Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Day in Tokyo

Well, we had a good night's sleep, but still were up at 3:30-4:00 am. We tried to go back to sleep, but ended up getting up and going to the Fitness Room at 5:00 am ish. It's a small, not very well ventilated room, but it has a great view, a water vending machine and we managed to get in a good workout on a combination of stair stepping machines and treadmills.

We had no idea what to do for breakfast, so we wimped out and ordered room service.

We had made arrangements to meet up with Scott's friend from high school, Aiko, at 10:00 am. She surprised us and showed up with a hired car for the day. Air-conditioned, thankfully. Her husband works for a large company and often entertains foreigners and insisted that she do so. It was wonderful! It's so hot and humid here that it was nice to drive around, see stuff, get out and walk around but have the nice air-conditioned car to come back to. Plus the driver was extremely knowledgeable and was able to help Aiko out with our questions.

First, we drove around a district famous for being full of tech shops. We got out and walked through a couple of shops. One was for toys and was awesome. I love the way shops are here in Tokyo. They seem to focus on one single item and line both major roads and alleyways. They are also bright, colorful and crowded with merchandise. It's fun to go in and browse. The shopkeepers don't seem to need to know English if you are holding merchandise in one hand and yen in another. They get what you want!

Next we drove over to Akakusa Kannon Temple and Nakamise Shopping Arcade. Scott has some nice pictures. The Temple gate has a huge lantern and is protected by the gods of Wind and Thunder. Once you pass the gates, you enter the shopping arcade. It's a little like Pike Place Market on steroids. Plenty of stuff to buy, snacks to try. Aiko bought us some fresh made rice crackers and some sort of sweet that had batter on the outside and some sort of sweet bean paste on the inside. Yes, I tried both. I liked the rice crackers best.

Toyko Day 1 — Asakusa — 3

Past the market, we entered the actual Temple. It is a working Buddhist Temple. They had a "wishing well" sort of area where you could toss in coins and make a wish. We wished to get our hands of some Closing Ceremony tickets! Scott also had his fortune told. You shake a container of sticks with numbers on them and then pull one out. Scott's literally flew out of the container and hit him in the face. He received a good fortune that said his wish would be granted. Yay!

Next, because Scott had expressed an interest, we stopped by an arena where small sumo competitions are held. They don't have any matches going on now and all the matches in September are completely sold out. Scott has a great picture of him as a sumo. We went inside to a small sumo museum and Scott got an autograph handprint of the grand champion sumo.

Toyko Day 1 — Sumo Arena — 1

Next we went to the Toyko Central Train Station. It's being a bit remodeled, but it was built based on a train station Amsterdam according to Aiko. Very traditional European design. Speaking of architecture, Tokyo has some very eclectic architecture and some very amazing buildings. It's interesting to see a cutting edge building right next to one that's been around for hundreds of years. More European designed stuff than I would have expected.

Next we had lunch. We had tempura and it was good. I managed to use chopsticks for the whole lunch. Scott had to switch to a fork. Scott ate raw tuna and I, da-da-da, ate shrimp. It was very nice. I've noticed that a lot of the restaurant seem to serve a single type of food and are very small - maybe seating 20-30 - and then there will be like 15 different restaurants in one place. They also have you sit on chairs outside the restaurant if they don't have a table available.

After lunch we walked around the Imperial Palace. They don't let you go very far into the grounds because the Imperial family lives on the grounds. The ground are extremely well maintained. There are a series of gates, walls and moat-like ponds throughout the grounds.

Toyko Day 1 — Imperial Palace — 5

Lastly, we headed over to the Toyko Tower. It looks like the Eiffel Tower just painted bright orange and white. We rode the elevator to the first observation area and Scott took pictures. The line to go up to the top observation was way too long. After looking around, we went to go ride the elevators down. However, the line was very long so we decided to walk down the stairs. Not our brightest idea given the heat, but we made it to the bottom. My legs were shaking and weak when we made it down.

Toyko Day 1 — Tokyo Tower — 10

Aiko then dropped us off at the hotel. She needed to get home for something. We arranged to meet up again the next day. Her daughter, Sally, may be joining us tomorrow. We are going to take the train to the old Capital (we think).

We both were in need of a shower. So we went to our room, showered and fell asleep. I think maybe the remains of jet lag.

We got up about 6:00 pm determined not to utilize room service and went out to forage for food. We had hoped to catch the subway and head to Shibuya, where a famous intersection is. It is the neon crazy intersection you always see on T.V. We did pretty good in that we eventually found the station for the subway, however, we were unable to determine how to buy a ticket or where to go to actually get on the subway. There were no English ticket vending machines to help us out and everyone looked too busy to help us. Being still kind of tired, we elected to pass on Shibuya and headed to a local shopping mall, Times Square. It's like 14 floors of stores, booths, and food. Kind of overwhelming and all the salespeople are extremely deferential and it made us a bit uncomfortable.

Toyko Day 1 — Shinjuku — 9

We tried to find food, but it was very difficult to find a menu in English and I'm way too picky and timid about food. We ended up making our way back to the hotel and eating at one of the restaurants in the basement of the hotel. It was a buffet style restaurant and I ended up eating a lovely white curry that was extremely tasty. I tried some other things but didn't find anything else I liked. I even passed on the desserts (I know!). I tried a couple, but they weren't very sweet and tasted a bit funky to me.

It was then off to bed so we could rest up for tomorrow.


norwester said...

Love the details of your day. Sounds fascinating. Regarding desserts, not that I'm a great world traveler, but from different foreign candies and such it's funny how different cultures have wildly divergent ideas of what constitutes "dessert."

Speedforce said...

Glad you guys are having a great time. Tokyo is a great way to ease yourself into China. ;)

I think you'll enjoy Chinese food more, Angie. I found the menus more accessible in China (to cater to my Western pickiness). More pitures & descriptions. Definitely ate my share of tempura or cooked dishes in Tokyo.