Not all the cherry blossoms had dropped their blooms!


Decided to stay out by the Space Center this trip instead of commuting from Tokyo. Tsukuba Center provided an incredible picture of spring mixed with the colors of fall and some extra sleep! I cannot say much about the initial commute from the airport... it was long and ended with a 700m walk lugging two large bags. The hotel room was much smaller than I am used to, even the ryokans I have stayed in have been bigger. But I soon forgot about the small room once I was greeted by the good luck origami crane on my bed.






It continuously amazes me how different every bit of the Japanese culture is... You can not walk anywhere without having a beautiful, landscaped path on which to walk. As tailored as the landscaping is - it is still so natural, and you can even find a rooster walking through the park. Then you have the animated signs and the tiny cars that seem to have faces of their own.


A Sunday spent in Tokyo was a reminder to just enjoy life. Live - Love - Laugh What fun can be had just enjoying the moment. It was a last minute decision after an enjoyable breakfast with co-workers guaranteed I would have a good time and would not miss a quiet day of rest prior to my meeting. The search for Dr Pepper started immediately (prior to even the first train ride). And I have to say, it took a couple of transfers to remember the nuances of purchasing tickets and weed out Russian tendencies for subway travel which were way too recent in my mind. We first hit up Senso-ji which is favorite temple amongst a large market where we saw our first wedding of the day.


Next was Harajuku Station where the punks and street performers hang out and everywhere we went, the Japanese men wanted to take pictures of Christie! Shakey's and Kiddyland where we found the most amazing humping dog "toy" powered by a USB port were on our route. We saw two weddings at the Meiji Shrine - one in which the groom was American and extremely proud! I left an ema votive on the prayer tree. After we headed back, we stopped at Akihabara again to get those Dr. Peppers we had found earlier and came across a bank of gumball machines with what looked like in one of them mini blow-up dolls... 300 yen went into the machine quickly! Although not a mini blow-up doll, what ensued was quite amusing - a quest to get certain ones... After running in the store several times to get coins, I went back in one last time and slapped my 500 yen piece down on the counter in a determined drive, much like a gambler looking for that successful pull of the slot. The guys laughed and I explained I needed the "bunny" (motioning with my hands a playboy bunny ear on my head). I came out of the store with a renewed vigor - I had three more chances to get her. I was about to put MORE money in the machine when one of the guys came out with the key... thank God... and saved us from our guaranteed demise at the face of a gumball machine. I gave him 200 more Yen and he handed me the precious Playboy Bunny doll. Needless to say, we put them together on the train home - yes, some assembly was required... a lot of assembly in fact!



good food and just plain amusing...


One of the best meals I have ever had in Japan when overall meal experience comes into play. Hibachi grill at the table. You get an assortment of meats and some various sauces (some to stay away from) and get to grill it yourself. It took time to grill all the meat, eating all along the way, so you actually get the full feeling while you are eating... hmmm, this is one way they stay so skinny... We contemplated putting these grill tables in our house or better yet, I can see it now - sitting next to my massive grill grilling beef and bacon slices! That whole scenario was of course much funnier at dinner, not to mention the strange conversations we continued to fall back on every time we all go together! More ice cream stuffed inside frozen fruit and a hilarious walk back to the hotel.



There are numerous shrines over by the Ueno train station I had yet to explore and one very cool cemetary where some Shoguns are buried.


A nice walk through Ueno Park led me to my first destination, Toshogu Shrine with hundreds of lanterns aligning the pathways (much like the similarly named Toshogu Shrine at Nikko). As I approached, the sky turned black, the temperature dropped, and the winds started kicking. It really came out of nowhere. One of the Monks insisted I hurry inside and take shelter in the main shrine. It is common in Japan if you ever find yourself straqnded with no room, they will let you take refuge and sleep in the temples. Safe inside the main temple of the shrine I was looking out one of the doors and one of the monks made move more inside. The storm blew by not too many minutes later and I ventured on. Still a little wet outside - but I was losing daylight and wanted to hit some more places. There was a pretty neat pagoda next to the shrine - but it required entry into the zoo. I paid my six bucks, took some cool pictures of the pagoda and took in a few animal exhibits, including the giant panda and a real live red panda (known more commonly as a tanuki - the rascal racoon).


The animated, yet informative, signs still amuse me!


My walk led me out the other end of the zoo to a couple more shrines, one on a little island. Headed back towards Ueno Park, I happened across yet another shrine. It is traditional at many shrines to purchase a fortune. I got this one out the red machine... not really knowing what it was. Once I saw it was a fortune, I realized I had a problem. You see, whether the fortune is good or bad, dictates what you do with it. I had to hang out until I could ask someone to read it for me. A group of younger Japanese finally came by and I talked them into telling me if it was good or bad by using thumbs up and thumbs down. It was a good fortune, then I realized I did not remember if I was supposed to take it or leave it. With more motioning, they told me I was supposed to leave it. So, I tied it onto the rack and went on my way.




Yamaka Cemetary was massive - I wandered through it trying to stay parallel with the JR lines since I knew what direction they ran. Racing the sunset, I worked my way back to Ueno Park with the help of a randon "You are Here" map carved in stone.



In Japan, there is beauty everywhere you look. This manhole cover was at Ueno Park and the sidewalk mosaic was on the street near the shopping area at Ueno. The day ended with some shopping in the Ueno district and more cats...


Did I mention there are a LOT of cats at Ueno? They will just sit around in a major sidewalk intersection and wait for people to pet them. Some of them were pretty damn scary... looked like they had been attacked! Totally feral... yet, welcomed the attention. I found it very odd.






I would have to say Kamakura was more than a bit dissappointing. The shrines I wanted to see were too spread out and logistics using buses are too involved to make the beaten path worthwhile. Especially on the first weekend of Golden Week! I even waited in the long line to go inside the solid bronze Daibutsu with the expectation of climbing some stairs to look out of his shoulder blades. Unfortunately, the stairs were closed. I just seem to prefer locations off the beaten path.


The walk to the main shrine, once back at the train station, was through a busy alley full of shops that included the famous handmade paper. A new manhole cover for the collection, and candied grapes. Yes, can I tell you... just like candied apples covered in that sweet hard candy coating - but humongous grapes on a stick and a grape flavored purple coating. Those little treats were worth the whole damn trip!


Hachimangu Ji

The main shrine within walking distance of th etrain station is Hachimangu



The red tori always catch my eye, especially when there are several in a row. Not sure what all the pennants around the one shrine were about - they appear to all be different. Those are actually fire buckets... not sure what four little buckets can do, though.




There were plenty of interesting sites on the walk back to the train station including another little temple. Notice the plants knotted back.


April 2007

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Susan N. Freeman