Wow, okay, so the first day in Tokyo is winding down. What a day. I’ll recap what happened last night in the form of pictures for now – I took lots of video of the journey into the city as well as what we did today, but I need to condense it all into one movie.
Recapping from yesterday’s flights: The flights were great. I don’t think I could have asked for a more pleasant 10 hour flight. I watched two movies, played some video games, ate some food, did crosswords…and whoosh, the trip was over. They brought hot towels before every meal to clean our hands, and the staff was very, very gracious. There were special remote control/phones/video game controllers that worked with our TV screens. Gram was having trouble hearing the music she had chosen to hear and the staff were trying to help her – there were two or three of them gathered around her seat pushing buttons and trying to figure out why no sound was coming through her headphones. Finally one of them pulled on the cord and realized it wasn’t plugged in. I cracked up and so did they once they realized she wouldn’t be offended. It was a great experience. The food was good. 2 meals were served:
We arrived in Tokyo on the “Airport Limousine”, which is really just another word for Shuttle Bus, despite the luxurious sounding name. It dropped us off right at the hotel, where we checked in and our bags were brought up to our room – free (no tipping here) – right away. After bringing our bags in, the staffer walked over to the window with a grin on his face, threw open the curtains and said “YOU CAN SEE TOKYO TOWER!” Yes, sir, we can. Very well, in fact.
I took that picture from within our hotel room. It’s amazing at night. Not quite as amazing in the day, but still pretty cool. It’s also an excellent point of reference in the event we get lost and need a taxi. Everyone knows where Tokyo tower is.
Looking off in the distance at the rest of the city at night is pretty neat too. There are tall buildings as far as the eye can see.
Today we took a Tokyo Morning Tour to Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine), The Imperial East Gardens, Senso-ji temple (a Buddhist temple), and the Ginza shopping area. We quickly and successfully navigated vending machines and I got my first change. This quickly made me realize I would need a coin purse in the very near future. These are 100 and 10 yen pieces.
The heat here is crazy. Today was probably mid 80’s for most of the day, but the humidity is insane. We were sweating just walking around. I saw people dabbing themselves with handkerchiefs to stay cool and clean. I added that to my list of things to get.
Meiji Jingu is a very beautiful, quiet shrine right in the middle of Tokyo. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic and had a ton of information to share with us about all of the places we visited today. People come to Meiji Jingu to wish/pray for things. Many come for love, prosperity, safe travels, etc. But she said the number one thing people come to wish for is to pass the entrance exams for college! People write their wish on a small wooden plaque and hang it in the shrine so their wish will come true.
On the path into the shrine there are a number of things to see. These are huge sake barrels (no sake inside).
Here I am looking very excited in front of them.
As you enter the shrine, you encounter three gates. They are there to ward off evil, and to purify those who enter. This is the second of the three gates – it acts as a gate “between worlds”. As you step through the gate, you step through this world and into the sacred world. Another gate is just in front of the shrine.
Just before entering Meiji Jingu, a purification rite is practiced. Visitors wash their hands and their mouth before entering the shrine. The reasoning behind this is to clean oneself of evil. We use our hands to do evil and our mouths to speak evil, so by rinsing these parts, we purify ourselves before entering the shrine. I have a short video a fellow Gaijin (foreigner) on the tour took of Gram and I participating in this ritual. If nothing else, it was refreshing to put some cool water on my hands!
Within the shrine is a large open area. This is the entrance to the heart of the shrine within the main courtyard.
We visited the main part of the shrine where pictures are not allowed because the site is sacred. It’s a large pebbly courtyard. Doors are on the opposite side of where visitors pray. Behind the doors is the spirit of Emperor Meiji. Supposedly there are two chairs behind the doors – one for the Emperor, and one for his wife. It was certainly interesting. Even the method of prayer was different. You toss some money (any amount) into a box in front of the shrine, clap your hands loudly together, make your wish, and bow. The hand clapping is to draw attention from God. Our tour guide, Mina, explained that for big ceremonies they use a very big drum (to focus God’s attention!) I didn’t make a wish, but enjoyed watching the other guests.
In the main courtyard of the shrine other areas are accessible, but we did not visit them. In this picture behind me is the gates you walk through to enter the shrine from the outside. The architecture was very beautiful.
Just before hopping back on the tour bus, I grabbed my first “Japanese” drink. I was looking for some water and saw this one said sparkling, with a refreshing taste. I expected Perrier. I guess this was the Japanese version. It was pretty tasty, but very soda-like. I was just grateful it wasn’t totally disgusting!
Next up: The East Imperial Gardens. We visited the grounds where the Emperor and Empress currently live, although their residence is very well hidden from the eye of the public. The outer gardens near their home, however, are open and very beautiful. We crossed a bridge to enter. These grounds used to be a kind of fort – a moat and wooden bridges helped to protect the area in the event of an attack. If armies tried to swarm the place, the bridges could be cut loose, hindering any attackers.
The next building we saw was this one. It served as a checkpoint for any visitors to the palace. If anyone wanted to get to the palace, they would have to pass through here and speak to some guards first.
We learned a little bit about the interesting walls present throughout the gardens. These walls are 400 years old and have survived earthquakes. Our tour guide explained that by leaving some space between each of the rocks in the wall, they had space to move during the earthquakes and that somehow makes them stable. Well, they must have done something right if it’s all still standing 400 years after it was put together. It’s very neat to look at, too.
We then entered the main part of the garden. It was very beautiful, and very different from the typical Western style garden. Mina explained that there were three elements that every proper Japanese garden has: a stone lantern/pot, a bridge, and a waterfall. Western gardens tend to emphasize color – this was the exact opposite. You kind of got the feeling that everything was very precise and in their place for a reason.
Here’s some proof we were there:
On the way out we took a quick picture in front of this statue. It has the body of a fish and the head of a tiger. I immediately dubbed it the tiger prawn and felt hungry.
Next up was Senso-ji temple. This is a Buddhist temple. Here’s the entrance gate from within. There were people everywhere. Today was a national holiday and it seemed people were out taking advantage of their long weekend.
Inside is this incense burner. The idea with this is to use the smoke to help you out in some way. For example, if you wave the smoke near your pockets, you will attract money. I don’t know what other parts are for, but these people were wafting it toward their faces.
In the main hall it was okay to take pictures. The story behind this temple is that two fishermen found a tiny statue in the river one day, and it was the Buddhist Goddess Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Hidden behind a curtain in the main shrine (supposedly) is the tiny statue. People do pretty much the same thing here as they do at Meiji – throw some money and make some wishes.
You can also get a fortune here. Toss 100 yen into the donation box (or don’t), and shake a big canister full of numbered sticks. Draw a stick out, check the number, and then draw a fortune from a box matching that number (100 boxes are available). I tossed in 100 yen, and the fortune I got was a good one. Very appropriate.
My tour guide got a pretty big kick out of that one. It was a good fortune overall – the rest of it mentioned ambition and getting known in other countries. Maybe there’s something to this whole fortune thing! This temple had some beautiful artwork on the ceiling. The story goes that a dragon appeared when the small statue was found, and angels presented themselves too. That’s what we see pictured here.
We then had some free time to go shopping at the nearby shopping arcade.
I purchased a much needed coin purse and handkerchief. The shop keeper wrapped it up carefully in paper. That part has irked me every time so far. I just want to toss it in my bag and don’t need the extra paper, but it’s just what they do. I bought something small at a a convenience store and it was placed in a paper bag…but then specially folded and taped shut. Come on. It just seems like a waste to me. I wonder if they’d think I was the devil if I told them I didn’t need all the extra bagging. Guess I’ll have to try it to see.
Our last stop was Ginza, the shopping district. We got our directions back to our hotel, and wandered around for a little while. Again, there were people everywhere. When we went into department stores (Macy’s esque) the workers at each department yelled “IRRASHAIMASE” (welcome) just to get us to come over and see perfumes or bags or something. I mean, come on. Is that really necessary? I’m already in the store. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t. We looked for some new sunglasses, but it seems like there is only one style in Tokyo, and it’s not really what I’m looking for. I could have just been in the wrong store.
After Ginza, we took our first trip on the subway. We purchased a ticket for the wrong line and got it fixed by the kind staff member at the gate. Howver, when we arrived at our stop we ran into a little trouble. You have to run your ticket through the turnstile both when you enter the train and when you exit it. The fixed ticket we got at the departure station was different and would not fit into anything we looked at so that we could adjust our fare and be on our way. The staff must have seen us looking confused because a nearby intercom turned on after a few minutes of us looking around. It was really hard to hear the guy but eventually he just came running out to help us and let us go through the turnstile without any kind of payment or fee adjustment or anything. I’m pretty sure we executed the Gaijin Smash today, even if totally on accident.
The Gaijin Smash is from gaijinsmash.com, and is used to describe a “move” that only foreigners can execute in Japan. Saving face in Japanese society and being polite is of high importance. In the interests of accommodating others, saving face, making the best out of the situation, etc…the Japanese may make exceptions for us “stupid” foreigners. I’m positive we should have paid an adjusted fare when we arrived at the station today, but the attendant smiled and told us it was fine despite me asking (in Japanese). He assured me it was fine and we could go. Well, fine. Gaijin Smash!
We came back to the hotel and packed up the stuff I would take back to the hotel. We took a taxi with my huge bags to the apartment building in Akihabara. There are 4 apartments on my floor. It’s pretty nice and the area is pretty exciting! I took a short video of the place on my regular digital camera. I have to upload it onto YouTube and it will take a little while. The internet at the hotel is not free, so I have to try to expedite the process as much as possible, so there may be a slight delay with video footage.
Looking over this makes me realize just how much we did today. It’s 10:34 PM here and I can barely keep my eyes open. I thought I was on Japan time, but I guess not. I’m off to bed for a full day tour tomorrow. I hope you enjoy all the pictures. I will post again soon!