Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wash day

London decided yesterday that one of his stuffed animals needed a bath so I casually told him to throw it in the washing machine and did he have any others that needed washing?  Out from the bedrooms came all kinds of animals!  Who knew this would become a fascinating event for all three kids?

Is that a jaguar, snake or moose?

Drying in the sun, hoping the dogs don't grab them!

Going home

Dang, that’s an early wake up call! But my flight left Haneda at 6:00 AM so 3:45 it had to be…

Now I sit here on the plane with aching knees, sore feet and a happy heart. Happy to have had four amazing days in Tokyo with my friend Kelly before she moves back to the States, and happy to be heading back home to my family.

Tokyo - Day 4

Last day in Tokyo so we were ready to make it a good one. The weather was pretty overcast and dreary, but it wasn’t raining so we were excited! After eating a yummy all-American breakfast buffet at the hotel, we headed back to the same temple as the night before. This time determined to actually see the temple, we tried our hardest to run the gauntlet of shops, although it ended up being more of a crawl due to the crowds and the souvenir shopping we had to do.

Rice cracker store

Sumo gear?

Kelly with a sweet little sales lady.

The temple was huge and beautiful and crowded – really the first really crowded spot we’ve seen. In fact, Kelly and I have commented many times on the lack of tourists and really heavy crowds. I guess tourism has really been affected by the earthquake, nuclear crisis and economy.

Washing hands before going in the temple.  You can see the incense smoke in the background.

Washing the dog's paws before going in the temple.

Crowds in the street heading towards the temple.

This is the temple with the giant straw sandals called O-Waraji.  They are meant to be a charm against evil and are symbolic of the power of Ni-On.  They were made by 800 citizens of Murayama City in less than a month.  They're pretty impressive when you see how large they really are!

From the temple, we hopped back on the metro to get to an area of town called Ueno. There is a huge park here which is home to a bunch of museums and a zoo. We opted just to meander through a bit of the park before heading down to the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Shrine in the Ueno Park.  I've never seen one of these circular hoops before?

City streets on the way to the Metro

Stopping for sushi for lunch at a sushi-go-round.

This extremely large building houses an impressive history of the Edo time period in Japan. This ran from 1603 to 1868 and was the time that Japan was ruled figuratively by the Royal Family but practically by daimyos and shoguns and samurai of the Tokugawa family. Edo was the name of the city and was not changed to Tokyo until the shogunate lost power in 1868 and the Royal Family moved to Tokyo from Kyoto making it the capital of Japan. 

The museum had a lot of recreations of how life was in that time, but my favorite parts were about how wood block prints are created and the water systems of Tokyo. Believe it or not as early as the 1700s Edo had underground wooden “pipes” funneling water into Tokyo from the surrounding hillsides – some 30 or more kilometers away! Each little neighborhood had a well that was fed by these underground pipes. Imagine the engineering and planning to get water from so far away!

Recreation of city life.

Thought this was interesting for Stevie- childbirth.

Kabuki theatre.

As far as the woodblock prints, the detail carved into pieces of cherry wood to create the prints is amazing. Each print is made from a series of blocks, each painstakingly carved with a part of the picture – I’m really fascinated by the process.

My least favorite part of the museum was the history of WWII, very biased information talking about how the Americans bombed the heck out of the city causing untold damage and deaths. They forgot to mention the part about them picking the fight…

So, with the trip coming to a close, we added in one more stop before heading back to the hotel – another visit to the Hirajuku section to catch those funky fashions and have some dinner. Apparently Sunday is the day that the really elaborate costumes come out and we were definitely not disappointed this time. The people watching was awesome! I’m not sure which was my favorite: Alice in Wonderland; the old, sad guy; or skimpy little dress? (My photos aren't good, it was getting dark and my camera settings were wrong.  I'll add others later when Kelly gets back.  She got some good ones!)

The main street in Hirajuku.

We ended our night at an awesome noodle restaurant chosen solely because of the line of locals standing outside. Kelly and I took our place next to them and waited our turn to have our giant bowl of ramen. Yum!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tokyo - Day 3

OK, this is the really busy day! We headed out early to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market. Yes, this is one of the world’s largest fish markets with something crazy like 2,000 tons of seafood (of about 450 different species) traveling through this place every day. This is the home to the big tuna auctions that you always hear about, but unfortunately the public can no longer attend the auction. Kelly and I were all prepared to be at the market at 5:00 AM, but since the big earthquake, the public can’t see it or the behind the scenes dealings until a little later.

We did get back into the wholesale area with thousands of booths tightly packed in a crazy fray of noise, blood, fish and people.

I have no idea what these are?

There are transportation carts and people running everywhere and if you don’t watch yourself, you’ll get run over.

We weren’t able to see the tuna auction, but Kelly’s attuned ears heard the sound of a band saw and we followed the sound to a stand where the men were cutting up one of the HUGE tunas that was completely deep frozen. The freezer said -56.1 degrees Celsius! It is quite the ballet of workers hauling the fish, cutting the backbone out, hacking off the fins, cutting smaller sections, etc.

Cutting off the fins.

After getting our fill of dead fish, we perused the stalls around the market that sold a variety of fish, vegetables, kitchen wares and, of course, sushi. The plan was to have sushi for breakfast, but we ran out of time since we had to get across town for our reservation at the kabuki theatre.

Lining up to get into the restaurants for sushi for breakfast!

Stop two: the Japan National Theatre for an Introduction to Kabuki class. The class was mainly for Japanese students (almost the whole theatre was full of high school students in their neat little uniforms), but Kelly and I managed to glean some information about kabuki from the interpreter head set she rented. Kabuki started around 1603 in Kyoto with a troupe of dancing girls, but they were considered "unorthodox" (kabuki meant that in the 1600s).  So the troupes of women were banned and replaced with dancing boys.  They were later replaced with adult men and the meaning of the word kabuki was also changed to become ka (song), bu (dance), ki (technique).

I managed to snap these photos before we were told no photography!

The experience was kind of like watching an opera – amazing costumes, dramatic singing and something you feel you should experience although you’re kind of bored while doing it!

From the theatre we headed over to the Imperial Palace gardens. The gardens were closed when we were at the Palace on Friday so we had to go back. They are very beautiful and serene and we were quite fortunate for having seen the irises in bloom.
Going into the gardens - note the damage on the building behind Kelly.  This was one of the few evidences of earthquake damage we saw.

From the Palace gardens we headed to the northeast area of Tokyo to see a famous temple, the Sensoji Temple. We came out of the Metro into the basement of a department store that was loaded with all kinds of places to buy food and a grocery store.  We picked up some yummy-nummies, but passed on the $235 pack of 3 mangoes and the $260 pack of 2 cantaloupes!

We ate our nummies while sitting in a park over-looking at the Asahi beer factory headquarters.  The building is supposed to look like a mug of beer.  And the thing next to it?  Well, it was supposed to look like the flame on the top of the Olympic torch, but because of earthquake safety, they laid it on its side and now it looks like a giant golden poop.  To get an idea of the size, look at the bottom of the photo to see a truck driving by on the highway!

Speaking of large size, check out these hydrangeas in the park where we ate our lunch - they were huge!

There were all kind of rickshaws you could hire for a tour.

So we finally made it to the temple.  After you pass through the first gate, you run through a gauntlet of shops and booths and other places to spend your money and, well, Kelly and I got a little distracted by these and ended up missing the temple before it closed! Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

The first gate.

But when else can you shop for handmade washi paper in a shop that open in 1873? The streets around the temple were so interesting and it was a lot of fun just looking around (again, an advantage of no kids and husbands!)

Racks of handmade washi paper.

What says Japan then two ladies walking down a street in kimono and umbrellas?

A whole store of bean paste treats.  I bought some for Cannon who confirmed they were delicious!

Unfortunately, at this point in the day, my headache that I’d been ignoring all day flared up beyond control and we had to head back to the hotel. The “Eve” medicine that I bought at the pharmacy made me really shaky and nauseous and didn’t do a lot for my headache so it was quite the challenge to get back home – thank goodness for Kelly! Lights out on Day 3 at 8:00 PM!