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.

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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.

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I exit, and try the Shibuya Scramble crossing.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.



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.

The flight was lightly filled, so we had an empty seat between us.  Everything is already Japanese; polite, smiling, kind, and handing us everything with two hands at the same time.


Even before take-off, they bring us Japanese crackers, and a drink.  After take-off, my cup of apple juice slides off the table, but the attendants were nice in helping with the clean-up, making me wonder: why do we have so many surly flight attendants on US flights?  I am impressed, even with their flight safety video: spare, with a slight sense of humor, but firm in their instructions.


A meal is served right away and we go for the “Japanese” option of mackeral, rice and assorted other treasures.  It wasn’t bad.  Then ice cream for dessert.  The trip was the best kind: uneventful, with a good array of movies for my sleepless husband.  About 90 minutes before landing we were offered another meal:


I never could figure out what the “CA Recommend” sticker meant, but we both got the Westernized meals, although it was a good thing we had a description of what we were eating.  We had crossed the International Date Line somewhere so instead of it being evening on Saturday, it is Sunday evening when we land.  There is not the crush to get off the plane, like there is with the US domestic flights.


In every airport: a welcome sign and a sundries shop (below)


Entering the airport, we had to walk through a scan, checking our temperatures, and then walk over disinfecting carpets (shoes on).  We pass through Immigration, retrieve our luggage, then go through Customs.  We find the airport ATM and get some money, then find the tourist stand to get maps, two essentials for any visitor to a foreign country.


Before leaving home, I always assemble a book: tabs for different cities or countries, money conversion schedules, a hard copy of our travel itinerary and for this trip, some train and subway directions, like the page on the right.  Because of all the time spent researching train destinations, we knew what to do (sort of): buy two Skyliner tickets, then in the adjoining machine, buy two PASMO subway cards, and put money on them.


We board the train from Terminal 1.  At Terminal 2/3, the train fills up — three Australian women in front of us, chatting and relaxed the entire 45-minute trip (approximately) to Ueno Station.  We get off there, with plans to change to a  a train.  We find our way to the Hibaya line, and the correct direction for the Hibaya line.  Our stop is H9–Higashi-Ginza.  Of course, sitting at home in California, all of this is meaningless to me, but now it makes somewhat sense.  Using the Google little yellow walking man in Street View multiple times, I had made him walk the trek from where we would get off the train to how it looked as we would try to get above ground and to our hotel.  I knew that if we took the A-1 exit and the elevator to the top, it would put us at our hotel’s front door, which it did.


But when we came up out of the underground, we saw the streets all blocked off by white-gloved policemen; I couldn’t tell what was happening.  We asked an American-looking woman what it was: “Trump’s visit” she said.  I joked that we came all the way to Japan to get away from him, and here he was, following us. (Jetlag lame humor) We continued talking as we waited the supposed five minutes before the motorcade was to arrive, but Dave gave up and went to the hotel to start checking us in:



A minute or two after he left, the motorcade came roaring around the corner, flags waving, the whole she-bang. The woman I was speaking to, as it turns out, was from Santa Monica, California and brought tour groups from all over the U.S. to Japan.  I was suprised at this, but I would run into the idea of how close our nations were by the sheer numbers of American tourists I would see, and the amount of tour groups, too.


A view to our room door from the elevator.

Since we were staying for a week, the hotel clerk gave us a nice room on the 14th floor, and then handed us a package: the wifi gadget had arrived!


Up in our room, we pulled it apart and checked that all the parts were there: wifi hotspot (black unit), battery charger and cords, pouch for carrying and a mailing pouch to mail it back when we were leaving.  I’d read about them on some online blogs, and knew that it would be lovely to have one of these.  We’d looked into the international plan with our telephone, but each person would incur the daily charges, whereas with this one, both of us could pair our phones with the wifi hotspot for the same price.  As per our usual, we connected the other devices with the hotel’s wifi, posted on Instagram.


A drawer with “gift-wrapped” toiletries. I wanted to bring them ALL home, but restrained myself.

The room was compact, but lovely.


After exploring all sixteen square feet of the room (sort of kidding), I opened the sliding door of the toilet to be welcomed in this way (click to experience this).


And we both snickered over the wording on this bottle, found near our bathroom sink.  Us?  Have anxious smells?  Oh, my.


Finally in our pajamas after too many hours, I wrote the daily expenses in my travel book, noting the shifting from U.S. dollars to Yen, then it was lights out.