First Days in Tokyo – May 2014 Trip

Five years ago we went to Japan for our honeymoon, and we’ve been wanting to go back ever since. So that’s why we (Teisha and Andrew) went back this May, and dragged Teisha’s parents along too! (They’d never been before.) As of writing this, the trip is over, but I still wanted to get a travelogue up because it’s fun to share with others and look back at years from now. So, here’s the beginning of the travelogue!

Day 0: Arrival

(Photo album for Day 0)

Early morning on Saturday, May 17, Andrew, Teisha, and Teisha’s parents started their journey to Japan! We got a flight leaving Denver at 8:09AM for Calgary, Canada, arriving there at 10:44AM. There we got our connection to Tokyo (flying into the Narita airport) — it left Calgary at 1:45PM, and nearly 11 hours later we arrived in Tokyo, at 3:25PM on Sunday. (There are now direct flights from Denver to Tokyo, but they were about $500 more expensive each, so we didn’t go that route.) Teisha wasn’t able to sleep much on the plane and neither were her parents (it was funny how it was daylight the entire time we flew), but Andrew caught a few winks at least. (Still, even exhausted, it was much easier than the last time we came to Japan for our honeymoon, five years ago – in 2009 we were worried that we’d get quarantined because of the scares about the H1N1 influenza [swine flu] pandemic – it was so bad some people had told us to cancel our honeymoon).

After getting our Japan Rail Passes (which, we later decided, were completely worth it!), we took the train from Narita Airport to Ueno Station in Tokyo (about one hour long) and saw the beautiful countryside along the way. Exhausted, we made our way to our beloved hotel, the New Izu Hotel, which we stayed at last time we were in Tokyo (after a few days back there, the hotel really seemed like our home-away-from-home). We got our usual, awesome Japanese-style room – our room was possibly the exact same one we had last time (or, in the same place on the floor, but on a different floor) – it looked just like it did five years ago. (My parents got a Western-style room, but still appreciated our room.) Exhausted, we grabbed a quick dinner at a little place we knew two blocks away (we pretty much found it by remembering where it was five years ago – it hadn’t changed!), and went to bed at about 8PM (which was about 5AM on Sunday Colorado-time).

Day 1: Meiji Jingu Shrine, Akihabara, and Ueno

(Photo album for Day 1 [Monday])

Due to jet-lag and resting on the long plane flight, we had collapsed early (around 8PM) the previous night and so got up early (Teisha woke up at 11PM and took some sleep aids – the rest of the group had similar experiences waking up during the night – Teisha eventually gave up and got up about 4AM). We were expecting it though – it takes a few days to get past the jet lag. About 5AM we went out and wandered the area – since most places were closed, we went to Ueno Park by the station. It’s a very pleasant park, with a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine on a beautiful lake full of lily pads, lotus plants, and turtles (we saw some red-eared sliders and others we didn’t recognize).

Once it opened at 7AM, we grabbed some tasty breakfast at Pronto, which is a breakfast restaurant about a block from the New Izu Hotel that we fondly remembered from five years ago. It hadn’t changed and still had the super tasty bread with hard-boiled egg and melted cheese (and optionally ham) on top – sooo good. (We found out that Pronto is actually a chain – there’s another one closer to the Ueno station – but it’s still super tasty food.) (And speaking of food – we were happy to see our favorite bakery, Andersen’s at the Ueno Station, was still there!)

Once sated, we took the train down to Meiji Jingu forest and shrine. It’s a beautiful forested area which was pretty much just like we remembered from five years ago. This time we explored a royal garden too – there was a beautiful pond with clearly well-fed giant koi fish, and an iris garden not really yet in bloom (the main time for viewing is June). At the shrine’s gift shop/café area, we got a tasty lunch of udon noodle bowls and other snacks, such as a waffle ice cream chocolate bar from a vending machine, and then a Royal milk tea from another vending machine later. (We seriously missed the milk tea – we’ve tried hard to find it from the U.S., but have been unsuccessful. It’s probably Teisha’s favorite drink. Before the trip was over, we luckily found a big bag of powdered Royal milk tea from a grocery store, so we can now enjoy it at home!)

We then hopped back on the train and headed to Akihabara. Teisha’s father loved exploring the electronics shops, especially the vacuum tubes (and, after a lot of looking, he even found some toroids, which Teisha has been playing with for a side project). While he went to the electronics shops, the rest of us wandered the rest of Akihabara, primarily the many, many claw machine arcades. It was fun, but the claw machines seem to be harder to win at now than they did five years ago (or Teisha has lost her touch!) and don’t offer as many little prizes as they did before. (By the end of the trip, we concluded that there’s basically a bigger focus on spending more money to win a bigger prize, and not so many opportunities to spend a little money to get little prizes – maybe Akihabara is becoming too popular/commercialized.) We all met back up at a little robot shop, which sold all sorts of neat robot-related kits (Teisha took some pictures to look into more later – she’s always on the look-out for neat science fair project ideas).

And, while in Akihabara, I had to take a picture of some of the super-cute meals offered by a local maid café. (We went to one last time we were in Japan, but didn’t go to one this time.)

We then went back home to the Ueno Station area and, after exploring the many shops there (and avoiding the noisy pachinko parlors), we got some dinner at a quiet, upstairs restaurant. It was a real contrast to the busy, noisy, brightly lit alleys below. We shared a tasty “hamburger” (which is basically a really tender, thick beef patty), gyoza, tempura shrimp, a refreshing salad, and other tidbits. (We actually came back here near the end of our trip – we had so fondly remembered it.)

Day 2: Tsukiji, Harajuku, and Ueno

(Photo album for Day 2 [Tuesday])

We braved rush hour on the Tokyo subway to get some breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market. We had the most amazing ramen ever at the same stand we went to five years ago. It was truly amazing – I can’t imagine ramen being any better than what we had there. Then we explored the shops at the expansive market for a while – we got a few souvenirs and tried some interesting foods, like balls of pork and green tea ice cream, and watched fresh sea urchin being cooked on the street. We wanted some unagi (eel) but it seems like eel might be rarer right now – five years ago, there were multiple stands that had fresh skewers of eel really cheap, but we didn’t see anything like that this time. The closest we saw were packages of eel (not on a skewer, so not easy to eat while we walked around) and they were very expensive, about $20. (We later learned that it sounds like they’ve been over-fished – unagi is a lot more rare now, so it’s much more expensive.)

After we had our fill of Tsukiji, we walked a few blocks to the Hamarikyu gardens and tea house. We wandered through the garden, making our way to the tea house, which is on a little island in a beautiful pond in the garden. As we did five years ago, we enjoyed having a tea ceremony on the island. The tea ceremony has a lot of little steps to it (I took a picture of the instructions we were given). The tea house has a fascinating view of the surrounding area – the beautiful trees of the garden are a real contrast to the towering skyscrapers of the surrounding city.

tea ceremony Japanese

Because it had gotten so warm, we then headed to Harajuku to try and find Teisha’s father some shorts to wear (but we never did find any). We ended up wandering the teenager-filled streets of Harajuku for a little bit, searching for a place to eat lunch. Harajuku is always amazing because there are so many happy kids walking around, free from their parents, and so many clothing shops and other stores catering to the kids. But it was surprisingly hard to find a real restaurant for lunch (and not just a café or a place selling crepes – there were sooo many fancy crepe stands). We finally found a nice quiet, cool restaurant up several floors in a building near Harajuku (we have to keep reminding ourselves to look up, at the other floors in a building, as every floor has different stores in it). We basically each had a combo meal with a small salad, piece of meat (e.g., a hamburger patty or large piece of fish), and miso-like soup, along with some green tea, of course.

We then briefly visited Kiddyland, a multi-story toy store nearby. Last time we were in Japan, I bought an amazing animal cell model, and I wanted to check out their similar educational science toys, but this time I couldn’t even find a section that had those types of toys. So surprising! Afterwards, we went back to Harajuku and finally got a fancy crepe for desert. Also while in the area, we had a group of school children (13-year-olds) who wanted to interview us – it was so cute. They were doing it for their English class (we think) and had a clear set of questions, basically asking us where we were going in Tokyo, what we were seeing, etc. (This happened to us again in Kyoto – never happened to us last time!) We then went back to Ueno Station and eventually got some dinner near there (in the busy shopping area nearby), specifically some conveyor belt sushi (“zushi”). (Teisha finally got her unagi too!)

Day 3: Miraikan and Shinjuku

(Photo album for Day 3 [Wednesday])

Today we went to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, which we visited five years ago and really enjoyed (because we’re science nerds). For a full report on the biology-related exhibits, see the link in the previous sentence. Like last time, we really enjoyed seeing what was on display, which included many fun interactive activities. There were some we fondly remembered, but a lot of new stuff too. Overall we spent several entertained hours there. (We also got lunch at the museum, which wasn’t that bad – we later determined that it’s pretty much impossible to get “bad” food at a restaurant in Japan.) Andrew also took a few panoramic pictures of the exhibits:

For a change of pace, we hopped on the subway and went to one of the largest book stores in town, Kinokuniya. (At the station near the book store, which is a huge station, a man actually randomly helped us find the right exit to take for the book store – we were really cautious at first because in the U.S. such a person would probably be doing a scam, but this guy just wanted to help us and practice his English – so friendly!) The book store is eight stories tall, with the lower levels going directly into the subway below it (this happens a lot, surprisingly to us non-subway users). We checked out the large assortment of manga (English and Japanese), children’s books (since that’s barely what we can manage to read at our level of Japanese), and origami (there were some amazing books, but being in Japanese made them difficult to completely understand). We got dinner at a restaurant nearby – it actually had an American theme going on, with random English-labeled boxes decorating the walls and ceiling (such as things as random as detergent boxes, or paper towels). It was probably a bit more like a bar than a restaurant, but we still had super tasty onion rings, salad, steak, Italian-style noodles, and fries. It was also kind of fun and comforting that a TV had Wall-E playing in the background. Somehow we found our way through the subway stations back to our wonderful New Izu hotel.

Stay tuned for our adventures in Nagoya!

One Response to “First Days in Tokyo – May 2014 Trip”

[…] our first few days in Tokyo, we started heading down to Kyoto, with a one-night stay in Nagoya to check our two […]

Paradoxdruid's Rants » Blog Archive » One night in Nagoya, Heading to Kyoto – May 2014 Japan Trip - June 23rd, 2014 at 7:29 pm

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