Monday, May 04, 2009

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tokyo: Day 6

We slept late today and decided to take it easy for our last day in Tokyo.

We had lunch at a restaurant close to the Imperial Palace. This was the most food we had eaten at one meal since we got to Tokyo. (It was a buffet.)

After lunch we went to the East Garden at the Imperial Palace. These gardens are actually located where the Imperial Palace was located in the Edo period, so there's some ruins from that old palace that are still existing.

We then took the subway to Jimbocho. This area is known for the new and used bookstores. We saw lots of old books, including a Japanese translation of the Bible, and old copy of Treasure Island, and and English-Urdu dictionary.

After this we went back to the hotel and rested for a little while before ordering pizza for dinner again. Then we packed up for our return trip.

February 10, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tokyo: Day 5

We slept in a little today and didn't have breakfast at the hotel. Instead we decided that we were going to go to a Starbuck's around our first stop. We took the metro to the Mitsukoshi department store and ended up having breakfast there. In the basement of this store is what looks like a gourmet food market including fresh meat and fish, produce, and bakery items, like bread and pastries. They also had a lot of items like chocolates, cookies and other sweets, including French macaroons which we absolutely loved while we were in Paris. (We wish we could find them here or at least find a recipe so we could make them ourselves.) So we got a couple of macaroons and some pastries and coffee and had breakfast there.

After we had breakfast we walked outside and across the street to the Nihombashi Bridge. This bridge looks more like it belongs in Paris.

After seeing the bridge we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This place holds auctions every day for fresh, frozen fish. We got there too late to see any auctions, but we got to experience the smell and see some fish bones and other parts!

In the evening we went to Tokyo DisneySea. This park was really cool! The entire park is themed on various sea/ocean/river locations. The centerpiece of the park is a volcano which houses a ride called Journey to the Center of the Earth (an awesome ride!).

Another great ride was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. This one was very much like Dinosaur! at Animal Kingdom in Florida, only better. It didn't have the flashing lights that Dinosaur has (It's hard to see anything in Dinosaur because of those lights.), and it's and Indiana Jones themed ride.

Also for kids they have an area of the park that is themed like The Little Mermaid. We think the Imagineers went crazy designing and decorating this place!

February 9, 2009

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Tokyo: Day 4

Today we set aside Tokyo and headed to Kamakura and the surrounding area. This area is about a 1-hour train ride south of Tokyo and is covered in shrines and temples. On the way there we passed through Yokohama and caught a glimpse of Fuji from the train.

We stopped in Kita-Kamakura first. This is the northernmost part of this area. When we got off the train we went first to the Engaku-ji Temple. On the way there we saw a group of Japanese boy scouts on a trip. This temple area is still a working monastery, so most of it is off-limits.

This temple houses a bell that was cast in 1301 and is 8 feet tall. It's at the top of a hill with tons of steps to get to it. But other than the bell there was also a great view where we could see Fuji.

After this we walked a ways to the Kencho-ji Temple. This one is a Zen temple that is also a working temple.

We then went to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shinto Shrine. This one has many gates that are all over the place - lots of entrances to the shrine. We ended up going through a gate in the back and went through the shrine from the back to the front. We got to see another wedding taking place there. There is also a pretty famous bridge here.

We then walked down the main street in Kamakura where we saw a Catholic church and ate lunch at an Italian restaurant. Christy had pizza that wasn't pizza. It was more like a large Communion wafer with a few globs of some white cheese, a mushroom spread and a little olive oil. Christy said, "I know I'm eating only because I'm chewing." Christy also tasted some raw salmon, but that was enough for her. The coffee was really good.

After lunch we walked to the train station and ended up taking a bus to Hase. When we got to the last stop before the bus headed back, they told us we had to get off. We headed to the Kotoku-in Temple to see the Great Buddha (Daibutsu). This bronze Buddha is 37 feet tall and was cast in 1292. Christy's quote of the day: "My God is bigger than Buddha, but that's one really big Buddha."

Next we went to the Hase-dera Temple. This temple houses the largest carved wood statue in Japan. It's a 30-foot tall gold-covered statue of Juichimen Kannon, the 11-headed goddess of mercy. The bad thing is that we couldn't take a picture of her, but we bought a postcard.

There is also hundreds of stone figures of Jizo, the savior of children. Mothers who have lost a child come here and place offerings for protection of their child.

After this we headed to the train station in Hase, switched trains in Kamakura, and headed back to Tokyo. We got to our hotel without getting lost. (Finally!)

Since Christy's pizza at lunch time was not pizza, she wanted to get pizza for dinner. The hotel has a menu for Domino's Pizza in the room, but we were unable to order it ourselves. I don't know why, but I couldn't get the phone to dial out or it was always busy. The girls at the front desk were kind enough to order it for us, and Domino's delivered it right to our door. We ordered the American Special, which was pepperoni with onions. Not what we would have ordered back home, but it was good anyway. Christy drank hot cocoa and I had a Dr. Pepper.

February 9, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tokyo: Day 3

Breakfast was the same today, except the soup which tasted more like chicken broth with lots of pepper. We talked to Paige and then headed out for the day.

We headed to Shinjuku. This area is basically the "downtown" area and looks a lot like any downtown area in the U.S. We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where there is an observation deck on the 45th floor. It was a very smooth express elevator ride all the way there. We got up there and saw the entire city. The one thing we were disappointed in was that the sky was not clear enough to see Fuji from there. (On really clear days you can see it.) There are shops where you can buy stuff, so we looked around before heading back down the elevator.

After this we walked around downtown a little while heading toward the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum. This little museum houses dolls and clothes from some of the royal families. Christy and I both enjoyed this, but didn't think it was worth the money we paid for it.
Next we headed to the Japanese Sword Museum. We got lost trying to find it, mostly because they don't have street signs everywhere. Then we met 3 Australians who were looking for the same thing, so we walked with them until we found it. (It took 2 Americans and 3 Australians to find the Japanese Sword Museum. Ha!) Again, it was neat to see all the swords, but not worth the money (or getting lost).

Then we went to the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine built in the middle of a forest that was planted about 88 years ago. While there we witnessed a wedding procession and got some good pictures of the bride in her kimono.

We had lunch at the lunch counter in the park there before heading on. Christy really enjoyed her noodles which had some vegetables and other stuff in it. In fact she said, "I don't know what it it, but it's good." We finished off lunch with green tea ice cream. Christy's was a swirl with vanilla.

After lunch we went to the Shinjuku-Gyoen National Garden. It seems like this is the national botanical garden. This was a very peaceful place and very beautiful. While there we had tea at a traditional Japanese tea house. The "sweet" was not very sweet, and the tea was bitter and frothy. It was different but interesting.

To finish our day we went to Tokyo Disneyland. (It just wouldn't be a Kevin and Christy vacation without something Disney, would it??? And it's their 25th anniversary!) We didn't get to do much while we were there. It was very crowded! In fact the "big" rides, like Space Mountain, had lines with a 2-hour wait. The first thing we did was the Enchanted Tiki Room, where Stich was lost and took over the Tiki Room. All the songs were sung in Japanese, but we recognized the tunes of the songs and some of the words, like "aloha" and "ohana". We rode Pinocchio and It's A Small World, which was pretty much the same but the finale was sung in Japanese instead of English. We then had "sausage" and mushroom pizza in Tomorrowland (the "Sausage" was really just cut-up hot dogs) for dinner. We finished up the evening with a ride on Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, which was an interesting take on the movie, and the Electric Light Parade was coming to a close when we got out of the ride.

We headed back to the hotel and ended up coming out of the wrong exit from the metro station. So we got lost again trying to find the hotel, but we got back on track.

February 7, 2009

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tokyo: Day 2

Christy woke up about 4:30 am, which meant that I couldn't really sleep anymore either. Christy sat in the dark on the computer for a while, and I stayed in bed. We got ready to go downstairs to breakfast (included in our room rate) and called home to talk to Paige. They weren't at home, so we decided to call back after breakfast.

Our breakfast consisted of salad, some sort of pasta salad with tons of mayo, soup (kind of tasted like French onion soup), different breads (we just had a raisin roll which was very good), hard boiled eggs (which neither of us had), and coffee. This was a different kind of breakfast, but it was decent. The coffee was actually really good. :-)

After breakfast we went back to the room and called Paige. We then got started with our sight-seeing for the day. Off to the metro station, but we passed it and had to backtrack.

First, we headed to Asakusa which has a lot of shrines and a pagoda. It also has a long row of shops where we bought quite a few souvenirs. The shrines were amazing! There is so much detail that went into building them. Most of them aren't even the originals, either. Many of them were either destroyed in earthquakes or during WWII.

At one of the temples, the Senso-ji, we met a group of girls from Taiwan who helped us with a fortune-telling "device". Basically you shake a box and pull out a stick. The stick has a number on it which refers to a numbered drawer. You then open the drawer and get your fortune on a piece of paper from the drawer. The girls wanted to get their picture with us after they helped us!

Also at Senso-ji, and most of the temples, there is a place to "wash" your hands and your mouth (I guess) before you enter the temple. You have to dip a ladle into the water, rinse off your left hand (both sides) then your right hand (also both sides). Then you pour a little water into your left hand and drink it. Then you have to let the water run back on the handle of the ladle. The water was really cold!!! (It actually reminded me of the story in the gospels where the Pharisees scolded Jesus for letting his disciples eat without washing their hands. But Jesus' response was that their "washing" of the hands really didn't wash their hands at all, so it didn't matter. Thanks to Wes Hamilton for demonstrating this!)

We then hopped on the Metro again and went to Ueno. This is really a big park area with a zoo, some museums and some common areas. We first went to the Shitamachi Museum where a really nice Japanese man showed us around the museum. We are so thankful that he was there or we would not have known what things were. They had replicas of Edo period houses which also had a shop out front. They also had another one of the fortune-telling "devices" which we got to try as well.

We also went to the Benzaiten Temple and the Kiyomizu Kannon-do (another temple). After that was the Toshogu Shrine. This one was undergoing some renovation, so we didn't get to enter. But there was a long walk that lead up to it which had something called the Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a flame that was originally ignited by the nuclear bombs that the U.S. dropped on those cities and has been cared for since then. It is now set in a monument with a silver dove (symbolizing peace).

We then went to the Tokyo National Museum, where we had lunch before seeing the exhibits. Some of the exhibits were really interesting, like the Noh and Kabuki costumes, samurai armor and swords, and painted screens.

After this we went to the National Museum of Western Art. This museum houses a few replicas of Rodin's work that Christy and I saw in Paris at the Rodin museum. It also has a few works of Monet, including one of the Water Lillies paintings. I was scolded for taking pictures (even without a flash), but I had been sure that I could take pictures without a flash. (We always get yelled at for taking pictures.)

We hopped on the metro again and went to Akihabara. This is really just a big electronics store area. We went into one store that had 6 floors of electronics, toys and games. It was like Fry's, only bigger and louder.

We then did the one thing that you're never supposed to do while on vacation in another country - we ate dinner at McDonald's! I know - bad tourists! We just needed to have some comfort food.

Then we headed back to the hotel for showers and bed. We're both really tired, but we had a great day today.

February 6, 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Tokyo: Day 1

We made it to the airport a little late, but made it through security without hassle. Stopped at the Starbucks in Terminal D before heading to our gate. We bought some Yen at the currency exchange right across from our gate while the gate agents kept calling our name. The agent even scolded us for not getting there earlier because they were waiting on us to load our standby bags.

We had an uneventful flight in business class on an American Airlines 777. We got good food (Wasn't great, but it's on an airplane.) and watched some movies and TV shows on the on-board entertainment system. (Christy watched 3 movies, and I watched 1 movie and 6 episides of Heroes from season 1.) Slept for a while, but again it's on an airplane.

So, 13.5 hours later, we made it to the Narita airport outside Tokyo without interference from the volcano in Alaska. Once there we made it through immigration and customs very quickly. (Miami Airport, you need to figure this out!)

We bought tickets for the train to take us into Tokyo where our hotel is. On the way down the escalator toward the train platform, someone above us lost control of their metal suitcase which proceeded to clunk down the escalator right into Christy's leg. At the bottom we looked at her leg, which had already bruised, and the Japanese woman and her husband kept bowing to us with apology.

While we waited for the train, a police officer came up to us. He asked if we speak Japanese, which we don't, and then he asked for our passports. We gave them to him, and he wrote down our passport info. I'm sure they're just checking to make sure that we're in the country legally.

The train ride was uneventful, but the seats were way too small. (Or, as Christy said, we're probably just too big.) We got off the train station, and then the fun began. Now we had to navigate the streets of Tokyo.

It took a few minutes, but we finally got oriented to the direction we needed to go. So we started off, and based on the map that we had from the hotel's web site, it looked like we were there. But there was no hotel, just what looked like individual family houses. But we kept on walking, and finally found it.

The lobby of the hotel is very nice, and the ladies at the front desk were very polite. Our room is very small. It's about the size of our walk-in closet at home. The bathroom does have a "shower toilet", which has a built-in bidet. Christy wants to know how she can get one in her own bathroom at home.

Now to try to get some sleep on the rock-hard bed with the rock-hard pillows up against the rock-hard wall.

(Written with interjections from Christy.)

February 4-5, 2009