Japan Day 10 3 31 2014

Today was another Kyoto day. We had a pre-Shinkensan adventure even before we left Ikebukuro station as the trains were delayed. A few of the trains were delayed because of high winds. However, our train and the one that runs parallel to it were delayed because of a passenger injury. This was the first time that we’ve experienced this type of delay. We did get on a train right away and soon enough we were on our way to Tokyo station…along with a hundred other people in the same cart as us. I think someone grabbed my butt but it was so packed I’m not really sure. LOL

The day was clear and sunny and Monkey got more awesome pictures of Mt. Fuji on the way into Kyoto. Our destinations today were the Gion area, one of the oldest areas of Kyoto. First on the list was Yasaka Shrine (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3903.html). According to our guide book, Yasaka Shrine ‘exists as a symbol in Gion. Famoulsy known to offer a protective charm and prosperous business to to visitors.’ The shrine is amazingly beautiful. We each made an offering,  rang the prayer bell, and made a silent prayer. When Mom was busy with the bell ritual, Monkey patted my arm frantically. I turned around and was no more than 10 feet away from the most beautiful Geisha that I’ve ever seen. There was nothing about her that was out of place. I snapped a quick picture of her before she walked past me. The Gion are is where the Meiko (Geisha’s in training) and Geishas primarily reside. There was no mistaking this woman as anything but a Geisha.

After we strolled the grounds and took about 40 pictures we decided to go to Ninenzaka, Sanneizaka streets. This is the area where the majority of souvenir stores are located. We poked about but didn’t find much of anything. I did see a very pretty kimono kit that I would have bought…if it wasn’t made in China!!! Oh, the horror LOL The streets are very pretty but also very hilly. Mom could only go part way up one street because it was so steep and ended with stairs going even farther up. We went up and down so many streets that I almost got lost. 

Every turn of a corner was a new surprise….a view of a bamboo forest, a buddha temple, a GYNORMOUS five story pagoda, and so many Meikos and Geishas! The views just kept getting better and better! With all the walking that we were doing we worked up an appetite. There was a very pretty little cafe/restaurant that was close to the rock garden/bamboo forest that we decided to try. Mom and Monkey ordered the tempura ramen and I have no idea what I ordered…but I think it was thick slabs of bacon with a super soft cooked egg and rice. Regardless, the food was delicious even if I have no idea what I ate LOL

Eventually we decided that we wanted to see Kiyomizudera Temple…a World Heritage site. We hailed a taxi, all climbed in, the driver put Mom’s walker in the trunk, and then got back in. I said, in my very broken Japanese, that we wanted to go to Kiyomizudera and he looked at me, looked through the back window, and pointed. Yup. We did that. We got into a cab and asked to be taken to a site that directly behind us. Wow…I felt a doof…but we all had a good laugh and another person jumped into the cab as soon as we got out. Quickest cab ride EVER! LOL

After we looked at the hill that led up to the Temple, we decided to walk around a little more. The hill was so steep that Mom would have never made it to the top, let along the middle. Walking around Kyoto is amazing. I know that we will be back there again and again and again LOL

The train ride back was nice and uneventful and soon we were back in our room comfy and shoeless! And now I need to sleep because can!

Japan Day 9 3 30 2014

Today was a do whatever day. We all slept in, which for us means waking up at 8am. We lazed around the hotel room and didn’t venture out until almost 11am. Monkey and I wanted to get our nails done so we stopped at the front desk to ask where a good nail salon was. I didn’t realize that Ikebukuro had like a million nail salons. However, all of them were busy for the day so we never actually got our nails done. Instead we headed to just walk around. We had brought our umbrellas because it was raining out a little….or so we thought. As soon as we walked out from under the cover of the hotel’s awning the wind picked up as did the rain. Since Tobu was right across the street we headed over there. We had made it successfully across the street (I should say at this point that Monkey had an umbrella for herself and I had one for Mom and I) and were making our way up the stairs when the wind picked up…the wind picked up the water from the fountain and aimed it right at Mom. Needless to say the right side of her was a tad bit wet. Thankfully the stores kept there thermostats at around 90 F so Mom dried off pretty fast.

We walked around looking for a rouge nail salon that wasn’t busy but didn’t find any. Instead we found a few good book stores and a cd/movie store before heading back to the hotel for lunch. We were thinking about going to the buffet that the hotel offers but opted on eating in the room. Monkey and I ventured back out to get some good foods and brought them back to the hotel. 

After we ate Monkey and I went to the nail salon in the hotel to see if we could make an appointment for later in the week, but of course they were booked. Instead of getting our nails done…which was my primary goal for the day, Monkey got her hair cut short. Now she totally blends in with all the other girls her age. I have make sure I remember what she’s wearing for the day or I’ll totally loose her.

After the hair cut, the three of us went out for a walk in East Ikebukuro. We went into a store called Labi which is the equivalent of an 8m  floor Best Buy….only much cooler. We bought a cooling pad for the lap top and checked out the PSPs, PSVitas, and Lenovo mini pads…which I’m totally getting…just maybe not here…even though they are super cheap.

And that gets us to now. I’m sitting here watching more Japanese tv and getting ready to pass out. 

More Kyoto tomorrow!!!

Japan Day 8 3 29 2014

I tried to sleep in but forgot to turn off my alarm…so much for that. Since I was up so early – 6am – I decided to start getting ready for the day as we were heading back to Kyoto. We were all moving a little slow this morning but didn’t have to get to Kyoto as early as the previous days. Eventually we made our way to Tokyo station and onto the Shineksan to Kyoto. 

The sun was out which promised a good viewing of Mount Fuji. I almost missed the mountain…errr…volcano….as I was busy looking over the map of Kyoto and trying to plot our course of adventuring. Holy Cow is that mountain amazing! I think I took at least 15 pictures! LOL The area is really breathe-taking especially with Mt Fuji in the background.

Kyoto didn’t disappoint either. The sun stayed out which brought the temps up to around 70 D with a nice light cool breeze. We wanted to see the Imperial Palace but didn’t want to take a cab there so we adventured onto the subway…not my ideal way of travel, but I tried it. The stop was at the west end of the Palace grounds so I thought we wouldn’t have to walk very far….yeah….right. One big difference between Tokyo and Kyoto (besides rearranging the letters of Tokyo to make Kyoto) is the length of the blocks. Tokyo blocks are so damn tiny! Kyoto blocks, however, go on for about a mile and a half. Actually the distance from the station to the grounds wasn’t far…it was the distance along the grounds that was a killer. And o course we were 15 minutes late for the tour so we couldn’t go into the palace. (We’re going back so I’ll be sure to get tickets!!!)

Since we couldn’t go into the Palace, we decided to check out the gift shop (Monkey got an ice cream) and then head to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. This walk was a complete killer and Mom needed a few breaks along the way. We finally got there with about two hours to spare. The Museum was smaller than I had thought but was really awesome. There were artists working on a few pictures and an area to draw a picture…guess where we stopped for about a half hour LOL.

The majority of the Museum is devoted to manga from around the world….thus the name International Manga Museum….and there are only a handful of displays. While we were checking one display on the building that houses the Museum, a very nice older Japanese woman came over and struck up a conversation. We chatted for a bit and Monkey showed her some of her pictures. The woman was really impressed and told Monkey that she definitely has a talent and can’t wait to see her works on display at the Museum. That really struck a note with Monkey that will last for a very long time…if not forever.

After we were done checking out the displays we stopped at the gift shop very briefly before hailing a cab to take us back to the train station. The cab driver was AWESOME and took us through the back streets. The blending of the old buildings jutting up next to mega-modern buildings is so interesting and works so well! It’s like an architectural symphony. The cab ride back to the station was far too quick…I could have driven those back roads all day long!

We each grabbed a sandwich before getting our train and before we knew it, we were on our way back to Ikebukuro via Tokyo.

Now I’m in the comforts of our hotel room, writing this and getting ready to pass out. Tomorrow is a lazy day and we’ll decide what to do on the spur of the moment….as long as I get my nails done and maybe a massage LOL 

Japan Day 7 3 28 20104

Because of the two days we spent going back and forth to Kyoto, Mom refused to go on another long ass train ride, which meant that we needed to stick around Tokyo. I looked up the address to the fabric store, Tomato, and found that it was located in Nippori – which is closer than Tokyo on the Yamanote train line.

We slept in a bit and took our times getting ready this morning since we didn’t have to be anywhere at the butt crack of dawn. We got the train right away and off we went to explore Nippori. To our enjoyment, the city isn’t as busy as Tokyo, even though it’s less than a 10 minute train ride from Tokyo station.

We found the store after about a 10 minute walk. I’m sure it would have taken less time if it wasn’t for us looking at all the awesome stores…almost every one was filled with fabrics. Little did I know that we were venturing into Tokyo’s Fabric Street! Tomato is a big store..actually it’s one big store and about two smaller stores at different locations on the same street. The store was so busy and cramped that Mom couldn’t make her way around the store. I felt bad so Monkey and I made our purchases some bag handles and other things and made our way out. The weather was absolutely beautiful so we didn’t rush from one store to another. I found another awesome fabric store and bought four styles for bags…I’m not sure if I want to use the fabric for the outside or the lining of the bags…and Monkey picked out a fabric that she liked for a skirt. Mom was happy to hang out outside the stores and soak in the sun.

Monkey and I decided that we would come back to Nippori before we left so that I could really hunt for more fabrics….and probably another suitcase LOL

On our way back to the train station, we stopped in a clothes store. I was running out of clean short sleeved shirts to wear….the weather has been around 50 – 70 degrees. The store was great! We got two shirts, three pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, Monkey  got jammies, and Mom got two new shirts. Satisfied with our haul, we made our way back to Ikebukuro (besides, about four hours had gone by!). We were pretty hungry and Monkey wanted ramen…still…so we went to the eighth floor of Lumiere – the department store that’s connected to our beloved Tobu. 

Monkey picked out a fabulous restaurant and chose…udon. Again, so much for ramen. I had some kind of udon soup and Mom had soba. The bowls that the soup was in were bigger than my head….and CHEAP!!! The food was also amazing and again we couldn’t finish everything. 

The clothes were begging to be tried on so back to the hotel room we went. Some of the clothes fit really well, some will need a bit of tailoring…damn the Japanese and their tiny women arms, and some will be sold on-line LOL Now….before I talk any more about the clothes, I need to clarify something. The last time we were here, a little over a year ago, the females, for the most part, resembled the waif like pixies that most people picture the Japanese women to look like. Something happened in the time that we were gone. I’m not saying this as being mean or picking on anyone, but I think the Japanese have taken a liking to McDonald’s and all things that…well….pack on the pounds. Yes, there still the pixy like females, but woah…are there some bigger girls around now! Which leads me to say that the clothes that don’t fit aren’t because we’re American…it’s just that they are a smaller size and we didn’t want to try them on.

Ok…that out of the way and back to the adventure. 

We had more energy once we rested, so we headed out to Animate. Monkey wanted to see if they had a couple of animes and cd’s that she’s been looking for and Mom wanted to hang out in the park and people watch while Monkey and I scoured the floors of Animate. The animes and cd’s were not meant to be bought (because Animate did not have them) but did we came away with a few things before running into Mom and then heading to Tower Records. It must not have been our day to buy anything electronic since Tower Records didn’t have the Blue Ray that I was looking to buy – Kamijo Symphony of the Vampire….le sigh.

Back to the hotel we went to hang out and relax. 

And this brings me up to date on the blogging. I wish I could write down everything that I see, hear, smell, taste, etc. for you all the experience as well. 

(Tomorrow is back to Kyoto….which will be a surprise to Mom…HA

Japan Day 6 3 27 2014

OMG did we have to wake up early. We needed to be up and getting around at 4am, so of course I was up by 3:30am. Monkey reluctantly woke up when I needed her to, Mom was up right after I was done with my shower. Luckily we made it to Ikebukuro train station just before I had wanted to get there. Unluckily, we couldn’t catch an earlier train to Kyoto once we arrived at the Tokyo station. At least we had a bit of time to use the bathroom before the train showed up. Because of how cold it was yesterday we dressed warmer and we were ready for another awesome day of crafts and exploring…once we survived the train ride and arrived in Kyoto.

The weather in Kyoto was just as chilly as yesterday with a bit more of a  breeze but at least there wasn’t any rain..probably because I brought an umbrella.  After hailing a taxi, we made it to the Handicraft Center with a few minutes to spare. This time the taxi driver took us a different way and showed us some really awesome temples/shrines. I can’t wait to go back on either Sunday or Monday. Today’s crafts were both enameling…one was more free form the other was more formed. We had a choice of three forms for the first enameling project. Monkey chose an oval, Mom chose a heart, and I took a fish. We could make whatever designs we wished on that one, so of course we were finished fairly early. The second project was a bit more tricky since the shape was already stamped and we had to fill in the recesses. The form was an owl and we could ‘color’ it however we wanted. O course that took us about three times longer to finish. The results were amazing – on both projects and we were able to take them with us. Our teacher was really nice, not the same woman as yesterday but just as awesome. We talked to her a lot and was able to learn a little more about Kyoto.

Once we were done with the crafts and the talking, we decided to walk to the Imperial Palace. The walk seemed longer than what it really was because it was so cold and breezy. We made it to the Palace grounds, sat down for a bit, shared an apricot jam sandwich, and promptly hailed another cab. Monkey wanted ramen and our teacher had told us of “Ramen Street”, an entire floor of the department store connected to the Kyoto train station, so we decided to head there. There were so many restaurants to choose from that Monkey opted for a pasta restaurant….so much for ramen. I can’t complain, though. I chose pasta with meat sauce, bacon, and Yuba; Monkey had cream sauce with shrimp and avocado, and Mom had cream sauce with shrimp and crab. The food was AMAZING and none of us were able to finish. I also had a match latte which was so effen good!!

Once we were done we decided to walk around the department store for a little bit. After a short walk, Mom’s knee started bothering her so we decided it was a good time to head back to Ikebukuro. The train ride was pretty much the same except I stayed awake for the entire ride back. I used the time to draw up some new bag designs and take pictures of Mom and Monkey sleeping…they had the seats behind me.

I woke them up two stops before Tokyo station so at least they wouldn’t be too crabby. My plan worked and we were all in good spirits on the way back to the hotel. We were all so full from the awesome food, that none of us wanted to eat when we got back. We were, however, exhausted so after I wrote the post yesterday, I promptly fell asleep. Mom and Monkey had fallen asleep about an hour before me.

It was another amazing day. I can’t wait to get back to Kyoto and finish exploring that awesome city!

Japan Day 5 3 26 2014

Yesterday was so exhausting that I couldn’t form a thought when we got back to the hotel, so….I update now!

Today was Kyoto Day 1, so we needed to wake up early and get to the Tokyo train station by 7am. I knew the station was big, but I never realized exactly how big! It took me a couple of minutes to figure out where we needed to go to get our tickets for the Hikari Line of the Shinkensan. We decided to get a little later train because, again, I had no idea where the train was located and what the hell I was doing LOL Finding the train was far easier than I had thought so we had time to get some lite food items and drinks before we boarded.

Our seats were awesome, Monkey and Mom sat together – Monkey had the window seat, and I was a row in front of them by the window with no one next to me….SCORE! The train ride was very cool and FAST! It took just under 3 hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto. Along the way we went through countless little towns and I ton of pictures. 

The weather wasn’t perfect….actually it pretty much sucked. It rained almost the whole way and also while we were in Kyoto….and back. All of the pictures turned out so that made me happy. I got a pretty good glimpse of Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) and took a couple of pictures. For the most part, the icon of Japan was shrouded in rain clouds but it’s still sort of visible in the pictures.

Before we knew it, we were in Kyoto. Another bout of confusion awaited us as we exited the train but that was soon squashed with some good old fashioned walking back and forth and going in all the wrong directions. We finally found our way out of the train station, mostly because I asked how to get out, and made it to the taxi area. We were originally going to walk to the Handicraft Center but then decided that the weather sucked just enough to warrant a taxi. We were lucky enough to get a taxi driver that spoke a little English, so with my little Japanese and his little English we got to hold a bit of a conversation. 

Along the way to the Center, our driver took us through the Gion area and pointed out a Meiko!!!!! Her outfit, hair, make-up, everything was out of this world AMAZING!! If we weren’t driving I’d have snapped a picture of her. Next time we go back to Kyoto, we are going to try and get a reservation at a tea ceremony. The driver also showed us a really fabulous Shinto temple…but I  forgot the name of it now…mostly because I’m really tired.

We arrived at the Handicraft Center a little early, so we got a chance to buy a map of Kyoto and also look around at the items for sale. Finally our teacher came to get us and we were on our way to make some really awesome crafts. Today we were signed up to paint a folding fan, paint a Dorei doll, and to make a Damascene pendant. We had a blast making the crafts and talking with the teacher. She told us where some of the main sights were located and which were the must sees. I showed her a few pictures of Monkey’s art work and she was blown away. (I’m just a little proud of my little Monkey LOL)

When we were done with the crafts and the gabbing, Mom, Monkey, and I headed to to the other floors to check out what they had for sale. I found a kitana that I’m going to go back and buy (and have it shipped home). Monkey found a cute t-shirt and I bought an umbrella…because it was raining so hard and we left our umbrellas at the hotel.

Because we had woken up so early, we decided to call it a day and catch a cab to go back to the train station. After getting our tickets I realized that we hadn’t eaten anything since early in the morning…which would explain why we were getting a bit on the crabby side. We checked out a few of the kiosks before finding a little store that sold bento boxes. Monkey wanted  tonkatsu (pork cutlet) with rice, Mom wanted the tonkatsu sandwich, and I have no bloody idea which one I got…but I think it was chicken. The only items that I know for sure where the rice and the hard bolied egg. I’m guessing the meat was chicken….but I don’t want to think too much about it….

The train ride back to Tokyo seemed longer and I passed out! Thankfully I woke up before our stop at Tokyo station and was successful at waking Monkey up before we had to exit the train. She was so tired that she was a little on the green side so we navigated our way through the station (almost easily) and were soon back on the Yamanote Line headed for Ikebukuro and our hotel. 

Passing out came easy (since it was almost 9pm and we had to wake up at 4am to catch our train on Thursday….bound for Kyoto again!) 

And that leaves us to today’s adventures, which will be written up tomorrow since we got up at 4am…..

Day 4 Japan 3 25 2014

Today was all sorts of amazing. No, no rock star sightings…unfortunately. Instead the day was filled with loads of walking, seeing a plethora of animals, eating delicious foods, goofing around, buying weather appropriate shirts, and sweating.

We decided to head off to Ueno Zoo today. The weather was picture perfect…I think I got a bit of a sunburn too. The zoo was bustling when we first got there but not real busy. Since Mom has her walker we were escorted to the staff only area in front of the windows. This was perfect because the pandas were outside in their pens just walking around. They are so big and fluffy!!!!! I would have loved to watch them all day but other people wanted to take their pictures and gaze upon their awesomeness…..and we had squirrels to find!

Last time we couldn’t find the squirrels in their exhibit space. This time, however, was a go! There was one little guy running around making me and a few other people chase him around the enclosure. Finally he found something tasty to eat and settled on top of a little squirrel house. I took some really cute pictures.

While we were watching the Prairie Dogs Mom started up a conversation with a woman and her son from Australia. They were soooooo nice!!! The woman informed us that llama’s can be trained to follow their owner around and to poo in one area of a paddock. I think I may have to get a llama…..cuz that would be super bad assed!

The  rest of the zoo was pretty awesome but not interesting enough to document about. The only thing that warrants writing about is, in the small mammal house a grandma tripped over her granddaughter. She couldn’t get up on her own, but Mom was right there to help her up. I even helped a bit….she was surprised that she was getting help to stand up and thanked us profusely!! That was cool. So were the bats….OMG were they cute!!!!

Once we were done looking at the animals and helping people stand up, we decided to go to a traditional sweet shop that is right next to the zoo entrance. We had been there last year and the visit this time was just as enjoyable. The tea was great and just what we needed. I ordered the dango, anmitsu, and something that I can’t remember LOL. I did take a picture of the menu so as soon as those pictures are posted I’ll remember. LOL

Next was the shrine, which is next to the sweet shop. Last time we were here, the shrine was closed for repair. This year….OMG…it’s breathe taking! We didn’t go into the shrine to tour the inner grounds because we were all getting tired and a bit hungry. We did stop at Starbucks before we headed into the zoo (Monkey got a Vanilla Creme Lemon Frappacino….it’s really good!!!) and did have some sweets and something that I still can’t remember, but with all the walking we were doing we were getting hungry. Before we left the park we decided to walk toward the Museum and take some pictures of the few cherry trees that had flowers on them. Most of the trees are in bud now, so it’s a matter of just waiting. We rested a bit besides the huge fountain in the park before making our way back to the train station.

Since we are heading to Kyoto tomorrow on the bullet train I thought it would be good to stop and see what the Tokyo station looked like. I’m so glad that we did. That station is HUGE!!!! We wandered around a little bit before I left Mom and Monkey to rest while I went to Information to ask about reserving seats and exactly where we board the train. The clerk spoke perfect English and was super helpful.

Finally we found our way back to Ikebukuro, bought some tasty foods to eat, and lounged in the hotel room for a little while. Due to the weather being as nice as it is (sorry, not to rub it in) I needed to venture out and find some shirts…I brought mainly sweaters…which won’t cut it in this heat. Because we are going to Kyoto, I needed to find shirts that I not only liked but that also covered the tattoos…it’s a cultural thing and I want to be respectful. I found three nice ones and called it a day.

I’m exhausted and need to wake up early tomorrow morning. We’re leaving the hotel by 6:15am to get to the train in time. If I’ve forgotten anything, I’ll fill it in tomorrow.