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20 September 2015 @ 04:22 am
Fish, Gardens, and High Places: A Tokyo Story  
DAY 5 began, like so many others, with us waking up at 7am.

Actually that's not what most days are like here.

Actually I guess that's kind of late for the Fatherly Unit to wake up, really.

Anyway!

We got up early because we were headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is famous because people go there to watch guys cut up giant tunas and also bid on them in a very aggressive auction. And also to have sushi for breakfast.

Because so many tourists have started coming to the market, they don't really let people go walk around on the warehouse floor anymore, because those guys want to get their work done without having to avoid a bunch of idiots. But we could still go to the outdoor market and stare at all of the sushi restaurants and wonder how on earth to pick out of all of them. We also got suckered into some free samples of roasted almonds and wasabi soy beans which were so tasty we bought them. I don't even like almonds, man. Or I thought I didn't. These almonds proved me wrong.

We ended up deciding on a tiny sushi restaurant that was just like – a wooden shack – for our sushi breakfast. They served us a tuna rice bowl, with three types of cuts of tuna on it. It included Fatty Tuna, which is like – as delicious as it is rumoured to be. So soft, it melts in your mouth! In general, the super-fresh fish was all tasty, but the fatty tuna was the clear winner for me.

We wandered the market for maybe two hours, and then – knowing that it was so early in the day, I suggested we walk to my next desired destination. Tokyo Tower!

We briefly stopped in a shrine along the way, which was right by the fish market and featured two lion-head masks that were used in traditional festivals a long time ago. It was pretty cool. They sold charms for ships and fishermen, because of course they did!

Then on we walked to Tokyo tower. The area between the market and the tower seems to be business-district-central. There were many salarymen around, and a bunch of office towers. We walked along a major highway most of the way, occasionally catching glimpses of Tokyo Tower between the buildings.

Then we got there, and – although it didn't surprise me like the Eiffel Tower did – dang, that thing is tall. We sat at the base to debate what to do next (have I mentioned that it was raining this whole time? It was raining most of this morning) and had a crepe while we were waiting. I had one with bananas, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Dad had the same, but with an extra scoop of vanilla ice cream. Apparently he didn't enjoy it – I thought mine was pretty delicious, though.

I was sitting at the base of the tower debating asking the Fatherly Unit to go inside – I'd just wanted to see the place, I didn't think I cared if we went up or not. But sitting there, I decided I really wanted to go up! So we ended up going to the lowest observation deck. It was the only one open that day. Oh, except you could also go to the ONE PIECE THEME PARK WHICH IS BUILT IN THE BOTTOM OF THE TOWER, WTF. That was weird. I mean, it seems like if you're a One Piece fan it would be THE COOLEST, but I've literally never seen One Piece, and this is a major landmark... it's so funny.

Anyway, so we went up to the main observation deck. The elevator ride was kind of hilarious. This adorable woman in uniform greets you as the elevator goes nuts with psychadelic colours and music, and then you see out the windows as you slowly get higher and higher. It brings you to the observation deck extremely quickly!

It's much like all other observation decks before it. It had a 360 degree view of the city (very nice view), and a gift shop and photo point upstairs. Downstairs there was a cafe, a stage where they have live music playing fairly often (that day there were two people hosting a radio show and playing the most catchy music) as well as your path back down. We probably spent like 45 minutes wandering around and looking at the views. They say that on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji – but with all the rain that morning, the clouds were persisting.

When we went back down, we were dropped into a weird collection of souvenir kiosks which were super anime-focused because of the One Piece theme park. There are also some restaurants to check out, and a One-Piece themed gift shop which made me actually wish I was a fan of the show because some of that merch was SWEET.

Dad had been talking about how he wanted to see a garden back in Shinjuku, so we decided that heading back that way was in our best interest. We walked to the station and took the Yamanote line back homewards, and went to Shinjuku Gyoen, which is a big, very impressively tended garden.

We walked around there for about two hours. It's not exactly the right time of year to view a garden, but we walked through the traditional Japanese Garden, the rose garden, the sycamore walkway, across a tremendously impressive lawn made up of the weirdest, stiffest grass I had ever seen. I also got eaten alive by mosquitos in an area of the garden that was super creepy (I sent a picture of it to the boyfriend unit and he said it looked like the PT splash screen) which they had warned us about at the front with a big sign that said “WEAR LONG-SLEEVED CLOTHING DUE TO MOSQUITOS”. Which is when I knew I was doomed. I am like sugar to them!

After the walk through the garden I was just about ready to collapse. We headed back towards our hotel and stopped in at a little place where we ordered some skewers of vegetables and yakitori and a pickled eggplant – which was kind of weird, but a weird kind of tasty. We also discovered a cucumber/garlic/sesame salad called Tataki Kyuri which is genuinely the tastiest damn thing. So refreshing!

Then we went back to our room and collapsed, despite it being like – 6pm. This is the result of leaving your hotel by like 8:30 in the morning. We just settled in and watched some Sumo wrestling. There's a big competition going on this week so it's on all the time. I'm actually watching it right now, as I write this!

Eventually we went to sleep! It was surprisingly late by then. I stayed up to do some writing.

DAY 6.

We slept in later this day, which was nice. Our only goal for the day was to join a free tour of the Imperial Gardens at around 1 o'clock, so dad took some time to catch up on work, and I watched some TV, and we left in plenty of time to get to Tokyo station, which is where we were meeting the tour.

We decided to stop in the area dedicated to Ekiben (lunch to take on the train with you) and picked up a couple of things at a sandwich/hot dog place. Dad got an egg salad sandwich and a shrimp/avocado sandwich. He thought they were okay, but uninspired. I got a roast beef sandwich and a hot dog I wasn't sure what it was, and...

Finally encountered my first disappointing food in Japan. But it wasn't just disappointing. It was SUPER GROSS. Okay, so – the roast beef sandwich was just kind of bland and had too much mayo on it – why do you love mayonnaise so much, Japan – but it was fine. The hot dog. Oh my God. The hot dog.

So I open up the box and I'm like

“...hmmmm.”

“...This looks like fish eggs. ...And... mysterious white foam.”

“...And this hot dog is white.”

Yes, somehow I had ordered a fish hot dog. And it was – so gross. So, so so gross. It was SO fishy, and SO strong, and made me feel nauseous for a couple of hours afterwards. Bleh!

Fortunately I didn't have long to linger over it. Our tour guides arrived, and we introduced ourselves and signed up. We were shown a map of the gardens by one of the guides, and asked what the weather in Vancouver was like. All of the tour guides asked us that. We just love comparing weather, as a species, don't we? We're weird.

So we were split into groups and introduced to our guides. Ours were Nao-san and Ayumi-chan. They were both really sweet people, but I learned the weakness of Japanese tour guides – they speak in a BELOW average volume. So we all had to huddle around really close to try and hear them every time we stopped to speak. I eventually figured out that if you stood beside or behind them, they were reading off of a script that you could read along with, so I started sneaking over to do that.

This day, unlike the day before, was super clear and sunny. It was hot and humid! Kind of ideal to tour a garden, but it felt sweltering. They would lead us into the shade to do their talks as much as possible, which I greatly appreciated. They told us all about the Shoguns, and the current emperor, and how the Gardens were divided up to protect the way into the Palace. You can't access that side of the gardens (the palace itself) on any day except for the day after New Year's, where everybody goes to hail the emperor and his wife. I had no idea the royal family was still so relevant here. Apparently there was a big issue about the emperor having no male heir until 2006 – which is pretty impressive, considering he got married in 1957 or something.

Also, does that mean that if he died today, a 9 year old would be emperor of Japan? ...That would be kind of adorable.

Anyway, I'm getting morbid. We walked all around! Nao-san found an excuse to show us the movie poster for Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin! We walked up onto the foundation of a tower built long, long ago and burned down long-long ago and there were like THOUSANDS OF DRAGONFLIES, and I was like “Uhhhhh, is this normal” and Nao and Ayumi were like “...This is actually way less than there usually are. Go to the country, there are even more.” and I was like “what the HELL, you guys, that's too many dragonflies.”

They brought us to the traditional Japanese garden for our group photo, and that garden was definitely the prettiest. I'll have to go back when the flowers are blooming some day. They told us that in the Edo period, you could actually see the ocean from these gardens, which is weird to think about, because the ocean is way too far away and covered by way too many tall buildings to be seen now. They sure reclaimed a lot of land to make up Tokyo. Japan's done some weird things to house this many people on what is, ultimately, not a whole lot of land.

Oh, before I leave the story of this tour I have to mention the fact that on the tour with us was a couple of guys from Bristol who actually seemed like pretty cool guys, but I admit to judging them for their hair. One guy had a hella-greasy ponytail, and the other guy... oh man. That guy was rocking a full-on, genuine mullet. Not like a kind-of-sort-of mullet. A properly styled, very intentional mullet. I was kind of in shock. Why would anybody ever, ever do that if a mullet wasn't in style? I'm sorry, sir! You were super cool! ...But nobody looks good in a mullet!

I was considering ambitions of doing more, but the 8 hour day the day before had burned out the fatherly unit, so we headed back to the room and watched some sumo wrestling before he had a nap and I sat there watching Spongebob Squarepants. The weird part about that show in Japanese is the fact that Spongebob and Patrick seem to be voiced by the same person, and Patrick has the higher pitched voice. Very, very weird choices.

After that we went venturing out to find a restaurant again. We found one in a back alley with a super promising menu, and looking inside we couldn't see anyone smoking, so we went in and asked for a table for two.

When they promptly directed us upstairs, to the room that was filled with cigarette smoke.

SIGH. Japan, I can't wait until you bring in smoking bans.

The restaurant, however, was SUPER DELICIOUS. My favourite food of the trip, in sharp contrast to that morning. We over-ordered by a small extent, but it was all so good. The list of what we got was too long for me to write it all out, but the steamed clams in broth and the tori karaage were my favourites.

After that it was time for sleep! Because we had to wake up and get moving!

DAY 7! On to Kyoto!

Today has been pretty straightforward. We woke up, packed up, went for a quick lunch (tempura donburi for me, tempura donburi with a side of soba soup for father) and then took our bags to Tokyo station. We were super early, so we sat around and read for a while before going to wait for the Shinkansen.

I bought some rice balls at the station – they were hella delicious – and I ate them on the train. There was a lot of cool countryside and cities to see, and WOW, I did not realize Japan's mountains were so impressive. It was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji, but I'm hoping we'll see it on the way back instead.

Then we got to Kyoto station, walked up to our Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and were shown to our room. It's modest, but really lovely. Except for the mosquitos. There are mosquitos all over. Aaah! Gross. We're keeping the screens closed from now on.

Then we watched more sumo! And now we're ready to go to dinner. And we don't have wi-fi in our room, so I guess I'll be posting this post-dinner, in which case I'll give you an update.

BRB, going to go get some damn Okonomiyaki!

BACK.

OH MY GOD IT'S A HOLIDAY EVERYTHING IS FULL AAAAAAH.

We ended up finding a place that was far too expensive but was still super delicious. We had a grilled squid, and some grilled mushrooms and shishito peppers with scallops in a miso-sesame sauce (DELICIOUS), and tempura (ALSO DELICIOUS) and – what else. Oh yeah! Sushi. Damn it the fish here is so much fresher than at home! What the heck, Vancouver!

But seriously oh man everything is so full. This does not bode well for sightseeing in the next few days.

WISH US LUCK.

GANBATTE!

...Talk to you from Osaka!
 
 
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