Posted by: Laura | December 13, 2008

Round up of week 2

So, to catch you up on my stay here, here’s a quick round up of the second week – so then I can get to the 3rd week, and oh yeah, this past week too…  Sorry for my delinquency in posting, I’ve been having fun!

The 2nd week was a bit of a lazy week for me, but I am on vacation after all.

Hama-rikyu Gardens

Hama-rikyu Gardens from the apartment window

Hama-rikyu Gardens from the apartment window

Mandy and I headed down and across the street to go to the Hama-rikyu Gardens – also known as the Hama Detached Palace Gardens (the ones you can see out the windows of the apartment – the other side from Tokyo Tower).  It was a really nice park.  The sun was starting to set as we went in, so we wanted to hurry off to see as much as we could.  A man came up to us and asked if we spoke English (in perfect English himself I might add – and no, that was not meant to be sarcastic, his English was really good).  Anyways, he told us that the announcement that had just come on (in Japanese) had said there was a performance of some sorts over on the other side of the park.  He said they didn’t say what kind of performance, but he just thought we might like to know.  We thanked him and then headed over to the other side for the performance.  It was a woman who did tricks with traditional Japanese umbrellas, and she was actually pretty good, but we eventually left to go see the rest of the park before it got completely dark.

View towards the apartment over the pond and tea house in the gardens

View towards the apartment over the pond and tea house in the gardens

Fukagawa Edo Museum

Japanese Cemetery - And yes, for those of you who looked closely at this, those are Swasticas on the bottom front panels.  Unlike the meaning that the Western world has most commonly associated it with, the swastica originated as a religious symbol in Buddhism, literally meaning "that which is associated with well-being", aka - a good luck symbol of sorts

Japanese Cemetery - And yes, for those of you who looked closely at this, those are Swasticas on the bottom front panels. Unlike the meaning that the Western world has most commonly associated it with, the swastica originated as a religious symbol in Buddhism, literally meaning "that which is associated with well-being", aka - a good luck symbol of sorts

Next day wasn’t all that nice of a day out, so I asked if there were any museums or anything that we could go to.  We decided to head off to the Fukagawa Edo Museum.  On the way, I was thinking out loud about some of the list of things I still wanted to see, one of which was a cemtery.  Not because I like to hang out in cemeteries or anything, I just like to see what different cultures’ traditions are.  As I was saying that, we just happened to walk by a cemetery, so we went in to walk around.  They are very tiny compared to ours, and based on the number of people in Japan, I’m a little confused as to where they all go.  But, I also don’t understand the system they have, so there may be more than one person buried at one site, or maybe they’re cremated.  They may have family stones, and the wooden boards posted behind them may be names of individual family members… I’m really not sure.  But, I have now seen a Japanese cemetery, so I at least know the difference in looks.

Night time Simulation at the museum

Night time Simulation at the museum

Then onto the museum.  It was actually pretty interesting.  It’s basically a small little town set up inside to be a sample of older times.  They even simulated day and night, and had the calls of the fisherman played over the speakers, along with the sound of the (fake) cat meowing which they had up on a roof.  They had different shops set up, and households of different types of people (the fisherman, the widower, the carpeter, etc.).  Then we did some woodblock print puzzels and headed back home.

One type of shrine most houses had

One type of shrine most houses had

Anyone recognize this friendly character? This is actually a sake cask... but... I'm totally expecting it to burst through a wall at any moment saying "Oh Yeah!" For those of you who are totally lost... This is a reference to the kool-aid (juice mix) commercials where the pitcher of kool-aid has a face drawn on it and always bursts through walls saying "Oh Yeah!" I wonder if this is actually where the idea came from... hmmm...

Anyone recognize this friendly character? This is actually a sake cask... but... I'm totally expecting it to burst through a wall at any moment saying "Oh Yeah!" For those of you who are totally lost... This is a reference to the kool-aid (juice mix) commercials where the pitcher of kool-aid has a face drawn on it and always bursts through walls saying "Oh Yeah!" I wonder if this is actually where the idea came from... hmmm...

Examples of items found in a typical traditional home, including a shrine and a kumade rake for 'raking in wealth and good fortune' in the new year

Examples of items found in a typical traditional home, including a shrine and a kumade rake for 'raking in wealth and good fortune' in the new year (left hand corner)

Odaiba

The replica of the replica of the Statue of Liberty with the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo in the background

The replica of the replica of the Statue of Liberty with the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo in the background

The next day, we headed out to Odaiba.  We didn’t go out too early in the morning because it wasn’t all that nice out again… and the Thanksgiving day Eagles vs. Cardinals  game was on here Friday morning, and anyone who knows Mandy knows that being from a town near Philidelphia, Pennsylvania – she is a huge Eagles fan.  If Connecticut had an NFL team… I’d probably be the same way.  Anyways, in the afternoon, we finally headed over – and it was better we waited because it actually turned out to be a pretty nice day.  Odaiba is over the bay from their apartment.  We crossed the bridge on the monorail, and saw the signature buildings like the Fuji TV building, & the ferris wheel.  The first stop off the monorail was the statue of liberty, modeled after the one they have in France… which is modeled after the original one in New York.  Then on through the malls where I found the perfect boots… for 40,000 ¥ ($400) – clearly I did not buy them, that’s 1/3 of the price of the ticket here!

Fuji TV Headquarters

Fuji TV Headquarters

Odaiba's Ferris Wheel

Odaiba's Ferris Wheel

Your friendly neighborhood Aqua City Robot/Floor Cleaner

Your friendly neighborhood Aqua City Robot/Floor Cleaner

Shinjuku at night

Shinjuku at night

After Odaiba, we went back to the apartment, and I decided to go out with Paul and some of his friends from class.  They were all really fun.  I really enjoy talking to people who travel and know other languages.  We went to one place first for some food and drinks – where I fell in love with plum wine – and then we headed off to an English Pub.  It was a fun night, with a lot of laughs.  Thanks to Paul’s friend Julien, I now know the kanji for alcohol – he explained it as literally meaning something along the lines of ‘water medicine’, and the symbol looks like a medicine bottle.  Woohoo!  1 Kanji down… 1005 to go just to catch up with Japanese school children at the 6th grade level!  It is said that there are near 50,000 kanji, but the Japanese Ministry of Education designated about 2,000 characters as the frequently used ones.

Paul and some of his classmates

Paul and some of his classmates - Instead of saying "Cheese!" the Japanese custom is to say "Peeeace!" when taking a picture - hence the peace signs...

Me and some of Paul's Classmates (and the wife of one of them)

Me and some of Paul's Classmates (and the wife of one of them)

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Posted by: Laura | December 3, 2008

Heading back to Tokyo

Everyone in Takayama has a Sarubobo... even the dogs!

Everyone in Takayama has a Sarubobo... even the dogs!

The next day we headed back to the morning markets to buy the last of our goodies.  We then went to a breakfast place we had seen the previous day for some waffles!  Mmmmm…  Waffles.  The traditional Japanese breakfast is very different from what we have back home – unless you’re one of those people who grabs cold leftovers for breakfast before heading out the door!  The traditional breakfast we had back at our first hotel in Matsumoto consisted of small hot dogs, rice, apples, some type of soup, an egg omelet square, and coffee, tea, etc.  Not all that different I guess if you really think about it and equate it to sausage, eggs, and fruit, but for those of you who know me well enough to know exactly what I would get if we went to a diner at any time of the day – I like my breakfast food…  Usually I’m a pancakes person, but waffles will do.  So, we tried out the waffle place.  It was pretty good, and more satisfying to me than the alternative.  The surprise was, they gave us ice cream with our waffles!  If you’ve been keeping up with my inter-mitten blogging, I’ve already said once about there seeming to be an obsession with ice cream over here – but who can blame them!

A fun English translation at the market... go ahead... try to make some sense of it

A fun English translation at a food stand at the market. Go ahead... try to make some sense of it!

Our Toilet slippers on the bathroom floor area, and my regular slippers on the landing area in the bathroom before the bathroom floor... I follow the rules!

Our Toilet slippers on the bathroom floor area, and my regular slippers on the landing area in the bathroom before the bathroom floor... apparently you're supposed to coordinate your slippers with the floor tiles.

Anyways, back to the hotel to get the car, and I just had to take a picture of the oh-so-stylish slippers we wore in the minshuku.  In the Japanese culture, feet are a very dirty thing, so most households, temples, etc. make you take off your shoes before you enter.  In many places (especially traditional households) they even have separate slippers for the bathroom – meaning, you change out of the slippers you already exchanged your street shoes for at the door for yet another pair of slippers that are only to be worn in the bathroom.  As you will see in the picture, ours not only were bright red in contrast to our neutral shade of the regular slippers, but they also said “Toilet” on them – in case you forgot to take them off when leaving the bathroom and then forgot where you got the bright red slippers unlike everyone else’s neutral shade ones.  NOTE TO SELF:  Next time, in planning to visit a country with a culture where you take your shoes off all the time – 1. Make sure you have shoes that slip on and off easily, so you’re not THAT American sitting there untying and tying your shoes all the time, tying up the lines, &  2. Visit in the warmer seasons… wandering around castles with no insulation and stone floors in your socks is not so fun in the winter.

So, on from the minshuku, we hit the road back to Tokyo.  The snow was still amazing in the mountains, so I’ll throw in a picture or two of that.  We thought we were in the clear, and might actually get back earlier than planned when… we realized that we apparently decided to come back at the same time as EVERYONE else who left Tokyo for their holiday weekend (apparently it was Labor Day, we didn’t even know what holiday it was until Mandy asked one of her tutoring students – who had to check her calendar because she didn’t even know).  So… we spent some quality time in the car together with all the other Tokyoites on the road with us.  Eventually we got home, thankful to be alive after hours of traffic and trying to find our way back to the apartment interpreting signs that made no sense.  Paul and Mandy don’t have a car, so they never have to drive themselves home.  But all-in-all, a great weekend, and a great introduction to this culture I’ve decided to immerse myself in for a whole month.

Pretty snow on the drive back from Takayama

Pretty snow on the drive back from Takayama

Posted by: Laura | December 3, 2008

Takayama

Cool lamps at our favorite (but expensive) store in Takayama

Cool lamps at our favorite (but expensive) store in Takayama

In the morning we headed to both of the Morning Markets that occur in Takayama (they even have convenient little tiles built into the sidewalks to direct you to them – attention to details!).  It was a great showcase of all that Takayama has to offer.  The first one was more like a farmer’s market with mostly fresh fruits and veggies (and yummy free samples), but the second one had many local crafts in addition to it’s fresh fruits and veggies.  We found one actual store which opened up to the street where the market occurs that we all absolutely loved.  After I wandered through the store taking pictures without a flash (because to me the sign just said no flash), Paul said that we weren’t actually supposed to take pictures at all… oops!

They are steaming buns in that box!

They are steaming buns in that box!

We wandered through the rest of the market along side the river and got some yummy food.  Mandy got a Hida Beef Croquette, while Paul and I got steamed buns with Hida Beef in them.  Hida Beef is just beef that comes from cows raised in the Hida region of Japan.  It’s very good, the same beef that made our yakiniku dinner so good.

Then we headed back to our car at the minshuku to head to Hida No Sato, a tiny little village that has been moved to the hills of Takayama to preserve it as a cultural treasure of sorts.  There was alot of interesting stuff there that would be hard to briefly explain, so I’ll just put up a few pictures here, and then more up on a picture site eventually.

Add a little more snow... and a warm glow from inside of one of the buildings... and this could so be a Thomas Kinkade painting right?

Add a little more snow... and a warm glow from inside of one of the buildings... Anyone else think this looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting?

Craftsman making sandals

Craftsman making sandals

Craftsman making spoons

Craftsman making spoons

Manekineko - Lucky Cat Dolls

Manekineko - Lucky Cat Dolls

Kusakabe House Fireplace

Kusakabe House Fireplace

After Hida No Sato, we headed back into town to do some shopping.  But, while walking I spotted the Kusakabe House.  We walked by, and I saw the name and said, “Hey, that’s in my guidebook… I think that’s one of the things we’re supposed to see” – to which Paul said, “Oh, that’s the house with the famous fireplace and kagizuru I always see pictures of… yes we should go there.”  A kagizuru is that which the pot over the fireplace hangs on.  A man came over and said he could guide us, but alas… it was all in Japanese.  Paul translated some of it for me though so I wasn’t completely lost.

After that, we still wanted to do some shopping, so we headed through another street where we stumbled upon a temple.  We walked through to the other side where we found a museum with masks and stuff, that also did a karakuri marionette show.  Karakuri is a doll made by Japanese artisians after one repairman became fascinated by the intricate workings of the Shogon’s watch when it needed to be fixed.  So anyways, the kids in us again took over and we went in.  It was actually a very good show.  Mandy even got asked to participate.  On of their marionettes was designed to bring a cup of tea to a guest.  The doll operates without strings.  It stops moving when the tea is taken off of it’s tray.  When the guest is done drinking the tea and returns the cup to the tray, the doll actually returns back to it’s original starting point.  It is a little rough, but still it’s pretty impressive considering the how long ago it was created.  Then after our show, we got to go behind the scenes and see how everything worked – that was pretty cool.  And then on to the masks!

Mandy drinking tea that the Karakuri marianet brought over to her

Mandy drinking tea that the Karakuri marionette brought over to her

Behind the scenes at the Marionette show

Behind the scenes at the Marionette show

I definately have seen this face before... cover it with fur, and you have... that flying thing from the Never Ending Story!

One of the Masks in their collection. I definately have seen this face before... cover it with fur, and you have... that flying thing from the Never Ending Story!

After the show and the masks, finally… on to shopping!  We wandered around, bought some goodies and dinner, and then headed back to the minshuku for the night.

Posted by: Laura | November 30, 2008

Castles, Hydro-electricity, Snow, and… Sarubobo?

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Finally!  I’m posting again!  Here’s some of last weekend… I’m trying to play catch-up.  I’ll try to be better this week and slowly catch you guys up!

So, after a good night’s sleep with very full tummys (from our yakiniku I posted about last time in case you’ve forgotten), we headed out to see the biggest attraction in Matsumoto – the Matsumoto Castle – before heading off to our final destination of Takayama.  The Matsumoto Castle (originally known as Fukashi Castle) is one of about 4 remaining original castles left in Japan (most others are reproductions).  It is an amazing sight, with alot of history obviously.  I won’t try to explain everything here since I still have an entire weekend (and now the week too) to catch you up on, but just know everything in it had a specific purpose – again with the attention to details thing here in Japan… they think of everything!  I will say that the main reason that it is still standing, though, is because it was never actually attacked.

-)

I think these might be the city rules... They are fun to try to interpret. Some of my guesses are: (Left side of the sign) You CAN annoy the trees with paper, take pictures with flash, protest, or be a mime if you choose. (Right side) You CANNOT take your anger out on the park benches, have random camp fires, play golf in the streets, or be a biker dude... just my guesses 🙂

Koun Temari - meaning "Lucky Temari"

Koun Temari - meaning Lucky Temari

After the castle, we went back through the streets to get a few souvenirs before hitting the road again.  One of the things that Matsumoto is known for are their Temari balls – decorations that are a ball covered with patterns made in string.  It is a lucky ornament which brings happiness, and also a traditional folk art which brides take to their new house for a happy life (you’ll see this happiness/happy life thing tends to be a trend with traditional souvenirs).

Leaves in the park

Leaves in the park

Then we found a garden/temple area with some pretty fall leaves so we stopped to take pictures.  Paul and Mandy are obsessed with taking pictures of fall leaves, probably since they haven’t really seen fall in like 3 years with they’re living in always sunny Monterey, California and all – they suffer so.

food

Taiyaki with chocolate filling

Next we grabbed some taiyaki from a stand near the temple.  Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped cake most often filled with red bean paste, but they also commonly are made with custard, chocolate, or cheese.  Mandy and I tried something similar to this that was filled with red bean paste called ningyoyaki when we were in Asakusa.  Red bean paste may not sound all that appetizing, but for those of you who know about my sweet tooth, trust me, it’s good 🙂  The taiyaki we got today were custard, chocolate, and cheese, and I have to admit I did like those better… although I wouldn’t pass up the red bean paste flavored ones 🙂  I think my favorite of the taiyaki may have been the custard one.  Moving on, once we felt like we were stocked full of goodies for the trip, we went back to the car, and hit the road.

The Reservoir with some snow and fall leaves

The Reservoir with some snow and fall leaves

After making a quick turn (on a slightly snowy/icy road) to stop and take a few pictures and a reservoir of sorts, Paul realized that the building across the street from us was a hydro-electric museum.  Since this year his main objective in Japan is to travel and learn as much about the country as possible (and get paid to do so… but I’m not jealous, really…) he decided that he should go in and see what it was about.  I went in with him while Mandy waited in the car for what we thought would only be a few minutes – that turned into I think 45min to an hour… sorry Mandy :-/.

Hydro-electricity museum

Hydro-electricity museum

It was very much designed to get kids involved in learning about it… so it was perfect for me and Paul! haha.  We played a video game that seemed to somehow move the water from one reservoir to the other to create energy… but I was really just guessing since I couldn’t read the questions OR the answers, but it was still fun.  Then on to something else neither of us understood very well, and then on to the stationary bikes where we raced to produce energy (I think… again, I didn’t really understand much).  Then onto some cool machines – it’s hard to explain what they were, but they were cool and fun with sound waves and such.  And then, the virtual reality machines.  Next we ran into a rather unhappy Mandy who had come inside to find us since again, we had thought it would only take a few minutes, and we had in fact been in there quite longer, and we went back to the car and hit the road.  Sorry (again) Mandy!

Me at Chuba Sangaku National Park

Me in the snow at Chuba Sangaku National Park

Next stop, somewhere in a National Park to take some pictures.  The snow was amazing!  Paul and Mandy haven’t seen snow in quite some time either, so it was exciting for them too.  There was probably at least a foot of snow in the area, if not more, which you can imagine made for some fun driving for Paul with it being his first time driving in Japan and all.  But, after a couple more hours on the road, we finally made it to… Takayama!

Takayama is a very traditional little city.  It’s known as one of the best examples of Old Japan, probably because it was snowed in and basically shut down for months at a time in the winters, so it probably was a bit hard for outsiders to reach it to modernize it.  But now, it is a quant little town, which does thrive on tourism since people want to see this example of Old Japan, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed its character.  They’re known for their craftsmanship so there are many examples of fine carvings and wood work everywhere – Dad, you would be in heaven here!

Sarubobo Statue

Sarubobo Statue

We wandered the city for a bit.  The first stop was a temple where we had our first (of what would be many) encounters with what is known as Sarubobo.  Sarubobo, as we came to discover later, means “Happy Monkey Baby”.  Grandmothers and mothers used to make a Sarubobo doll for their granddaughters/daughters hoping for happiness and good health for them.  Throughout the years it seems to  have gathered more and more “good luck” type meanings, and basically if you have this doll, you should have a long, happy life, meet the perfect guy, have many children, etc. etc… But, at any rate, we wandered around some more to see the shops that were there, and then headed back to the minshuku – family run guest house.  It’s like the traditional Japanese Ryokan, but you do a few things more yourself like put out your own bedding and whatnot.

Paul, Mandy and I at dinner at our minshuku

Paul, Mandy and I at dinner at our Minshuku

We had reserved ourselves seating at the 9 course dinner that they were serving there that night.  That was a great way to try a good variety of different types of Japanese food.

My room at the Minshuku - about 8x8 ft.  Japan is not built for tall people...

My room at the Minshuku - about 8x8 ft. Japan is not built for tall people...

Then off to bed to rest for a full day of fun in Takayama!

Posted by: Laura | November 25, 2008

Off to Matsumoto…

I may not be in Kansas, but sometimes it feels like I may only be in Nebraska... Denny's are apparently very popular over here, this is the 2nd one I've seen in Tokyo so far!

I may not be in Kansas, but sometimes it feels like I may only be in Nebraska...

After a slow start to the day with packing and such, Mandy and I took our gear for the weekend up to meet Paul after school for lunch.  We then went to the base to rent a car for the weekend, but I wasn’t allowed on base – or at least they said it would be easier for me to just wait at the gate if it wasn’t going to take long to get the car.  Then, we hit the road… on the left side.  It was Paul’s first time driving in Japan, and my first time in a personal car that was driven on the other side.  Heading out of the city, we passed the second Denny’s I’ve seen in Tokyo so far…  apparently they’re popular over here.  Some of the other views leaving the city were amazing… including some buildings, an amazing view of Fujisan looking like it was on fire (from the sun behind it while steam is coming off due to the snow), and some of the Japan Alps.

(left) The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, and (right) the Grand Hyatt Hotel (hotel used in Lost in Translation)

(left building - 2 towers) The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, and (right building - 3 towers) the Grand Hyatt Hotel (the hotel used in Lost in Translation)

Fujisan looking like it is on fire

Fujisan looking like it is on fire

Gridiron that we cooked our food on

Gridiron that we cooked our food on

We made our way through to Matsumoto (which is known as the “Gateway to the Japan Alps”), checked into our Japanese style hotel, and then headed out in search of food.  We found a Yakiniku (which literally means burn meat) restaurant.  In this type of restaurant they basically give you a plate of raw meat, and you cook it yourself on a gridiron grill built into the middle of the table.  The meat was delicious!  For someone who sometimes feels like she is going to turn into a vegetarian, meals like this keep me from doing so.

Our table full of yummy food

Our table full of yummy food

Paul & Mandy at Dinner

Paul & Mandy at Dinner

At one point, we began to wonder if we were eating tongue... so this is Mandy pondering what the meat is... and not caring because it was so good

Since we were all new to this, we (well, they) asked the waiter for suggestions as to what to get, and at one point, we began to wonder if we were eating tongue... so this is Mandy pondering what the meat is... and not caring because it was so good

-)

Me at Dinner 🙂

Paul attempting to interpret the menu to figure out if what we had just eaten

Paul attempting to interpret the menu to figure out if what we had just eaten

A chart we later discovered on the menu to infact tell us which parts of the cow we were eating... an no, we were not eating tongue

A chart we later discovered on the menu to infact tell us which parts of the cow we were eating... an no, we were not eating tongue

Posted by: Laura | November 25, 2008

Asakusa

After another day of waking up really early and watching the sun rise on Fujisan, Mandy suggested we head up to Asakusa for the day.  Asakusa is the home of Tokyo’s most sacred and spectacular temple, the Senso-ji Temple, and houses some of the finest remaining examples of Old Tokyo.  First stop of this trip, the tourist office.  Not for information, since we already had a printed out version of Mandy’s soon-to-be guidebook, but to view the main attraction of the office… the mikoshi.  A Mikoshi is a portable shrine which houses the diety of a Shinto shrine in a parade during a festival.  I don’t know how the diety gets in and out of a mikoshi, but I guess you just “Gotta Have Faith” that the spirit is there.

Outside the tourist office is the second attraction, the clock which does a miniature rendition of one of the mikoshi processions.  Here is a video I took of it:

Kaminarimon Gate

Kaminarimon Gate

From there, we turned to cross the street and look at the very large red gate.  The gate leads to what is known as Nakamise-dori.  I’m not sure exactly what that translates to, but to me it means “large shopping area”.  The path from the gate to the temple is lined with little stalls selling everything from fine paper goods & nicely carved items, to cheesey cheap toys, keychains and anything you can imagine to adorn your cell phone with (they are obsessed with their cell phones here – even having spring and fall lines of phones – and those little charms that go on phones are a very popular item).

The first stop was the Kurodaya Paper store off to the right (not officially part of Nakamise-dori as it is an actually store, not just a stall, but it is right there).  This shop has been in business selling quality paper products for over 150 years.  It’s the type of store you could spend forever in if you are a crafter like myself, or at least like I like to be when I have time.  I got a journal, and some small kimono shaped pieces of paper to use for scrap booking later 🙂 haha.

Nakamise-dori

Nakamise-dori

After that, we walked along Nakamise-dori and walked in and out of stalls.  Since Mandy has already been here and written a section of her guidebook on it, she knew which ones were the more quality ones (not just keychains and cheap toys).  We stopped at the Green Tea stall to get a cup of hot rice sake, which tasted like warm, liquefied rice pudding – that was meant to sound good, I’m not sure if it did or not, but in any case, it was amazing!

From the hot sake, we went over to the ice cream stall (ice cream is everywhere here for some reason) to check out all the fun flavors.  The new one they have that wasn’t here last time Mandy looked – Lamb Raisin… needless to say we did not sample that one, or the Bean Curd (Tofu).

Some of the Ice Cream Flavors

Some of the Ice Cream Flavors

From the ice cream stall, we went to other stalls with fine dolls, umbrellas, fans, hashi (chopsticks), woodblock prints, and masks.  We also watched some traditional treats being made such as rice crackers.

Masks at the Sanbi-Do stall

Masks at the Sanbi-Do stall

Keychains, cellphone charms, lanterns, etc.

Keychains, cellphone charms, lanterns, etc.

Fall decorations; In the summer there is a canopy over the whole walkway to protect shoppers from the hot sun.

Fall decorations; In the summer there is a canopy over the whole walkway to protect shoppers from the hot sun.

Next, on to the traditional stuff.  First, some story boards.  The most interesting is the one about the seven gods, called the Shichifukujin.  Only one of the seven is a woman – Benten, who is the goddess of luck and love, and a patron of the arts and entertainment.  She is usually depicted with a mandolin in her hand.

Hozo-mon Gate

Hozo-mon Gate

Next you see the sight of many lanterns that line the way to another gate.  This one is the Hozo-mon Gate.  Looks a little like the first one, but the sight through this gate is not that of shopping, but of a very traditional temple area.

Under side of that big red lantern in the gate

Under side of that big red lantern in the gate

Five Story Pagoda

Five Story Pagoda

We walked through the gate, and saw the Five Story Pagoda on the left.  Then I bought a fortune from a fortune stand, or mikuji, and kept it since it told me nothing but good things (in very broken english).  The tradition is to tie the fortune to a tree branch or provided wire rack if you don’t like your fortune, and you pray that the wind will carry it away to prevent it from coming true.

Hand washing and drinking water station

Hand washing and drinking water station

After keeping my fortune, I followed the tradition of wafting the incense from the Incense Burner towards parts of you that need healing, so I wafted towards my sinuses (since they kinda hurt and I was praying at that point I didn’t have a sinus infection caused by the horrible dry air on the plane).  Then I washed my hands and drank from the water to prepare to go into Senso-ji Temple.

The Main Hall is very nice as far as temples go.  It’s a replica of the original temple, like much of this area because it burned down/was destroyed by air raids in WWII. There is a large painted dragon on the ceiling, I think because legend says that a golden dragon was seen dancing in the heavens above when the original temple was built.

Statue in the Gardens behind the temple

Statue in the Gardens behind the temple

Then, on to the Asakusa Shrine next door, the only original building remaining in the complex.  This shrine pays homage to the 3 men responsible for the creation of the Sensoji Temple.

Then, around the back of the Main hall, through a small garden, and on to… an Amusement Park!  We didn’t actually go in, but it was quite interesting even from the outside with it’s Sinatra like music playing throughout the park.

This is starting to get long for one day, but we’re almost done!

We then wandered around a little, went to a small museum, and then found a place for lunch.  I further mastered my hashi (chopstick, if you don’t remember form earlier) skills with a bowl of Oyakodon (rice bowl with chicken, onions, and egg).  The Japanese sure get an A+ for attention to detail in my book.  How many times to do you go to a resturant and have to put your stuff on the floor or try to pile it on the back of your chair?  They not only had a shelf built in on the bottom of the chair, but they provided us with something like a tiny, foldable shopping cart to put our bags into and keep near the table.  Genius!

After lunch we wandered a bit more and decided we were done for the day.  We headed back through the masses of people shopping at Nakamise-dori (now filled with many school children stopping in on their way home) and headed back to the metro and home.  Not a bad day by any means.

Posted by: Laura | November 24, 2008

Adventures in a Japanese Garden, and the Grocery Store

Fujisan from the apartment

Fujisan from the apartment

I woke up (very early due to that fun thing called jet lag) to my first view of Mount Fuji (Fujisan) out the window of the apartment.  Amazing!  After unpacking a bit, Mandy suggested that we go see a Japanese Garden.  Sounded like a nice, slow paced way to begin my Tokyo experience, so after a quick nap for me, we went to meet Paul after school at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Mandy explained to me the main points you will always find in a Japanese Garden. I know there was stepping stones, a high point, and I think 3 other things. I can’t remember the other ones right now, but they will be in the guide book she is writing.  I have learned I am the guinea pig for said guide book on this trip, which is cool because she is a great guide for things to begin with, so having a pre-organized guide by Mandy is just that much better.

Horai Island

Horai Island

I later looked at the back of the pamphlet they gave us at the entrance to the park, and, being the first place I visited during my stay in Japan, it seemed very fitting that the Garden’s Inauguration was on April 3, 1938, my birthday (many years before me, but still).

Anyways, from there we went to the grocery store, where I wish I had taken pictures of some of the stuff – I’ll just have to go back. I think one of the best things I saw was the Cantelope for 8,000 ¥ (which is the equivalent of about $80 – for ONE cantelope! Crazy!).

On from there is when we went back to the apartment and caught the fantastic sunset view of the city which I have already posted a picture of…  End of Day 1 in Japan…

Posted by: Laura | November 21, 2008

Arriving in Japan

So my first couple days here have been very exciting so far.  The place I’ve spent the most time, which I definately will not complain about, it my brother’s apartment.  This is the view from there at sunset…

View from Paul and Mandy's apartment

View from Paul and Mandys Apartment

But, let’s start from the beginning…

First stop off of my 13.5 hour (very, very dry aired) plane ride, was the bathroom and my first experience with the Japanese toilet… Let’s just say there’s lots of buttons that are very graphically explained and I did not push any of them.  When I tried to flush the toilet, I pushed the button that had something that said (to me) flushing sound, but it didn’t flush it… it seriously just made a flushing sound… I was so confused! haha.  But, eventually I found a lever very similar to the ones in the US, so I just used that, and that worked.

On from the bathroom, was immigration and customs.  I get there, and realize – Crap!  I don’t know Paul’s phone number or address!  I even looked in the address book of my blackberry (that is all it will be good for over here) for his California # (because they still use that over here) and nothing… But, luckily enough, they accepted my home phone number, and his name at immigration.  Customs seemed to be satisfied with the explanation of staying with my brother.  Phew!

Next out the door to find Paul, who is patiently waiting outside for me.  I tell him what happened, and both of us had the reaction of, “Well, I thought about that, but I just forgot to ask/tell you”.  No worries, I made it through… but definitely something to remember for next trip.  On to the train…

You know some of us have that problem of not being able to face backwards on the train?  Well… in Japan, that’s not a problem.  We walked by just as the seats were automatically rotating for us so that we would face forward, as the passengers coming to the station had also.  I’m so taking a video of that before I leave! haha.  On the train, just after mentioning to my brother that I have Lost in Translation with me, the speaker comes on the intercom (in Japanese first of course).  Paul tells me that although it is only an hour train ride, they are apparently coming around with goodies to buy, and they listed everything off.  After that comes the English “translation”, which I use quotations because Paul just started laughing and said it reminded him of a scene from Lost in Translation where Bill Murray is doing a photo shoot, and they director goes off in a whole slew of sentences in Japanese, and the translator simply turns to him and says “Turn slower, and with more, Intensity”.  Clearly there was much more to what the director said than was translated, as was the case with our explanation of available food, haha.

Seriously... does it not look like something from Golden Eye?

Seriously... does it not look like something from Golden Eye?

Then on to the apartment building.  I seriously felt like I was in a James Bond movie or something, or as I later realized… maybe the video game version, GoldenEye.  Paul has an automatic door opener (much like a garage door opener) so all you do is walk towards the doors and they seem to just open (like in Golden Eye, the one video game I used to play on a somewhat regular basis).  It’s also hard to tell what is a door and what is a wall… much like I imagine things are in James Bond (we all know I’m not a big movie buff).  We go up to the 39th floor, and my ears pop on the way up.

So, then into the apartment to see Mandy and the kittens, and… the VIEW! haha.  Here’s another picture taken that night 🙂

What a View!

So, I’m not sure if I’ll get to post more before I leave for the weekend or not, but at least you know how my experience in Japan has started so far 🙂 haha.   Sayonara for now!

Posted by: Laura | November 20, 2008

Hello blog world!

So, with my jet lag I’ve been waking up quite early, and I decided I would spend my time communicating my experiences back to the Western World (or whoever else might happen to read this).  This purpose of this blog is simple, to make sure you all remember where I am and how jealous you should be 🙂 haha.  But really, I just know that many of you have expressed interest in a blog or some other way for me to share my stories about my experiences, so I figured I’d create this now, and keep it for future trips too.

Enjoy the stories and pictures, and I’ll try to post fairly regularly.

Sayonara for now!

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