Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tokyo


Alrighty, finally time for the rest of the report on my trip to Tokyo. Tiffany and I were part of a tour through MCCS (the travel agent on Marine bases). Our fee included airfare, hotel, transport to Mt. Fuji, and a guide who was there for any questions we came up with. We stayed at the New Sanno (a Navy run hotel) and since I didn't take any pictures of it let me just say that it was fantastic! The lobby is huge and opulent. The rooms are a little small, but nicely decorated and very clean. The best part though was the staff. We asked the concierge a number of questions and for recommendations and they always came up with an answer for us, gave us some maps, or called and made us reservations. We also loved the staff in the hotel's Emporium restaurant. They went out of their way to make sure we got everything we needed.
Once we landed and checked in our room, the first order of business was some lunch.
Luckily for us there was a great bakery around the corner from the hotel. I got a shrimp and avocado sandwich on the best bread I've had in a long time, a yogurt with raspberry topping, and that little ball is a pumpkin pie pastry. It was delicious! It didn't really taste like pumpkin, more like sweet potato, but the pastry was flaky and the whole thing melted in my mouth. I don't know why there is so much French influence, but Tokyo definitely rivals Paris for the number of French bakeries. They were everywhere and the ones we sampled were all incredible.
After lunch and a quick rundown on the Tokyo subway from our guide we were off to explore. Our first order of business was to buy Cirque de Soleil tickets. We had tried in Okinawa and had struck out. We asked the concierge and she said we could go to Family Mart or Lawsons (convenience stores) and buy them there. The first Lawsons tried finding them in the computer with no luck, the second Lawsons tried but said they were sold out, and we thought our luck was up. Then we stumbled on a Family Mart and the heavens smiled down upon us.
This was the employee who got us our tickets. I think he thought us a little strange wanting his picture, but after failing 5 times to get the tickets we were pretty giddy.

To top it off, in the same plaza as the Family Mart there was a Coldstone Creamery! Woohoo!

It was delicious and I would have gone back every day if we had the time.
After the tickets and the ice cream we started a long walk in search of the Meiji Shrine. After looking at many maps and asking many people we eventually made it. It's in the heart of the city, but is a huge oasis that gets you away from it all. Each tree that was planted was formally blessed in honor of the Emperor.

After hiking around all day we were hungry and went to a Mexican restaurant near the hotel that had been recommended to us, La Jolla. It was excellent.

We made it an early evening and slept in the next day. Tiffany and I regularly get up around 4:30 for swim practice or bootcamp circuit so sleeping in until 6:00 was a real luxury. To start the day off right we had a great run at a neighborhood park.

Even though it was early there were tons of people at the park - lots of walkers, dog owners, a group of adults doing double dutch, and a man playing a wooden recorder. It was a great run and very peaceful.
After asking the concierge for a recommendation we rushed off to participate in a traditional formal tea ceremony. The ceremony was located in a small house that was over 100 years old and Tiffany and I were the only participants.
You start off with sweets because the tea that will follow is not sweetened at all.
Both sweets were good, but the yellow one on the right was pure sugar and just melted in your mouth.

After the sweets our host, Takako, prepared the tea.
There are many rules to drinking the tea. The bowl you are given will have a special pattern painted on one side of the bowl. You are to drink from the opposite side of the pattern. After you take the first sip, you turn the bowl 90 degrees and then take 3 sips. The last drink you take from the bowl should make a sound (you need to slurp).
I would like to go on record as saying that matcha (green tea) is absolutely gross! The tea is thick and frothy (not what I was expecting from tea) and is extremely bitter. It almost has an oceany - maybe seaweed or fish- flavor to it. I thought I was done when I drank the three sips, but then Takako said how when we reached the bottom we had to make sound. At that point I just focused on choking it down without appearing too impolite.
Here's the matcha powder:
When sweetened, let's say in an ice cream, matcha is quite nice, but without the sugar I'm going to have to pass.
The tea house was in a beautiful garden, another secluded get away in a very busy city.


The bamboo was huge!
After the tea ceremony and looking around the garden we took the subway out to Tokyo Disney to catch the Cirque de Soleil show.
That's not a performer, just an usher, but I loved the costume. You're not allowed to take pictures in the theater so this is all I've got. However, if you haven't see Cirque, you've got to go! It's magical. There's music and singing, but very few words, but somehow it doesn't need it. There are men with lassos, women falling from the sky on ribbons, tight rope walkers, trapeze artists, people jumping out of the floor, amazing costumes, fantastic props, and incredible lighting. It makes for an unforgettable two hours. We were seated very close and some of the people on the high wire and on the ribbons made me extremely nervous. The ladies came down right over our heads - absolutely incredible!

After the show we went to an incredible garlic restaurant and shared some fantastic dishes.
This is the spicy avocado and tomato salad, the eggplant (both of our favorites), and we also ate a garlic pasta. We were happy we both ate there otherwise we'd be stinking each other out!
The next day we got up early and headed to the fish market. Please excuse the blurriness of the pictures - no flashes were allowed.
There was a tuna auction. The tuna are literally 4-5 feet long and we were told they weigh over 200 pounds. It was pretty incredible. At 5:30 the fish market is a happening place.


After the fish markets we relaxed, ate breakfast, and then headed out to Asakusa. It is an area with a temple, pagodas, and a huge outdoor shopping area.
At the market we watched a man make ningyo yaki. It's a sweet that has the ube (purple sweet potato) in the middle and is made in cast iron molds.
The one on the left is shaped like a giant lantern while the one on the right is shaped like a pagoda located next to the temple. They were delicious - sweet, but not too sweet.

The Asakusa area is very touristy and we saw lots of rickshaws:

There were also lots of people all over Tokyo, not just in Asakusa, wearing kimonos. It was very cool to see the mix of traditional and modern.

After visiting the market and temple we decided to take a river cruise back towards the hotel.
We were told that the cruise was in both English and Japanese. That was a lie. We didn't understand a single word, but it was a cool, relaxing way to head back. Plus, the end point was a beautiful park.

We didn't spend a lot of time in the park though because we were both hungry and headed to the first restaurant we came across. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that with all that good Japanese food around we ate at a T.G.I.Fridays. But really it was a must. I was starting to break out my cranky pants because I was so hungry and I'm not ready for Tiffany to see that side of me. Plus, these onion rings we split were amazing!
We again had an early night since we were meeting in the lobby at 2:45 to head out for Mt. Fuji. The morning after Mt. Fuji, before we headed to the airport, we both got massages from a blind Japanese man. Sorry I don't have pictures of that, but it was a great massage. I think that about wraps it up, but at some point I might do another post of cool/weird/funny signs, people, and things we saw on our trip.

5 comments:

Liza said...

Looked like so much fun! Can't wait to do it next summer!

P.S. Also I like that you call it ube, and not purple potato or sweet purple yam or any other variation! :) I've got some if you want a little bit.

Mandy said...

It all sounds so exciting. I am glad you are fitting so much in while you are there.

Anonymous said...

Quit talking everything up. Now, I'm really wanting to visit Tokyo too when we come.

How did you know the rules on the tea drinking-did the lady at the tea house tell you?

What a cool adventure!
Monica

Chelsea said...

Oh wow! What an awesome trip. You have so many great pictures. I would love to go to Japan some day! Thanks for the comment on my blog. I'm going to add you to my blog list.

Chris and Amy said...

amy, i'm sitting at your comp. and just had to tell you how proud i am of how well you are doing on this blog.you have a wonderful nak for this,keep it going,i will keep following up on this and shareing with friends and co workers, love you baby girl, i just might have to sneak you back in a suitcase and take you home with me..... forever