Thursday, January 11, 2007

Japan 2006 - Part 3 - Tokyo - Asakusa to Shinjuku

Oct, 03 2006 - Tokyo

Plan for the day: Asakusa => Sumida River Boat Cruise => Imperial Palace => TBD

Go straight to photos.

Up at 7:30AM and out the door just after 8. Walked north a bit over to the Sumida River where we found a friendly coffee shop, Doutor, a well-known Japanese chain, where we had 2 Large Mochas and 2 pastries each for 13K Yen total ($10US). The Doutor was quiet and efficient as all the patrons, except for us, seemed to be individuals; that is, there by themselves. We also saw first-hand the phenomena of using one's cell phone to “save” a table.

Then over for a short walk along the Sumida River bank. Located the ferry dock for the river cruise we would take later in the morning.

Walked down to the Mitsubishi Bank (like the auto company). They do NOT take foreign ATM cards (as we suspected but the Hotel management told us to go there anyway) but the security guard immediately gave us a nice map that showed the location of 2 nearby Post Offices that have ATMs for foreign networks (Plus, etc). I guess Mitsubishi Bank must get lots of foreign visitors. Efficient.

So over to the Post Office near the subway station and withdrew 50000 yen and back to the hotel to pay the 22000 bill – 11K per night for a double.

Finally we are out for the day. First we toured all around the nearby Sensoji Temple. The monks were chanting. Many tourists were in and around the temple complex and the famous Nakamise Souvenir Arcade. John took many photos and Sun-Ling bought a printed cotton tenugui (hand towel) for later framing from Keiji and Chihiro Kawakami for 1800 Yen.

Tourists taking a modern rickshaw to see the sites in Asakusa district
Tokyo - Asakusa District

After more walking past the craft stalls with the painted doors (see photos) we barely made it over to catch the 11:30 ferry from Asakusa to Hinode pier – 1060 each - and they collected the tickets at exit so no souvenir.

A fine ride. Forty-five minutes or so under the 10+ bridges, each with a distinctive architecture. The boat was 2 levels and almost full including one load of school children who were lively but well behaved; that is, they bobbed up and down but stayed at their seats with no fighting.

Along the bank of the Sumida River there was a significant homeless encampment. Lots of blue tarps, or real tents, laundry, and other signs of an “organized” or “long-tern” or “semi-legal” or “tolerated” encampment. The best spots were under overpasses or elevated highways that ran along the river side of the bank. Riverview + roof. The river bank had a nicely paved, wide, riverwalk/path/quay on both sides – a great place to camp. Sign me up.

Sun-Ling took control of the camera, stood near the bow, and took photos of each bridge while John hung out in a seat. Just before we pulled into Hinode Pier, we had great views to the Rainbow Bridge and the Odaiba area with the great globe of the Fuji TV building. Got off at the Hinode Pier and followed the well-marked signs to the nearby JR station and rode 5 stops to Tokyo Station using our Rail Pass.

Sumida River
Tokyo - Sumida River Cruise

Tokyo Station is very large as it is a Terminal or Main station for Tokyo and the North/South Shinkanshan. We finally made our way to the North Exit with its red brick façade and early 20th century European stylings.

We then followed the wide main drag to the Imperial Palace. It was much bigger; much, much bigger, than expected. With inner and outer moats, massive gates, wide gravel paths, huge gardens, and a tremendously large area not open to the public. It must have its own circle subway line – just joking.

Made a vending machine stop. Our first in Japan. Sun-Ling bought an ice-cream and I bought a small iced tea.

Walked through the public East Gardens. Set a spell, rested and plotted our next move which turned out to be catching the subway to Yoyogi Park, home to the Meiji Shrine, the largest and most important Shinto Shrine in Japan. Not to mention it is next to some of the most interesting shopping districts. Takeshita Dori for young Punks, Goths, Lolitas, and Hipsters. Omotesando Street is the Champs-Elysee of Tokyo with cathedrals to Gucci, Louis Vitton, Max, etc.

The day started to get interesting. First, Takeshita Dori. Teenage girls wearing very outrageous stuff. Mostly what I think is called the “Lolita” look – they dress like 4 or 5 year old girls. Of course the “normal” schoolgirl apparel in Japan is “sailor suit” or “white shirt and plaid skirt” which could be strange or outrageous if worn in public in the USA. Very busy. Very young. Sun-Ling said she felt old. “Finally” said John.

Then over to Meiji Shrine, past the 3-piece rock bank busking on the pavement. Yoyogi Park is very wooded and green. Took some photos and video. Many western and Japanese tourists about. White lanterns. Wooden wish cards.

Then back down Omotesando Street. Bought a gold lacquer box at Oriental Bazaar for 300 yen. Ate dinner at nearby Brown Rice Café. Each had menu of the day for 1060 each. It’s 1000 plus 6 percent tax. Get it? Very tasty, but no alcohol served. Hmm.

Walked through adjoining neighborhood of trendy shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Got a little lost but straightened out.

3-wheeled Honda Gyro Canopy on Omotesando Street.
Tokyo - Honda Gyro Canopy

Then back to JR line and rode 2 stops north to Shinjuku district and headed east to the “entertainment” district – lots of neon – and many young people. Used to be the Red Light District but now is a pedestrian mall with lots of PG entertainment.

Shinjuku at night.
Tokyo - Shinjuku

After lots of walking around we decided to head back to Asakusa for a “dinner” of drinks and snacks at the famous Kamiya Bar. After a 30 minute journey back, we arrived at a “closed’ Kamiya Bar. What kind of bar is closed at 9PM? Maybe it’s closed every Tuesday.

So after failing to find a noodle shop recommended by Frommers, we ate at TNT Tempura Shop on the main drag. We had briefly checked it out the night before. It’s a small shop, probably a chain, with young folks running the show. Three booths, a 10-seat bar plus kitchen. We had 2 Sapporo drafts (Nama Beer) and 2 veggie tempuras plates for 1890 total. The tempura was great: one each of lotus root, pumpkin, yam-like root, egg plant, and mushroom clump, all in a bowl of rice. Plus a cold tofu dish. Back to hotel passing a lively indoor soccer match on the way. Crash.

Final shot. The famous Japanese vending machines.

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