Friday, January 18, 2008

Japan (Tokyo & Yokohama)

I meant to get up early on our first day in Tokyo so I could see the Tsukiji Fish Market auction, but after getting in at midnight, I was too exhausted to drag myself out of bed at 5am, so instead I slept in. After finally getting up around 9am, we decided to head to Shibuya first:


After walking around a bit, we grabbed a quick lunch in the 109 tower (Korean food), had authentic Japanese Beard Papa's for dessert (tasted about the same, actually), and then caught a train to Yokohama.

It only took us about half an hour to get to there, but everything felt totally different compared to the bustle of Tokyo. There were some interesting buildings, some pretty waterfront views, and an interesting set of "Red Brick Warehouses" which housed some cute boutiques and restaurants, kind of like Faneuil Hall in Boston:


Following instructions from our tour book, we hopped on a bus to check out the nearby Sankeien Garden:



The garden was peaceful and pretty but surprisingly uncrowded. In fact, I got the impression that generally there were not that many people around in Yokohama; maybe they had all gone elsewhere on vacation.

After taking the bus back to town, we walked around the Motomachi shopping area for a bit, and then briefly stopped by the Yokohama Chinatown (every Japanese city has one!) before heading back to Tokyo.

At this point I was actually very tired, and I nearly chose to head straight back to the hotel; maybe grabbing fast food for dinner. But, after a good 20 minute nap on the train ride back, I felt somewhat refreshed and we decided to go with the original plan, which was to have a nice Japanese dinner. We chose Shunju, located at the top of the Sanno Park Tower in Akasaka.

In retrospect, I'm really glad we decided to go. The view was amazing, the food was creative and delicious, and our waitress spoke excellent English. Here are a few photos from one of the set course meals:




My favorite dishes were the steamed clams (very simple dish, executed flawlessly) and the Japanese prime beef (melt-in-your-mouth tender, cooked to a perfect medium rare).

Feeling much better after dinner, we headed to Roppongi to get an obligatory glance at the Tokyo Tower:


We were there for all of fifteen minutes, but even so, I could tell I didn't like Roppongi. There were too many drunk, loud Americans, the restaurants were overpriced, and I felt like I had to watch my camera bag (the only time I ever worried about pickpockets in Japan). We left pretty quickly, so we ended up getting to bed fairly early, for once.

On our last day in Japan, we got up bright and early, and were checked out of our hotel by 8am. First, we walked around the Imperial Palace gardens, and then visited the infamous Yasukuni shrine. I took a photo there that I actually like quite a lot:


Next we went to Shinjuku, where we saw lots of big department stores, other smaller stores (Taito Game Station! Mister Donut!), and another small shrine. We also ran across a vending machine that looked like it sold food. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the vending machine was used to buy real meals; after putting in money, we chose an udon dish and the machine dispensed a ticket, which we then took inside and exchanged for real food. We were very amused but the Japanese people around us just thought we were strange.

Right before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, we stopped by Asakusa, where the Senso-ji temple is. It was crazy busy there, but in a fun way; lots of women were dressed in kimonos (as they had been in Kyoto earlier in the week), there was lots of street food (I ate some fresh Senbei), and it was generally a very festive atmosphere:


Finally, we grabbed our luggage, caught the Narita Express to the airport, and were on our way home! Next time I'm scheduling a trip to Japan, I hope I'll remember that four days is not enough.

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