Laundry, Tokyo International Forum, Sushi and Electric Town

This is post #10 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: Saturday, November 11, 2017.
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Yes, it’s now that time in every tourist’s life when they have to do their laundry, if they are not lucky enough to have multiple suitcases or an expense-account travel budget. We locate one south of our hotel, and head back towards Tsukiji, where the fish market is located (but not that far).

When we arrive, about mid-morning, nearly all the washers are being used. Dave starts to analyze whether we should use the combo washer-dryer or just the regular washer, then regular dryer, but someone comes in and we hurry and claim two machines and start throwing our clothes in. I’ve never seen red appliances in a laundromat before, but hey–this is Japan. I laugh when the Dave opens the door to the washer dryer and it greets us: a little voice saying something, maybe Welcome? We hope soap is included, and by using Google Translate, it appears to be.

Doing laundry in a foreign place gives us a chance to meet others. We meet a black guy who runs a soul food resturant, where “mac and cheese fly out the door.” A young couple with their baby are on holiday from Taiwan and of course, speak perfect English.

In spite of the fact that the dryer heat didn’t work on one unit, we finish up and head over the temple we’d glimpsed on the way in, hoping for a stamp for our book. Only do-it-yourself stamping here, and it really looks more like a convention hall inside. We drop off the laundry, hanging up the damp clothing then head out again, making a beeline for Itoya’s annex as it’s our last day in Tokyo.

National Fireman’s Day? I know they dress up their statues on occasion.

We start at the top of Itoya and make our way down the six floors, buying some bird letter openers on our way.

Back out on Chur-dori street, there is a strange sound: no traffic. They close the main Ginza drag on weekend. It would be fun just to walk around, but we are headed to the glass building, shaped like an oblong that I glimpsed from the Tokyo Main Station.

Lo, and behold! A Shake Shack, but since we will get a sushi meal together later on, we pass.

Walking in puts you at about the second level of this building. We buy our entrance passes, take the escalator down to the lowest level, then catch the elevator up to the very top of the oval glass-atrium.

We spend some time looking around at the top, with a view overlooking at the trains gliding in and out of the Tokyo Main Train Station. This is an amazing building. In the outside courtyard below, we see the canopies of the trees turning red and gold. It’s been so warm here, that the fall colors haven’t emerged.

We walk along one side of the oval to the glass catwalk, then across this bridge to the other side, dropping us down one level. Through a series of catwalks, we slowly return to ground level, leaving out the opposite side of the building.

We head toward the main train station.

The main Tokyo train station, from the outside, is a brick colonial-looking building, and it’s obviously been refreshed recently.  Dave was interested in the interior, in the cupolas, and took several photos of them, getting them just perfect.  It’s interesting how the first time through here I was so disoriented and turned around and confused, but now I knew to head to the tunnel under construction, walk for several minutes to end up in the food section.

We were heading to have sushi, one of the food items on my list left to try in Tokyo.  Dave had already had sushi, but now it was our turn together. We were shown a place to sit at the bar. I don’t know why I always feel in such a hurry (maybe a strange place?), but we just sort of picked the special from the main menu, a fixed array.  We sat at the sushi bar, took the requisite photos, then the food started to arrive. 

The first was some edamame, and a great little salad with shredded cabbage, lettuce, some thinly sliced radish, seaweed and bits of octopus, but I’ve learned not to be afraid of that food item here in Japan.

Then the main dish: sushi. I looked it over and decided to go with the most disgusting looking stuff first—one of the pieces had what looked like little eyeballs peering at me, but Dave said later that that was their antenna.

 Okay, I feel so much better now.  The other pieces were good, but I was working so hard on not being freaked out by eating eyeball sushi, that I’m not sure I really enjoyed them.  I also realized I’m more of a “roll” type sushi eater, which my brother Andy says is more of a California approach to sushi.  So be it.

We went there because of online recommendations but as we turned the corner we saw the conveyer belt sushi place, and wow—do I wish we’d eaten there instead.  Next trip.

I take Dave around and show him the Character Street underneath Tokyo station; he’s not that impressed, but he did agree to take a photo of me at the Totoro shop.  We saw a vending machine for a kitty hat (for a cat) along the way.  They do have a thing for cats.

They do Kit-Kat up big here.

We decided to head to up to Akihabara Station to see the neon lights of the electronics section of Japan — aka Electric Town.  We’ve tried to hit all the major sections of Japan, and this one is our last.  At one subway station, we changed lines, and it was time for a bathroom break.  As I waited in line, I could hear lots of waterfall sounds, but it wasn’t until I got in there that I realized that it was all the toilets making the water sound. I guess they want you to do your business quickly, so they help you out.  (I’d also heard that at the Bamboo Shrine.)  When many of the Japanese woman would get to the mirror to wash their hands, they would dip their fingers in the water and groom their hair.

I took a photo so we could find our way back here.

We change train lines and head towards Yodobashi Department Store—nine floors of fun.  I still have some hopes to find Molly Qee toys—almost unavailable in the U.S. and maybe here?  We walk around and under and around to get to the Yodobashi-Akiba department store, walk in the door and feel assaulted.  We pick a floor at random, wait interminably long for the elevator (typical) but we didn’t find the escalator until later.  We end up on the toy floor, trying to grab onto something that will anchor us here, but it’s all so overwhelming, and we see several children, sitting on the floor, crying; we feel about the same way.

Finally we find the Star Wars figures—some about three feet high.  We pose, and then find the silliness of the electronic marching figurines. Turns out to be a real hit with my Instagram followers, with many funny comments.

Overwhelmed, we head downstairs, and leave out the side door, find a teeny café and pause for an orange juice and a bun or two.  We watch some live “performance” of store employees grabbing walkersby, and getting them to play along, perhaps a form of engaging the customers.  Some of the employees are in Santa Claus get-ups, and everyone once in a while, they all cheer and people laugh, then they have a winner, and then it starts all over again.  We watch slightly dazed from our place in the corner, then when we finish, we walk past them on onto the streets.

We begin to see “maids” or girls dressed up as little French maids, human billboards for the Maid Cafes.  I’d read about them—it’s basically an okay meal, a little floor show, all done by these girls.  Not on our agenda. (And the young women HATE being photographed.)

Electric Town is overwhelming, with lots of people, lots of lights, huge buildings. I wonder if I could find a Molly Qee blindbox toy, and we ask, trying to find out way there by kind people who give us strange directions in a heavily accented English, while we don’t speak their language.  We wander around, find the shop—no, no Molly Qees, and then decide to head back to the Ginza area.

Sign on the subway car: I have no idea what this means, but I like the Create approximation.

Ahhh—back to familiar ground, as we enjoy the lights and sounds and crowds of the Ginza.

Unbelievably, we hit Itoya once again—our final time.

We then head to that same place we started at: Tendon Tenya, where I had the bowl again, Dave had tempura, rice and miso soup. 

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this place.  Especially since we are headed to Korea tomorrow, I still am photographing small details as we walk home: gutter grates, manhole covers, whatever.  All the details are fascinating.  

We walk across the street to our hotel, as we need to pack. From Tokyo, we head to Korea, and I find I am throwing a lot in the Blythe bag, hoping it will be okay as a carry-on. We’ll find out tomorrow!

Nogi Shrine, Aki-Oka Artisan, and Yuzawaya Fabric Store

This is post #9 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: Friday, November 10, 2017.

Dave doesn’t have to go in until later in the day, so we eat leftover bakery goods in our room and head out to another shrine: Nogi Shrine, chosen from one of those “Best Top Ten” web pages, the photographs having looked interesting.

We took the subway there, exiting into a large building with the central courtyard open to the sky. So typically Japan, a very large stone placed in this open area. I’m ready to roll on through the building, but Dave has found a bakery he wants to try: Le Pain Quotidien (Roppongi area). We agree to walk to the shrine, then return to the bakery on our return trip. The street, the benches around the trees and even the beauty salon, Seek Hair Dressing, catch my eye.

This shrine’s white gate — different from the usual orangey-red color — designates the entry, along with the sentry stone lions and a pair of lanterns. I was to see that symbol on the lanterns over and over again, as it was this shrine’s logo: a sort of quilter’s nine-patch.

I was quite interested in the giant “bad fortunes” ball, as well as the little origami girl (I brought one home with me). So many traditional things escape me as an American, but I try. I think the little origami girl is a prayer signifier, that you buy and leave at the temple, similar to the ema–the wooden placards that are also to be left there. Whatever do they think of people like me, who bring them home?

We saw an antique and a newer slatted box (for tribute?) and when entering, left my folded book to be signed by the priests there, and given a stamp. When I got it back, I was pretty underwhelmed: just a few rubber stamps and no calligraphy.

To the side is this short gated staircase up to a small place for prayer and reflection. Since the shrine is empty, we pause for a photograph. I can tell we are trying to re-create our earlier Kyoto-Nara experience, but this is definitely not Kyoto.

sculpture in Nogi Memorial Park

This sculpture (unidentified) was in a tiny corner park, just outside the Nogi Shrine and a way into the restored wooden house of General Nogi.

While looking around, a priest clad in white robes, comes out and doesn a series of claps and bowing toward different parts of a small shrine next to the house. I found out this is a part of the prayers, kashiwade.

Interesting building, and his story is also interesting, but we were pretty quick in going through the area. We head back towards the subway, and only as we approach do I realize we’ve gone to the wrong station.

But we take photos (notice the gas station with the gas hoses coming from above), buy the best juice I’ve ever had (blackberry and black current) and get Dave his treat: a berry tartlett of some kind, which the bakery cut in two. We sit outside to eat our snack, breaking all the rules.

We are headed here: Aki-Oka Artisan collective, just around the corner from the Akihabara Station. This collective is a series of shops selling hand-made craft items. Only a couple of wrong turns out of the subway and we arrived a building underneath one of the elevated train lines. It was a somewhat industrial building, with asphalt under our feet on the main central aisle; shops opened off this central walkway.

This is the shop where they make the children’s backpacks. Price is in the hundreds of yen. No photos of this shop, but I snuck one of this, as well as of the umbrella shop:

Too pricey for me, but beautiful.

We walked also through a wood-oriented craft shop, with all kinds of gadgets, again, too pricey for humble tourists, yet down near the ned was a shop of tenugui, the Japanese wiping cloths. They allowed photos:

We headed back towards home, ducking into a tendon shop for lunch. I blithely indicated I’d have the special, not knowing what it was, after trying in vain to decipher what the menu said. (Google translate failed me on this one, I think partly because the writing was “billboard” style.) She brought out the soup, and there were strange curly bits of something…and they didn’t look like anything I’d ever eaten in my life before. I put one in my mouth: chewy, like rubber bands. Must be pig intestine, a very spicy pig intestine at that.

We ordered another bowl and while I waited, I checked out their rules. My soup came: much better. And yes, we paid for all three. From there I walked Dave to his meetings right by the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Since it was around 2 p.m. most of the market was closed, but I walked through the alleyways anyway, seeing that the lunch crowd had also come and gone. Some of the places to eat were large and people clustered around the signs seeing what there was to eat (the figure of the man, I think, is of a famous movie star or director). Other places were just a counter and bar stools. At this writing in 2021, the working part of the fish market has been relocated, although apparently all the shops and markets have not.

After a break, I head out again, looking for a nearby fabric store: Yuzawaya in the Ginza area, about a 10-minute walk from our hotel. I arrive at the store, or where I think the store should be: it’s on the same street as Uniqlo and Apple, but I look and can’t see it.

lighted window by the lobby of the building

I enter the double doors into a hotel-type lobby place. I approach the young woman dressed in a green outfit (including green velvet bowler hat) and point to the address and name on my phone (image above). She says “sixth floor,” and gestures to the elevator. Up I go.

I can see I should have come here, instead of going to Tomato fabrics, as everything looks modern and normal-looking. I could take hours in here and wish I had two suitcases (like in the old days of travel). Everything is well-priced and I pick up a basket and start picking up things to place into it…this and that. I then put back this to replace it with that, and on it goes.

They have fat quarters (of a meter) already packaged, as well as other many intriguing things not found in the USA. It’s evident I have moved beyond warehouse-style shopping of the Tomato fabrics street. I take my well-stuffed basket to the register and check out. She offers me the “club” card, I think, because of the total of my purchases. But she may well be instructed to offer it consistently (I didn’t get it).

Back down on the street, it is hopping. I head back to Itoya — such a great store — and pick up kerchiefs and notepads for gifts for my sisters (and for me). Then home to await Dave.

Dinner is from the Mitsukoshi Food Hall: ham and cheese rolls, salads, treats. We walk out through the subway so I can show Dave the beautiful blue Christmas tree. Being out in the Ginza tonight was really fun. There were just enough Christmas scenes and lights to spark seasonal cheer without being slugged to death with cheap Chinese imports, so common in America. The street that Itoya is on — Chuo-dori — has lots of lights, lots of people. It made me feel festive, ready for Christmas.

Back home, we divide up the food and enjoy the array of neon lights on the buildings across from us on our window. This day is done.

FabricTown and Yakitori • Tokyo, Japan

This is post #8 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: Thursday, November 9, 2017.
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This morning, Dave heads out to his meeting in the building by the Fish Market, and I get ready to go to Tomato Fabrics. I begin with our usual routine: walk up to the City Bakery, snapping photos of shop windows as I walk, seeing all the Japanese women in their pumps (not too many high heels) and then head down into the under ground area.

Today, there is a blue-lit Christmas tree, erected in the lobby area between the subway and the basement of this building, and seeing it is like magic! Overnight this confection of a tree appeared, and it just brightened my day. It’s easy to be unmoored from the seasonal holidays when traveling, but when the country brings out reminders — removing the seasonless drifiting feeling — it’s delightful. We experienced this in Barcelona with Semana Santa (Easter week). To experience these little touches of the Christmas season this way — here a little, there a little — in this non-Christian country, feels much preferred to the after-Halloween blitz we get in America.

I buy two rolls and a juice. The offerings look the same as Monday, and I wonder if it is the same “bake”? They don’t taste as fresh as they did then. I walk up the stairs and out onto the street to catch the train to Nippori Stop.

Although I have a wifi hot spot in my backback and little blue dots on Google Maps, it is still possible to get lost. When you get out into unfamiliar terrain, which is north? East? I finally get to the right street and start exploring.

This little sign, plus the one above, were dead giveaways that I’d arrived at the right spot. I had a map of this street, known colloquially as Fabric Town, with supposedly multiple fabric shops. I have written more about my experience on my quilt blog.

The main attraction. Tomato Fabrics.
I walk in feeling so out-of-place. It’s hard not knowing “the rules” as at home everything is so familiar.

After a while, I climb the stairs (elevators rarely used). There are more bolts of cotton yardage, trims and other notions. This is the “Tomato Select-Kan” and there are even a couple of English-speakers to help me. I assumed I could buy half-meters of fabric, but no. The woman helping me shows me the tag that means one meter minimum. This changes things and I put back quite a few bolts.

The cashiers, two of them flashing me the peace sign. What does it mean? I don’t think it means the same thing as I experienced in the 1960s in San Francisco, but perhaps just a cheerful way of finding common ground.

I wander down the street, seeing buttons, tape trims and doo-dads. I have a lot of this at home. In my earlier travels, with very little luggage limits, I bought up — no, vacuumed up — lots of fabrics. But now, at my grandma-age, I am more selective. I balance my need to acquire with my need to toss; it cuts down some on impulse shopping, but when traveling, it’s hard to resist. One hundred yen (90 cents) for a meter is pretty cheap, but I’m not here for quantity.

Next door is another Tomato shop, but this one has six stories, and yes, everyone still uses the narrow stairs. I keep climbing until the 5th floor (which is really the 4th, because their ground floor is “0” not “1” like ours), where I find things I like. The one-meter minimum is a pain and makes me choose carefully.

Dutch wax prints! Polka dots! They have everything here. There are small shopping carts, which are really just elongated boxes on wheels, more vertical than horizontal. A salesperson bring me one to use. I check the tags carefully, but when I get up to the cutting table, surprise! This shop has a different tag for the one-meter minimum, so I put back about half of the fabrics.

As I wait in line to pay, this pole of electrical wires is just behind the cashier. They are serious about getting electricity into these older buildings.

The backpack is heavy now, and I know I can’t get anymore into the suitcase. I browse a few more shops (mink balls, anyone?) but some shops are no more than an open door and some dingy cut goods out in front on racks. Another shop was interesting, but I couldn’t figure out where the front door was.

Cafe on the street. I am getting hungry, but don’t want to stop here.

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) manhole cover.

Found my way back to the train station: up the stairs and follow the signs to the Tokyo Station.

train station food stop

I’m impressed how the train stops exactly in front of the pedestrian barrier doors..

I stand and watch the action on the platform for a while, the hordes of passenders coming in and out since it was lunchtime. Each time the train was ready to pull out, a little snippet of a tune would play. I made a video of it, so I would always remember it.

I am a fan of Studio Ghibli movies, with the character Totoro being my favorite. It is impossible to buy this merchandise in the States, so I’d read about Character Street in the underground shopping area of the Tokyo Main Train Station. I exit with a rush of people, get lost/disoriented and ask the man in the train office the way to Character Street. He points, but it makes no sense to me. I go back out, look up into the beautiful dome in the rotunda above me.

I see a lot of people heading into a hallway, and I follow. After walking for 2-3 minutes, I stop in a police sub-station to ask if I am headed in the right direction. Yes.

More walking, more hallways and I come out in the confusing area. I then ask three older teens were Character Street is, and they point one way: I walk that way. One comes and finds me and says, No…that way, pointing a slightly different direction. I head there, but again, he comes and retrieves me to to get me back on track. I had followed all their directions perfectly fine, but I think they didn’t know and had to ask someone.

They seemed too sincere to be messing with me, and I appreciated any help I could get.

I went down the stairs to find a “street,” or more realistically, a long hallway of little shops, each selling merchandise from that character. Christmas lights were strung overhead, one parallel hallway in while and this one in blue.

Totoro!! It was surreal, being here in Tokyo and seeing in full all the character culture in one place, of which Totoro is kind of a hybrid: a character and a movie figure. A small girl was walking around singing the Totoro song, and touching everything, giving her Dad fits. So much to choose from, but I finally did purchase a few little things, then wandered around, seeing the rest of the character shops.

I’m now thinking “lunch?” and wander into the Daimaru Department Store Food Hall and chose a round ball, which turned out to be a pork/beef ball, coated in panko crumbs and fried. I couldn’t resist the beautiful salad (below). Since there is no place to eat, I had things packaged to take back to my hotel. It’s about 2:30 p.m. and I am very hungry, but I can’t find my way out of there.

I mean, it was like a maze–I really couldn’t find my way out. I wandered first up one hallway, and then the next. I finally asked a young woman, “Do you speak English?” She did, and directed me by saying to put my back to the next hallway over, then turn right. I think she’s done this before. Finally! the exit.

Then I did the unthinkable, sat on the edge of a planter, and ate the whole little pork/beef ball. Right out in public. I noticed a few other non-Japanese people doing the same thing around me. It revived me.

Store front display
How do they get these roses to be this color?

When we visited Japan before, I remember all the little bits of dry ice, taped to sides of cartons. Now they use small gel packs to keep the food cool until we arrive home.

I sat at the narrow desk in the room, and enjoyed my two salads, one better than the other.

I had detoured on the way home to grab some washi tape for everyone in the Good Heart Quilters group, for their Christmas bags my fried Leisa and I were making back home.  I hope they like it.  And yes, this is when I discovered there was an Itoya Annex, through the alley way.  I visited and liked that shop, too. I guess the little pork ball had revived me enough to visit Itoya, my favorite shop.

I noticed this letter while I was eating, which explained the ropes I saw dangling by the window (we are on the 14th floor).

I sat on the bed to do some reading, and all of a sudden, into view comes the guerney with the men inspecting the window seals.  Here’s a video.

After a while, I thought I should check our Hobbyra Hobbyre, a little shop down the street from us, full of ribbons and stitchery. This evening, it also contained one of those tourists I hope never to be, what’s known as an “Ugly American.” I wrote about it here. Then I headed back to the hotel to meet Dave.

Dave had heard/seen this yakitori shop, a block from our hotel. Down the stairs we went where the hostess met us with this English speech: “You must stay two hours and no longer.” We figured out quickly that mean a maximum of two hours stay, but since we weren’t planning on being there that long, it was no problem.

We went to step in, but she put out her hand: “Shoes!” This meant take off your shoes, which we did. She put them in a little cubby then led us to our table, facing all the action of the large square grill in the center of this room.

We stepped down into our little private dining area, grateful we didn’t have to sit on the floor, but instead had seats. There was a short curtain at the top with the split in it that gave us some privacy.

Peeking out from under the curtain we could see that across from us was a large glassed-in square set of grills, surrounded on three sides by a counter with seating.

Ah, yes. A favorite. We passed on this. Everything seemed reasonable, but we were forced to buy the appetizer: a weird little glob of something cream-cheezy with saltine crackers:

Egg yolk dipping sauce

Most of the time we had no idea what we were eating. But we went with the general idea that there was some sort of protein on a stick. We did okay all except for the chicken neck, taking one bite and deciding that was quite enough. I show our stick tally at the end of the meal:

Walking home, Dave saw this in the window.

It translated to us going in and sharing this dessert, a fitting end.

Scrambling in Shibuya, to Dim Joy in Ginza

This is post #7 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: part 2 of Wednesday, November 8, 2017.

Meanwhile, this was the beginning to Dave’s day: finding his way to the National Cancer Center, south of our hotel, near the Tsukiji Fish Market.TokyoSeoul4A_3

And his day begins…

We both find the rules about smoking in public to be interesting.  Here are two smoking areas near his conference (click to enlarge), and signs on the pavement reminding the citizens of Tokyo:

The one on the left is from Dave’s camera and I took the one on the right, when I was out and about.


A few members of his group went to the fish market for lunch, passing by the sake barrels (above).  Dave told me that if you are going to go to a fish market for lunch, you’d better go with someone who knows what they are doing; none of his group did, so he pressed on when they stopped, the squid lollypops not really appealing to him.  He never did find anything really great.  We repeated this experience multiple times, eating a lot of mediocre food, not because there wasn’t better food — but because we didn’t know where to find it.

Tokyo District Map.jpg

For some orientation: our hotel in Ginza was probably about where the “z” in the word Ginza is, on the map above.  Getting the doll was in the Shibuya area, and I continued walking in that area, carrying my pink and blue doll bag with a large Blythe doll on the side.

Yodobashi! I thought, as I passed this miniature delivery van.  Add that to the list of things to see.  I walked back towards what I thought was Shibuya, trying to see their famous “scramble” crossing, but went some distance in the wrong direction.  Lost a bit, I figured the crossing must be back by the train station, so backtracked to that place.

I’m trying to head to the sushi place that my brother Andy had told me about; he visits Tokyo frequently, and had mentioned Midori sushi to me.


Filling one of Tokyo’s vending machines.


Smoking Area


Sculpture of children playing, and behind that, the Tourist Trailer.

I duck my head in the tourist trailer which has a young woman at a desk inside and a long bench on the other side, filled with people just sitting there.  After she gives me a map of the area, I ask “Tired travelers?” and gesture to the seated group. She smiles and nods, but this is a truth: there are very few benches or spots to sit down in Tokyo.

Shibuya Scramble.png

I exit, and try the Shibuya Scramble crossing.

Shibuya Video Screens.png

Then I cross back, and watch the coordinated neon videos of Sing A Song across all the buildings surrounding the intersection.  Then I cross back again, and head up into Starbucks to get a video of it; I’m not alone in this endeavor, but the day is gray and the vantage point is crowded and not high enough, so I give up.


I still like the Ginza scramble intersection better (above).


Looks like I’ve arrived at Basketball Street, along with one of the postal workers delivering mail.  It’s weird to be in one very large intersection that is plainly visible on the map, yet be completely disoriented.  I’m looking for my brother’s sushi place, and head up a street, only to be thwarted.  I’m worried about running out a) battery on the iPhone or b) battery for the Hot Spot, so try not to rely on the directions I get on the phone, but instead, try to “feel” my way there.  It’s upstairs, down a hallway, almost kitty-corner from the Basketball Street, and there’s a two hour wait.  Nope.


So I try Soup Stock, a perhaps fair-to-middling soup/hot meal place (did I mention it was drizzling all day, or perhaps you could see that from the photos).  It was my goal to sit down, take a break, and re-orient.  This was the place where you got in line, ordered, stood there, and they handed you a tray of food.  I had to watch a few people to get the process.  But I had initially walked in, not knowing this, picked up a number from the rack, got my water and set it on a table at the back, past the long communal table (too hard for someone who has no language skills, and besides it was up on bar-level stools).  I didn’t know if my stuff would be safe while I ordered, so I carried it up to order and retrieve my food.


The dish of food — butter chicken and rice — was really good.  The lady at the table next to me left to get some water at the front of the restaurant and left her purse, her stuff, all out there in the open.  I’m beginning to understand that people aren’t worried about them of their belongings here.  This is a foreign concept to me, who lives in the States, but what a lovely idea it is, to live so freely.  On the other hand, it is true that Japan feels very OCD to me, with all its bowing and rules and everything, but that is also free-ing in other ways.  Lunch over, I pack up, clear my tray to the counter for dirty dishes, and head out again.


This shopping/eating area I’m in is attached to the train station, so I walked through this large, mural-ed area, then decided to visit the food mall of the TOKYU Department store.  I didn’t know anything about it, but was still looking for eating chocolate, which so far had been elusive.


Nothing that caught my eye was in the Food Mall, except for strawberries that were $9/small container.  I found out later that they were a special treat at this time of year, but generally we found all the produce to be very expensive here, as we are spoiled by California’s abundance and prices.  I finally did find three little disks of fancy chocolate, but that wouldn’t be enough to keep us happy this week, so I resolved to keep looking.


Back out on the street, I thought this wall, dedicated to Hachiko, a faithful dog, was beautiful.  Unbelievably, I missed the actual statue honoring the dog, as is so often the case when wandering around disoriented.  But apparently this is a much-overlooked memorial: “The original design was created by Ryutaro Kitahara, a suiboku (Japanese-style ink painting) artist. He imagined what it would be like if Hachiko had an extended canine family and painted around 20 Akita dogs to accompany the famous pooch, along with a sun, moon, stars and a giant rainbow. Not all of the dogs made it to the mural, despite its impressive size. It measures 4 meters high and stretches 11.2 meters across, and is compiled of over 1,200 Shigaraki ware ceramic pieces.”  (from here)


Seen  on the street (and in other areas) was this Black Cat pushcart.  I found out they are a luggage delivery service.  One blog writer mentioned that she used them to get her luggage from one hotel in Tokyo to another, as very few bring much on the subways (we noticed).


Subway scene.

Arriving at my regular subway stop, I followed a hunch and came up into the Mitsukoshi Department Store food hall.  I browsed all the small booths, going up and down the aisles.  At one, they brought out a small plate with three dots of chocolate truffles covered in cocoa.  I tried one…then another flavor..and the bought two boxes of Satie chocolate: one dark, and one milk chocolate (for Dave).  She held up a placard after my sale, which said “No butter or cream in these chocolates.”  Then what? I asked.  She replied in English: “Yogurt and Coconut Oil.”  Whatever: these were delicious.  She offered me one more small dot for the road and I was back outside again.


I ended up across the large street from our hotel, but had to walk down to the next corner to get across.

TokyoSeoul4_8I followed a woman with a most unusal skirt, as she walked with two companions.  It was like a swirl, the fabric draped in a circle around here, with a angled piece at the lower right (barely seen above), so that it was like a vented skirt.  Such stylish clothing is everywhere.  This woman was easily 70 years old, and still dressing up in tights, pumps (everyone here wears pumps!) and this very cool skirt.TokyoSeoul4_8b

At the corner, there’s anothe woman with electric blue shoes.  (I also liked the bricks.)

The Satie bag, wrapped for rain (L), and the two boxes of chocolate truffles (R)


Dave had beat me back to the hotel room, bringing this fun can of lemonade (the dots and the yellow!), and a sweet treat, which I don’t remember now.  We head out, with me taking photos of the manhole covers:


It’s twilight in the Ginza and the streets are coming alive.


See the Karts in action.

We stopped by Uniqlo for a couple of T-shirts and warm socks.  The people-moving process in this store is not particularly streamlined: up (or down) on escalators, with the occasional use of an elevator (if you are old or have strollers).  We’d decided to buy socks first (higher floor) then T-shirts afterwards (lower floor), then found out if we’d purchased a bit more we could get it tax-free.  Back to a higher floor, then a lower floor, all to get The Deal.  The socks for me were wonderful, keeping my feet warm and cushioned while we walked around Tokyo (and even chillier) Seoul.  My feet hurt constantly on this trip, joining the complaints about a recent trigger-thumb I’d developed, so I was really grateful for cushy stockings.


These two cool faces were in the Hermes windows, and were made of ordinary objects.  Below, a side view giving hints of what the boy was comprised of.  We went back and forth looking at the side view, then the front view.TokyoSeoul4_17b


Up in the next block was the retail temple at which I worshipped nearly every day those next few days: Itoya, a uber-stationary store.

From top left, clockwise: wooden Christmas trees I coveted, a collaged giraffe, folded paper, small trinkets, a wall of color for paper choices.

We learnt our lesson from Uniqlo, taking the elevator all the way to the top, then walking down all six floors, looking at each floor’s wares as we descended.  I have in my journal a giant sticker from this store in the shape of a red paper clip: about 1-1/2″ wide and 7″ tall.  For a gift purchase, they’d place it in their signature paper bag and fold this paper-clip sticker over the top, securing the flap. I wised up: many of the objects we bought immediately became gifts.


Floor Six of this building was a fabric shop.  I was back there later that week.


Fancy store fronts along the Ginza: we are starting to see snippets of Christmas decorations appear.


A pair of giant Yeti feet.  See them in action, here.

We decided to try the restaurants on the top floor of Mitsukoshi Department Store.  We took the elevators up, then had several to choose from.  We ended up at one called “Dim Joy.”  It was.

From the pictures, we chose a mixed vegetable something-or-other, a steamed something-or-other, dumplings of several kinds, all with unidentified sauces, even though the menus were in English.

What is “Jasmine Aroma?” we asked each other.  Above, pictures of most of the food.  I did have an obscured view of the Nissan Building, but that was about the most redeeming visual feature.  When we finished our meal, Dave said he kind of had a rule about eating out: you should feel full afterwards.  He didn’t.

So we stopped by the waffle shop and each got a “gaufre.”  Then he got one more.


I bought an eclair-looking thing in the next shop, filled with raspberry creme.


Or strawberry.  But the best part of the treats experience is that now, we have chocolate!


Blythe Doll

This is post #6 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: part 1 of Wednesday, November 8, 2017.

Blythe Doll_1

Today is the day I’d set aside to track down a Blythe doll in Tokyo.  I was determined, equipped with a hot spot and working phone, to track this tiny shop, Junie Moon, and buy myself a doll.  They are pricey little creatures in the United States, but if I picked one up in Tokyo, it would be about half the price.

Dave went off to his meetings, I figured out my transit and headed out.  Here’s some of the sights that morning:


Upon opening the hotel room blinds, I see that the rooftop garden has been thoroughly excavated, and now they are working on another section.

A block down the street, the make-up teams and dressers are welcoming the contestants for the 57th Miss International Beauty Pageant, Tokyo.  I am always so taken in by the uniformity of everything: all the dressers/make-up team are dressed alike, down to the types of shoes they wear. (click to enlarge the photos)

I figure out which train to ride, loving the conductor for the previous train gesturing out  his window as he took off.  The train car I was in was like a curated art exhibit for the watch Why Knot, which looked to be one of those watches for which you trade your firstborn son.  By the time I watched the little video above my head, I’m convinced it was the best watch on the planet, and not just because it reminded me of my father, who is always asking “Why Not?”  I snapped a photo and sent it to him along with a short note on the jiggling Metro car.  I realized I could get very used to having a hot spot/portable wifi when we travel.


I always think I’m prepared for travel, and then I get upstairs out of the tunnels and am completely flummoxed, as even though I know which stop, I don’t always know which exit to use, which is usually a critical piece of information.  I stop to ask the station master at his window.  Just as I was about to ask, a young woman came rushing up, asking him (in rapid Japanese) a question.  He put up his hand to indicate I should wait a second, then answered her first.  I suppose there is a protocol for attending to tourists, and having been in her shoes, she had the greater urgency.

I follow his directions to go down the stairs and out, but to “please use the pedestrian bridges.”  Will do.

I only took one wrong turn, which is pretty good.  The day was threatening rain, but so far — no drips.  The street I walked along was next to part of the train station, and I could hear the little tunes they play when the trains arrive and leave.  They are called “eki-melody” and each station has their own jingle, which is played when the train enters the station (although some say, as it departs).  Luckily I don’t have them fixed in my head, or they might drive me nuts.  Here’s one of them in Tokyo.

Blythe Doll_2

I catch a glimpse of the Junie Moon Shop, as on this drab day, it’s like looking at a pink doll house.  It’s the first floor of a building, with mint-green shutters and large pictures of the Blythe doll, whose claim to fame is that she can have her eyes moved into three different positions, each position a different color.  I know, I know.  This doll also has a bit of a cult following.  Some resourceful people take the basic doll and change it, either via wigs or sanding down the face and applying new color, or adding eyelashes, or changing facial characteristics.  Lately I’ve been seeing a lot that are elven in quality.

I arrive at 10:57, and knowing about Tokyo’s punctuality, I wait outside until the young woman looks at me at 10:59, and I decided it’s okay to go in.  I’d been following the Blythe craze since it first started around 2010 or so, and you could buy them easily in the U.S. but I never had the funds to be able to buy one.  I’d put them in my Amazon cart until someone else purchased it, then repeated this until there were none available.  I was still wasn’t 100% sure I was going to buy one, even though I was here.

Blythe Doll_4Blythe Doll_4a

The shop was like being at an art exhibit with posed tableaus; these dolls aren’t for sale.  In the middle of the shop were round tables with doll merchandise, books and accessories, including different wigs.  I rifled through the book on how to personalize the doll, but it was in Japanese.

I finally looked at the dolls for sale.  The shopgirl (I began to think of all these young woman as shopgirls) spoke no English to speak of — about the amount of Japanese I speak — so there was a lot of gesturing, and me pulling out my Google Translate. I bypassed the smaller dolls, with no moving eyes or moveable joints, in favor of the taller dolls.  In my journal I wrote “I probably should have purchased one of each?”

Blythe Doll_5

One of the two dolls looked so pale: no color, no lip color, as if it were a doll to be personalized.  The other doll had a shiny face, which I wasn’t that keen about.  I asked about the matte face, but the shopgirl said “Special order.  Two months.”  By now I had decided that I was leaving with one of the dolls.  I compared two more (did I mention that these dolls cost some serious change?), and went with the one with more hair. I did add a pair of glasses to match mine. I pointed it out to the shopgal, and she took it to the register.   Below is the website description:

Blythe Doll_6Blythe Doll_7Blythe Doll_8Blythe Doll_9

Blythe Doll_3

Then I had to read the agreement to purchase, and sign a paper saying I agreed with it. I signed.  As I was signing the register tape receipt, the time stamp was 11:20.  All of this only took twenty minutes.  She put the doll in a large shopping bag, slipping a clear plastic bag over the handles and taping it on the bottom.  “For rain” she said.  She gave me two extra stickers and I was off.

I retraced my steps, heading towards what I thought was the Shibuya scramble intersection, but it was the wrong direction.  I retraced those steps, heading up and over the pedestrian walkways (thank you, Station Master).  I felt incredibly conspicuous with my bright pink Junie Moon bag with a large Blythe doll looking out at people, but I had come to find a Blythe doll, and it was mine.  Now to get it home to the U.S., but I wouldn’t have to worry about that for a while.

Next post: Shibuya, lunch, home, then out again.



Kamakura, Part 2: Hasedera, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura

This is post #5 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the second half of Tuesday, November 7, 2017, a continuation of the previous post.

After walking back to the station, we are hungry and tired and maybe even a little bit hangry, so we both hit the gift shop looking for something to eat.  It’s a maze, so we miss each other coming out (typical) but eventually reunite.  I bought two drinks, which we guzzle down and Dave bought a French pastry with chocolate chips — er, red beans.  Still can’t get used to finding beans in all my food.  We join the other masses of school children to ride the Enoden, the electric train.  We all pile on when it arrives, and it’s a noisy, happy two-stop ride to where we get off.


We are headed to the Hasedera Temple, but we all wait on the platfrom for the train to pass, then go down the steps, crossing the other tracks, and through the trestle-arm gates. TokyoSeoul3_17a

We turn left by the tsunami signs (sobering, as I watched many videos of the tsumani that hit Japan in 2011) and walk a short distance to the shrine. As with so many of these shrines and temples, the origins read much like my religion’s crickets-and-seagulls story, examples of God’s divine providence, but perhaps unintelligible to other peoples from other lands.  This one had to do with a sacred large camphor tree, a stump carved like a Kannon statue which was then thrown into the sea only later returning, and a temple constructed to honor and house it.  We enter the grounds, pay our entry fee and start up a winding path to the top of the hill.

Along the way were many small statues: “Along the steps to the Kannondo are statues of a much less monumental size but perhaps greater visual impact. All around are rows of small statues of Jizo, the guardian deity of children. Historically, parents came to Hasedera to set up these statues in hopes the deity would protect and watch over their children.  Today, though, the Jizo statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. Some of the statues are dressed in bibs, hand-knitted caps and sweaters. More than 50,000 Jizo statues have been offered here since the war, but the thousand or so currently displayed will remain only a year before being burned or buried to make way for others.” (from here)


Small reflecting pond next to the garden of statues


I bit and bought one of these. Who wouldn’t want a “perfect state of health” and “success in life”?

Sign at one turn of the steps on the way up to the Kannon-do Hall, at the top of the site.


This was my favorite of the temples, with its stark black-and-white, the pristine nature of the grounds and the view to the sea. It’s sometimes easy to forget we are on an island:


I do like the vermillion temples, but this was so different looking. Inside the main hall is a giant goddess of Mercy statue (no photos allowed, except for the one from the tourist site, below).


from the Kamakura Visitors Site

I was attracted to a small area to the side, where you could write down the name of a woman who had had a miscarriage and submit it (with a small fee) to the priests, who would pray for the mother and the unborn baby.  I thought of my daughter and all the miscarriages she’d had before getting her last child over a decade ago.  I could see her coming to this place, and writing down her name here.  But we also have collections of names in our Latter-day Saint temples that we pray for, and we don’t need to offer up money.  Her name was in those temples a lot in those days.


This shrine was originally dedicated to Kojin, the god of the cooking stove and fire, but it has been rebranded as Inari-sha, due to the presence of the oyster shells attached to the carved stump that found its way back to the land (all info is from the brochure).


More places of homage.



Bussokuseki (stone engraved with the Buddha’s footprint)

I sat and waited for my book to be signed (or, I waited for my “go-shuin”), while Dave explored the grounds.  He saw the small smiling statues, the footprint of Buddha, the Benten-jutsu Cave and other sights:

TokyoSeoul3_28aThese ice creams in the vending machine are tempting, as I am flagging because of no lunch, but we press on.

We leave the Hasedera Temple and walk up the hill to the Kotokuin Temple, pay the money and enter.  Immediately we can glimpse the giant Buddha.  We are there with (it seems) entire legions of elementary school children, who are happy and noisy and very charming.  (I wonder if American schoolchildren are this polite.)


I head to the building to the right to get my go-shuin; Dave sits down on one of the big rocks in the area, while I take photos and explore.


Apparently you can go inside (for an additional fee) the Daibutsu of Kamakura (what they call it).  Cast in about 1252, he has sat in the open air since around 1492, when the temple that used to surround him was destroyed.

Great Buddha woodblock

Ando Hiroshige: An Exposed Buddhist Image of Josenji Temple, Great Buddha at Kamakura, c. 1820–50

A woodblock from the late 19th century shows one view, but all the trees are grown now, so we couldn’t see the sea from this temple. However, we did see many schoolchildren.


I wanted to take a photo of one young man’s hat ON him, and asked him (that old thing where I think they understand English).  He takes off his hat, and says, with eyes downcast, “Sorry.”

I realize he thinks I’m telling him to take off his hat in deference to the Buddha.  I hold up my iPhone.  “No,” I smile “Photo?” and his friend whaps him on the arm and says something in Japanese with the word “foto” in it.

He grins and let me take the photo of his hat.  I still remember the time in Dubrovnik when the little boy, well-trained by his parents to deal with pesky tourists, screamed NOOOOOOOO!! when someone asked to take his photo.  I’m more cautious now.

I do wish I had a hat with a slogan that reads “Every Day Full of Drive.”


Less shy young women.

I picked up my signing book, Dave, and we head toward the bus.


These are the school children of the Pink Bandanna.


Dave snaps this photo as we leave; when we look at it later, the monk’s expression seems to say “You tourists.”


We pass a “Stitch” shop on the way to the train station.


You can see the divide here right down the center of the subway train car, as people face toward the windows.

TokyoSeoul3_tired woman

She likes ruched flowers.



TokyoSeoul3_Kabuki TheaterUp on the street, the neon lights start their performances, and we think about dinner.


This is about a one-minute walk from our hotel/subway stop, and we decide to try it out, given our success yesterday.  Note the wax food display on the outside, left.


Where are the chopsticks?  In a little drawer on the table, underneath the condiments.  Dave has vegetable ramen, I had tonkatsu and we share lightly refried rice and six gyoza, which were really delicious.  The whole meal hit the spot.


Two specials.  Or something.  Right as we finish, the lady at the next table lights up a cigarette.  Apparently smoking is not allowed on the street, but okay in this restaurant during these hours:


No smoking on the first floor between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m, and on the 2nd floor between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.  We asked about these hours; apparently it’s so women and their children aren’t exposed to second-hand smoke, or at least it’s what the hotel clerk told us.


We walk the block to our hotel, and enter the elevator, knowing that we are being watched:


I lay my collection of ema and go-shuin on the bed and admire them all.  I still have my treasured books from our last trip, and now have another new one for my collection.


I record today’s purchases, and write in my journal.  And I hope for a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s a big day: Dave starts his conference and I try to find my way to buy a Blythe doll.


Kamakura • Part 1: Hokokuji, Jomyoji, and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Temples

This is post #4 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the first part of Tuesday, November 7, 2017.


Just to remind myself: I am in a different country.  Good morning, Tokyo.  Today is Kamakura Day!


We squared away our travel on Hyperdia, got ourselves ready and headed to City Bakery to get our breakfast to go. TokyoSeoul3_1b

From the City Bakery, we had a wild walk through the tunnels of the Shimbashi Station through throngs of commuters–snaking up and down and around, 10 and 12 deep in lines coming down the stairs, just waiting to get down on the platform.  Tokyo rush hour at its finest.  I would have stopped to take a photo, but we were rushing to make the train for Kurihama (Kamakura).


It was a crush, and I admired this fellow’s set-up, of head-on-pole-for-a-rest.  But the farther out into the country we headed, the more room there was on the trains (the journey to Kamakura was about 60 minutes).  A young family with two boys — one more gregarious (read: out of control) than the other — were also in our car, and they spoke English.

We struck up a conversation and found out the young mother had grown up in Japan, but now lived in New York City on Staten Island; the children were being “World Schooled.”  I later wondered to Dave if that means that the parents just wanted to travel the world during school time, and not be tied down.  I had to wonder what the boys would remember.  The young mother shared with us their itinerary (below), which was thoughtful.  We must have looked more lost than we felt.  The train came to a stop and she told us that this was the station, and we should get off.


We stopped at the Visitor’s Center and after buying our two bus passes, we looked for a place to eat our breakfast, which of course, this being Japan, there are no easy places to eat unless you are in a restaurant or in your home.


So, dorky tourists that we are, we sat down on the bus station bench and ate our breakfast (the green letter “B” on the map below).  Then we ambled back to the train station and caught the small tram out to our first stop.

Kamakura Map

Overview of our day: five stops


The tram was really crowded, but at the first stop many left.  We continued on to Hokikuji, the “bamboo forest” temple.


The tram stopped across the street, and the entrances were well-marked.TokyoSeoul3_2TokyoSeoul3_2c

This is what we saw when entering the temple area.


To our right were discreet signs blocking entrance.


The building directly in front of us, also had elegant structures, restricting our entrance.


But the more faithful paused and said their prayers.  Usually they let you get close enough to throw the money into the box with the slotted top, but even that wasn’t available.  We proceeded further to the left, to an open window.   I handed them my book; they handed me a tag with a number on it; there was also a charge to get my Shuin-cho (folded signature book) signed (300 Yen). We found out that they charged entry for this temple (200 Yen, about $1.80/person); we paid up and entered.


Even their pathways show great attention to detail.


We enter the bamboo forest.  It’s smaller than we thought (when they say “forest,” we Americans imagine something along the order of the Amazon), but quiet and beautiful.  This species of bamboo, “moso,” is the biggest kind of bamboo reaching heights of 92 feet; it is originally from China.


There are many small shrines along the pathway, which led up a small rise, near some “yagura,” which is a cave to accommodate tombs, but we really couldn’t see into it.


The grounds are beautiful, with a koi pond, and beautiful trees, which were being trimmed that day:


We saw three other school girls along the short path through the forest, and we kept dodging them.  Finally I offered to take their photo (not the group above), and they offered to take ours.


We try to get a “Christmas Card” photo on every trip, and were happy to have a candidate so early in our travels; we did end up using this one.


The short walk over, we collect my book, and head out, landing ourselves in the accompanying graveyard.


This being Japan, and this being a long day of being on the go, when I saw the sign for restroom, I took advantage of it.



Okay, not this one.  I found a Westernized toilet in one of the three stalls, and was also happy to notice that they provided toilet paper.  As I near the toilet, the sound of running water starts up from a speaker next to the toilet.  Whether it’s to encourage quick use of the facilities, or disguise any sounds, I don’t know.

Street scenes: manhole covers, and a Hello Kitty blanket hanging from the balcony.  I try not to look around too much because in all the tourist brochures we have strict instructions:

  • Please visit shrines and temples in a calm and quiet manner.
  • On the streets in town, please be careful not to bother the residents.
  • Please mind the people around you when eating and drinking on the streets.
  • And my favorite: Please take home your own garbage, do not leave them.

We did carry around a “garbage bag” into which we put our trash, as public trash cans are few and far in-between.



We walked from Hokokuji (Bamboo temple) across the street to the Jomyoji Temple, mainly because it was…right across the street.  Again, we leave our book at the front little building, and walk around to go in.  A group of tourists was just coming out and one of them, a man, called out, “Don’t go there!”  After ten minutes, we’d seen just about everything, so he was mostly right.


I liked their water spout systems–much prettier than a gutter snaking down the wall.


While the temples don’t really let you in, some visitors take their shoes off at the top step, some don’t.  All bring their hands together and bow.  They were serving tea inside one of these buildings, something we guessed was part of a tourist tour, so we crept about.


A funeral had just ended, and we hung back to see the priest, and the patrons (below) climb up the hill into the cemetary.


Leaving Jomyoji.  The place where we left the book is to the right at the bottom of the stairs (where the young man is headed).  Price for this one: 100 Yen (a little less than a dollar), but the book was 300 Yen (a little less than $3).

Walking down the street toward the bus stop, we heard some sounds coming from over the wall.  Looking over, we saw a man in waders with a week-whacker, trimming up the stream’s vegetation.  Vaguely hungry, we entertained the idea of eating a “garden of herbs, wild flowers and vegetables,” but settled for buying a bottled drink at the vending machine next to the bus stop.

The bus took the corner and dropped us about a block away from the entrance.  We swam upstream against a group of school girls, all dressed in matching uniforms.  By the end of the day, we could identify whose parents spent the most on their schooling, with the top of the ranking being the complete matching uniforms (like the ones above), moving downward to matching shirts only, and from there on down to matching kerchiefs around their necks, ending up with matching color of hats.  My children would have been in the latter category, for sure.


Dave got a great shot of the scramble crosswalks in front of the torii gate, the large red structure marking the transition from the mundane to the sacred.


A good map of the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.  After walking through the torii gate, there is a long open walkway with booths selling items: desserts, cotton candy, ice cream, loose bins of candy (fill your own bag), and pineapples.


Dave patiently waits for me while I purchase some stars; happily we seem to be over our “first-day adjustment phase.”


After the open yard with the booths, we approach this series of buildings: the temizuya (water purification basin), the maiden (lower worship hall), and the Shrine Office.


Wikipedia gives some details about the purification font:

“A chōzuya or temizuya (手水舎) is a Shinto water ablution pavilion for a ceremonial purification rite known as temizu.  Water-filled basins, called chōzubachi, are used by worshippers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main Shinto shrine or shaden (社殿). This symbolic purification is normal before worship and all manned shrines have this facility, as well as many Buddhist temples and some new religious houses of worship.  The temizuya is usually an open area where clear water fills one or various stone basins. Wooden dippers are usually available to worshippers.  Originally, this purification was done at a spring, stream or seashore and this is still considered the ideal. Worshippers at the Inner Shrine at Ise still use this traditional way of ablution.”

I’m in love with the vermillion-painted buildings, with shiny brass fittings and decorative painting.


In this view, the shide, or paper streamers, hang down from the rice rope around the top.


Dave sends me over to where I can get my book signed (to the left of the tented area), and wanders around while I stand in the long line.  He comes back and holds my place while I buy an ema for this place.  They have two colors of wooden gingko leaves; I buy the green, but will forever wonder why I didn’t buy the gold…or both. I rejoin him in line in time for the monk to sign my book.TokyoSeoul3_10aTokyoSeoul3_10b

And then I shyly put forward my ema for him to write on, which kind of blows his mind, as it’s totally against what is supposed to happen.  He explains, kindly, and in Japanese that I’m to write my own prayer, and I, kindly, and in English, ask him to write the symbol of the temple on the ema.  After a bit of back and forth, and me offering to pay again, he does, but I’m sure he thinks I’m a bit nuts.



Children of the Matching Hats


Dave had gone over to the flower show on the side of the temple grounds.


These were amazing–the large sprays overflowing the table are all grown from one plant.  They also had displays of different types of flowers:


And up the steps we go to the main shrine, or Hongu.TokyoSeoul3_12bTokyoSeoul3_12cTokyoSeoul3_12dTokyoSeoul3_12e

It’s huge, ornate, and again, no photos of the interior.  This present building was erected in 1828, according to the brochure I carry around.


Green? or Gold? I’m still debating, but am not going back down the steps to get another.


We already did this dance at Asakusa.


There are multiple of small red buildings on this site; I stop trying to figure them out, or why they are important, and just enjoy the visuals.


To the left of the Hongu are these toriis; we head up to the Maruyama-Inarisha Shrine, which is dedicated to the deity of harvest.TokyoSeoul3_14aTokyoSeoul3_14bTokyoSeoul3_14cTokyoSeoul3_14dTokyoSeoul3_14e

Is it wrong to covet ema?  If I could have figure out how to buy one of these in a torii shape, I would have.


We head down the backway, onto a small street that brings us back around to the main area.  We head to the bus stop, sort of wondering about lunch, or something, as we were ready for a break, and were hot and a bit tired.


While we were waiting at the bus stop, a man comes out of the rickshaw shop and says “It’s only a five-minute walk to the station.”  We thank him, and continue waiting.  Then another random man comes up to us and says “A couple of minutes walk is all,” and gestures vaguely down the street towards the station.  We decide to walk.


And after five minutes walking facing the sun, we decided we were played, that the helpful locals could safely be categorized as bending the truth.  It was a 20 minute walk, but we made it.

Next up: Kamakura, Part 2.

Tokyo: First Night in a New City

This is post #3 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the second half of Monday, November 6, 2017.


Suitably refreshed from our afternoon break, we head out again on this, our first day in Tokyo.  When we left early this morning, many of the shops had their roll-down metal doors closed, so we didn’t know what was behind them.  But what a lovely surprise to see a Hobbyra-Hobbyre shop a block from our hotel.  They are a embroidery/craft/fabric shop with wonderful displays in their windows:


I’ve made a mental note to come back here when Dave is in his conference.


Another treat we see are a waffle shop selling gaufres, which we loved when we were in Belgium many years ago.  These are a step up, with nuts.  We point, pay, and enjoy them outside on the street, a change from our last trip to Japan, where we felt like outcasts if we so much as chewed gum on the streets.  Maybe we still should feel that way, but we don’t and we enjoy the treat.  We also purchased one of those chestnut treats; more on that later.


I have a hankering to get as high as I can to see the scramble intersection so we head for the bulding that has the City Bakery in the below-ground floor.  We thought when we would enter we would see a large atrium with views, but inside it’s like a vertical mall: many small shops and the ceilings are normal heighth.

We try to take the elevator up.  This was our first experience outside our hotel with Japanese elevators.  They are slo-o-o-ow, and after a few days there I gather the thinking is that they are reserved for parents with strollers, or old people.  Apparently we aren’t old enough.  Most people just head for the series of escalators, but we stand there, dumbly, waiting.  Eventually it comes and we go up to floor 11.  We head to the part of the  building we think will overlook the street, and can only get this side view.   We take the escalators down eleven floors, all the way to the lowest level.


We find our way to our train, and notice these doors that protect the tracks from crowded platforms.  They open only when the train arrives and is in place, and close immediately afterwards.


I was aiming to take a photo of the sign above, but that guy…he’s interesting. Our final destination is the Tokyo Metropolitan Building where there is an observation deck on the 45th floor, North Tower (guidebook info).  We were trying to get there before sunset.


We arrived shortly after sunset but were able to figure out that the bump on the horizon is Mt. Fuji (their placards helped).


In the center of this area is a brightly lit shopping area filled with Tokyo Souvenirs, and it makes it hard to photograph what we see outside, or even look through the windows, as seen in the photo above, taken by another tourist.  I resorted to placing my camera lens right up against the window, or bunching my jacket around the camera to block the glare and light.

We thought the projection of the Godzilla image pretty funny (click to enlarge). After seeing the views through all the windows, we head back to the high-speed elevators along with a crowd, and head back down to the lobby. Other than our hotel, this is only elevator which seems to work this way (high-speed), but it’s built for the tourists.

We see many banners for the Tokyo Olympics–a thousand days away, all the signs say.  As a quilter, I love the designs.


We are  interested in this giant whatever, and read about it: TokyoSeoul2_38e

We now start the Hunt for Dinner.  I am jet-lagged, tired, a bit cranky, have sore feet and just want to eat, but Dave has seen something on Yelp and is trying to get there.  This is where we learn that having a hot spot in our backpack and using Google maps doesn’t really deliver.


We wander into a convenience store as there is an ATM in the back; I look for chocolate.  But we notice this vending machine full of cups of ice for purchase.  I guess you buy the ice and then that includes a stop at a dispenser for your drink?

We wander up one strange street and down another, circling around this elusive restaurant which gets “great reviews” on Yelp.  Truthfully, this is where I want to throw in the towel, pick up whatever back at the convenience store and head home.  Finally I ask someone in a shop who has limited English, and she nicely puts up her “closed” or “be right back” sign on her counter, and walks us the block over to where that restaurant is.  She shows us that the sign in English had been turned around backward, and we nod, realizing that we’d walked right past this.  We thank her and she scurries back to her post.  As we stand there like dumb tourists, three people move past us into the place, and just like that the decision is over: they take the last seats at the counter.


We eat at the first respectable-looking place we find: a restaurant that has a curry-themed menu, order udon, and get this: broth, rice and noodles.  It was okay.  It got us fed, but all plans for the evening went out the window as I have a meltdown: I just want to go home to our hotel.  I don’t want to see any neon lights.  I don’t want to wander neighborhoods.  Typical first night on a trip.  We pay the bill and walk towards the Metro.


We are near Shinjuku, and that has some razzle-dazzle.  Good enough.


We arrive at the Ginza station, and walk home, going one block further to see the Kabuki Theater, all lit up.

I looked it up on Wikipedia to read:

The original Kabuki-za was a wooden structure, built in 1889.  The building was destroyed in 1921 by an electrical fire. Reconstruction had not been completed when it again burned down during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Rebuilding was finally completed in 1924. The theater was destroyed once again by Allied bombing during World War II. It was restored in 1950, however, the 1950 structure was demolished in the spring of 2010, and rebuilt over the ensuing three years (edited).

Back in the room, it was time to try the chestnut treat.  Of course, I love the bag.  The inside was (yes) a chestnut, surrounded by sweetened black bean paste all in a rice-type shell.  I give Dave all of my portion, brush my teeth in our beautiful little bathroom, and climb into bed to write up this lovely day (well, except for the March for Dinner) in my journal, and record the expenses (notice the face drawn in by the chestnut treat):


Goodnight, Tokyo.

Tomorrow: Kamakura.

Tokyo: Asakusa and Kappabashi

This is post #2 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the first half of Monday, November 6, 2017.


Coming out of our hotel room after a typical first-night-in-a-new-country sleep, we see this.  I guess we can tell where the elevators are.


Our hotel is in the Ginza area of Tokyo, near to where Dave’s conference will be, and before we leave the hotel’s wifi, out of habit, we check where we are going for breakfast.  Later on in the trip, we wouldn’t do this, as we would become used to the fact that we had a wifi hotspot in our backpack.


As newbies in town, everything was fascinating and intriguing — the Nissan building with the car in the front window, the Mitsukoshi Department Store clock, and the pyramid of seasonal chestnut treats:


More on this later as nothing was open yet, and we were headed to City Bakery, then to Asakusa Temple.


This is the first time we saw a scramble intersection: where everyone could walk every which way at once.



City Bakery didn’t disappoint this Monday morning.  So much to choose from.  We tried using our Google Translate app on this item, a “Baker’s Muffin” in order to see what was inside.  It pulled up something like “flour, egg, and breath of angels.”  Hmmm.  We found that idioms didn’t translate well into English, and sometimes were completely off-track.


This was also available.  Beautiful, but no.


Since we’d been to Japan before in 2001, we knew the drill: get the tray, use the tongs to put the food on the tray.  At the checkout, we buy juice to go with our breakfast, and pick up plastic ware for the road, and silverware for in-restaurant use. We sit down at the only vacant table, apparently vacant because all the regulars in this coffee shop know that the ventilation system blows gale force right where we sit.  We anchor all the napkins under our baked goods, and enjoy our meal, saving a few bites for later.


City Bakery was in the basement of a building, and this was the area next to it.  Later on, we’d learn that we could take a train from here and get places, but we are early in the trip, so re-trace our steps upstairs to get to our train, passing by the “love-inviting”  stone cat, which people stroke for luck.


We used our Pasmo cards, and (hopefully) get to the correct track, correct train.  The Hyperdia app was invaluable during our stay here:


I used my Snapseed app to label critical photos in my feed, like what our home station was near our hotel.  Now it seems silly, but then it was a lifeline.


Another thing I did habitually was to photograph the exit from the subway at a particular destination so I could find it again, like this time, when it dumped us into a small non-descript alleyway.


I wondered when I would see my first display of wax food in Tokyo.  This is actually pretty convenient for non-Japanese-speaking tourists, as it provides the opportunity to see what the restaurant served, and the chance to point at it, if you can’t make yourself understood to the waitress.


Oh, yes, I always have egg on my spaghetti.


We made it to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, founded in 628.  It has a main temple and a five-story pagoda.  We pause in the main gate area, underneath the Kaminarimon Gate — or “Thunder Gate” —  with its huge red chochin lantern.


“Its chronicles put its founding at 628 AD through one of these stories that legends and religions are made of: While fishing in the Sumida River on the morning of March 18, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught in their nets a small golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon. They tried to get rid of it, but it kept coming up so they decided to keep it. When they returned to the village, they showed it to one of the chieftains Haji no Nakatomo who being a devout Buddhist understood what it was and built a temple to house it. The temple was, of course, Sensoji. ‘Senso’ is another reading of the characters for Asakusa and ‘ji’ is ‘temple’.”  (from here)


From the main gate, there is a walk up Nakamise Dori, the shopping street, full of small shops.  We are early, so some are not open, but I loved the sprays of (faux) fall foliage jutting out from the roofs.


Overview of the area.


Hozomon, the Sensoji Temple’s actual main gate.


Not Geisha.  I found out later that kimono are available to rent, and many young women will rent them and tour the temples, taking their photos as they go.


A group of school children, with matching red hats, with the five-storied pagoda in the background.


I made Dave do this with me, under great protest: drawing an omikuji.  I had an English-speaking Japanese tourist help me, as I couldn’t quite remember the drill.

We both drew bad fortune, so instead of being to bring the paper home, we had to tie it to a rack.  Judging by how many pieces of paper are tied at all these temples, I wonder if the temple puts out more bad fortune papers in those drawers, than good.


Now that we’ve donated money to the temple, we go to explore more of the area, in spite of the crush of tourists.


Private-school students, with matching uniforms.


Around us the incense is blowing around, the smokey air playing havoc with breathing (and even though we are supposed to draw the smoke over an aching body part, we side step it and head into the temple


And then we go out again.  No photos are allowed and a service was going on in the inner sanctum, so not much to see.  We appreciated the gorgeous decorations; I buy an omamori charm: a small bell.


Looking out from the doors of the temple toward the Hozomon Gate.


We read the guidebook, appreciate the pristine gardens and the beautiful five-storied pagoda, available for entry only at certain times in the year, and only if you have family buried here.


Our first Japanese vending machine of the trip.


Mine must have had caffeine in it, because it kept me going the whole day.


We head into another building, and buy an accordian-folded book, so the monk (or his assistants behind him) will write their shrine’s name in calligraphy and then place the shrine’s stamp in it, in glorious vermillion ink.  This costs 300 yen, or 500 yen sometimes — about $4.50 US dollars.  The shuincho is notebook, and the shu-in is a stamp with calligraphy.



We got a Christmas Card photo shot–one of several we’d take.  Such beautiful doors!


They have tree-trimming down to a art.


She’s holding her selfie-stick to one side of the photo.  We see them strike this pose repeatedly for tourists.


We wander over to the Asakusa shrine, another ancient place (but apparently not reconstructed like everything we see — WWII bombs didn’t destroy this one), and get another signature in my new accordian book.

Outside a family is posing for pictures.  Was it Children’s Day? as both the little boy and the little girls are dressed up in traditional dress.  Dave thought maybe it was that they presented the them to the priests at a certain age.  It’s Shichi-Go-San.

“In the custom, which literally means “seven-five-three,” families with three- or seven-year-old girls or five-year-old boys visit a shrine or temple to pray for the health of their offspring as they grow. Shichi-Go-San is traditionally observed on November 15, although with the busy pace of modern life it has become common for families to schedule visits to shrines on a weekend or holiday before or after the date.” (from here)


Dave steps up and offers to take the family’s photo.  All smiles, all around.  Dave later told me he thought tourists ought to be good for something!


We leave the shrine and wander down a street perpendicular to the Temple and see a lot of little shops in a decorative arcade.


We are headed to the the “kitchen street,” Kappabashi, but notice all the decorative surfaces as we walk.


We’re here, but what is it?  It’s basically a street filled with little shops of things we don’t need: knives, steamers, pots.  We amble and amble.  Our first big disappointment in Tokyo Touristing: overly-hyped attractions, supposed “gems” found in my research at home on the internet, but in real life? Not so much.



Random Gold Statue that I made Dave pose in front of.  I later found out that this is the Kappa Kawataro Statue, where Kappabashi gets its name.  On a tourist website, I read:

“A kappa (“river child”) is a creature of Japanese myth: a humanoid, frog-like amphibious creature with a plate-like head, scales, webbed feet and beak for a mouth. However, although pronounced the same, the “kappa” in Kappabashi and the mythical “kappa” are written differently. The association is coincidental, but Kappabashi has nevertheless eagerly latched on to the kappa as a mascot. The street’s kappa statue is a gold-plated bronze statue erected here in 2003 for Kappabashi’s 90th anniversary.”


But it is interesting to see these decorated buildings: I wonder if the one with plates and silverware is related to the fact that we are in the Kappabashi area?  Tired of trying to make sense of this area, we turn back toward the Metro.


But first, lunch!  Love the take-out window in the front right, but we go inside and head upstairs.  In our guidebook we read that Tendon is a combination of bowl (don) with tempura (ten).


They scurry to bring us the English menus.  We are happy to know we’ll be eating non-stressed-out prawns.


We point to the special and it turns out to be very good, although eating the squid was a bit strange.  The tempura was squash, green beans, white fish, prawn, lotus root over rice.  It also came with a cup of miso soup.


Our table.


We figured out that we should take the bill downstairs and pay for it on the way out.


Design is all around us, as even the heavy metal grates that straddle the the sidewalk to the street are decorative.


We stop at a dish shop, buying four little plates, two bowls and two chopstick rests.  It goes into the backpack along with everything else.



We laugh when we make our way back to the Metro and the shop right outside the entrance is a TENDON TENYA, where we had just eaten.  They turn out to be all over the place.


Time for a break: We head back to the room for a rest.


Placard in the metro car.


Clearly we are below par with our shoe choice of American athletic shoes.

We arrive back at the hotel, and Dave immediately crashes into a deep sleep, but the caffeine in my early drink keeps me awake.  I upload Instagram photos, watch the skyline from our our room, pondering what they are doing on the roof of the building just beside us.  This mystery will be solved by the end of the week.

*** Photos of these sites from our trip in 2001 ***

From Home to Tokyo


This is the opening post (#1) of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for Saturday, November 4 to Sunday November 5, 2017.  We were gone for fourteen days, beginning the trip in Tokyo.  After a week there, we headed to Incheon, South Korea, then the final three days would be in Seoul.  This is the day where it all begins: a drive to Los Angeles International Airport, a flight and a new adventure.  

I keep a master listing of the posts associated with this trip, in case you come at this sideways and are interested with our experiences.

We went to bed late Friday night, the night before our trip was to begin, after updating our passwords for our computer, then telling Son #4 where they were, sending him photos of where we keep them. Does anyone else feel like they are preparing for Armeggedon when they leave on a foreign trip?  Like whatever notes or letters we write will be the last ones?  Like we need to get in our final instructions and good-byes?

Then at 7 a.m. Satuday morning, a text came through on Dave’s phone that the flight had been delayed by two hours.  I’d spent some time on Friday downloading the Asiana Airlines app, a truly buggy piece of software, and had only been able to get Dave checked into the flight.  My check-in wouldn’t go through.  Luckily one of us got the message about the delayed flight.


I always make a picture of where our car is, with some notations, as a trip can wipe your brain clean.

We decide to go to the airport anyway and see what we can do.  The line at Asiana was forever long and moved exceedingly slow; the nice young man who helped us, though, got us onto the flight with Al Nippon Airlines, which was three hours late.  However, it was a non-stop to Tokyo, so we wouldn’t miss our connection and it got us in much earlier than our original flight.  We practically skipped over to the Al Nippon counter to get our flight voucher.


We cleared security, and entered the newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  It’s quite upscale now, with soothing lights and sounds and moving pictures on screens.


In the middle of the Great Hall hangs “Air Garden” a mass of colorful looping strings.


We take our usual requisite couple selfie, actually we end up taking several, before finding the one to post to Instagram, and go to find some lunch: pricey, but we were able to eat near large windows with comfortable seats.  Usually you get one or the other, but not both.  We killed some more time doing email, calling my mother and father, but then it was time to head to Gate 157.  One last treat before boarding: a slice of fudgy cake at a Starbuck’s (using up a gift card from one of Dave’s students), then we waited for boarding onto NH5, our flight to Tokyo.