Our final days in Tokyo, Japan

We arrived back at our Tokyo hotel, the Hotel Niwa, mid-afternoon on Thursday. Settled in then headed out to revisit the Kagurazaka area and find dinner.

Friday morning we got out of town and IMG_2416headed toward Mt Fugi. There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo, but we like getting out of town, and we hoped to see Mt. Fugi. Thanks the the public transportation feature of Google Maps (I know there is a blog about that in the future) we planned our Metro and rail journey without a hitch.

Our destination was Kawaguchiko Station, and Kawaguchiko lake. Google maps lays out the trains and stations, estimates the time, and at the bottom tells you the price. The price is important because if you buy your ticket from a vending machine you need to know what amount the ticket needs to be, it’s all there in Google Maps.

I was hoping for a quiet mountain village, but not to be, Kawaguchiko must be the destination for half of the tour busses in Japan, and it is the staging point for groups hiking on Fuji. And since the lake sits downhill from the train station you can’t see Fugi from the lake. We ate lunch at an Indian resturant, we were the only people there, all the other places were crowded; curry is always a good choice so we ate well.

The train we took down the mountain was such a treat, a fully restored vintage train, with a wooden interior, freindly staff, and hopefully views of the mountain. Fuji, like Mt Denali in Alaska, has a reputation for hiding from visitors behind clouds; a reputation it lived up to when we were there, none of those pristine vistas one sees in guide books. Yet it was a memorable trip, and we did get a glimps of the mountain.IMG_2380

Saturday and Sunday we spent with Saori, doing some shopping, eating and visiting the Tokyo National Museum. I had to find Obi belts to go with the Kimonos that I bought in Kyoto.

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Monday night, Saori and Dijiro drove us to the Tokyo waterfront, a huge mall. We ate then wandered along the park taking in the Rainbow Bridge and the city lights of Tokyo. There are three Statues of Liberty from France in the world: New York City, Paris, and one that was given to Tokyo by the French.

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Our last night in Japan

Tuesday we flew home, it is good to be back, but a piece of my heart stayed with Saori and her beautiful country; I am sure we will return

 

Tokyo, off to a grand start 

Thursday morning, Tokyo. We arrived Monday and our friend Saori welcomed us at the airport. We picked up our Japan Rail pass, smooth as it could be, found our Pocket WiFi, then headed for the Narita Express.
Narita Airport is almost 90 minutes from Tokyo, it was worth the ride, we saw our first rice paddies and a lot of the countryside. The weather matched the forecast, hot and humid, but really it did not bother us much at all. It took us only 20 hours from the time Uber picked us up at home until we arrived at the Hotel Niwa. We rode in a car, a bus, light rail, airplane, train, and subway. A quick change of clothes, brushed our teeth, then off to meet Saori’s parents for dinner.

We have looked forward to meeting them for some time, Saori has become such a part of our life since she lived with us seven years ago. They took us to a Japanese BBQ in the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, for you Mariners fans, Ichiro played there. We had the meal I had a been waiting for, thin sliced meats, vegetables, all self-cooked on your individual BBQ at the table. 

Tuesday, in typical brilliance, we picked the hottest, most humid day of the week to walk 20,000 Fitbit steps. The plan was to visit the Imperial Garden and Palace, but it was closed, so we walked to Ginza. Ginza is like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, lots of nice things, but even with the Yen as favorable as it is for us now, really expensive.

The Kaguruzaka neighborhood hosts the French embassy, we found a restaurant owned by a Frenchman, with French food. The menu was in Japanese and French, so we had little trouble, the service was great. I know, we are in Japan, but French food was just too enticing.

Wednesday was wonderful, spent the morning at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. They were built in 1629, and are one of only two Edo period Gardens in Tokyo. Edo was the original name for Tokyo, it was during this period in the 1600’s when Tokyo grew to become one of the largest cities in the world. 

There is a huge pond, with a series of canals. The 2nd Lord built a rice paddy so his royal born wife could learn of the struggles and hardship that the farmers endured.

For lunch we went back to the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, it is very upscale, with nice restaurants. This time we opted for the Tempura. We were attended to by 4 people, a server, and three tempura chefs. They brought six or seven courses, it was peaceful and quiet, and cool, the heat and humidity were in good form.

That night we met up with Rebeca, our niece. She has been here for almost a year attending Waseda University. We had a fabulous time touring her school, drinking peach iced tea at a student cafe, wandering through the gardens. She took us to a shrine and a temple on our way to Korean BBQ. (Kansas and Texas think they are the centers of BBQ, nope these folks beat them to it by centuries) I have been to Korean BBQ, but this one was so different, it was really casual, kind of an industrial retro decor, we sat on stools, while the staff cooked. You take the grilled meat, add a few condiments and it’s all wrapped in lettuce leaves, a Korean taco.

So far a wonderful time, we are learning to like this country, the people have been so accommodating, the crowds that we were warned about have never materialized, even in the heart of the city. It is a big city, but Barcelona on the Ramblas is more intense, Hong Kong is more crowded, we are looking forward today to more new experiences, Saori joins us again in a couple of hours and we are off.

Japan – a prepared adventure

Delta 167, Sunday July 17, 2016 – Non-stop Seattle to Tokyo’s Narita airport. Hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto are booked, house and cat-sitter all arranged, we are set. That is really all we have planned, no detailed itineraries, not much in the way of “must see.”I will readily acknowledge that our approach to travel is not for everyone, yet I encourage folks to give it a try. Three components: Spontaneous plan, Light packing, Technical Logistics.

We arrive on Monday, mid-afternoon. Saori, our Japanese daughter, is going to welcome us at the airport, assist in picking up Wi-Fi hub at airport, then navigating us on the Narita Express to our hotel. Then we will take her to dinner. That is about the extent of our definite plans. The rest is pretty much make it up as we go. There are only two things I specifically want to do, Odawara Castle, and a train that goes near Mt. Fuji. We will work these out when we are there.

Readers of my blog know that “tourists must see” lists don’t do a lot for me. Beyond that we have learned that all of the research in advance helps, yet when you get to the place you are going it looks different, strict agendas made 10,000 miles away are restrictive. Then there is the physical demands, some days we feel like doing nothing. I remember afternoons in Bruges, sitting by the fire at Rembrandt’s, reading and snacking for hours, one of my best memories of Belgium; you don’t really plan for that kind of day, they happen if you let them.

Luberon is a small village in Provence, France. On our first visit to Provence, Tricia was not feeling well one evening, I went down to the bar in the hotel to let her sleep. As normal I struck up a conversation with a local. She told me that Luberon was not to be missed. The next day we headed for Luberon, I had a Croque Monsieur at an outside café, we bought local pottery from the shop with the blue doors in this painting. The joy of spontaneity.

The second important consideration is light packing. We will go to Japan for 17 days, and we will each have a carry-on size roller, plus a small carry on. This is so important. You are flexible if you need to take trains, navigate stairs. And you are not burdened with stuff. I know it is often repeated but it’s true, the longer you travel the lighter you pack. Set out what you think you need to take then cut it down, then do it again. Light packing means flexibility, and that adds to the spontaneity. I must admit that when I see couples travel with two huge cases I really wonder what they are taking and how much they will use. One exception, when we have gone places where hiking is on the agenda we take a larger case, boots and packs do take up space.

The one place I do spend time planning is the technical details. This includes maps, plugs and chargers, Wi-Fi, and a few miscellaneous goodies.

Maps are a big thing for me, first I love them, but I really like to be able to find my way around. With a WiFi hub Google maps navigating works on iPhone or iPad. I also use Maps-2-go, they are offline, and since the GPS works on my phone even if not connected to phone service, it will find you on their maps. Maps-2-go also has great place to store lists of sights, restaurants, etc.. So with these two in place you are ready. Google also allows you to download maps for offline use, along with stored favorites.

If I need directions to a hotel, or for driving, I do turn-by-turn maps of directions before the trip. These are stored in an offline notebook on Evernote, a bit of redundancy I know but it’s comforting when in a strange town and you need to find your hotel. With Google street view you can take pictures of the area around your hotel to help you spot it when on the ground. This helped us in Barcelona and in Provence.

It is obvious, but worth reminding, that you need adapters and chargers for all your electrical stuff. Thankfully unless you have really old electrical items most are already 110/220V so you don’t need a converter. Take more than one adapter, they are small and you probably will want to charge phone and iPad at same time.

I travel for pleasure with only iPad, it does all I need and is lighter than computer. iPad and iPhone pretty much take care of everything from music to navigation. A Bluetooth speaker brings music into room, Google Translate app (different than the online translate) is brilliant as it will capture the text of a sign or menus and translate, no internet needed.

 Couple of things I carry, a real tea cup, and immersion heater- tea in the morning is important so I make it possible most everyplace. Along with that an acrylic wine glass, wine and beer just don’t work out of the placid stuff at hotels.

Travel should be a prepared adventure, take what you need, resources for what you will need, and the curiosity to let each day unfold as it will. Bonnet voyage.