On April 30, Rachel Schreiber arrived in Tokyo, sans luggage. She and Allan barely made the shuttle to base.The three of us made a quick trip to a store to get her a few essentials, then we got her to the house and settled, ready for a very busy 9 days…
Day 1 – Kamakura & Hase
On her first day, Rachel met my Wednesday morning students; Ichiro, Kimiko and Noriko. Speaking to the Japanese is so interesting, and we all got a lesson in the Japanese kanji alphabet.
Rachel got to ask questions and was also required to answer a few. After class we took the train to…
Kamakura is a one-time capitol of Japan. I don’t know the whole history, but it’s a great little town, just 45 minutes away by train.
We did a little shopping and touring. After lunch in a soba restaurant we hit the main attraction, which is a large shrine called Hachimango.
Rachel was here during Golden Week. This is a holiday that takes place the first week in May. It’s actually three separate holidays that happen to fall within 5 days.
One day is the celebration of the late Emporer’s (Hirohito) birthday, then there’s Children’s Day and Constitution Day. Many Japanese have the week off and tourist sites are very busy.
The Daibutsu (Big Buddha) is always the next site on the tour. Then the Hasedera Temple – this is a great one. Remember (I’ve mentioned this before) temples are Buddhist, shrines are Shinto.
At shrines, there are often large displays of sake casks, that are donated, who-knows-why.
Well, organized religion… nope, I don’t think I want to finish that sentence.
Day 2 – Tokyo – Asakusa, Ueno & Roppongi
Allan arranged for Rachel’s suitcase to be delivered to the New Sanno Hotel in central Tokyo. We drove to Tokyo, but didn’t use the car for our three days touring the world’s most expensive city.
The Asakusa section is the home of the oldest (800 yrs.) temple in Tokyo, and this week it attracted takusan nin (many people) including a few Schreibers. Rachel hung tough through jet-lag and made it through her second day.
The route to the Senso-ji is a tourist site, shops, street food and fortunes. Rachel went for the yakitori and the fortune.
So, here’s how it works. You shake a stick out of a silver can, then you check out the Japanese characters on the stick, match it to a drawer and pull out your fortune.
I hope its “best” or at least “good”, but if it’s not, it’ll say “bad fortune”. In that case, don’t read it, leave it there and move along. Rachel got a good one – hoorah!
Anyway, on to the incense. Wave some smoke on your body to drive away evil spirits. Temple visits are great!
Next to the temple is a Japanese garden that is only open a few weeks a year, and Golden Week is one of them. Allan and I have visited the Senso-ji a lot, but this is our first time in the garden. It’s a beauty.
After the garden we hit Ueno Park. It’s sort of like Central Park in New York, only safe.
We came across a street artist. He had music and interacted with this crowd. It was quite entertaining.
This site is easy to identify. It’s a cemetery. The difference here is that families are all buried together, generation after generation.
For dinner, Allan escorted his two ladies to an izakaiya in Tokyo, Gonpachi. It’s a favorite among Americans.
Check it out if you’re ever in Roppongi.
Day 3 – Tokyo – Tsukiji, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park, Shibuya
Here’s a photo I just don’t understand. A visit to Tsukiji (Tokyo fish market), and a smile. What’s to smile about? It’s a stinky, slimy fish market! It’s in the guidebooks and tourists seem to love it. Rachel did.
Allan and Rachel got up early to take in this site. I slept in. Or tried to. I got a call from the front desk, at 7:10 about our reservation for dinner that night. Are they kidding?
So I had fruit and a muffin at the hotel, and guess what they had for breakfast. (Hint: see photo at left).
When they got back to the hotel, we headed for Harajuku. It’s a fun shopping district. Takeshita St. is filled with shops for teenagers and weirdos. Rachel found something she wanted to try, but I think the color was wrong for her.
Elsewhere in Harajuku are other shops more suited to the three of us. But all that walking and shopping made us hungry.
Japan has foods other than sushi, but our favorite sushi place is just up the street from the Oriental Bazaar, so we took our purchases to the sushi-go-round.
Then we headed for the Meiji Shrine, where we were approached by students wanting to speak English. It’s pretty common for teachers to hang out at tourist sites for the opportunity to talk to a native English speakers. They ask a few questions and hope for simple one-word answers, fat chance!
At the shrine, we saw people wearing traditional costumes and carrying, in this case, bow and arrows. Remember, it’s a holiday, so there are lots of traditional activities going on all around.
We missed the show, but saw musicians and the processional for a Shinto wedding.
Talk about traditional costumes.
Yoyogi Park was next. Tokyo is a great city, with plenty of sites for tourists and residents. Parks are filled with people playing games or musical instruments, walking dogs or just relaxing with loved-ones.
And right in the middle of a huge Japanese holiday period, Cinco de Mayo. The park was filled with the scents of cooking, the sounds of Spanish music and lots of beer.
These days involved lots of walking for Allan, Rachel and me. We were dirty and exhausted at the end of each day. But we were rewarded with excellent food every night. This night we dined on a gourmet meal at the hotel. The prix fix menu included wine, so we ate, drank and were very merry.
Day 4 – Tokyo – Imperial Palace, Ginza, Kabuki Theatre
Today we head for the Imperial Palace. Don’t you love this architechure? We can’t actually get on the grounds, We just view parts of it from across the moat.
It would take a while to walk around it, so we never do. We just see what we can and move up the road to Ginza.
Ginza is to Tokyo what Rodeo Drive is to Hollywood. If you’re feeling like picking up a pearl necklace for a quarter million (dollars, not yen), this is the place to do it.
I know a few places that we could actually afford, so we headed there. This street in downtown Tokyo is closed to vehicles on weekends.
Not much success shopping today, but we still had fun. Just a ways away from Ginza is the brand new and improved Kabuki Theater.
The old theatre was razed a few years back and rebuilt (bigger and better) in the same style. And also more earthquake proof.
The shows were sold out for weeks, since it has just reopened in March, but we had a chance to see a short performance. If you want to see just a short program, you can stand in line that day and hope for the best.
It didn’t work out for us. It would have taken three hours, including the show, but this was our third day in Tokyo. Our energy was waning.
How about this building? The name is Hasegawa Green Building. The green is plants. Well kept and nicely trimmed, but WTH!?
This is the Tokyo Tower, recently displaced by the opening of the Tokyo SkyTree (which is even taller). But we’re closer to this one, and how about this view?
After the tower, we finally got into a cab back to the hotel to pick up the car.
In just over an hour we were home and thinking about dinner. Rachel enjoyed our izakaiya experience in Tokyo, so we voted to do it again and we met Hiromi Zeid, our friend who will be living in Alabama very soon.
There were some specials that Hiromi ordered, since specials aren’t usually listed on the English menu.
It was bamboo, cooked several different ways, all good! Who knew?
We had about 20 different plates, including this one that we had to cook ourselves. I lost count of the drinks. Everything was oishi (delicious), and though I try to avoid cooking my own food when I’m in a restaurant, there are several really good Japanese dishes that customers cook themselves. I can live with it.
Day 5 – Yokohama – Queen’s Plaza, Kannai, Chinatown
Rachel and Allan had their own day in Yokohama, and it began at the Museum of Art. It’s located very near Queen’s Plaza (a mammouth shopping mall in three towers) and the Port of Yokohama.
A quick walk will take you to a small amusement park that’s just like any you’d find in the states.
Here’s the Ferris wheel, and (scroll down a bit) there’s a view from the top overlooking the port and Tokyo Bay.
Finished with amusements, they walked to the Kannai district of Yokohama to meet up with some friends for lunch and maybe a little sake & beer.
While we were in Tokyo, our friend Ben Barris picked up Rachel’s Kyoto tickets and trip itinerary from the base travel agency. So he delivered the package and they had lunch.
You can’t visit Yokohama and not see Chinatown. It looks like every Chinatown in every major city in the world.
My favorite Brazillian restaurant is actually in Chinatown. Allan won’t go there with me. He doesn’t like Brazillian food (his loss).
That building behind Rachel is the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Yokohama, with a great view. You can see Yokosuka from the top.
This shrine is pretty fancy schmancy and right in the middle of Chinatown.
There are plenty of restaurants, and then some.
Allan and Rachel ate street food in Chinatown. Mmm Mmm! They had a great time.
Day 6-8 Kyoto
Rachel’s Kyoto adventure began with a ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train).
We made the arrangements in advance and Monday morning I drove her to the train station.
We’d been on the Japanese train system quite a bit during our three days in Tokyo, and Rachel had no problem navigating. If you can get around Tokyo, the rest of Japan is a piece of cake.
Our arrangements included staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. The servers wear kimono or yukata (summer or casual kimono). Tea and meals are served in your room.
This room was for up to four people. I know that because there were four futon. These are hidden during the day. At night the table is moved and the futon are set up.
They were rather thin here, so two were stacked. That still wasn’t soft enough, so she grabbed the other two out of the closet and slept on all four.
Good thing she was alone.
The next night, all four futon were stacked up for the princess.
Dinner is served in your room and it looks like the table is set for two, but Rachel made a good effort to taste every item.
That’s not a hardship, I promise.
The ryokan is in Gion, which is the old geisha district of Kyoto. Before WWII, it was full of tea houses and okiya (houses where geisha lived and were managed).
Here’s Gion Corner, where you can see a tea ceremony, Japanese music played on traditional instruments, a puppet show, tradition dances and plays.
Allan and I went here with Rachel’s parents during their visit 2 years ago.
She took a lot of photos in a short time. Here are a few.
This building is probably painted orange to keep away evil spirits. There are temples, shrines, the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto was the capital of Japan before Tokyo), and Nijo Castle, which is from the period when the shogun ruled Japan.
Rachel returned from Kyoto the way she left, with a smile on her face.
Allan and I enjoyed Kyoto and the cities close by, Osaka and Nara as well as the rest of Japan. Hiroshima in also in the general vicinity, but Allan would not go to see it. People say it is a beautiful city and of course there is a large monument to those who died there.
We’re leaving in a few days for Oahu. We’ll be staying at the Hale Koa, a D.O.D. hotel on Waikiki Beach. We’ll be visiting Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
So we have a tougher time visiting a site where we bombed the Japanese, than a site where the Japanese bombed us.
We feel guilty about one and sad about the other. Sad is easier.
Allan will also be traveling to Okinawa soon. He’s supposed to go for a ‘coral reef’ research project, but if that doesn’t work out, we’ll probably take a quick trip. Actually, Okinawa is further away than Korea (he just returned from there) and parts of China.
He has the travel bug, and of course Okinawa is known for its diving.
Rachel was traveling alone, but she didn’t seem to have much trouble finding a volunteer to photograph her in front of beautiful architecture.
This architecture is found all over Japan, but a lot of it is replicas. The buildings are wooden, and the cooking and heating source was fire.
I feel disappointed when we visit what is supposed to be a historic structure and it has an elevator and air conditioning.
We have old buildings in the U.S. but none that were built in the 12th century. I’ve seen those in Japan.
So far, we’ve seen every place on our list in our travels around Asia. Hawaii is a big travel destination for the Japanese.
One of my students laughingly told me that if I visit there, I should know how to speak Japanese.
I know how to say “How much does this cost?” That and “Where is the toilet?”, is all I need.
Across from Gion is Ponto Cho. That’s it on the Shirakawa River. It doesn’t look like much of a river here.
All of these buildings are filled with restaurants. During the summer, all these balconies open up to diners, but Rachel was too early to sit outside and watch the activity.
If you want food here, you’ll have to say ‘eeny, meeny, miny, mo’ because every restaurant is terrific and there are dozens on this one street.
The best bet is an izakaiya, a bar with small plates. Get a good selection and everyone gets a taste. Why isn’t this more popular in the states?
This one is Nijo Castle (home to some famous shogun).
and here, Rachel is seeing Kinkaku-ji. It’s covered in gold foil, and the floors are supposedly mirrors. I don’t know how you walk on that with ending up with shards in your feet.
She looked like this (smiling) the entire trip. She really knows how to have a good time.
But all good things… as they say. She returned to Yokosuka with only one night before she left Japan. The regular trains to Tokyo can be a little difficult, especially during rush hour, but the bullet train is a pleasure. It’s like traveling first class on a plane.
Rachel got this great shot of Fuji-san from her seat on the train.
She told us she wanted to visit before we left Japan, and it was good thinking on her part. We are just short of four years, which is a year longer than we expected to be here.
We’ve had 12 people visit from the U.S., 6 from Allan’s family, Brian and 5 friends. I hope they all had fun.