Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 4

041017

I woke up extremely early and decided to finally go for a morning walk – it was quiet but cold however I wanted to chase that morning light. Once everyone was awake and fully packed, we split up once again with Mike, Manwai & myself dropping off our bags at Tokyo station – East Maouranchi Line. We wanted to go back to Chidori-ga-fuchi however, it was a late start (we left around 830-9AM) we wouldn’t have enough time to go back and also make it out to Mitaka for our Ghibli Museum reservation for noon.

We had to take 2 JR rails to get out to Mitaka, which took around an hour. We decided to walk from the station and it was such a nice walk over. We lined up once we got there and were let in earlier than our 12 reservation. Purchasing the ticket a month prior was one of the most stressful things to do as every 10th at 10am (Japan time) the tickets for the following month are released and they sell out like hotcakes for 1000y (if you use tour agencies – it costs a lot more but guarantees tickets). Our actual ticket was a 3 piece film strip of different clips from different movies under the Studio Ghibli banner – mine was from Howl’s moving Castle. You are however, NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE THE MUSEUM. They have a permanent collection which is filled in a room showing the different techniques they had done with the drawing and filming or movies as well as claymation. It was absolutely my favourite room of the museum especially the spinning cylinder with the robot and the birds.

The only place in the building you are allowed to take photos is when you are going to the rooftop where the giant robot statue is after you walk up the spiral staircase. The museum also features a gift shop which is always packed but filled with tempting items exclusive to the museum visit. I ended up purchasing a postcard with one of my favourite scenes from my favourite movie – Whisper of the Heart, a wooden keychain with a bell inside the bunny, a postcard that pops up to become a 3D card of the actual museum in a mario bros gameboy type of style and a mini toy of the entrance of the museum. There is also a cafe below but the line up was long so we opted to cross the street to Lawson and pick up a few items to bring back to the park behind the museum and have a little picnic – be warned – there are no garbage cans. The weather was rather nice but a little on the chillier side.

We took the Studio Ghibli bus back to the Mitaka station however it feels like its taking the long route.

We proceeded to make our way to Shinagawa and got there a little early and decided to find a little cafe called Zakkat Cafe nearby to warm up before Maricar. I ordered the peach and apricot tea (450y).

Perfect little place to warm up before heading over to the Shinagawa location for Maricar. Our guide was Ike and once we got there, we paid upfront (course A at Shinagawa – 5PM (to get sunlight to sunset to night time driving) 6000y with a trip advisor or Facebook review, showed our international drivers license and then proceeded to choose our costume for the ride. There are Mario bros characters and non-Mario cart characters or you can opt to bring your own. I dressed as Usavich ウサビッチ Usabitchi, from Usagi. Make sure to carry your international and normal drivers license with you as your drive around. There is a little pouch on the cart that can fit these licenses and as well as your cellphone and extra batteries. *NOTE* I suggest you bring extra go pro batteries if you can and also don’t start it up right away. Get use to driving the first 10 minutes and save your precious battery for the better sights along the way like the landmarks – Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, Roppongi etc considering it is about 2-3 hours of driving around.

Cameras are allowed (strap around your neck) but not allowed to shoot when driving as instructed by the guide. You can have a max of 12 per session with a guide in the back and one in the front as you will be driving with normal Tokyo traffic. Be warned now that you will be inhaling exhaust from all the carts for 2-3 hours so be prepared. They give you a quick lesson on how to operate the go kart and off you go. Turn key on, take step on brake (left foot), release handbrake, put car into Forward, press the yellow ignition lever, apply pressure to gas (right foot) and ready to go. The brake needs a little more pressure to stop more accurately. There are hazard lights for when you pull over and signal lights that you need to press the middle to cancel the signal. There is no throwing bananas allowed nor bumper cars.

The lead guide will signal to you when you will be driving in single file and when we will be driving double side-by-side. Anytime you are stopping at a red light, you will go double lines and there will be a few turns where its double turning in the same lane. The carts are rather safe for not having seatbelt or helmets and can average speeds of 60-70KM/HR. If you are doing night driving remember to dress warm. The experience is completely worth the price.

Once we finished our 2 hour adventure around town, we ordered a Uber and went to our next destination which also doubled as our accommodations for the night – Ooedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba. Once you arrive, you take off your shoes and place them in a shoe locker before going to the front desk and checking in. You receive a wristlet with your locker number and key and it acts as your credit card during your duration at the onsen. Next step, you go over to the yukata rentals and choose what design you want and your colour sash – you need to know how tall you are in CM to get a proper fitting yukata. Once you have your yukata you proceed to the change rooms and change out of your street clothes but leave on your underwear (for women, bras are optional but keep your panties on underneath). The yukata goes on with left folding under right which is shown in the signs around the locker room. Once you have gotten the yukata on, you wrap once the sash around and make a nice bow in the front then turn it around so the bow is facing the back.

Once that is completed, you can then proceed to the main area where it is somewhat themed to look like the olden days with all the dark wood paneling and lanterns everywhere. There are game stalls, arcades and food options everywhere that you pay for with your wristlet. I ordered a cold soba noodle dish.

The onsen has 2 main areas for those who plan on staying overnight to sleep – the relaxation room not he second floor with reclining couches with televisions – similar to first class seats on airplanes – this is a first come, first serve basis. There is a mixed relaxation room but also a women only one. The other sleeping area is located downstairs where they repurpose a room where they would eat into a laying down sleeping area.

Now onto the onsen itself. Once we digested our food after playing a few games, you get separated by gender and go into the spa. Once in the room, you choose a locker, grab a small and big towel and strip down. You take everything off and place it into the locker and take only the small towel with you. You enter the onsen and rinse off. If you prefer, you can do a full rinse off at the shower stalls before entering. Hair if possible should not be in the water. There are multiple baths all different temperatures. In the far left corner once you enter, there is an area with 4 laying down jets, 3-4 soaking tubs then 3 giant soaking areas. There is a mist and a dry sauna and of course a cold bath. There are also 2 big soaking areas outside and 4 are individual tubs.

My favourite part was actually the slightly colder pools as I saw myself falling asleep in them but also the whole going from hot sauna to cold bath was the best. Once we finished, we went into the shower stalls (2 westernized standing showers near the main door or the sitting stalls with mirrors) shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided for you. Once you are clean, head back into the main onsen change room and dry off and get dressed. There are also face lotions, hairbands, shower caps, toothbrushes with toothpaste already on them.

Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 2

040817

That jet lag never seems to amaze me. Woke up at 5AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Eventually everyone woke up and stated they were hungry after discussing pancakes that were too far away at a restaurant that wouldn’t be opened for another 2-3 hours. We opted for the best alternative – 7-Eleven. We grabbed some hot food as well as onigiri (my old friend who saved me the last time around in Osaka).

We hopped on the train to meet my friend Yuko at Asakusa Station – Tsubasa Station however somehow we opted to walk part of the way there that made me a little late to meeting her. I met Yuko back in 2011 when I went on a Contiki tour of Europe – 7 countries in 10 days where we sat on a coach bus together whether we liked it or not but luckily our group was the better of groups as opposed to the examples we saw interacting with other groups. She was in school when I met her and she was studying music I believe. She is now a marketing researcher.

I had chatted with Yuko for a bit prior to the trip about a festival called the Asakusa Kannon-ura Ichiyo Sakura Matsuri – 4 Chrome, Taito – She had never been to it and we wanted to attend. This courtesan parade is held on the second Saturday of April each year. It consisted of a closed off street north of the Senso-ji Temple where there would be cute Japanese children in procession as well as Geisha/ Oiran Dochu procession to follow and ending off with a drumming performance.

The Oiran Dochu Procession (おいらん道中) in the Edo period was the procession of the Oiran courtesan accompanied by young females to a client’s residence after formal invitation. The Tayu (the top ranking woman) would wear tall footwear in which they would take strides dragging their feet in figure 8 patterns while holding the shoulder of a man (their body guard) to steady her. The steps would be slow but highly exaggerated to gain attention. The Tayu were witty, self-confident and skilled in calligraphy as well as ikebana (flower arranging). The young females that accompanied the Tayu were meant to become prostitutes. The Oiran courtesans were at the highest of standards of being companions  and being entertained by them was expensive that it could put a castle into debt. Although they would be paid handsomely, the Tayu could decline an invitation.

This procession is put on by volunteers to commemorate the history of the Oirans of North Asakusa, which was the red light district of the past.

We got there rather early for opening remarks and then the first round of children came at 1045AM waving fake cherry blossom branches and also a little brass band. The next rounds of kids were suppose to come but we decided we were hungry and went on our way to venture for food. The area of Taito is actually quite charming and I really liked the feel of the streets. We walked over to Senso-ji Temple where tons of cherry blossoms and their huge row of markets lined the front of the temple that both started and end with giant red lanterns. We of course did our fortune (100y) – if you get a bad fortune you must tie it up so that they can burn the bad fortune you received away. I absolutely hate being in crowds – what is worst is touristy crowds. We had such a large group that we ended up losing partial group halfway through the walk through the market but we gathered back together. We left Yuko in charge of finding us a good place to eat for lunch. We found ourselves on the second floor at a restaurant called Owariya (1-7-1 Asakusa) that specializes in shrimp tempura and soba noodles. I ordered the Kashiwa A-Seiro with stirred chicken sauce (1,100y)

Back to the festival for the actual Geisha procession – It was actually quite slow and not as eventful as I’d hope but none the less an experience. I ended up getting pulled to the front by an older Japanese lady because she saw me with cameras and so I sat down so everyone could see over me. The procession was very intricate because a few of the geishas were wearing shoes that were 10 inch platforms and slowly they kept dragging their feet in a figure 8 pattern. There were people dressed up with fox masks on who were dancing with ornate colours and fans – that was my favourite part.

We decided to leave and skipped the drumming to grab ice cream. Not regular old ice cream but 7 levels of matcha green tea ice cream at Suzuki-en. Cassie’s high school friend who she hadn’t seen since high school – Atene joined us. Atene now lives in Yokohama and works for the government but studied architecture. We went to line up at Suzuki-en to be told we need to head to another building – their waiting room which literally was a waiting room for the extended line about a block away from the main store. Once our number was called, we were handed tickets and back we went to the main building where awaited the employees to serve you your level of choice for matcha or 4-5 other varieties of ice cream. Since we had such a large group, we all opted to get a double scoop and get each level of matcha possible. I grabbed a level 6 cone for Kanako and myself a level 3 & a level 7. My volleyball friend Kanako was in Hiroshima/Shizuoka visiting her grandparents but had a few days off to roam around so she took the train and joined us for half the day. You can definitely taste the difference in each level of matcha and in the end, I truly preferred the level 7 although it did taste a little powdery.

As a group, we decided to continue on together to Omotesando area. Slowly but surely made our way through Senso-ji temple to get to the trains and off we went. Omotesando is the high end shopping area with a lovely and large street that reminds me of Queen St West meets Yorkville in Toronto or Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. We ended up walking through Omotesando Hills, a shopping mall and residential space designed by 1995 Pritzker recipient Tadao Ando. The design has this staircase in the middle that spans 3 floors. The staircase is used for runway shows from time to time. We visited a few galleries and artist’s stores and ended up at Tokyu Plaza (designed by Hiroshi Nakamura). The entrance has a giant mirrored escalator entrance and a beautiful rooftop (which we never made it to). We took some photos before Kanako said her goodbyes and went on to meet with her other friends.

We walked over to Yoyogi park where it was jam-packed with people (it was a weekend to begin) with white cherry blossoms adorning the park especially concentrated into one area. The hanami (cherry blossom) viewing  brought people out in droves picnicking with tarps under all the trees and tons of locals and tourists basking in the white glow of the cherry blossoms. At this point, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Tokyo.

Atene’s original plan was to get us to Roppongi but with the sheer amount of people in our group and how much walking we accomplished that day (29KM), we finished off our night in the Shibuya area. We walked through Shibuya Crossing and had dinner at Tsukada No Osusume that specializes in the Miyazaki region – mangoes, chicken and miso. They had this miso jam/dip that was so flavourful and you are able to purchase as well. For the amount of drinks and food we ate, the bill came out to about 16,000y.

Of course when in Japan, you just need to try out the purikura(プリクラ) – japanese photo booths. Let me tell you, we looked all kinds of wrong and different but funny. After all the excitement of purikura, we walked over to the subway station that has a bridge up where there is a famous mural by a Japanese artist as well as clear views (as clear as a window with the crisscross wire in them can be) where you can watch the whole Shibuya Crossing play out. We called it a night after we watched people cross a few times as Yuko and Atene still had a bit to go to get home and we were all in food coma mode.

Glenn’s journey to Japan has been a trek to say the least. He arrived at 1AM after 38 hours at Chicago airport. Turns out that someone made a fake bomb and brought it on the plane (not working) but nonetheless that that person was able to make it pass security and onto the plane.