Day one: Tokyo

November 30, 2016 at 1:13 PM (Uncategorized)

I’m on the bullet train to Kyoto from Hakone right now. It’s a two hour ride and maybe I’ll fall asleep while writing this back dated post. Our trip is already at its half way point which feels way too soon!!!

Day One was a very very very long travel day. We got up at 3am, I think I had gone to bed at 11pm, and got ready for the airport. Robyn had scheduled an uber to pick us up around 330am, which I had not realized was a feature. As one would expect,  there was zero traffic on the way to the airport and we were at SFO within fifteen minutes. What I failed to realize was that the ticket counters aren’t open 24/7 because the airport was completely dead! It turns out they don’t open until 430am, at least Air Canada doesn’t,  so we spent the next 40min watching a Mainland Chinese man play a video outloud on his phone, do nothing for his daughter when she fell off the chair and onto the floor, and shave himself with a wireless razor while sitting in his chair. So. Weird.

We got our bags checked, and then went through security pretty quickly. After roaming around some stores, we sat down and fell asleep waiting to board.

Touched down in Vancouver for a FIVE hour layover. Thankfully their Internet is free! To connect to an international flight as a non Canadian resident,  you have to find the most obscure door ever in an airport. Walked around the airport which was probably interesting for 3 hours, before we sat down so Robyn could read through her Japan tourist books, which I’d never realized was her habit. I think I’d be insanely stressed if I hadn’t begun my research while looking for hotels months before departure.

I had never has Church’s Chicken before but we got a wrap and it was delicious! We also got a burger and poutine fries from A&W but that wasn’t anything special. The only other really interesting thing at the airport is a giant aquarium tank.

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Our flight was, I think, ten hours long? I watched Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling,  Central Intelligence with The Rock and Kevin Hart, and episodes of Jane the Virgin. Nothing mind blowing.

I thought food was decent though I always ordered the wrong thing. Luckily I had Robyn’s food to eat as well. I first ordered the beef dish for dinner and was sad to see Robyn’s chicken dish had rice, which is what I prefer over potatoes. For breakfast I then ordered the beef dish and was really sad to see Robyn’s dish was chicken karaage! I was a little wary of taking Air Canada but I actually liked their plane quite a bit. The flight wasn’t full and we were able to have a row all to ourselves. It was a pretty quiet plane too. From now on I know for international flights I want to sit in the first section before the restrooms and towards the sides of the plane, not the inner middle seats.

Upon arriving in Tokyo at 440pm, we got on the Keisei Skyliner and set off for our hotel. I had initially planned on getting a pass that would include 3days of using the Tokyo Metro along with the trip to and from Narita airport, but I’m glad we didn’t because we only used that metro company one day,  and the other day we used the JR instead. Tokyo public transit is very reliable and fast, but very confusing.

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The hotel was wonderful – Park Hotel Tokyo. Its lobby is on the 25th floor of a news company building. Robyn had gotten an “art studio” room meaning every room on the 31st floor was decorated by a different artist. We looked through a pamphlet of the other rooms and I felt like ours was the cutest! The hotel is closest to Shiodome station, a Toei subway line that we never used, and is about an eight min walk from the Shimbashi JR and Tokyo Metro stations which we used for everything. Our hotel is connected to these stations and many other buildings via an above ground pedestrian walkway which was really nice. I could never remember exactly how to get back to our hotel entrance from the subway but luckily Robyn actually has a sense of direction.

The hotel also provided free breakfast which was delicious. On top of toast and pastries,  we could have paninis and fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies. Their coffee machine also had delicious matcha lattes which I will really miss when we’re back in America. I ate myself full, but I know that I would have eaten FAR more, if it wasn’t SO quiet in there, and there wasn’t an employee manning the smoothie and panini station. I imagine they judge everyone and think to themselves “I bet SHE’S going to be stuff herself, typical American!”

That first night we walked around our hotel area, Ginza, which is a big shopping district. All the stores were closed at that point but there are many good restaurants nearby, the type in SF that would be $$ on yelp and have an hour plus wait but no wait in Tokyo. We ended up going to Ippudo, getting delicious ramen, and then walking back to our hotel. I stopped in a grocery store to get various KitKat flavors, but as I continue to see so many cute sweets being sold, I may buy those instead. (Note from the future: it turned out that I never stopped to buy more KitKats toward the end of the trip, so I’m really glad I bought what I did on the first night, and now wish I had bought MUCH MORE).

Ok time to nap! One hour left on the bullet train!

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Day Five: Hakone

November 29, 2016 at 2:09 PM (Uncategorized)

I woke up yesterday around 4am and took two hours to write my blog post then went for a hot tub dip before starting my day. That naturally resulted in my falling asleep immediately after dinner around 840pm. A very long day! We started with our hotel’s Japanese style breakfast, which I’m not a huge fan of. I would’ve preferred cute donuts but oh well. Then we took a little too long getting out of the hotel as we were trying to figure out our route, which ended up being very easy because our hotel could shuttle us to the nearest train stop rather than us trying to walk on a narrow, winding mountain street.

The point of Hakone, I feel, is to ride several different modes of transportation,  all to end up taking a bus back to your hotel. Thankfully being in Japan, all these modes of transportation run seamlessly and only because of this were we able to see everything (in America,  I think we would’ve up ended stranded with no way to get home along the middle of the trip)

First we got on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and rode one stop to see the Hakone Open Air Museum, which is a large, mostly outdoor modern art museum. This is the kind of stuff Robyn likes that I normally hate but am ok with if she’s with me. Lots of random art pieces.

At least it wasn’t raining.

It had snowed here a few days ago but luckily wasn’t too cold after I put on two layers of jackets.

Why don’t these pieces ever have descriptions with them?

The museum included a free foot bath where you could just soak your feet in hot springs water,  which is ingenious! I couldn’t imagine ever doing this in America as I’m sure it would end up becoming disgusting, but it was very cool here.

My favorite thing was a tower with stained glass.  I almost didn’t walk up it because it looked very boring from the outside. There was also a decent sized, permanent Picasso exhibit that had several pottery pieces, sketches,  and other mediums. sometimes with his drawings and sketches,  I just picture a crazy child drawing the same thing and people thinking it’s hideous but with Picasso it’s ~amazing~

By the time we finished, we were getting hungry but there’s not too much near the museum.  Hakone seems very tourist run. We took the cable car to Gora park,  I asked a nice old Japanese woman where there would be restaurants,  and then we started walking up a hill toward the Gora park entrance (I am into parks and Robyn probably feels the same way about them as I do with museums). Right outside we found a place we both liked.  It had a very cozy,  super clean interior.  She got a katsu don which she’d never had before and I got an oyako don which I pretty much eat every other Friday with my coworkers in Los Gatos. Priced at ¥1300, even though I suspect that is expensive for Japan,  that’s cheaper than America after including tip and tax and it was delicious!!!

Then we went through Gora Park, which was pretty and tranquil even though it’s winter and not as much in bloom. Normally I think they are famous for hydrangeas.

They also had three greenhouses.

Then we walked over to the funicular stop. Here we realized that literally everything,  shops and modes of transportation,would stop running around 500pm and it was 300pm!!! We were about 1/3 done with our journey at that point. We got on the funicular, which goes up and down the mountainside and only goes one direction at a time. Then we got off and transferred onto the Hakone Ropeway aka gondola.  The gondola has I think three stops but everyone gets out at the first,  Owakudani, which is a crater left from a volcanic eruption and there’s steam vents everywhere.  I’m bummed I didn’t get great pictures in the gondola,  even though the windows probably would’ve made them less crisp anyway.

Robyn really wanted to eat one of the famous black eggs here,  and when we got out the gondola,  the shop was open. however,  in the three minutes she stood outside taking pictures,  they closed shop !!! It was only 346pm so that was frustrating.  I distinctly remember all these times because we had to catch the last ship at 420pm!!!!!! and we still had two gondola stops to go!!! While walking through the line to get back on the gondola,  Robyn spotted a statue of a black egg and made the decision to run down,  get a picture with it,  and risk missing our ship!

Since she couldn’t eat the egg,  this was a decent substitute. She also said she saw the egg in the store and it looked disgusting. (I think by that she means, it was a black egg.)

Back onto the gondola, where we then got to the last stop which drops us right at the last mode of fun transportation, pirate ships to take us around lake Ashi! The ships make two stops but the first has the most to see (views of Mt Fiji which were already obscured, shrines and a cedar grove we didn’t go to), and from there you can take a bus back to the hotel, which is what we did. Unfortunately the sun had set, but we got a few pictures in right before it went fully dark.

The port was Moto Hakone and there were several grand looking buildings clearly for tourists. Tons of coffee shops. We walked to the Hakone shrine and even though it was dark, the path was lit with lantern lights so it was cool.

Walked back,  went to a 7/11 while waiting for our bus, got home,  went in hot tub,  napped, got up,  ate dinner, fell asleep, woke up, went in hot tub and went to sleep for real at 1030pm!

Dinner was hot pot, soba, and four other appetizer plates including the best sashimi I’ve had this far on the trip. YUM.

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Day Four: Ginza, Hakone

November 28, 2016 at 1:31 PM (Uncategorized)

Ok I had completely forgotten about my intent to blog every day until yesterday. Like, not even “oh I’m too tired to blog” but a “OH I forgot about this platform!”

It’s  5am in Japan right now so sure,  ok time to blog! I have been waking up every morning around 330am Japan time aka 1030am CA time,  but normally I’m able to fall back asleep.  We’re staying at a hot springs hotel where our room has our own private hot springs tub fed by the running brook next to us. Maybe it’s supposed to be a quiet bumbling brook but as it’s fall and it just recently snowed here,  I think it’s become a very loud river.

We are provided breakfast and dinner at this place. Last night was an eight course meal including a giant vegetable platter where we dipped raw tomatoes, leaves, root vegetables (aka radishes,  potatoes,  carrots) into an anchovy and olive oil sauce.  Also had some grilled sablefish,  snapper carpaccio, a delicious beef thing and more! We have one Japanese style breakfast at 830, another Japanese style dinner then a western style breakfast when we check out.
I’ve already taken a sit in our private hot springs tub which felt fantastic after several days of Tokyo exploration. I’m normally not a hot tub kind of person.  I’m sure people know in Japan you must be naked for hot springs. I kind of want to go into our hotel’s public one to see what it’s like, but then probably leave immediately.

Our day started with our Tokyo hotel’s free breakfast which I have loved going to.  We get toast , paninis, fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies,  and some pastries.  Oh and a matcha latte from the coffee machine which is delicious!!! We  had a lighter meal then set off for the Tsujiki Fish Market. I had not researched it at all,  other than knowing that 1 people go very early to see it aka 5 or 6am, and 2 we were not going to wake up early. I think if I traveled alone or with my mom I would have made it,  but I don’t feel like I missed out on that much.  Because according to the site I read,  you have to get there early enough to be the first 120 people to get in , and after that you’re only allowed to stand in a designated viewing area. It makes sense since it is a serious place of business,  but I imagine I’d have difficulty getting a good shot, being timid and not having a professional camera.

So instead we went around 845am, walked there from our hotel which was a fifteen minute walk. The hotel is within a business area,  or maybe all hotels in central tokyo are considered to be with in a business area… anyway there were tons of people walking to work. I stuck out because this was the day I decided to wear my bright yellow Uniqlo jacket and literally everyone was wearing black or navy blue. I’m bummed now that I didn’t get a picture of myself with the crowd, but at the time it did feel quite a bit off putting.

My thoughts on the fish market: I love walking around markets so it was a lot of fun.  I wonder how crowded it would have been at 6am. I always presume every tourist wants to be the first ones there,  and when I am there bright and early,  I’m usually surprised to find people prefer to wake up at a normal hour and have relaxing vacations. There were definitely some cool food stalls with food I’ve never seen, Robyn got a 1000¥ grilled scallop with sea urchin,  which is about $10. but many of the things,  I thought, I am pretty sure I could find that in 99 ranch and if not,  Mitsuwa definitely. I am pretty sure I had read somewhere that the sushi there is for tourists and not the greatest quality even though they’re a stone’s throw from the wholesale area. We sat in a stall and shared a sushi rice bowl, and,  while the sushi was at least better quality than what we had at the Robot Restaurant which tasted like airport quality,  it definitely wasn’t anything stellar. It was crowded but not terribly so.

Then we went back to the hotel, had some time to relax and packed our things. At this point,  I have my suitcase,  a crammed backpack, and a plastic bag of accumulated snacks to carry around. I have a little more space in my suitcase if I’m more strategic about where I put things, and Robyn has a collapsible duffel bag that is taking up half the room in my backpack. so,  there’s more room for souvenirs!
This new phone of mine is killing me! It does not auto capitalize my first words of sentences even though that option is ON. And it does not space correctly!!! ARGHHHHHHH it also doesn’t auto predict that well. It also doesn’t capitalize i and that annoys me. i should just wow a sentence wiring ecru singing ira woes from what i meant. (I should just write a sentence without ever changing its words from what I meant)

I don’t think anyone in Japan uses Samsung phones because none of the cases for sale are Samsung, they are alllll for iPhones!

Ok I still have half a day to go!!!!!!!

We checked out, our luggage with them, then went to walk around Ginza which is where our hotel is near. Ginza was described to us as the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo but it really just seems like a giant sprawling shopping area with nice dessert shops nearby. We first went to Hakuhinkan, a giant 8 floor toy store first established in 1899. Robyn found a 1000 piece puzzle of a Sanrio egg character she’s seen and taken a liking to. Here, I found out the mail I’ve been anxiously waiting to have delivered to our Tokyo hotel had arrived,  thankfully 5 hours before it said it would be delivered by. I’m partially sad we didn’t return to the hotel immediately but I’m partially glad we stayed to explore more of Ginza because I enjoyed it. I only wish we had had more time to sit and eat at one of the nicer dessert restaurants or walked around the flagship Uniqlo store or walked down more streets.

 

We did continue a walk to Itoya a nine floor stationary store. Though there is another building adjacent to it with seemingly just as many floors that was never mentioned in the descriptions. I came close to buying nice notepads but I’m glad I didn’t because I do love writing in free notepads with company logos on them.

We got back,  got our luggage and my very important mail which was our JR passes so that we could embark on our journey. then off we went around 345pm on a very stressful travel journey.  looking back it was only a two hour ordeal but it felt so much longer!!!!

The JR pass is only for visitors of Japan and it allows you to take the JR trains for free, unlimited usage,  for 7, 14 or maybe 21 days.  I forget the options,  I just know I have the 7 day pass. It is pricey, a $250 pass per person,  but would save about $100 for our itinerary. You would only want it if you travel between different cities, as it does not cover local lines in cities. Though there is a JR line,  Yamanote, that does a circle around tokyo that could get you around locally but a ¥750, $7.50, one day pass could be used for this so you probably wouldn’t buy this to travel locally in Tokyo.

You must buy this pass outside Japan and they will mail it to your address. this is generally very unlike me, but when I received the passes months ago, I put them aside on my kitchen counter and never even looked at them. I had ordered a free JR train book and I had read through that one day, but otherwise I never even looked at the vouchers. this was a huge mistake, because I thought I would have time to read the instructions on the plane and figure it out then. instead, because I never looked at the vouchers, I never thought about them and off I went to the airport without them.

I didn’t realize this until we were sitting in the Vancouver airport on our layover and I looked at the JR train book and loudly gasped and went “OH NO.” Robyn immediately guessed what had happened. Luckily I had discovered this in Canada and we still had two hours before boarding, and I had time to email customer support ask them what to do, and order another one to deliver to our hotel.

The question was whether it would arrive before we had to depart for Hakone and arrive before the 7pm cutoff time in order to eat dinner.  We did, but it involved confusion the whole way. 1 standing in a long line where I finally opened the voucher and read the instructions and discovered I had to activate the card at only certain transit offices.  2 finding out the long line I was standing in did not apply. 3 needing to buy a ticket for three station stops away from a machine and having no idea what the fare to pay should be because you had to enter in the fare you wanted to pay and the station map showing the fares was entirely in Japanese and we didn’t have WiFi. 4 arriving in essentially a Japanese grand central station and having zero idea where to go next.  5 getting out passes and getting our train tickets was easy. trying to understand where the platform to go to was not. 6 arriving at the next station and needing to buy a Hakone freepass. 7 missing our train by literally seconds. 8 figuring out that a bus would be faster and easier

In the end of that entire process,  the easiest mode of transit that I typically take every effort to avoid in America was the bus. It was clean,  not crowded,  and showed the next station stop on a giant electronic screen in both English and Japanese.

Ok I’ve been standing trying to finish this post before going into the hot tub for a 630am soak. that’s all !!!!

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