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United Business Class to Tokyo
Flying to Japan isn't so bad when you somehow snagged a world traveler bf, who has free upgrades to business class. This was my first flight to Asia, so flying business class made all the difference in the world. We had our own check-in line and we hung out in the red carpet club @ SFO. On the flight, we had complimentry champagne, wine, nuts, chocolates, grapes, jelly bellys, and filet mignon. My bf opted for the japanese meal, but I figured that 3 weeks of Japanese food would be enough for me. We had a choice of 7 movies, but unfortunately i had seen most of them. I commend United for their business class service.
We arrived @ NRT in the afternoon and were able to follow the signs to the train station. We took the Narita Express to Shinjuku station for abt $30. I recommend the Narita Express, b/c it was fast & easy. I think I was a little jet-lagged, so I took a little nap on the train.
We stayed at the brand new Hotel Sunroute Shinjuku. The hotel was convenient, as it was walking distance from the Shinjuku station. As this was a "budget trip", we opted for the "semi-double" which was $128/night. I swear that the room was only a little larger than our double bed. Jauder's favorite thing abt the hotel was the black Q-tips and my favorite thing was the free lounge area on the 2nd floor that had 2 computers w/ free internet, a printer, a tea/ coffee/ H2O machine, and a big flat screen TV. The hotel was also near McDonald's, Yoshinoya Bowl, AmPm, and some Japanese restaurants. We frequented AmPm a lot to stock up on drinks & snacks.
That night we met up w/ Jauder's dad & brother for dinner in Shinjuku. We ate at an Izakaya, a Japanese drinking establishment (think of them as restaurants w/ a lot of after work drinking), that Jauder had gone to before and loved their Hokkaido salad. We also had some oishi (tasty) yakitori and fried rice balls. It was nice of Jauder's dad to treat us to dinner. After dinner we walked around Shinjuku and checked out some of the electronic stores. My favorite thing was the hello kitty guitar, now if only they made a hello kitty piano!
Day 3 was "Jauder Work Day", which meant i was free to wander around by myself. Jauder didn't want me to be too ambitious, so instead of going to Puroland I stayed around his office near Ginza. We took the train from Shinjuku to Tokyo station, but it was a little confusing and we couldn't figure out what train to take to Tokyo station. I guess we looked very lost and a nice Japanese gentleman asked if we needed some help. He actually walked us to the correct train and took the train with us. I couldn't believe that he went out of his way to help us. I was very impressed by his English and it turns out that he's visited the US several times before. He was the first of many, who helped us on our trip.
Once we got to the Tokyo station, Jauder's office was within walking distance. I was very excited to see a McDonald's, so I started my morning off with a sausage Mcmuffin. Little did I know that McD's would be my favorite resting place during the trip. Of course it rained that day, but it didn't stop me from hitting up all the shops. Ginza reminded me of shopping on 5th ave in NYC. There were a lot of huge department stores and all of my fave shops, Tiffany's, Coach, Dior, Mikimoto & LV. I really didn't end up buying anything, b/c everything was really expensive. Everything was about $100 more over there. Coach is really popular over there, even though the bags there range from $300+. Every Japanese woman had their designer purse in hand, so i felt very inadequate w/ my $12 Old Navy bag. Someone had told me about Japanese dept stores having basements full of food, so I ended up in the basement of Matsuya, a Japanese dept store, and bought some yakitori and chicken hearts on a stick. There was all this food, but I was confused on where people ate it. There were no tables or chairs anywhere, so I ended up taking the food to McD's.
Even though it was raining, I wanted to make it to the Imperial Palace. On the way to the palace, I walked around Tokyo station and through the Peninsula Hotel. At the Tokyo station I found the cutest Hello Kitty store! They had Hello Kitty flowers in the front and lots of Hello Kitty stuff in the back. I stopped at the Peninsula Hotel to get out of the rain and to use their bathroom. I definitely recommend this hotel, if you can afford $450+/night. Check out http://tokyo.peninsula.com/ . I finally made it to the Imperial Palace in the pouring rain. The gardens are closed on Monday, but I took a picture of the outside.
Later that day, I met up w/ Jauder, his brother, and father. We had dinner at an all you can eat Japanese BBQ place in Shinjuku. It was only $30 per person, but Jauder didn't like the quality of the food. The most exciting part of the meal was the horse sashimi w/ a raw egg in the middle. Let me tell you the only thing grosser than horsemeat is raw horsemeat. I just kept on thinking about my My Little Ponies. Did I mention that Jauder's dad had no problems eating it?!!!
Tsukiji Fish Market~
I agreed to go to the Tsukiji market with Jauder, his brother, and father even though it opens @ the crack of dawn and i hate fish. It ended up being really neat to see all the fresh seafood. We went to the auction room where they sell all frozen tuna. The tuna was about as large as i am. The funniest thing was the pre-seasoned lobsters. The lobsters were still alive and covered in seasoning. I recommend checking out the fish market, but make sure you wear dirty closed toe shoes. I was the only one stupid enough to wear flip-flops and my feet ended up covered in fish guts. Oh, and make sure you watch out for all the guys on the crazy forklifts.
Right next to the Tsukiji is a bunch of sushi places, where you can try the fresh fish for breakfast. Jauder & his fam went to Daiwa Sushi, but weren't impressed. I'm not sure if it's b/c they're food snobs, but there was a whole line waiting to get into the sushi joint. After seeing all that dead fish, I stuck w/ my granola bar for breakfast.
After the Tsukiji Fish Market, Jauder, his dad, his bro & I wanted to go to the Hama Rikyu Garden and take a boat to Asakusa, but the gardens weren't open yet so we skipped the gardens and took the subway to Asakusa.
I really liked Asakusa, b/c you go through the Kaminarimon gate w/ the big red lantern and then you get to shop all the way down Nakamise Street until you get to the Sensoji temple. I was totally overwhelmed by all the souvenir shops. It was the first Japanese souvenir shopping I got to do
on our trip, so I had no idea where to start. If you're not into cell phone charms, then there's lots of tasty Japanese treats including rice crackers, sweet bread, and little cakes.
For lunch Jauder's dad treated us to some amazing tempura soba at Namiki Yabu Soba this wonderful tempura soba place that was close to Asakusa.
After lunch we checked out Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo. We went to Yodobashi, which was like Fry's on crack. It had everything, toys, cameras, shampoo, electronic pianos, and a billion vending machines. Tokyo definitely takes shopping to the next level.
We planned to take a 3 day trip to Hakone, but since it's an ideal wkd trip from Tokyo we were forced to go during the week due to availability and our pocket books. We took a train to Hakone and didn't see Mt Fuji that day or any day of our trip due to the rain. I was too cheap to pay the extra $15 for the Romance Car, so there was no romance either. We made it to Gora for lunch so we walked in the rain to the Gyoza Center, but that was closed so we ate at a little japanese restaurant near the Gora station. The waitress spoke Mandarin, so we didn't have any problems ordering. I had the typical tempura udon.
With the bad weather we decided to check-in to the ryokan, so we took the train from Gora to the Odawara Station. We got completely lost in the rain w/ no taxis in sight due to Japanese Guest Houses telling us to go to the Kowakudani bus stop when the ryokan is at the Kowakudani ONSEN bus stop. Trust me there's a difference. We ended up enlisting the entire Hakone post office to help us, which resulted in me carrying around a piece of paper that either said, "we want to go to Kowakudani", or "we're a bunch of stupid tourists" in Japanese. I had faith in my fellow countrymen, so we finally made it to the Mikawaya Ryokan. This place was definitely worth the trip. It was the most expensive place ($150/night/per person) that we stayed at during our trip and my favorite. When we got to the bottom of the driveway a guy was there to greet us w/ an umbrella and he took our bags. An English speaking lady gave us a tour of the inn and showed us to our room. We had a large tatami mat room w/a separate seating area and private bathroom. We were immediately served w/ tea and mochi that I regret not buying boxes of.
This place had amazing hot spring baths that I took advantage of right away. This was my first time in a shared bath, which was a little unnerving considering I'm the girl at the gym who dresses in the bathroom stall. I love baths, so I just kept to myself and sat in the corner of the bath. I let the hot water wash away any insecurities until I had to get out of the bath.
The dinner was fabulous and probably Jauder's favorite part. We were served several courses of beautiful Japanese dishes in our room by a little old lady. She waited on us for every meal during our stay and didn't speak a word of English, but Jauder seemed to figure out what she was saying. Dinner and breakfast were included in the hotel rate, so it really wasn't that expensive. For breakfast, we were given the option of western or Japanese, so Jauder always chose Japanese and I chose western. My breakfasts included fruit, scrambled eggs, ham, thick toast, and salad. I got a kick out of them bringing my own personal toaster to the room.
I promise not to write this much on every hotel, but this place was definitely worth it and I hope to come back someday. Check out http://www.hakone-mikawaya.com/90en/data.htm
Puroland was the highlight of my trip. It was basically Hello Kitty Disneyland indoors. Anyone who was close to my age had a kid with them, but that didn't deter me from having fun. We went on the hello kitty boatride, which was like "It's a Small World", the digimon ride, and watched the Hello Kitty Nutcracker. The Nutcracker was like a full-on musical, unlike the short 20 minute shows Disney has. It was weird seeing Japanese girls dressing up in blonde wigs. The scarriest thing was the chorus line that had hello kitty heads on the back of their heads, so everytime you saw the girls' backsides you would see hello kitty. Also, all the food at Puroland was shaped as hello kitty. I had a fabulous time, but I'm also a hello kitty freak. It's easy to get to by train and you walk from the train station to the park, but it is a 40 minute train ride outside of Tokyo.http://www.puroland.co.jp/english/welcome.html
For dinner we ate at...Gompachi, a popular new restaurant. Inside, it resembles the set of a samurai movie; appropriately, the food is old-fashioned Japanese home cooking (with English menus). The toro tuna, chicken wings, and maitake mushrooms arrive grilled on skewers, the tofu and soba are made on the premises, and all are served on thick, earthenware plates. This place looked like the inside of one of the Kill Bill movie sets. I will say it was a little touristy, since the majority of the clientele was caucasian but that didn't bother me at all. In the front, you could watch the guy making noodles, which was neat. They also had a lot of good japanese cocktails, which is basically american cocktails w/ soju. Checkout the website. They also have a location in Beverly Hills that I haven't gone to, but it's where the old Ed Debevic's was on restaurant row.
Harajuku & Omote Sando~
I wished we had more time in Hiroshima and Miyajima, but we alloted only 2 days. We took the shinkansen from Tokyo station to Hiroshima at 6am, spent the day in Hiroshima at the Konishi Koi farm, left in the afternoon to Miyajima, spent the night, then took the ferry back to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial park, and then caught a train to Kyoto.
I am very proud to be 1/2 japanese, so I made it a point to visit my family roots in japan. My jiichan's cousin owns a koi farm and shop in Hiroshima. Jiichan means grandpa in Japanese. We contacted my relatives in Japan and they gave us a tour of the shop and farm. The shop was within the city, but the farm was out in the more rural part of Hiroshima. The koi were humongous. They even have a pet koi that comes up to the side and sucks on your finger. The farm was really neat to see. They have outdoor ponds where the eggs are buried and lots of fish inside the stockponds.
I personally was happy that we went to visit my relatives, b/c there is even a Konishi graveyard that i didn't know about. It's close to the farm and I had the opportunity to pay respects to my ancestors.
Miyajima is a small touristy island near Hiroshima. Auntie Yumiko told me she would go there as a child, so I thought we should go check it out. We took a short ferry ride from Hiroshima to Miyajima and were greeted by very aggressive deer. We hardly were out of the ferry station when a deer started eating Jauder's map. It was raining, but when we arrived a van picked us up from the Momiji-so ryokan. The ryokan was more of a budget ryokan, but it was nice, clean, and cheap. It was located in the middle of the park at the foot of Mt. Misen, which was weird and scarry when i later had to walk by all the killer deer. Besides the largest wooden spoon, Miyajima is famous for it's large torii gate. This torii is classified as part of the famous Three Views of Japan. We researched the tides, so that we timed the pictures just right. Jauder took pictures at dusk during low tide and at sunrise the next day. At low tide you can walk up to the torii, but at high tide the whole area is covered by water.
On day 11, we walked up Mt Misen. There's a ropeway which takes you part of the way and then you have to hike up the rest. I definitely recommend the ropeway, but I'm not sure I would hike up that mountain again. It was hot and it was our 11th day of walking, so we were definitely miserable and tired. We were really sad when we saw a Japanese lady in a dress w/ heels and a parasol prance right by us.
After our big hike, we checked out the Itsukushima shrine, which the torii gate is a part of. There happened to be a wedding while we were there, which was really neat. The bride had a beautiful white kimono on. We also walked through the town and looked at all the shops and restaurants. Jauder had 2 huge oysters that they were selling outside. Oysters are grown in Hiroshima, but not available till Oyster season in February.
Miyajima was one of the highlights of our trip, but we had to make it back to Hiroshima so we could see the A-bomb memorial. It was definitely very sad visiting the A-bomb dome and the Peace Memorial Park and museum. My family is from Hiroshima , but fortunately they were far enough away that they were not hurt by the bomb. The government building near the epicenter of the explosion was preserved, as a visual reminder of the damage. Within the park there were some memorials set-up where people left flowers and 1000 origami cranes. The museum was very interesting and informative. The most disturbing part of the museum was these life-size wax figures that were burnt to show the effects of the bomb on the human flesh. Basically, the radiation from the bomb melted everything.
We left Hiroshima on a sad note, but were able to fill our tummies with really good okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza). Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is really good, b/c it has yakisoba noodles compared to Osaka style that doesn’t have noodles. I wouldn’t have normally liked it with all the cabbage, but we sat next to a bunch of Australian students who were taking Japanese and their teacher ordered mine with out veggies. It was pretty sad that these Australian high school kids knew more Japanese than I did.