As my preface post eons ago suggested we might, we went to Japan! I have an ABSURD amount of photos as a result, and I imagine I might get to posting everything I’d want to share by sometime in July, if I’m lucky. Work is super busy right now, and the idea of editing photos and such after 8-10 hours a day sitting at a computer is less than appealing, so the turnaround is going to lag a bit. Yesterday I did take the time to organize all the photos into cities and places and themes, though, so I can start with our first stop: Tokyo. This was the sign that greeted us at the airport – a cat pawing a touchscreen phone to find sushi. Few places can rival my kitty love as Japan can, and that was clear from moment #1.
Thanks to an amazing recommendation from a work colleague, we got the Hyatt credit card in the time leading up to the trip, and as a result we started our journey with two (FREE!) nights in the Park Hyatt Tokyo – for us the utter lap of luxury, and indeed the very same hotel that is featured in Lost in Translation. I’ve had enough scary hostel experiences that I avoid true “hostels” as an older and wiser/scared straight traveller, but I tend more towards the small family-run hotels (maybe 2-3 stars) and airBNB options than towards 4 star Glamour. They have a “lounge” on the 41st floor where the whole ceiling is a skylight. View from our room on the 44th floor.
Add the star treatment we were getting to the jet lag I was experiencing, and the first day of our trip felt like an out-of-body experience, truly.
We began our explorations in Harajuku on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Which featured, among other things:
My first sakura manhole cover (squeeeee!)
Plenty of costumed people-watching (such insane shoe choices!), including a high percentage of Japanese people honoring Ireland with themed clothing and face paint (it was March 15th)…and a street full of flags to indicate the brotherhood between countries.
Seeing the tiny robot “Pepper” (of TED Talks fame) in action at its home store.
A trip to the Ota Museum, which is dedicated to Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. I bought a book all in Japanese which shows the process of making a woodblock print…and the images are enough to thrill me, even though I can’t read a single WORD.
Our first shrine visit (Meiji Jingu). Their entrance is flanked by a zillion sake barrels, all with great graphics.
Extravagant, restorative tea on the avenue…an awesome, hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant for dinner…a trip to Daiso, the 100 yen store…so many things. And I think I took about 7 photos total, most of which are above. I was slow to get started at the outset of the trip, where photos are concerned.
But then on day 2 we returned to the shrine to see it at a more tranquil moment, and to get our Goshuinchou (Shrine/Temple stamp book), which we had failed to do on day 1. Instead of taking the shuttle to the train station and taking the metro to Harajuku, we just meandered through the neighborhood, giving me a chance to do rubbings of multiple sizes of sakura manhole covers (double/triple squeeee!), and giving us a chance to eat unusual foods from convenience stores and wander through the park before heading off to other neighborhoods of interest. Here’s a short time-lapse photo/video Alex took of me doing rubbings.
We used my fairly good navigational skills to get back to the shrine, since the park signs weren’t going to help us out at all.
There was a traditional wedding happening on day 2 at the shrine!
All told I’d estimate we went to somewhere between 15-20 shrines and temples throughout Japan, so I think they will get their own post(s) in future.
We went to Ginza, where we dropped a pretty penny in the stationery store – here is a photo of me petting the huge collection of washi paper they had, which has its own FLOOR (the store was five stories of papers and related goodies). If I lived in Japan, I would have 137 pen-pals, just to use all the stationery I would feel compelled to buy.
They also had lovely design elements on streets and buildings…and we lunched at a “French” cafe (or the Japanese ideal of one).
We went to a neighborhood with few other foreigners in the streets, to visit the Origami Museum and marvel at their paper store and paper studio and projects.
I held the elevator for a pod of little old Japanese ladies (I think origami is the hobby of choice for female elders, rather than knitting), and she gifted me a little origami rabbit as a thank you.
We went to a huge department store to visit their Cat Cafe, only to find out it was more of a pet store where could pay a nominal fee and hang with the kitties (not a “traditional” cat cafe, and YES, that is a thing in Japan). Not a happy kitchen kitty.
We ended the night at the Robot Restaurant/Revue and that experience was so crazy that it warrants its own post, coming soon.