A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo Drift

Adventures in the city of fast trains, soft serve, and tasty pig bits on a stick...

sunny 70 °F
View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

large_tokyo_asak..hochin2.jpg

A large lantern, or Chochin, at the entrance of the Senso-Ji temple in the Asakusa section of Tokyo.

- - -

- - -

Its a long flight to Tokyo - 13 and a half hours in the air - and a 12 hour time difference.[b]

Hilary and I headed off to Japan in October for a long planned visit to Tokyo and Kyoto. Hilary is very interested in history, culture, food, textiles, and design, so has always wanted to visit Japan. As many of you know, I lived in Japan for five years as a kid, but had not been back in 23 years. Last year I stumbled upon a great deal on a flight to Japan, so we jumped on it and built a two week trip for October. We bought the tickets long before I was laid off, and over the Summer we were afraid we would have to cancel the trip, but then I got a great new job in September that allowed me to start right after our return. Apparently the Gods were smiling on our voyage!

We spent a week in Tokyo, then a few days in Hakone near Mt. Fuji before heading south to Kyoto. After about five days in Kyoto - not nearly enough time - we took the bullet train north to the airport near Tokyo and flew home.

Over all the trip was wonderful. After a typhoon blew through three days before our arrival, we enjoyed two weeks of perfect 70 degree weather, relatively uneventful transport, and the well known hospitality of the Japanese people. We ate well, shopped like crazy, and walked everywhere. And as you can see below (and will see in subsequent blog postings) too hundreds of photos. These are the best representations of what we ate, saw and experienced. Some of the photos were taken by me, some by Hilary. I won't identify the source of each, but know that the best ones were the result of Hilary's eye.

large_Tokyo_Shin..Skyline.jpg

This is the view from our hotel room in Shinjuku right over the train station. For those of you who saw the Bill Murray film "Lost in Translation", the hotel where he and Scarlett Johannsen stayed is on the left. The sky is not normally to blue, but Typhoon Melor blew through a few days before and cleaned the air. If those buildings were not there, you would have a perfect view of Mt. Fuji

---

tokyo_sumi..VG_port.jpg

Hilary and Bryan on the Sumida River cruise in the southeast part of Tokyo. This view was semi-industrial, but boat rides are always fun! It dropped us off in the historic Asakusa district up river.

- - -

large_tokyo_red_face_gate.jpg

A painted store gate in the Ichigaya section of Tokyo. The Japanese have a penchant for striking graphics - in art, popular culture, and even on mundane surfaces such as this

- - -

large_tokyo_kabu..o_night.jpg

We stayed in Shinjuku, just steps from the famous Kubuki-Cho nightlife district. Japanese have been partying down these alleys for hundreds of years. Although this part of town is considered one of the "toughest" in Japan, it was still cleaner and safer than any city in America by a factor of 10.

Japan is an amazing place. I won't go into detail about the history or cultural importance of this country - this is all well known to you - but I have to say, when you get off the plane, then onto a super-modern express train downtown, you start to realize that this place is VERY different from the United States or Europe. Sometimes it is familiar, but mostly it feels like another planet. A very crowded planet with fabulous food, an often breathtaking aesthetic, and populated with lots of very cute cartoon characters!

tokyo_sign_crazy1.jpg

- - -

Although we were on a budget, one of the best parts of our trip was the food. The Japanese love to eat, and the quality and variety of cuisine is really quite something. One of the most amazing places was the Isetan Department Store food hall, but alas, no photos allowed... I have interspersed photos of Hilary and I snacking all over tokyo...

- - -

tokyo_mancov3.jpg

Hilary found the variety and design of Japan's street hardware fascinating. The first of many.

- - -

large_tokyo_ueno_shopping.jpg

A crowded shopping street near Ueno Park

- - -

tokyo_museum_noh_sad.jpg

A traditional Noh mask at the National Museum

- - -

Japan is an ultra-modern country with the most efficient train system in the world, the cleanest streets, and the most polite populace, but it is also a country of deep historical traditions, occasional social fissures, and for the past decade, a troubled economy. Although Japan is home to only 105 million people, it is the world's 2nd largest economy (for now). Two interesting statistics in this green age are: Japan owns 60% of the green-tech patents in the world and the Japanese use less than half as much energy per capita as Americans do.

tokyo_Hara..section.jpg

Harajuku station in Tokyo

- - -

The Japanese are some of the physically healthiest people on earth and enjoy a national health system available to all . Next to the Icelanders and the Swedes, they have the best longevity too. Although the society is collectivist and crime rates are very low, suicide rates are among the highest in the industrialized world.

large_tokyo_Impe..omeless.jpg

Although the homeless are rarely seen in central Tokyo, after almost two decades of flat economic growth, their numbers have increased since I was here in 1987. This man was sleeping on the grounds of the Imperial Palace - the Emperor's front lawn...

- - -

One can walk down a street in Tokyo that feels like a scene out of a science fiction movie - girls watching cartoons on cell phones; robots cleaning the sidewalk; 10 story high HD video screens; toilets that clean you automatically, then themselves; vending machines selling whisky, cell phones, french fries, pornography, fresh flowers... - then turn a corner and walk into a shrine that has been a place of worship for hundreds of years and see a woman, bamboo bucket in hand, cleaning the gravestones of her ancestors by hand as has been done since the time of Christopher Columbus.

- - -

large_tokyo_shinjuku2.jpg

Shinjuku, near the station

- - -

large_tokyo_ceme..closeup.jpg

Detail, statues in Kabuki-Cho cemetery

- - -

large_tokyo_cemetary_est.jpg

A shrine and cemetery in Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku

- - -

tokyo_ceme..buckets.jpg

- - -

As I said above, I had not been to Japan since 1987 when I graduated from the American School in Japan and went to college in Southern California. Hilary had never been. I remembered some Japanese, Hilary learned a tiny bit. Either way, Tokyo is a place where you do not need to speak Japanese - most of the train signs are in English, and the announcements are in English, Chinese AND Korean - BUT, if you speak a little Japanese, people really seem to appreciate it. The Japanese have an international reputation for politeness and quality customer service, and is it sure deserved. From the train conductor to the convenience store clerk to the retired Japanese businessman in line next to you - everyone was unswervingly hospitable. I must admit, it made my first visit to CVS in Washington upon my return a bit of a shock...

- - -

tokyo_boch.._driver.jpg

The white gloved train conductor on the Tama line near the American School in Japan

- - -

large_tokyo_subway.jpg

The Tokyo Subway and Train network is not only ultra-clean and efficient, but vast. The map above is just the close-in metro area.

- - -

tokyo_HEP_Subway1.jpg

Some candid photos on the subway

tokyo_train_candid.jpg

- - -

tokyo_gracoro.jpg

The famous fried shrimp creme sandwich at McDonalds

- - -

large_tokyo_muse..p_horse.jpg

Detail, Japanese Painting, the National Museum, Ueno Park

- - -

large_tokyo_yoyogi_hallway.jpg

The Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park - a site of Royal Ceremonies and daily weddings in Tokyo

- - -

large_tokyo_yoyoki_door.jpg

Detail, doorway, Meiji Shrine

- - -

large_tokyo_yoyoki_ikebana3.jpg

There was a small Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, at the Meiji Shrine on the day we visited

- - -

large_tokyo_yoyo..ana_est.jpg

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_IMP_Palace.jpg

Hilary at the Imperial Palace

- - -

tokyo_yoyogi_ikebana1.jpg

- - -

large_tokyo_mancov4.jpg

Fire!

- - -

tokyo_yoyogi_sake.jpg

Consecrated Sake Barrels at the Meiji shrine

- - -

After we recovered from Jet Lag and ventured out into the city, we took a river cruise up the Sumida River and visited the historic Asakusa district and the Senso-Ji temple. This large temple complex started as a simple statue of the Buddha in 645 AD and grew over the years. Shogun Tokugama Ieyasu granted the temple a large tract of land in the early 1600s and it only grew in popularity when the pleasure quarter was relocated nearby in the early 19th century. The temple did not survive the American bombing of Tokyo though, and all the buildings are historically accurate post-war recreations. We found a wonderful soba place, shopped for lots of gifts and burned some incense for the buddha....

- - -

large_tokyo_boat.._subway.jpg

A view from the subway station near the Sumida River cruise dock

- - -

tokyo_signs_hot_pot.jpg

Yum!

- - -

large_tokyo_boat_gardens1.jpg

The Hama Detached Imperial Gardens. Tucked between the Sumida River and urban Tokyo, these gardens are a lovely oasis in the city.

- - -

tokyo_sumida_ray1.jpg

In the river near the boat - a big Ray!

- - -

tokyo_sumida_ray2.jpg

- - -

tokyo_sumi..EP_port.jpg

Hilary disembarks from the river cruise

- - -

large_tokyo_sumi..ry_hall.jpg

Suntory Concert Hall - I am not exactly sure what that gold thing is supposed to be, but it is a pretty arresting building!

- - -

tokyo_asakusa_soba1.jpg

A little guidebook recommended soba place near the shrine. Tiny, friendly and delicious!

- - -

Tokyo_soba2.jpg

I had cold soba, Hilary had a hot pot of it in soup. Wonderful!

- - -

tokyo_star..tea_lat.jpg

A green tea latte at Starbucks

- - -

large_Tokyo_Asak.._street.jpg

Nakamise-dori - shopping heaven!

- - -

tokyo_chochin1.jpg

The Hozo-Mon Gate

- - -

tokyo_asak..u_maker.jpg

There were so many shops on the Nakamise-dori selling sweets. This man was making fresh cookies by hand with a hot iron.

- - -

tokyo_hara..ter_kid.jpg

Even the kids are stylish in Tokyo - check out the boots!

- - -

large_tokyo_asak..ine_est.jpg

The main entrance to the shrine

- - -

large_tokyo_asak..incense.jpg

Within the shrine is a large incense brazier. People gather to purify themselves. This fellow was purifying his dog...

- - -

After visiting the shrine, we wandered over to Kappabashi, or Tokyo's wholesale restaurant supply area. I know, it doesn't sound that interesting, but when we arrived the street was closed off and they were celebrating "Kappabashi-Day" and had a Marching Band, Cheerleaders, food, and lots and lots of shops open late!

large_tokyo_kapp..and_est.jpg

The Keio University Band and Cheer Squad was out in force on Kappabashi Day!

- - -

tokyo_kapp..i_band1.jpg

- - -

tokyo_kapp..i_band2.jpg

- - -

tokyo_kapp..i_band3.jpg

- - -

large_tokyo_kappa_dish_shop.jpg

Anything you need for a restaurant, or your kitchen at home, could be purchased at a deep discount in Kappabashi

- - -

tokyo_kappa_softcream.jpg

Hilary poses next to a collection of soft cream signs... It has been a long day and I fear she is worn out!

- - -

tokyo_kappa_pots.jpg

Traditional heavy iron cookware

- - -

tokyo_kapp..feshop1.jpg

This entire shop was dedicated to fine Japanese cooking knives

- - -

tokyo_kappa_knife2.jpg

This craftsman is engraving a knife for a chef waiting by the counter

- - -

large_tokyo_kappabashi_owls.jpg

One of the many shops full of interesting and cute Japanese collectibles. This is the owl section....

- - -

large_tokyo_kapp..foodest.jpg

Anyone who has been to Japan knows about the amazingly lifelike plastic food on display in many restaurants so you can see what the dish will look like. Kappabashi is where you go to get it!

- - -

tokyo_kapp..d_sushi.jpg

- - -

tokyo_kapp..od_soba.jpg

More plastic food!

- - -

Speaking of food!

large_tokyo_HEP_Calpis.jpg

Hilary thinks twice about purchasing Calpis

- - -

tokyo_dennys.jpg

One of the many Denny's in Tokyo

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_Nashi1.jpg

Its almost too beautiful to eat, almost..

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_Nashi2.jpg

Hilary bites into the juiciest Nashi (asian pear) of her life

- - -

large_tokyo_BVG_..u_donut.jpg

A donut that was seriously large, expensive and darn good...

- - -

large_tokyo_santoku.jpg

This is the local grocery store where we shopped every day when I lived in Tokyo more than 23 years ago - still there!

- - -

tokyo_sant..nt_fish.jpg

Fish at the local Santoku grocery store

- - -

large_tokyo_bento3_HEP.jpg

Hilary prepares to picnic in Yoyogi Park

- - -

large_tokyo_bento1.jpg

Some of Isetan's prettiest bento box lunches

- - -

large_Tokyo_Bento4.jpg

More!

- - -

large_tokyo_bento2.jpg

And more!

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_..ic_food.jpg

Plastic food!

- - -

large_tokyo_hotel_breakfast.jpg

Our standard convenience store breakfast (with good coffee, of course...)

- - -

large_tokyo_okonomiyaki.jpg

A uniquely Japanese dish - Okonomiyaki - a sort of pancake mixed with ham, cabbage and egg, and then topped with mayo, sweet brown sauce, and bonito fish flakes that "dance" in the heat...

- - -

tokyo_BVG_..astries.jpg

Bryan enjoys a Japanese pastry filled with... a fried pork cutlet?

- - -

tokyo_macaron1.jpg

The world's best french Macarons - available at Isetan of course...

- - -

large_tokyo_ikeb..ot_soba.jpg

Note the fresh ginger and small grater so you can spice your soba at your table...

- - -

large_tokyo_BVG_..ro_soba.jpg

Tucking into another meal of sublime soba in Ueno

- - -

large_tokyo_mcHotdog.jpg

Cased meats everywhere!

- - -

tokyo_shakeys.jpg

The Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Harajuku - the first place I ever got drunk, age 15.

- - -

large_tokyo_mancover1.jpg

Another manhole cover...

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_..fee_can.jpg

Hilary learns the hard way that Japanese vending machines dispense HOT coffee in a can

- - -

large_tokyo_kill_bill_rest.jpg

A Japanese restaurant in Roppongi - catering mostly to tourists. Look familiar? The scene from Kill Bill, Vol.1 where Beatrix Kiddo dispatched the Crazy 88s was based on this place....

- - -

tokyo_breadSundae.jpg

The oddest looking thing - a loaf of bread, filled with an ice cream sundae - this is the plastic facsimile out front

- - -

tokyo_halloweensign.jpg

There were as many Halloween decorations in Tokyo as one finds in the U.S.

- - -

large_tokyo_deli..andwich.jpg

Eating this sandwich will make you so very happy.

- - -

large_tokyo_scho..mbitous.jpg

One of the many puzzling billboards in Tokyo

- - -

tokyo_danger_sign.jpg

"Abu - Nai" or, "be careful of danger!"

- - -

tokyo_bike_stairs.jpg

Cool

- - -

tokyo_budha_swineflu.jpg

Even the Buddha is taking precautions against the swine flu..

- - -

large_tokyo_signs_frogs.jpg

More cuteness

- - -

tokyo_sign..moking1.jpg

Even smoking on public sidewalks is prohibited in Tokyo - there are designated outdoor smoking zones

- - -

large_Tokyo_Ghib..n_Giant.jpg

The Giant Statue on the roof of the Ghibli Museum - dedicated to the work of Hayao Miyazaki. It is an amazing place, full of images and models of Totoro, Ponyo, My Giant, Princess Monoke, and Spirited Away...

- - -

tokyo_ASIJ_fineArts.jpg

A visit to the American School in Japan [ASIJ], where I graduated in 1987

- - -

tokyo_ASIJ.jpg

The exterior of ASIJ - they have certainly smartened up the campus since I was there!

- - -

tokyo_Ghib..eum_ext.jpg

The exterior of the Miyazaki Museum

- - -

large_tokyo_HEP_..ExtSign.jpg

The cast information at the National Kabuki Theater

- - -

tokyo_HEP_bochi_train.jpg

Hilary on the train to Tama - the station near my old school

- - -

tokyo_HEP_icecream1.jpg

Hilary - leave no strange Japanese ice cream treat un-tasted

- - -

large_tokyo_Kabu..uilding.jpg

The National Kabuki Theater in the Ginza area of Tokyo

- - -

tokyo_bochi_lanterns.jpg

Grave markers at Tama-Bochi, the largest cemetery in Japan

- - -

tokyo_carsstacked.jpg

In order to register a car in Tokyo, you have to provide proof that you have an off-street space to park it

- - -

tokyo_columbarium2.jpg

The exterior of the columbarium at Tama-Bochi - and odd thing to photograph, I know, but it was a fascinating design

- - -

large_tokyo_columbarium1.jpg

The interior of the columbarium. The ashes of the dearly departed are interred on various levels around a cone shaped fountain. Ethereal music plays in the background.

- - -

tokyo_columbarium3.jpg

Columbarium exterior

- - -

tokyo_corn..y_bochi.jpg

A small neighborhood cemetery

- - -

tokyo_gas_station.jpg

Some gas stations in Tokyo have pumps that come out of the ceiling!

- - -

tokyo_ghbi..ign_HEP.jpg

The road between Mitaka station and the Totoro museum is lined with helpful signs.

- - -

large_tokyo_ghib..eTotoro.jpg

Totoro waits for you and is ready to sell you a ticket!

- - -

tokyo_play.._statue.jpg

Playground statue - Tama

- - -

tokyo_red_bike_house.jpg

Another bike / building shot

- - -

large_tokyo_smorkbylanguage.jpg

The name of a fashionable Boutique in Shinjuku

- - -

Tokyo_ASIJ_Oleary.jpg

Hilary and I took a field trip out to my old high school to see a former teacher - John O'Leary. John taught me physical science, photography and physics. Yep. If you love or hate my photos, you have this man to blame...

- - -

Tokyo_ASIJ_Seavers.jpg

Coach Seavers - my high school football coach. Can you believe how good he looks these days? The man has not aged a day in 23 years...

- - -

Midway through our week in Tokyo we got up early and headed down to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. The only thing more impressive than the size and variety of the place was how clean it was! Sure there were some places where fish guts piled up, but generally it was relatively free from fishy smells... Much of the best sushi fish that we eat in the United States actually comes through this market.

tokyo_tsuk..closeup.jpg

These small vehicles were buzzing all around the market - if you didn't watch out, you would get smacked by one!

- - -

tokyo_tsukiji_est2.jpg

It was so busy in fact, that Tsukiji has its own traffic cop!

- - -

tokyo_tsukiji_est.jpg

And this is after the busy time.

- - -

large_tokyo_tsukiji_int1.jpg

One of the thousands of purveyors within the market itself

- - -

tokyo_tsuk..cutting.jpg

We missed the tuna auction that takes place very early twice a week, but did get a chance to see the cutting of big frozen maguro!

- - -

tokyo_tsuk.._floor2.jpg

More big fish!

- - -

large_tokyo_tsuk..pection.jpg

Now that is a beautiful piece of tuna

- - -

tokyo_tsuk..shi_ext.jpg

After our visit to the market, we wanted to have a sushi breakfast at one of the tiny shops adjacent to the market. While standing in line we befriended a retiree and his wife - the Iwamuras. He told me that now they live in the countryside near Mt. Fuji, but this shop was his favorite and he came here every time he was in Tokyo. Once we got inside, Mr. Iwamura made sure they took good care of us. It was simply the best sushi experience of our lives. A set menu of the freshest stuff. The chef made on piece at a time and set it before us on the bar. Almost everything we ate was in the sea just hours before.

- - -

tokyo_hara..cs_cube.jpg

A tiny boutique in Harajuku

- - -

tokyo_museum_armor.jpg

The National Museum in Ueno Park had a small collection of arms and armor in addition to pottery, textiles, painting, and sculpture

- - -

tokyo_play.._poster.jpg

Clever playmobile ideas...

- - -

tokyo_subw..at_wall.jpg

Some of the subway stations in Tokyo have low barriers to keep people from falling on the tracks - why didn't we think of that?

- - -

tokyo_sword_museum.jpg

No photography allowed inside the Tokyo Sword museum, but you can imagine how cool it is!

- - -

large_tokyo_fruitshop1.jpg

The famous Shinjuku fruit shop where one can buy gifts of $30 grapes, or perfect $100 melons

- - -

tokyo_boss_coffee.jpg

The Boss knows coffee

- - -

large_tokyo_fruitshop2.jpg

More perfect fruit. It was so beautiful, but I wonder how it tastes?

- - -

tokyo_HEP_crepe.jpg

Hilary enjoys a crepe in Harajuku

- - -

tokyo_BVG_shinjuku.jpg

Me

large_tokyo_ikeb..anterns.jpg

Hilary

- - -

tokyo_muse..ortrait.jpg

Interior, the National Museum

- - -

large_tokyo_muse..leeping.jpg

Tired? Yeah, we were too by the end of 8 days in Tokyo. That said, our next stop was the hot springs resort area of Hakone, and Mt. Fuji!

Posted by BryanG 19:45 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint