Saturday in Tokyo

It must have been the continued adjustment my body was making to the time-zone change because I managed to wake up around 4 this morning wide-awake. Well maybe not “wide-awake” since I did manage to fall back asleep (but only with a lot of difficulty and waking Tim up in the process). The second-time around, at about 8 am I think, we did actually get up. We showered in our bathroom that was only barely big enough to take one step forward or one step to the side, making toweling off particularly tricky, and when we stepped out, we rushed to shut the door behind us for fear that the steam from the shower would set off the fire alarm as we had been warned several times it might.

So, before stepping out of our hotel, we’d managed not to bruise ourselves too much while toweling off nor set off the fire alarms. Success. The next task was finding breakfast. The hotel breakfast was about $11 per person but didn’t look all that appetizing. We’d heard you could buy little rice balls/cakes stuffed with different things and wrapped in nori sheets for about $1 a piece at the 7-11, so we decided to make that our breakfast.

With our mystery rice cakes in hand, we set off for a place to eat. Fortunately, not far from us was a small park where we could sit (evidently it is taboo for the Japanese to walk and eat). After breakfast, we then discovered a mysterious lack of trash cans in the area. The only thing we managed to find were trash cans placed next to vending machines, but those were specifically for cans and bottles. So, we hauled our trash around for awhile until we found a place to ditch it. We would discover in the following days that today wasn’t a one-off. Tokyo really doesn’t use trash cans, but more on that another time.

*Just a reminder, as we said in the last post, we are trying out new picture options. Again, click on the picture to see a bigger version and to read the caption.

Our first destination in Tokyo was to see the famous Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo.

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The crowds swarming outside of the first gate gave Tim pause, but of course, I insisted we dive into the fray.

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We were a bit surprised to see the gauntlet of tourist shops lining the street before you reached the temple, but then again, this is exactly how it was visiting the the monastery at Mont St. Michel in France.

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In the crowd, I noticed a group of people clamoring to one wall and taking pictures. I managed to work my way over there to discover a float full of geishas.

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I took an awesome video of the geishas playing their instruments and of a dragon snaking his way through a crowd, but the new blog site is not having it.

Anyways, after the impromptu performance, we finally made our way to the temple. Since we aren’t Buddhist or speak Japanese, most of the significance of our surroundings were lost on us. However, I did (thanks to a tip from our old French tutor) hop in line for a temple stamp book so that I could get my first “stamp.” The stamp is a tradition that began with people making pilgrimages from temple to temple. A person, would ask to meet with the head monk, who if available would meet them and sign (in calligraphy) their pilgrimage book. If they weren’t there, you might only get a stamp to prove that you’d at least been to the temple or shrine. Since then, it has evolved as a sort of souvenir/money making scheme for the temples.

First stamp in hand, we headed over to the National Museum to check out some of Japan’s cultural artifacts.

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“The 12 Heavenly Generals” – statues which formerly stood guard outside of a Buddhist temple.

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What do you do with a bow that size?

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Traditional samurai saddle and stirrups.

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I thought this was man’s robe/kimono.  It turns out it was just a robe the samurai worn under his armor. I would have worn that around the house!

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The armor on the left is super cool, and kind of reminds me of Shredder from TMNT. The one on the right….why would you want flabby old man-boob armor? I’m struggling with that one.

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A collection of kimonos donated from a kabuki theater troop. It was really the theater costumes which helped launch the popularity of such bright and ornately designed kimonos.

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This vase was made by a father and son, and it was presented at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873, which was Japan’s first time participating as a “modern” nation.

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An example of Japanese dolls, which play a large role in the culture. On the 3rd day of the 3rd month, there is the “Peach Blossom Festival,” which is a time to put out the hina dolls. It is believed that you can “purify” yourself by transferring “wrongdoings” and “défilements” to the dolls. The dolls are also used as protective charms for children.

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I have no explanation…

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These dolls were from Kyoto (circa. 1700), and based on the quality of the dolls and outfits, it is thought they belonged to a wealthy family. Having expensive and elaborately dressed dolls became a way of displaying your wealth, and it became so out of control that the government had to set a limit on their size (no dolls over 24 cm tall).

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I bet you didn’t look at this at guess what it is. It is an 18th century sake (rice wine) cask.

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The picture isn’t that great, but no museum tour would be complete without a couple of blades from samurai swords.

Following the museum, we stepped out for a little bit of nature in the city.

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After the museum and the adjacent park (see above), we wandered around Tokyo which was a contrast of cuteness (like the little lantern pig below) to modern cities, to Buddhist temples tucked around everywhere.

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The 13-year old girl in me really wanted to buy this.

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The Japanese are all about horticulture, and when it comes to trees, it is very common to see bamboo poles strung up/staked around trees to support the limbs or to encourage the tree limbs to follow a certain shape.

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At some point, we stumbled onto a park/temple complex where there was street food in every direction. Tim, of course, could resist. I was able to resist until I saw a giant cucumber on a stick.

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Yet again, we find ourselves living a MadLibs game. Pick a noun. How about cucumber? Ok, another noun. Um, stick? Ok, now pick a proper noun. Easy, Japan. Now, an adjective…how about Buddhist? Sure. Now a verb. Eating! Another verb. Ok, standing. Finally, one more noun. Ok, temple. Now, here is your MadLibs caption: That time Jess was standing in front of a Buddhist temple eating a cucumber on a stick in Japan.

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It was a little early in the month, but we did one tree in bloom.

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Skyscrapers and bonsai trees. I’d say we’re in Tokyo. I’m sure it is also much prettier when the grass isn’t dead.

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The Tokyo Imperial Palace

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Following the palace, we ended the day with dinner and sake. We settled on a sushi restaurant. We would discover in Japan that the sushi rolls we are used to in the US don’t really exist here. Instead, most everything is served as a slice of raw fish with rice. Our dish included shrimp (cooked), clam (cooked I think?), squid (also cooked), a couple of kinds of white fish (raw), some raw tuna and salmon, and I’m not sure what else. Some of the textures were interesting, but overall it was good.

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Then I made the mistake of ordering dessert. It was worse than any of the sushi I’d just eaten! It was ice cream and caramel sauce but served with some sort of chewy, slick, gelatinous balls. Who knew it’d be the dessert I would regret eating?

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