Since 1995, “Travel & Leisure” magazine has done an annual survey of travelers to find the best city in the world for tourists. And, for the second year in-a-row, Kyoto, Japan has been ranked the world’s best city. Last May, my family and I went there again, (Click here to see my post and photos […]
As we strolled through rolling hills of beautiful ajisai (hydrangea), I shared one of my favorite songs with Mao, MJS (my Japanese sister). Luckily, we were able to listen to Continue reading
A late-night sledding adventure on a deserted hill…with a good friend…on sleds made of cardboard boxes – life is good!
For the second week in a row, we had record breaking snowfall. And to have two major snow events one week apart in Tokyo is pretty incredible. Put that together with two women (one from Hawaii and the other from Louisiana), and too many days stuck inside and some craziness is bound to occur.
During the first snow storm, we saw parents with small children and children of all ages pulling sleds, laundry baskets , etc headed to the hill in back of our apartment building. My friend, L and I laughed about the possibility of waiting until late at night and going sledding after all the kids were gone. Each of us even had potential “sleds”…cardboard boxes. But 2 days passed, the snowy hill began showing patches of grass and we never followed through.
I could hardly believe it when 4 days later, weather forecasters were again predicting snow. I told my friend, “this time we HAVE to do it!” She agreed and as the day grew closer, they again predicted record- breaking snowfall. On the day the great second snowstorm, I reminded her, and it was a “go.” My husband began engineering my Zappo’s
box, which I must say ended up pretty darn spiffy! Written on my sled and inspired by the Olympics, was “Team USA,” quite fitting, I thought. He then covered the entire cardboard box, I mean “sled,” with clear packing tape to make it “race” down the hill faster.
Ok, by this time I am starting to refer to the upcoming sledding event as “the Luge” (in keeping with the Olympics theme). The final touches were the slight upturn of a curl on the front of the sled and the center-mounted rope to keep the front of the sled from digging in the snow (it also helped to keep the rider on the sled). The hour was approaching so I sent my friend a 30- minute heads up notice and her response was, “so you are serious?”
I’m not sure why she thought I wasn’t serious…maybe because I am 32 years older, a grandmother and old enough to be her mother for sure. But I WAS serious! So I told her I would be there to pick her up in 10 minutes. Since she hadn’t thought I was serious, she didn’t have time to get her sled “designed and engineered,” but her “priority mail” box looked like it would work.
Putting on layers and layers of clothes is hard work. By the time I finished I could barely move my arms and legs and felt like the “Michelin Man” in those tire commercials! I went downstairs with my hubby to pick up L, and we were off. Wow, I forgot how hard it was to walk in deep snow. Luckily, my husband blazed a trail and we followed. The wind was incredible and I then remembered a friend telling me that Japanese forecasters had predicted typhoon-like winds for this evening. Uh oh.
The wind was blowing the snow so hard that it sounded like sleet hitting the hood of my coat. We rounded a building a woo-hoo, we had the whole hill to ourselves! At first we couldn’t make the sleds move down the hill because the snow was too deep, so we walked up and down and pulled the sled through the snow and made our own luge track.
We got the hang of the sleds and made it work! I doubt we reached the 80+ mph that the Olympic Luge athletes did, but we had fun. And trooping through the snow, on the way back home, we made snow angels! Life is good!
Our friends, L and K (owners of Joey the smiling bilingual terrier), invited us on a day trip to Kamakura to see the fall foliage. L told us that she had seen an article about the beautiful fall foliage in that area and so we decided to take the 52 mile train trip and also see the Great Buddha, which is the largest outdoor Buddha in Japan.
We took the train from Fussa and arrived at Hase station via electric streetcar. The area was really quaint with various small traditional shops selling Japanese food/snacks, t-shirts, kimonos/obis and a variety of souvenirs. We veered down a side street where we visited a large music box store and indulged in ice cream cones at a little stand outside the store. Continuing down the street, we found a temple at the end of the street, but decided not to go in. Near the temple we saw a really interesting tree with huge bumps up and down the trunk and some of the branches appeared to be hollow.
As we got a better view is the trees on the hillsides, we realized that we were too early. The Kamakura area is located SSE of Tokyo near Sagami Bay and so was a few weeks behind the Fussa area in terms of fall foliage. We decided that we would come back next year for leaf changing, but would focus on taking in the town itself and seeing Buddha.
The Great Buddha, also known as “Daibutsu,” was cast in bronze in 1252 and stands 43.8 feet tall. It was originally housed inside a temple, until the temple was washed away by a tsunami. Daibutsu has set outside ever since. The statue was really impressive and even had a passageway and staircase which allowed viewing of the inside of the Buddha. The winding staircase was incredibly narrow and the entryway was only about 5 feet high.
We had a wonderful lunch at a traditional Japanese (take your shoes off and sit on the floor) cafe and on the way back to the train station our friends spotted an octopus cracker shop. They wanted to try this crunchy-bits-of-dried-octopus pressed into a large, thin, almost translucent cracker. We had no such desire, but I did end up taking a bite…and it was ok…not delicious, but definitely ok.
On our return trip, I saw my first double-decker train. We decided to pay the additional small fee to ride on the upper level and be guaranteed a seat. It was much quieter, more comfortable and an attendant came around offering drinks, chips, etc much like a flight attendant on an airplane. Fun day, interesting trip, great friends!
How do you end a first-ever six week stay in Japan? It was Maddie’s last week here with us and as the “last hurrah” we took a night flight over Tokyo. The weather had been uncooperative, causing the pilot to cancel on two previous nights, but oh how fortunate that turned out to be. In our pre-flight briefing, Continue reading
Exploring Fussa by bike or on foot had been high on our priority list since arriving in Japan in December. The previous Sunday we conducted a 6 mile practice run since we hadn’t ridden our bikes in 9 months or so and we definitely are out of shape. Also, exploring Fussa would entail 4 miles just getting from home to the gate and back. Checking the weather, not just for rain/wind/temperature but also for air quality – levels of PM (particulate matter) and yellow sand – we chose Saturday for our adventure.
Having received “Grace” tattoos Continue reading
The final stop on our tour was Odaiba, a man-made island just over the Rainbow Bridge from Tokyo built in the mid 1800s to protect Tokyo. The bridge was completed in 1993 and is named for the many brightly colored lights that illuminate the bridge at night. The island has interesting attractions and shopping venues.
We crossed over the Rainbow Bridge in our tour bus on the expressway. But you can also walk, ride the train, or ride over the bridge on a regular (not expressway) road. We couldn’t help noticing a large futuristic-looking building with the sphere/globe built near the top of the building, and were told this was the corporate headquarters of Fuji Television. Also of note was an extremely large Ferris Wheel, 115 meters tall (377 ft) probably the largest one I have ever seen. Each car of the ferris wheel holds 6 people and it takes 15 minutes for the wheel to make one complete revolution.
We visited the Toyota Mega Web which contained a showroom with different models of Toyotas including a very tiny one-person car and some really unique cars designed to accommodate individuals with disabilities. We also saw a demonstration of a kind of individual, stand up transport device that spectators could try out. I would have loved to try, but not knowing Japanese and so, unable to follow the verbal directions, I might have found myself in Tokyo Harbor. So I just settled for sitting in the one person car. Finally we visited Venus Fort, an upscale shopping mall, designed with an Italian theme. The ceilings were painted like the sky so that you had the feeling you were walking the streets of Rome! Not only was the decor incredible, but we were there in time to view the “light show” that occurs several times a day – it was definitely unique. We had a wonderful lunch at an little Italian cafe and then headed back to the bus. Next adventure – Mt. Takao Firewalking Ceremony.
As Eric and I boarded the tour bus, I excitedly asked our tour guide, Demi-san, “How far is it to Tokyo?” I immediately regretted asking THAT question for two reasons. First, it wasn’t the brightest question as technically, we live in Tokyo. It’s just so large and spread out that it doesn’t FEEL like we live in Tokyo (especially now that I have been to Tokyo proper). Secondly, I had flash backs to me asking my parents and my daughters asking me, “How long till we get there?”. At least the “how long?” part was a better choice of words that “how far?” From Yokota Air Base to our destination in Tokyo was about 28 miles, however it took 1.5 hours to get there. That is why, here, people use time rather than miles to convey distance.
So yes, I was very excited (Eric refers to it as “pinging”) about our first visit to Tokyo (proper). We did take the “expressway” although there wasn’t much “express” involved…at least for busses, cars, trucks, vans, etc. Motorcycles however, have the right of way, and zoomed in and out and between our bus and trucks/busses/cars in the next lane. I just don’t think Eric and I are cut out for motorcycle riding in Japan. We kept Demi-san busy asking questions about the sights along the way. We saw a horse racing stadium and buildings with familiar names like Epson, Sharp, Conrad, etc
As we neared Tokyo (about 45 minutes from our destination), the expressway seemed to close in on us and it felt like we were running a gauntlet. Apartment buildings right next to the road loomed on either side and the further we drove, the higher these buildings rose. Many balconies had laundry hung out which is a rather common sight in Japan. We passed an orange radio tower looking structure (the Tokyo Tower I’m told) and Demi-san said that it used to be the tallest structure in Japan until the Tokyo Sky Tree was erected. The Sky Tree, at over 600 meters tall is twice as tall as the Tokyo Tower. It is a major tourist attraction and I think it costs about 5000 yen (about $50) to go all the way to the top! We were told we would get a glimpse of the Sky Tree at Asakusa and again when we took our River Cruise.
Spying a small river/canal along the side of the “expressway”, I asked the name and found out that this was actually what remained of the “outer moat” which surrounded the Edo Castle in the 600’s. Demi-san said that the “inner moat” is still in existence and surrounds the Imperial Palace (site of the original Edo Castle). Although we didn’t get to see the inner moat or the Imperial Palace on this trip, I did get to see my first real moat and the Imperial Palace is definitely on my “to see” list!
Our first stop was the Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. During the Edo period, this area was known for kabuki theaters and also it’s red light district! We arrived at the entrance to the temple, Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon) at about 10 a.m. and even that early it was very crowded. The gate itself is made of vermillion lacquer and has a huge lantern , hanging in the middle over the walkway. The lantern was donated by the founder of Panasonic. The lantern itself is huge, 13 ft tall and weighing 1500 pounds, which is why Eric could only hold it up for a few seconds!
On either side of the lantern are statues of the god of wind and the god of thunder. After going through the gate, we arrived on Nakamise Avenue which consisted of arcade style sales booths on each side of the street stretching for several (what we would think of as) blocks, selling fans, kimonos, various kinds of Japanese sweets, shoes, getas. socks, wall hangings, keychains, etc. The line of booths on each side of the street were decorated with limbs of delicate pink artificial (cherry?) blossoms.
At the end of the arcade was a second gate which led to the Sensoji temple. To the left of the temple stood a tall pagoda and to the left were gravesites. In the courtyard area was a round covered structure where incense was burning. Many burning sticks of incense were placed in sand and believers would wave the incense smoke toward themselves. Between the gravesites and the incense structure was a fountain with dragon shaped spigots spewing out water. Long handled aluminum (?) cups were available to catch the water and some sipped the water out of the cup and others dipped their fingers in the cup. I am not sure of the significance of this ritual.
We approached the temple and climbed the stairs to the entrance of the main hall. There was a station for visitors to drop a few coins in and say a prayer. I noticed that the people were not clapping their hands twice before and after their prayer as we have often seen at other temples/shrines. This may be a difference between Buddhist and Shinto rituals, I am just not sure. We entered the mail hall with its ornate decor. There were paintings on the ceilings and what I would call the “altar” area was almost all gold with the very center area in red with gold lanterns, etc. Everyone was taking pictures of this area.
After we visited the temple we set out to walk as much of the area as possible in the hour that we had left before meeting up with our tour group. We caught a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree and saw kimono shops, rickshaws, cafes and restaurants with food we neither recognized or could pronounce and the ever-popular-in-Japan “Sushi Go
Round” where various types of Sushi travel down a conveyor belt past the customers booths/tables and you just grab what you want off the conveyor
belt. Prices of each type of sushi are indicated by the color of the plate. At the end of the meal, they look at your empty plates and add up the total – and
that’s what you pay!
I will continue our Tokyo travel report next time with our experiences on the Sumida river cruise and our Hama-rikyu Gardens adventure where Eric vowed never to drink green tea again!