shinjuku Ni-Chome Little did we know that this place was dangerous to roam during the nights. Shinjuku Station is the city's biggest transit hub and the one everyone's warned you about: take the wrong exit and you may find yourself a half-hour away from your destination. The classic rendezvous point is opposite the station's east exit, across Shinjuku-dori is in front of Studio Alta building with the huge video screen on left. We continued to the side streets passing Yasukuni-dori, Kabukicho and Shinjuku Ni-chome. Kabukicho is Tokyo's gay district is one of the liveliest queer neighborhoods in Asia. We went in search of a restaurant, but many shops were already closed and the food places were full. We finally found an Izakaya that served amazing cheese gyoza but the smoke inside from cigarettes were suffocating us. We wish we remember the name of the Izakaya.
38: Roppongi Hills Opened in 2003, Roppongi Hills was the dream of real-estate developer Mori Minoru, and the rest of us are very fortunate that it's become a reality. Roppongi architecture is a feast for the eyes, enhanced by public art such as Louise Bourgeois's giant, spiny alfresco spider, "Maman."
39: Suntory Time Before we left to Japan, we watched the movie, "Lost In Translation." Ryan and Biko wanted to create their own commercial (just like the movie) and ordered a Suntory Whiskey on the rocks at a bar in the train station. "For a relaxing time, it's Suntory time." -Lost In Translation
40: Ginza Monday.11.19 Glitzy glamour city and known for their tonkatsu so we heard. We didn't stay very long. We ventured to Armani to pick up a phone charm that was sold only in Ginza, Japan for June's mom's omiyage and visited the Sony Building. Biko and Ryan were excited to go here because of their love for Sony products. They were impressed with the architecture and the exterior of the building but was not as impressed with what was inside. We all wished there were more things to play with and experience but at least we can say we visited to the Sony Building. The most memorable thing here was a dancing robot ball. Next time, we have to find an authentic tonkatsu eatery in Ginza. Biko left today and boarded the Limousine Bus from Shibuya.
42: Odawara Kamonomiya Tuesday.11.20 We had a long day ahead of us.We had to transfer on the Shinkansen Kodama from Shinjuku to get to my beloved home town. We were able to take some pictures when we got to the Odawara train station for our memory book. My Obachama came to pick us up. We went to visit the Takeno grave site and check in with the local shrine in my home town called "Daiyuzan." Ryan said Daiyuzan was one of his personal favorites. We stopped at a local noodle shop to eat cold buckwheat noodles.
43: The view of Mount Fuji on the way to Odawara made the entire Japan trip feel more authentic. The train rides are amazing. You're going so fast that you don't realize you're almost leaning at a 45 degree angle. Every time you enter a tunnel, your ears plug up. Got to love the little carts that roll up and down the aisles during the longer rides selling warm drinks and bentos. Ooooh and we miss the little convenience food kiosks under the train stations!
44: Tra | My Obachama took us for a little treat. She knew of this delicious, authentic cold noodle place and ordered us the tempura and buckwheat noodle set. Ryan was polite and ate as much as he could. The tempura was great! When we finished all the noodles, my Obachama instructed him to pour the hot water inside and drink up the rest of the sauce. I guess it was a little too much for him. We all watched him give it a shot and make a face.
45: This is my home in Japan. It's in a nice neighborhood called Kamonomiya, It used to have a lot of bamboo rice fields with tadpoles in the water. As the years passed, the land was bought and developed and now there are condominium towers right next door. There's a little stream you have to cross before knocking on the front gate. Enter into a bonsai garden path that used to be cared for by my Ojichama greets you through another small gate and there's our front porch. I used to make paper origami boats and lower it into the streams with my Ojichama. We also burned trash in a bin on our little bridge. Brings back great memories.
46: Daiyuzan Temple of the Tengu This temple in my home town was one of Ryan's personal favorites. The temple was absolutely beautiful. This was the first we've seen the autumn foliage. It was nothing like Tokyo. We got even more excited to visit Kyoto. My Obachama said it would be even prettier there.
47: Entrance Blessing My Obachama taught us the proper way to use one of the natural water fountains. You pick up the spoon, scoop the water from the pool without touching the bottom and rinse the tip of your hands and mouth of the cup while draining it towards the handle. After rinsing, you get some water from the mouth of the dragon which was the origin of the water fountain and sip to rinse your mouth (not recommended to drink). Once again, rinse the spoon for the person after you and return it facing down on the rack. Of all the times I've visited the temples, I'm sure I've learned this once or twice but never practiced it until now. We bought a tengu ceramic mask from the temple as a souvenir. Ryan was obsessed with the Tengu goodies. From mochi, boxes tissues and rice crackers, they had the tengu leaf on just about anything. Tuesday.11.20
50: The Temple's Story The founding priest Ryo-an-Emyo was born in Kanagawa Prefecture and took Buddhist vows in his youth. He once studied Buddhism at Engakuji in Kamakura and practiced Zazen, or sit-in meditation, at Sojiji in Ishikawa Prefecture. Later, he learned Zen Buddhism under the guidance of Priest Tsugen-Jakurei (1323-1391) at Yotakuji in northern Hyogo Prefecture. At one time he took the chair of the chief priest of Sojiji, but left Sojiji at age 57 and retuned to his hometown Soga in Odawara, where he secluded himself at a hermitage called Jikudo-an. (Jikudo is literally India). Legend narrates that one day he was drying washed kesa, or a Buddhist surplice, in the sun when an eagle flew down and picked it up, flying away toward Mt. Myojin in Hakone mountains. Since the kesa was given by Priest Tsugen as his keepsake, Priest Ryo-an wanted to retrieve it by all possible means. He went toward the mountain in search of the kesa. Going through the dense forest, he finally found it hanging on top of a pine tree. The Kesa was hung too high to catch. He began to sit-in meditation at the root of the tree. A little while later, the kesa fell quietly on his shoulder. He interpreted this experience as a divine revelation telling him to erect a temple right there, and made up his mind to follow the revelation. He recalled that he had a reliable disciple named Myokaku-Doryo (his date of birth and death unknown) back at the time he was the chief priest at Sojiji, and Doryo once saying, "If there is anything I can do for you, let me know. I would be most happy to help you."
51: Priest Doryo used to be the leader of some 800 priests who were practicing asceticism at Mii-dera in Shiga Prefecture, and known for his Herculean strength. Hearing Priest Ryo-an was in need of help, he rushed to the Priest Ryo-an's hermitage and started to help build the Temple. His physical strength was just marvelous, cutting giant trees easily and lifting up huge stones as if they were made of cotton. In amazement, people said he was like Japanese Hercules, almost equal to the power of 500 men. Construction of the Temple was completed within a year in 1394. Everyone believed the Temple would not have been erected that early had it not been for his help. Seventeen years later in 1411, Priest Ryo-an passed away. Overwhelmed with grief, Priest Doryo Myokaku said, "I no longer want to be in this world. Hereafter, I will be the guardian deity of this temple," and flew up to the sky transforming himself into a Tengu, and giving rise to a storm of fire. A Tengu is a mystical creature in Japanese folklore that inhabits in steep mountains and deep valleys, whose most distinctive feature is an extremely long nose with long beak and wings on a man's body. It is a half-man, half-bird creature.
53: There's a large rope hanging to swing and it rings the bell outside. The large wooden box is for coin offerings.
54: The Tengu The Guardian Tengu is a legendary creature believed to live deep in mountains or a god of mountain as noted above. Since they all have in common an abnormally long nose, white beard, carrying a round feather fan (which is the Temple's emblem) in his hand and wear a pair of clogs of high support, it is often compared to Yamabushi due to their appearance. Yamabushi practice ascetic discipline in the steep mountains that were believed to be the dwelling place of gods and practicing ascetic disciplines in the depth of certain mountains would give them holy and magical powers. Those in here are called Karasu (crow) Tengu as their appearance with a pair of wings indicates and a beak-like mouth. Legend holds that Doryo-son fled away at the death of the founding priest, saying he would be the guardian deity of the Temple. Statues of Karasu Tengu can be seen here and there in the Temple grounds. Karasu Tengu are also seen at Kenchoji in Kamakura.
56: Some temple rooms are open to the public but photos are not allowed since there are national treasurers inside. You also have to take off shoes because the inside is all tatami. All the doors are authentic shoji. Below is a picture of the tengu leaf shaped candle holder. There's a big bell right outside with a large rope to ring and you offer coins in a large wooden box before you light candles as an offering to the gods. To the left, Ryan offers candles to the Daikoku God of Wealth. In Shinto, he is called the Okuninushi no Mikoto. Daikoku is one of Japan's seven lucky gods.
57: Geta Unique in the Temple is that more than one hundred pairs of clogs, large and small, are displayed in the grounds. A pair of clogs are old Japanese footwear made of wood and worn with kimono in less formal cases. Those clogs on display here are made of iron and dedicated by the devout to the Tengu, or Priest Doryo. Some of them are as high as two meters. Those pairs of clogs are believed to symbolize a conjugal harmony, and folklore belief has it that a pregnant woman would have an easy delivery if she pass under the high supports.
58: Day Trip to Hakone Wednesday.11.21 Hakone is known as hot spring haven. The best way to travel around Hakone is with a Hakone Free Pass from Odakyu. It's a two day pass but we only had one day to explore the beautiful town. We decided to go to Hakone since it was close to June's hometown Odawara and her family regularly visits there. She had the itinerary down. Since we stayed longer than planned at many of the places, we didn't have time to explore the Hakone Shrine. | We caught the local train early in the morning from my area, Kamonomiya. This was the first time Ryan experienced the busy rush hour at a train station and got shoved around. He was pushed into the train by the crowd. Once we arrived in Hakone Yumoto Station we transferred to Chuku no Mori for our first stop in Hakone!
59: Hakone Open Air Museum I remember visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum when I was much younger and enjoying the different exhibits including the Picasso Museum. My mother bought me a necklace with a ceramic picasso face plate and since then I've always wanted to go back. Knowing that Ryan loved art, I wanted to take him to this museum and share with him the experience that I had. It was much bigger than I remembered it being and we had a lot of fun. The Hakone Pass gave us a nice discount on admission. We visited all 5 exhibition halls and enjoyed a foot bath with natural hot spring water. Ryan got a few designer t-shirts at the gallery shop and we were on our way. There was still plenty more to see in the town!
63: You don't understand how much we wanted to jump in the big net. Little kids were allowed and you know Ryan almost went in. No one was there... but it was in the beginning of the exhibit and we weren't about to get kicked out now. So instead, we decided to just take a picture with it.
66: Hakone Ropeway We hopped back on the train to the end of the line, Gora Station. Next, we board the cable car to Sounzan then ride a ropeway to Owakudani. We took a video of this climb on the ropeway. It was breathtaking and really high! Ryan got nervous. It was really cold so you could see the steam coming out of the sulfur banks. It was a beautiful view. Owakudani is an active volcanic zone on Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, it's a popular tourist spot where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced.
67: Owakudani Great Boiling Valley There was a short walking trail about 20 minutes long that leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools but we didn't have time to explore it. As we were going up the ropeway, we were fortunate to have a clear view of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the clouds covered it when we tried to take pictures of ourselves with it in the background. At the top of Owakudani, we bought an egg boiled in sulfur water. We opened it at the bottom of the pier. Japanese people are so efficient with packaging! They make everything ready for on-the-go people. They included tiny salt packets with the eggs. Ryan never eats hard boiled eggs but he enjoyed these. Not sure if it was the smoked flavor or because it was freezing cold and he was hungry. We bought a bunch of mochi here as omiyage.
69: We boarded a pirate ship at the bottom of the ropeway for a half hour ride on Lake Ashi. We were running so late that we had to catch the last ride at 5:15pm. Places we have to visit and things to do next time we're in Hakone are to visit hot spring onsens; eat at the Owakudani restaurant; paddle in the romantic swan boats of Lake Ashi; visit Hakone Gongen Shrine; the other museums of toys, glass, teddy bears; stay at the historic Fujiya Hotel in Miyanoshita; the Hakone Maruyama Storefront for more yosegi boxes; and the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands. So much to see in such little time.
70: Lake Ashi is located at the bottom and was our last stop in Hakone. As the sun set, the stores closed and we rushed to catch the last rope way ride to the bottom. We caught a pirate ship and sailed on Lake Ashi to the pier where we bought classic Yosegi wooden boxes. Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano's last eruption 3,000 years ago. Today, this lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. We didn't get a picture but on the other end of the lake is a large floating Torii gate. This is part of the Hakone Shrine which we didn't get a chance to explore.
72: Good Bye Tokyo Traveling around Tokyo for the first time as a tour guide was a challenging but rewarding experience. Having to figure out the train system myself was intimidating at first but when put on the spot, I learned it pretty fast. I did make a few mistakes and had to jump across the way on the train heading back the station we missed but other than the few mishaps, we made it through. One take away is to research more food places and plan on a fewer shopping places. I really didn't get to hit up the shops I wanted to go. I also wanted to take Ryan around Odawara Castle, Odawara Station (which I think had more interesting shops then Tokyo). Itoyokado and the 100 Yen shop in my hometown was also better then the city. I hope I covered everything that we could to provide the best memories of Tokyo for Ryan. Can't wait to come back to uncover more grounds!
73: Good Bye Tokyo Although it was fast paced and crazy, it's also been fun and memorable! I don't think I've ever walked that much in my life! I was definitely ready to check out the laid back lifestyle in Hakone as well as her hometown of Odawara. I was sad that we could only stay for a couple of days. Maybe next time? You know there will be a next time. We'll be back.