First things first, this is the best sign I’ve ever seen in my life:
And now on to the rest of the blog. We’re here in the Tokyo area of Japan for about 2.5 weeks, but it’s time for an update, because I know some of you get sad when I don’t post for long periods of time. I’m flattered, really.
First things first, we don’t LOVE Tokyo itself quite as much as we loved Osaka and Kyoto. It’s definitely grown on us, but a combination of a more confusing metro, lots of stuff in Asakusa, but not much to do, and not as nice of a place to stay makes for a ‘less than’ experience.
For our first Tokyo stint, we’re staying in Asakusa, which is northeast of the center of Tokyo. The hostel is in a nice, sort of laid-back neighborhood. There are a bunch of pretty popular tourist attractions, including the Senoji Shrine, Kaminarimon Gate, and the Tokyo Sky Tree. The first few days of our stay, I thought that Sky Tree was a complete waste of space. It didn’t even light up at night!! How useless! Little did we know, the grand opening of the tallest tower in the world, the Tokyo Sky Tree, was scheduled for May 22nd. So not only could we see this massive tower from our hostel, but we could also be there for the grand opening…of the tallest tower in the world. Pretty cool, right?
We wandered around the city, and checked out Shibuya Crossing, the busiest crosswalk intersection in the world. It was really cool, and I look forward to showing you all the video!
We were in Shibuya after visiting the Yebisu Beer Museum in Ebisu. Yebisu is my favorite Japanese beer (though Asahi is giving it a run for its money), and I’d read that they did tasting flights at the museum. The museum itself was pretty cool, but when we got to the tasting room, we learned that they no longer did tasting flights, and your only option was to buy a full glass of beer for about $6.50. Instead, we walked across the street and got a can of Yebisu for $2.50.
As you all know, Zac is a bit of a fanatic when it comes to surfing. To the point where he gets all kinds of cranky when he doesn’t get in the ocean for a few weeks. It’s hard to blame him when I’m the same way with running, so we decided to make the 2-hour trek out to Chiba prefecture, and into the quiet beach town of Ichinomiya so he could get his fix. Unfortunately, it started raining as soon as we arrived, and there were no waves! We got one picture on the beach, then found shelter in a nearby cafe. As we were leaving, the owner gave us an umbrella (so kind), but the sun came out for the rest of the day. Dang it!
Also, we finally tried one of the other local specialties – Okonomiyaki. Definitely better than Takoyaki. This is the “Japanese pizza” but it’s nothing like a pizza in my opinion. (For one, there’s no cheese.) We went to this tiny little traditional hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we sat on the floor and had our food cooked on the grill in front of us. The old woman spoke zero English, but was all smiles. Our okonomiyaki was initially served in a plastic bag – raw eggs, machi rice gluten, sausage, onions, and god knows what else. Zac was then told to mush it all together as much as possible, but it’s harder than it sounds. The old lady grabbed it away from him, and expertly blended all of the ingredients together, then squished it out onto the grill. The final result was pretty good!
And to top it all off, my lovely friend Jialeou informed me that there would be a solar eclipse on Monday morning, with perfect viewing from Tokyo. I got my lazy butt up at 6am, and found an old lady sitting on a bench down the street. She waved me over, and babbled on in Japanese about…how cold she was…how cold I must be (in shorts)…how silly I looked in a jacket and shorts…how much she liked my tea cup, and a whole lot of stuff I couldn’t understand. I sat outside watching the sun for about an hour, 6:45-7:45.
Plenty of other Japanese families and businessmen found their way outside to view the eclipse, and we were soon joined by several others babbling away in Japanese. After graciously giving up my bench seat to another older woman with, “dozo,” they fussed over me like I was the nicest foreign toy they’ve ever played with.
They were sweet, and lent me their special solar film glasses for viewing the eclipse! It was so awesome! After it was just about over, I got the great idea to take a pictures through the glasses, and was actually able to see a little bit of the sun in the shot. Not too shabby.
We met a fellow hosteler, Tim, and headed out on the town with him a few of the days. Apparently Tokyo’s biggest festival was also taking place in our district the weekend we were there, as well as a Jamaica festival, and the final match of the Sumo tournament. So many things!
We got up early to stand in line for general admission tickets to the Sumo match, but we were about 15 people too late. These colorful banners outside displayed the names of the wrestlers (rikishi). We stared at them for about an hour and a half while we waited in line, only to be turned away! Oh well, it probably smelled pretty bad in there anyway.
We walked over to Ueno, which is one of the larger districts of Tokyo, and checked out the park, as well as some of the temples and a cool little shopping street. We were walking by a temple, when the older man locking the gate saw us looking in. They were obviously closing up, but he seemed excited to see us, and brought us in for a bit of a special tour. He told us some interesting facts about the place, and then gave Tim a picture of the woman that the shrine was inspired by, as well as a neighborhood map. The people in Japan are unbelievably nice! Oh, and we went to this crazy arcade with kids moving at unbelievable fast speeds to play the games.
There was an entire floor of photo booths where girls were paying to get their picture taken, and then photoshopping it to their heart’s content. They all made huge, creepy-looking eyes. It was nuts!
The day before we left for Mt. Fuji, we took a long trip to Kanagawa prefecture. Asahi has nine breweries throughout Japan, and we were determined to make it to one of them. We took the 3-hour adventure to get there, and found the tour well worth it. We had our own personal guide, since we were the only ones needing an English-speaking guide, and we were offered three free beers each, but we only had 20 minutes to drink them…so they’re generous, but not stupid! It was a really informative tour, and our guide was really sweet.
We really messed up the trains on the way back…and arrived tired, soaking wet, and incredibly cranky about 4.5 hours later. But, then again, this was the day that we got to see the Tokyo Sky Tree lit up for the first time, so it wasn’t so bad.
We’re now in Mt. Fuji, with some of the best views in the world! I’ll update again soon, I promise. :)