Tokyo #1

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
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Trip End Nov 06, 2010


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Flag of Japan  , Tōkyō,
Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'm labeling this #1, since I’m sure we’ll make more trips to Tokyo, and I’ll post separate entries for them.

On Saturday, Oct 9th, we took the train into Tokyo, having made arrangements to meet a couple of acquaintances for dinner. These two young women, Kanako and Rei, we met in 2007. We went to Senso-ji, a famous temple, and a group of 4 students came up to us and asked us where we were from and if we spoke English. They offered to give us a free tour in exchange for the opportunity to practice their English. We thought that was a really great idea, as most Japanese speak almost no English (or at least are unwilling to try), although they study it the entire time they are in school. I have stayed in touch with Kanako via e-mail, and it’s interesting how good her written English is, although she struggles quite a lot with speaking. Now, 3 years later, Kanako has graduated and is working at a bank, and Rei is a senior studying architecture. Kanako’s boyfriend, Kazuma, also joined us – even though he had just flown in from Europe that morning. He is a graduate student in architecture and speaks English quite well.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Bernd and I took the 9:00 train and spent the day in Tokyo before meeting up with our friends. The train trip takes about 1:30. These are wonderful trains – smooth and quiet, and always on time! However, they are also extremely expensive. It cost us nearly $100 each to go into Tokyo for the day. Unfortunately, it was a very rainy day. That seems to happen almost every time I go to Tokyo. It’s not a horrible, driving rain with wind, but it does get to you after awhile, with dreary grey skies, poor visibility, and wrestling with an umbrella, quite the challenge when walking down busy sidewalks with everyone else carrying umbrellas as well. And as some of you may remember from my earlier blog, being from the desert, I am terribly umbrella-challenged.

So, we decided to make it a museum day. Fortunately, Tokyo has lots of good museums to choose from. On the other hand, they’re generally rather expensive, and neither Bernd nor I are really "into" most museums. Still – we had a good day. The train from Tokai comes into Ueno, which is in NE Tokyo. Ueno Park is huge, beautiful, and fun on a nice day, with street performers and lots of people out and about. First we went to the Shitamachi Museum. Shitamachi is the name for old downtown Tokyo – the tenements where the commoners lived. This is a small museum with 2-3 rooms of representative shitamachi houses and shops, lots of hands-on exhibits, and friendly, helpful, English-speaking guides. We really enjoyed it.

After that, we walked through the Ameyoko Arcade, where hawkers sell a full range of inexpensive goods – especially tee shirts, jeans, shoes, etc. One shop was named “Albuquerque 88” – don’t ask me why. That shop seemed to have cheap leather goods and knock-off electric guitars. It’s fun to see all the stuff they have. We went into a little café, of which there are many, always doing booming business, and had a typical tonkatsu setto (pork cutlet set). I have to laugh at all the anglicized words and how they pronounce them, for example, “ranchi setto” is lunch set.

The afternoon was spent in the Tokyo National Museum, an absolutely amazing museum. We went there 3 years ago and decided to go back. They have a huge collection, but display only a small portion of it at a time on a rotating basis. The displays and lighting are extremely well done, with good English signage. We got to see some portions of their collection we hadn’t before.

We headed out through the very heavy rain to meet our friends. They had found a restaurant that none of them had ever tried before. It turned out to be GREAT! It’s called “Daichi no Okurimono,” meaning “Gifts from the Earth,” and is a tastefully decorated place with a very affordable buffet-style service of all kinds of fresh, organic, locally grown goodies. Everything I had was delicious – nothing too weird or fishy/slimy/fermented (trust me – I’m not a picky eater, but there are some weird foods in this part of the world). It wrapped up a terrific day.... But I still hope for sun the next time.
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