I’m back from Tokyo although a 16 hour night sleep was in order…
Jayme and I had an awesome time and it was way too short. I was definitely not ready to come back to stinky Korea. We stayed in Fussa, a little town outside Tokyo, where Yokota AB is located. Fussa is very cute, quaint and quiet, a far cry from the likes of Songtan. You can’t even tell there are Americans living in Fussa except for the large number of exotic Americanized restaurants. Yokota AB is beautiful, as was all of Japan. The Japanese people are very friendly and jovial, and the countryside was so lush and green everywhere we went.
Some pics of food and drink, Japanese-style. (Pic descriptions run right to left, top to bottom)
1. You can never have enough Vitamin Guard! It sounds so official, like it really will guard off sickness and germs.
2. Pocket Juicer Stand – in three refreshing flavors although these bottles were not small enough to fit in your pocket. The first flavor was pineapple/orange, the second was apple/mango and well, the third, we couldn’t really tell, it looked like an aloe vera plant. I didn’t opt for any of these flavors and stayed with trusty water.
3. This can of “American Coffee” cracked me up. Apparently the Japanese think that American marketing designs have to include a Dukes of Hazzard-esque image of some sort.
4. & 5. The two sushi platters Jayme and I shared. It was actually very difficult to find a restaurant in Fussa that specialized in sushi. We wandered around with our friends Annie and Scott, who were also on the trip, for over an hour looking for a sushi restaurant. There goes my illogical brain at work again, imagining there might be a sushi restaurant in Japan. We passed French, Indian, Italian, German, Chinese, even Korean but no sushi. We finally ended up at a Japanese restaurant we had previously passed while wandering which did have some sushi. It turned out to be delicious and very inexpensive for Japanese standards.
This was Jayme and I with our sushi chef. I’m sure they laughed hysterically behind our backs when we asked for our sushi to be cut in half so we could share it. We didn’t care, it was so delicious!
6. Newton, a Belgian apple beer that I found at an Irish pub of all places, in Shinjuku, on our last night there.
Pics of Mt. Fuji from the plane. Mt. Fuji is amazing, the plane gets so close you can see the steam rising from the icy cap. It’s 80 degrees in Japan but the peak is so high that July and August are the only months without snow. Scott hiked up Mt. Fuji, years ago, when he was stationed at Yokota and he was telling us it took him 8 hours to reach the top from halfway up, where a bus dropped his group off. It only took him 2 hours to get back down and I asked why. He told us that the trails are so steep you’re practically running down the mountain on the way back down. He also told Jayme and me that there were little old Japanese people with their hiking boots and walking sticks zipping right past him on the way up the mountain and he is in very good shape. Joe and I hope to get back to Yokota before we leave Korea and hike Mt. Fuji, everyone says you never look at the mountain the same again after you’ve been to the top.
On the first leg of the journey there were two tours travelling together and on the second day the two tours split up. Jayme and I had some friends that were travelling to a different part of Japan, Iwakuni, a Marine base in Western Japan. So for the first night, we all got to hang out together. It was great, we went bowling and laughed our butts off. We wished that we had been all together the whole time but everyone had a great time in Japan. On the other tour, they visited Hiroshima and a small island off the coast of Japan, I don’t know the name of it.
During our full day in Japan we took a tour to Tokyo. The tour was jam-packed with sightseeing and we got our fair share of walking done. These are some pics from the bus that took our tour into the city of Tokyo.
1., 2. & 3. This is Tokyo Tower, designed to look like the Eiffel Tower only taller. Tokyo has emulated a lot of Western landmarks and it’s fun to see their takes on them. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to go to Tokyo Tower, although it looked spectacular from the bus.
4. & 5. These are pics of the Parliament building.
Asakusa Temple and Shrine area was our first stop. There was plenty of shopping and street food and the temple itself was beautiful. It was very crowded, seeing as it was Saturday and a large tourist area. This week is also the celebration of Buddha’s birthday so there were many Buddhists visiting the temple and shrine to pay their respects. We also got to see parts of a parade they were doing to honor Buddha’s birthday where Japanese men carried pieces of the temple on platforms on their shoulders down the streets. The most interesting part was that they were dressed in their Japanese bathrobe-looking shirts and no pants, just undies. Please try to imagine this for a moment, hundreds of Japanese men in only their underwear, a short robe and flip flops and socks. It was certainly a sight to behold, Jayme and I were highly amused!
The next thing on the itinerary was a river cruise and trip to the Hamarikyu Gardens. This place was beautiful, very similar to New York’s Central Park although smaller in size. You are standing in the middle of this lush garden and you can look up and see skyscrapers all around you. The park is also home to a very famous 300 year old pine tree which looks like a very large bonsai tree.
The last place on the tour was Odaiba Shopping Complex in the Tokyo Bay Area. There are basically a dozen, or so, enormous warehouse size buildings all along the bay with shopping, restaurants and a few amusement park rides. Jayme, Annie and I, once again, went in search of Sushi for lunch and then did a little shopping.
7. This was a monkey show at Odaiba, the crowd was gathered around watching this poor monkey do tricks at a shopping mall.
8. This is a pic of Annie who is quite embarassed that Jayme and I ordered our sushi to be cut in half – again. Annie, did not order hers to be cut in half but since she was sitting with us the chef cut hers in half too and she was too emabrassed to even get her picture taken.
9. & 10. Repeat shots of Carnival games in the mall. Nothing like a little sushi, shopping and skeeball to complete a trip.
11. This store only sells one item, cell phone charms. Cell phone charms are so popular all over Asia but especially Japan. People of all ages collect them and hang them, by the dozens, from their cell phones. I liken it teenagers collecting key chains in the 80s.
On our last night in Japan, Jayme, Scott and I decided to explore the area of Shinjuku. This is an outer area of Tokyo, and much busier than quiet little Fussa. We took the train from Fussa and were there in about an hour, thanks to a direct line. We had dinner at a place called Kirin City which we think is Japan’s version of TGI Friday’s. The food was good, the drinks were tasty and the prices were very reasonable. After dinner we wandered around looking for a bar and trying to take pictures of young Japanese men. Japanese guys have the craziest hairstyles you have ever seen. Imagine Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias, big and blond, on a skinny Japanese guy in a shiny suit. Unbelievable, I tell you! Jayme and I kept trying to take mock photos of each other where we stand in front of said photo subject and pretend to take a picture of each other while really trying to snap a shot of an outlandish man behind us. It was dark and the streets were so bustling that our half a dozen attempts did not prove fruitful. Oh well! We eventually stumbled upon a place called Angel, which was an Irish pub and when we walked in, we realized we had found the other 50 English speaking people in Shinjuku that night. We managed to catch the last train back to Fussa but it was so crowded and we were worried we had gone in the wrong direction. So in between trying not to fall on unsuspecting drunk Japanese youngsters while the kamikazi train conductor pulled into stations at warp speed and trying to sneak a glance at the station signs under someone’s armpit we managed to make it back to Fussa.
The next day we were up at 6 AM with a flight out at 8 AM. Needless to say we slept on the plane. But not after shooting a few pics of the glorious Mt. Fuji.
A few observations and ponderings on Japan, in general:
1. Japan is so clean. The streets, even in Tokyo and Shinjuku were trash free and not the least bit stinky, unlike our beloved Korea.
2. Fashion in Japan is subjective… All in one night we saw countless men who could have easily passed for members of an Asian boy band as well as a girl dressed as Little Bo Peep. She was not, however, counting her sheep, she was merely heading out for a night on the town with her friends.
3. Money & prices are somewhat confusing in Japan. Right now the dollar is very strong compared to the Yen but everything costs a lot of Yen so something we are used to paying $1 for is $5 in Japan. Their gumball machines take a 100 Yen coin, which is like $1, for a gumball – yikes!
4. The people in Japan are far more Americanized than Koreans and the girls are more normal-sized. Rather than most of the women being 5 feet tall and weighing 95 pounds like they are here in Korea, they are 5′ 2″ and weigh closer to 115. I know, still small but Japan is not the land of the little people like I’m used to. Japanese people are also, overall, very friendly and jovial. You see them smile, a lot.
5. Japanese subways are crazy. Scott (who used to live in Japan) told us they get so crowded that on weekday mornings the train conductors stand at the open doors and push people into the cars with big sticks so they can fit more people on the cars. He also told us that the Japanese train system is so reliable that if there is a train delayed the Japanese train system will issue notes to the riders to show their bosses. Like a doctor’s note for adults, how wild is that? I guess they can’t use the excuse that their train was late. That sucks!
6. The biggest observation I made was about the air quality. I could breathe easily in Japan. Even in Tokyo where there would be a lot of smog I was able to take deep breaths of “fresh” air. Japan has much higher emission requirements than Korea and is, geographically, a lot farther from China’s yellow dust. And much to my dismay as soon as I arrived back in Korea the yellow dust levels were elevated this week.
Overall, this trip was awesome, but way too short. I can’t wait to go back with Joe, hopefully later this fall, on our way back from Hawaii.