Japan


Closing time at the Shrine

Sundays outdoors in Tokyo are special. The major Dori’s(streets) in some wards close to vehicles, the parks become packed with performers, spectators and strollers, the streets are packed with shoppers and gawkers, the shrines are packed with worshippers and ceremony. To these Americans it looks like all of  Tokyo is out to enjoy their city and it looks like a very prosperous city with a lot disposable income, but the Japanese explanation for this is “we have a lot of people this is just a small percentage’.  That may be but it is a spectacle.  We spent our Sunday in Harajuku at the Yoyogi Park(1984 Olympics held there), the Meiji Jingu Shrine that is right next to  the park, and in the town, which is also right next to the park.

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Sunday was cold, cloudy and occasionally rainy but that did not keep the crowds out at Harajuku. We braved the weather and crowds and made it to Starbucks to warm up after deciding the day was pretty much of a bust. We decided to go the Meiji Jingu shrine before leaving to the Nakano apartment. We had to go through this crowd. The crowd was was going into this store, all day long. We stopped by the park to see what it was like and saw these guys. It was not a nice day so not too much was going on so we went over to the Shrine a few 100 meters away. We got in as it was closing, so we did a 15 minute tour and saw a wedding procession on a ceremonial walk to the vows. We were politely told the shrine was closing and we walked out to watch the ceremony before catching the train back. From outside the shrine gate we began chatting with a Japanese man next to use about the ceremony. We strolled out of the shrine grounds together and he ended up taking us on a 6 hour tour of a couple of the wards in Tokyo. He was interested in architecture so he showed us some of what we thought were some futuristic buildings.We stopped for tea at his favorite cafe and quized Hikaru on his profession as a acupuncturist, moxibustionist and bone setter. We did not get back to the apartment until 11. Our latest night out on Tokyo town.

(This is a test of the blogging post procedure to be done from inside the Golden Wall)

We know little of the language and nothing of the food.  It’s all different food in the grocery stores,  restaurants and street vendors.  The only thing that looks the same are bakery items.  I know some things are seafood, but what. I do not know.  Some fruits and vegetables that are not wrapped up are recognizable.  Almost everything on the shelf in the grocery store is in a plastic container, sealed plastic bag, or vacuum wrapped.  The big drawback, no english on the package, so you do not know what is inside.  What is really handy are that the convenient stores sell pre made meals in plastic containers that they heat up in a microwave for you. Almost all of them are some variation of rice or noodles mixed with fishes or meat and a concoction of vegetables.  The takeout buffets are excellent too, because you can see the food and take a good guess at what it is.

A restaurant employee replaces an eel that jumped out onto the sidewalk and squirmed around in and out of the hands of 3 employees before one of them caught it. Quite a crowd formed for the show.

You can buy different rice concoctions on the alleyways. The rice balls are really good. Different rice mixtures wrapped in a sea weed paper-like wrapping.

The takeout buffets are good because you can take a good guess at what you will be getting. Usually some seafood, vegetables, and sauce. What kind of each is only a guess.

This is surely fish.

In Shinjuku the shoppers come from the end of the earth

If you have been to New York City, Tokyo is similar. Tokyo is divided into Japanese wards, similar to NYC’s boroughs and districts.  The center of Tokyo seems to be Shinjuku. It has by far the largest and busiest train station. It is huge. Many, many times larger than Penn station and Grand Central combined. Exit on the west side of the station and you are in skyscraper city, not many and not so tall. Exit on the east and you are in shoppers world. East or West, there are many exits from the underground train stations. You do not have to exit to shop, there are long hallways of shops. One long hallway of shops leads to the Tokyo Government buildings.  Similar to the Albany Concourse but grander and more shops. One building the Tokyo

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Metropoliatan Government Building has a top floor observatory where you can get a view of how expansive Tokyo is.  It was only clear enough when we were there to see Mt Fuji’s outline. Outside the

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In Harajuku you can find a red hat CLICK

building the government workers were rallying on the plaza for higher wages.  Shinjuku is a fashionable shopping area for mainly young women and they are dressed to shop. One train stop down the Yamonte rail line is the trendy Harajuku, and cross town is upscale Ginza, where your run of the mill high fashion shops are.

Our Hikari 512 Shinkansen train arriving for Tokyo

We were a little apprehensive about purchasing the correct and least expensive train tickets when in Japan.  There are so many different train companies with many different purchase options that I finally agreed with a blog that I read that only the Japanese can figure it out.  We did purchase a weekly JR Pass that gave us unlimited use of the Japanese Railway Line for one week. You can save considerably if you do long distance travel in Japan, particularly the route between Tokyo and Kyoto.  You have to be a non-resident and it has to be purchased before you enter Japan.  Our 2 passes cost $630. For long distance travel you get to travel on the Shinkansen, a high speed train. You can not ride on the fastest, the Nozomi. You can also ride all the local JR lines. Its can be a little disconcerting entering the

Have your money ready when its your turn

train station to purchase your ticket for the first time, for instance at the Tokyo station there are about 15 different train companies. with gates to the tracks everywhere it seems. You have to know which train line will get you to your destination, which can be found on the maps on the walls everywhere. Once you know the line you can buy the ticket from the machines everywhere, be sure to press the english button. Above the machines are the color coded train lines painted on the walls with all the stops and the Yens needed for the ticket to get you from your station to the others. When you enter your ticket at the gate it is sucked in and dispersed at the other end. You keep the ticket or you can not leave from behind the gate, you have to enter the ticket again upon

Some hallways can be a mixture of shoppers and Passengers

leaving and you do not get it back.  A great purchase is a Suica card which is a debit card purchased from a machine. You pass the card over a scanner at the gate and at the other end is a display of your cost and how much is left on the card. All the train lines are colored coded so once you know the color, its finding the track platform. There are arrows pointing you up and down steps around hallway corners, through busy hallway intersections and finally to the platform where you queue up behind the designated door opening line, if your train is the next arrival. This is displayed on a marquee with the next 3 train arrivals. When you find your train color there are arrival times on overhead displays before you go through the gates and your train number is given there. When a train is arriving a short xylophone melody is on the

Some hallways are upscale shopping avenues.

loudspeakers and the train name and number is flashing on the marquee. The train stops and the doors are at the designated door lines the people get off and then the people get on. Pretty amazingly orderly. Within seconds the train is off and within a couple minutes another arrives, it could be from the other direction. There is hardly any wait time.

This man makes it all happen flawlessly

What is great is that everything is in English and Japanese, even the announced stops on the train. The LEDs on the train are too, a great way to learn to read and pronounce a little Japanese.

On the Shinkansen trains, there are stewardesses that serve snacks and beverages. Before they enter the car of the train, the doors open and they stand and take a bow and announce their presence. The conductor does the same. For our first time seeing this it seemed different but its a really nice gesture, and purely Japanese. The Shinkansen are smooth, quiet and roomy. You can fit a suitcase between you and the seat in front of you.

Lets get out of here!

PathToBudda

Huge Buddha statue in Kyoto

First some first impressions;

Japan is pretty much a western looking country, but there are a lot of big differences that jump right out.  The biggest is that the people are very friendly, gracious, and there is a lot of bowing going on. You can not hear the thank you’s but you see them all around you. Thank you in Japanese has a little more meaning than in the US. They do not know how to be pushy, they prefer to back off and bow and let you by. What a pleasant surprise.

The doctors leave their office and walk in public with their surgical masks on and about half of the school kids imitate the doctors. A very confusing custom.

Lots of bicycles, and they are on the sidewalks. Did not even expect bicycles in Japan. No casual strolling on city sidewalks. Not a pleasant surprise.

Most Japanese people are thin so it makes walking easier on the crowded sidewalks and they can pack more of them of the crowded rush hour trains. Speaking of the trains they are everywhere, easy to use with the latest technology to help passengers get to the correct track. At the station there are easy to use directions for everything and at the track you can find yellow guiding pathways to where the train door will be and at pathway end it will have blinking lights when the train is arriving.  There is not enough space to mention everything about the trains, but it’s all very impressive.

The Japanese like their gadgets, as Americans know with the Japanese cars, it’s all over the train stations, street sidewalks are cushioned, creature comforts everywhere, but the biggest surprise is the electronic toilets, complete with control panel. It’s like the Japanese adopted Western culture and put some finishing touches to it.

Not so much of a surprise is that the USD does not go as far as in the USA.

MarikoShartoAnnGoldenPav

Mariko Shotaro Ann at the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto

The highlight of Japan has been meeting with our good friend Mariko and her 8-year-old son Shotaro. Mariko was more than gracious in meeting us in Kyoto, a 3 hour train trip for her and showing us the traditional city of Koyoto. How lucky we were!! She toured us to the Golden Pavillion, Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine, Chion-in temple, Ryozen Kannon statue, Nijo Castle, Nanzen-ji, and Heian Jingu Shrine.  Our last day with Mariko was in Osaka were she showed us the Osaka castle built in 1540 that marked the beginning of the city of Osaka. That evening it was our pleasure to have dinner with Mariko and her mother. The next day used our last day on our JR rail pass and we took the train for 10 days in Tokyo. (more…)