Honey, We’re Hoooooome!

Our trip to amazing and beautiful and awesome Japan is over. We landed Friday night, sweaty, dirty, tired but happy to have embarked on this adventure. I’m ready to move to Kyoto and plan to return in the not-too-distant future. Though Son is not yet ready for another 12-hour flight, so I may go alone or with Husband (I’ve been telling him over and over and over about how FRAKKINAWESOME Japan is).

If you can swing it, if you can afford, even if you’re hesitant…I’m telling you: you *have* to visit Japan. You won’t regret it.

One last picture to close this travel blog:

Two travellers. One bag each.

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Let’s Get Physical!

When they say to get to the Asakusa Senso-ji early, they mean it. We got there at 10:30 and look what was waiting for us…15,000 of our closest friends. Son turned to me with that pleading look “don’t make me go there!!!!!” Did I listen? Of course not. I’m a bad mom. I made him walk the whole thing, back and forth. But, dude! It was the lantern festival, where vendors cry their fine, fine wares, which in our case was pots and pots of these lovely little ground cherries. Each pot went for about 1050Yens, so, what, 14$ CAD. It would have been a LOT nicer if there hadn’t been such a dense crowd. But with the sun shining and the beautiful colours all around, who can complain.

And now for pictures!

At the thunder gate, with Fujin the god of wind and Raijin the god of thunder on either side. We were well protected.

One of the vendors crying her ware. I didn’t feel comfortable taking of photo of her while she worked (even though 50 others had done just that), but after I motioned for my camera, she nodded graciously. Japanese people are so courteous and patient.

Aren’t they beautiful? They’re the exact orange/red as the thousand torii in Kyoto.

My roof fetish again.

Then we had a ramune drink, which is the most fun you’ll have drinking a sugary concoction. Mine was acid green, son’s was electric blue. Both were made of pure SUGAR!

After the crush of the Senso-ji temple, we cooled off in nearby Ueno park, where we had McDonald’s sitting on a giant stone along a shaded path. Niiiiice.

Nature knows what she’s doing.

Of course, what day is complete without the naked old man. How come, you ask? Well, as we walked, an old man dropped his pants and started looking around inside his drawers for only god knows what. Son and I didn’t run away, but we walked by really, really fast. And when we came to the temple’s purification station, we both rinsed our hands twice. I just wish I could have rinsed my eyeballs, too.

Corners and Angles

Today was all about architecture. Son had noted a few buildings that he wanted to see, and this is what we did all morning. We wandered along Omote Sando avenue from the Harajuku ward and into Shibuya ward, where we crossed the infamous Shibuya Scramble. We have to say, it must have been a slow day because that crossing was like any other busy crossing in Japan. Maybe it’s busier on certain days, or at night (with the neon signs, it must be prettier, too). We didn’t even think of stopping for a quick visit to see the pooch statue, whose story just breaks my little heart. Then there was shopping for shoes. Son happily made off with a pair of shoes we couldn’t find back home.

Oh, the vending machine! We’ve been seeing vending machines all over, but there’s a certain type that’s drawing quite a bit of attention, even from the Japanese. They’re giant touch screen machines, as tall and wide as a restaurant fridge, and as you put your money, the photos of the items inside start glowing. It’s pretty damn cool!

Look at the shiny. Ooooh.

I didn’t even know the UN had a university!

We were so busy looking up at the buildings that we almost missed this wonderful fountain. Its little “river” flowed all the way down the street and passed under every store threshold. Super cute and quite cooling in the sweltering heat. 31 without the humidity. AND sun.

The Shibuya Scramble during the red light.

And then the light turned green. It’s not so bad, I even see some empty spots in between pedestrians!

Unrelated to architecture or street crossings, but important to us nonetheless. This drink, we will sorely, sorely miss. It’s called Suntory and son and I pray there’s some back home. Maybe at the giant Asian food market that opened not far from home. Please, gods of lemonade and all things sweet and good, please, let there be some Suntory in Canada.

Bucket List Item

There is now one fewer item on my bucket list. I ate sushi off a conveyor belt in Tokyo, and it was glorious. And cheap. We ate our fill of sushi and each had a drink for a total of 1100¥ (about 12$ CAD).

For those planning to ever visit Tokyo, I suggest to not try to see everything that is on tourist lists. The Top Tens, the Best Ofs, the Must Sees…they will only drive you mad. You will walk all day and see wonderful things, yet you will feel as if you’re missing out because you didn’t do #12 on the Don’t Miss List of some biased travel writer. Just walk around and soak in the sights. That’s what we’re doing and it’s much less stressful.

Son is currently hogging all the bandwidth gaming, but as soon as I can, I’ll post pictures of today’s adventures (including one involving a vending machine). In the mean time, here is a quick video of the amazing invention that is KAITEN SUSHI (you have to use your Iron Chef voice to say it right). The video is not ours because I didn’t dare. Our chefs were crusty old men who slapped the plates down and yelled at each other. Plus, I didn’t want to anger the shinto raccoon god with the big testicles (I kid you not, Google it; it will be the funniest combination of words…raccoon, god, balls). You’re welcome.

8 Speeds and One Horse Power

That would be the bikes at the most excellent Tokyo Great Cycling Tour. What a lovely, lovely time we had today (despite the rain…at least, it was cool). We started at 9am, toured Tokyo Bay, the crazy-mad fish market, Odaiba Island (man-made goodness with a huge Gundam that totally made our day), under the Rainbow Bridge, across half a dozen other bridges, up 34,000 steps to a majestic shrine, through  Zojio-ji temple where we had our fortune told (mine is very good!), then along the imperial grounds and back to TGCT headquarters at 3pm. My legs are sore and I lost contact with my butt around the time we hit the shrine. But what a time!

Trivia: our fantastic guides explained the difference between a temple and a shrine. Temples have warrior-gods standing guard at the entrance and are a building where you can go inside. A shrine is humbler and has torii at the beginning, and their guardians are more shinto animal-gods. Also, at the shrines, the set of animal-gods guarding the entry is special: one has its mouth open to form the first letter of the Japanese alphabet (which sounds like the English “eh”) and the other animal will have its mouth closed, to form the last letter (which sounds like “mm”). So the protection they offer runs from the beginning to the end. Cool!

And now, photos!

Dog with mouth open.

Dog with mouth closed (yes, they look like lions to me, too).

All kinds of action going on. This was the tuna saw. There were these HUGE tuna, frozen stiff, then the guys would take one and plop him on the bench saw and start cutting. The fish market is crazy, mad, demented, and probably dangerous (those little forklifts don’t stop for nobody). Plus, lots of fish blood. Brr.

The steps. All 34,000 of them. That’s how many it felt to my poor legs! Son bounded up those suckers two at a time and waited at the top for us mere mortals.

The 7th of July of every year marks a special festival called Tanabata. An extremely romantic story about two lovers separated. Those are wishing trees, where you can tie your wish. There were all kinds of languages on these wishes.

Tomorrow, Shinjuku and some kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi! We can’t wait!)

A Discovery!

In all the tourism and travel books I have consulted (and believe me, I have read many), not a single one mentioned this neighbourhood: Kichijoji. Sweet baby carrots, there’s a lot of good shopping to be had in this ward. Yet all you hear about and read about is the good old Ginza (ABSOLUTELY a waste of time unless you’re the kind to pay 3,000$ for a purse) and a few others like Shinjuku, Harajuku for fashions and Asakusa for souvenirs. But never Kichijoji. It has everything. You want cute little fabric buttons with ladybugs on them? Kichijoji has them. You want red and purple leather shoes? Kichijoji has them. And food. Glorious, glorious food stalls and little terraces. Son and I were so excited to find that spot. And not a single gaijin in sight. We felt like locals (except we look nothing like locals…as was painfully apparent when I tried to buy a t-shirt and was up to 3xl and they still were too short…I’m only 5’8″ and wear size 8-10 in Canada, so I’m no Valkyrie!). And the shoes, I won’t even go there (size 10…yeah.).

And now, photos!

Some things are the same, yet different. Yes, peanut butter. There’s a teenager here, you know.

And I thought Germany was thorough about its garbage disposal and how to handle it. Holy tofu! Look at that chart. Plastic bottles need to be peeled and uncapped THEN placed in its own bin. And then food trays in another. And then food stuff in yet another. No wonder there’s a chart that’s two feet wide. We live in constant fear that we’ll mess up the delicate garbage equilibrium.

Yesterday and today was reserved for gaming. So to Akihabara we went. I have never, ever, ever heard so much noise and been bombarded by so many ads and neon signs and vendors exhorting their wares. We were there for the opening and Sega does something really fun: they have metal curtains over their windows, but you hear them behind, yelling and getting psyched up, louder and louder. Then the curtains rise and the employees rush out like a bunch of Banshees and spill onto the sidewalk, shouting and clapping. It was HILARIOUS!

Fuji-san, You Big Tease!

The view from our dungeon, erm, I mean, hostel room. Not the best place, that’s for sure (black mould on the walls and other water problems, but lovely folks running it though). Spotting Fuji-san is like winning the lottery. We didn’t get to climb it, alas, partly because of me (had pneumonia two months ago and still coughing…next time!)

The pictures really, really don’t do it justice: Fuji is MASSIVE and looks kind of cranky.

Completely unrelated to Fuji, but I had to include it. How can a chocolate bar be called Look, Chocolate and not make you smile? This is what happened: “Look, chocolate!” Om, nom, nom!