Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 16: Tokyo Day 1

I can't believe it's been two weeks since I last posted! Well, I can, because I have lived through the whirlwind of my life these past couple of weeks, but if you haven't kept up with me on Facebook, you probably haven't understood the delay. So, please forgive me for my inattention to my blog. I am back, and life should be a little slower (but not by much) so I am going to try and get these posts done!

Once we returned from Sasebo, I basically finished preparing for the Iwakuni Craft and Information Fair (scheduled for April 20), where I had my Tenaciously Remembered memory albums up for sale. More on that in another post, but since I was leaving for Tokyo on April 16 and wouldn't return until the 19th, I knew I had better get the craft sale planning done, in conjunction with my packing for Tokyo. Of course, Rodney was still in Okinawa for Master Sergeant training, and the kids had spring break week off. Rodney finally got back the day before I left and the kids returned to school that same Monday (although they had Tuesday off for teacher in-service. I swear the kids are out of school more than they are in it! And we don't even have any furlough days yet!). But I managed to pack and prepare for my three days traveling on a "girl trip."

I went with my friend, Rachel, and her sister, Roxanne, who was visiting from the States. It was going to be a fast and furious three days... which it was. I am still recovering from the hours and hours and HOURS of walking we did!

We flew out of the new (it opened in December) Iwakuni Kintaikyo Airport at about lunchtime Tuesday, arriving in Tokyo an hour and a half later. We were staying at the New Sanno, a U.S. military hotel in the heart of Tokyo, and their web site gave several suggestions for using public transportation to get from the Haneda airport (not to be confused with the more international Narita airport). We chose the least expensive: Taking the subway to a major subway hub, and then a taxi from there. This was my first taxi ride in Japan. And, actually, my first taxi ride in a decade or more, from what I can remember. California suburbanites like me rarely succumb to public transportation. We prefer our personal SUVs. :)

Inside the taxi
Me, Roxanne and Rachel inside the taxi.
We arrived at The New Sanno Hotel in about a half hour from leaving the airport. The hotel is incredibly nice, especially for less than $60 a night. Rates are based on your rank/pay grade. Reservations are tough to get on the weekends, but since we were staying during the week, Rachel managed to procure us a room with little trouble. She is just THAT good...

The New Sanno circular drive.

The view from our 4th floor room.
After checking in to the hotel, we headed back out on to the streets to find some grub. We were in a more ritzy area of Japan, and quieter. The subway station that was our "home" station was Hiro-o. There are several embassies in the area and we saw several Porches, Mercedes and other luxury cars in driving the streets. At a boutique shoe store, we even encountered a young woman with a baby and a driver.... and the van she exited was nicer than any limo I have ever seen.

There were a lot of great shops to explore in this area. My personal favorite was Hiro-o Arobo, which had a lot of unique food items and gifts. I got some skull headphones (I heard the skull is called the Punisher) for Xan and a travel coffee mug for Rodney here, which he just "loved because everyone at work is jealous of it." Go me.

We had a late lunch at a small restaurant with friendly service called Spice. It smelled good when we walked by, so we gave it a try. Good choice in following our nose. The food was delicious and the gentleman who served us was friendly and fun. The best way I can describe to get there is when you find the Starbucks, and if you're a true American you will, whether you drink coffee or not, keep walking for about half a block and don't blink. You might miss it. Or, you could just follow your nose...

The appetizer
Before I mixed and finished cooking it. It arrives to your table HOT. Please don't burn yourself and sue them.
Hiro-o had its very own Rodeo Drive. All three of us are from Southern California, so we had to get a picture. This is Rachel in front of the boutique store. Roxanne went in and couldn't find anything under 10,000 yen ($100), so we walked on. We may be from SoCal but we are on enlisted military budgets.

Admittedly, we did a lot of eating in Tokyo, but with all the walking we did, it was definitely burnt off. Rachel found this gourmet ice cream shop and the flavors were amazing, I just had to have the kiwi ice cream... so good!

Walking around Hiro-o that first afternoon, I was amazed by how clean and organized the area was. This was a major intersection in the area. You walk above it to keep the flow of traffic steady... and to keep from getting killed by a delivery truck or speeding bicyclist.

After exploring the area and filling our bellies, we figured we'd explore the hotel. There are several restaurants, an APO post office (so you only have to pay American postage rates to ship stuff home... or use the Military Postal Service - MPS, where we can have stuff shipped from base to base in Japan for free!), and a small but complete Navy Exchange. I got a cute sundress for $20. Oh, and for my Mom and other SoCal chocolate lovers, the exchange sold See's Candy... so funny to see this regional treat in Japan!

On the corner of that major intersection above which is where we always turned to go from our hotel to the Hiro-o subway station, there was this store I loved to stare at as we passed by, Watts. It had nothing but chandeliers and this photo doesn't do it justice. It was also a landmark so I knew if we were heading in the right direction to go home!

Once we had finished exploring the immediate area and hotel, and the sun had gone down, it was time to go see the most famous intersection in Japan: Shibuya. This is the intersection and crosswalk that is incredibly busy and is always featured in Hollywood films where the Earth is being destroyed by aliens. Ringing a bell now?

We needed to take three different subway lines to get there, but it only took about 20 minutes and about $5. It was rush hour, so we got to enjoy it with thousands of Japanese commuters.

Interesting side note: There are a few subway cars on every train that have a pink placard on them. These cars are for women only during the morning commute hours. Apparently, there is a "groping" problem on Japanese trains. The cars are packed so tightly that some men take advantage of the proximity to female commuters and grope them. Often the woman protests and might accuse an innocent bystander because it is tough to tell who is groping whom. Japanese reports have said that both men and women are grateful for the cars... women because they prefer not to get groped, and men because they are afraid of being wrongfully accused of groping. Unfortunately, I am not speaking from experience. I was never groped while in Tokyo. In fact, most Japanese gave the tall blond a wide berth. Although, my two shorter, darker Filipino cohorts claimed they were never groped, either.

So, we all avoided groping and arrived at Shibuya to a mass of people, traffic and lights. And, of course, like any major intersection worth its salt, there was a Starbucks. This one was on the second floor, but was still jam-packed full of coffee lovers and people watchers.

 The two photos below were taken from inside the second-story Starbucks.

Yes, I did the peace sign. It seemed appropriate at the time.

For those who love trendy shopping in the States, Forever 21 Shibuya is six stories tall...

And features Caucasian mannequins. Most stores in Japan do, which I just find odd, especially for such a homogeneous society. I read one of Rachel's travel books and Japan is 99 percent Japanese in ethnicity and haven't interbred with other cultures in large numbers since the 14th century. Very different from America, where I'm sure we will all be beige in a few centuries.

We took a chance on a restaurant that a hawker with coupons for out in front of a 9-story mall. We did a good job of following the cries of our pocketbooks because the food  at Gyoza Yatai was fabulous. The woman who took our order was the original owner, but is semi-retired, and her son runs the place now. She told us that the food is a unique blend of Taiwanese and Okinawan food. The blend was yummy... I highly recommend going for the food, the ambiance and the service.

This is the display the restaurant had outside (many Japanese restaurants do this, showing plastic versions of their meals). It was on the sixth floor, and when looking at the Starbucks, was to the left on the same street as Starbucks.

After eating, our bellies were full and we were ready to crash. Back to the subway (still no groping) and hotel... to be woken up by the test of the fire alarm system at 9 a.m.....


Steph said...

As always, Jessica, your blog makes me smile and laugh and think, "Natsukashii!" When I lived in Japan in 2001, my family came to visit from the States...and since my dad is retired military, we stayed at The New Sanno Hotel! So glad you enjoyed your time in Tokyo; it is very fun to visit...and then always nice to return to "normal Japan" afterward. ;-) Thanks for keeping such a great blog!

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thanks, Steph... I WAS glad to return to the "country" of Iwakuni... and my car!