Tokyo – Asakusa Market and Temple

I’m finally getting photos organized from our Japan trip. Finally.

Day 3 got off to a lazy start. There wasn’t really a plan aside from being at a certain place for dinner that night. We were originally going to go the National Museum of Japanese History, but it’s a couple hours away from the apartment. By the time we got ourselves together with a plan, it was later than we thought… Oops. 🙂

So the museum was tabled to later in the week and we got on the subway to go across the city to Asakusa for a visit to Sensoji Temple (also called Asakusa Kannon Temple), and nearby Skytree Tower. The first thing I saw while walking from the station to temple was this adorable Buddha.

IMG_4644 IMG_4646

To get to the temple, you first go through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), which is apparently the symbol of Asakua and the entire city of Tokyo. The gate is very grand (as are most temple entrances), and very bright. Next is a sojourn through the 200 metre long Nakamise market, and there is no hardship there. Lots of typical tourist shops run along the (fake, but very pretty) cherry blossom framed main drag with some gems wedged in between. Tchotchkes, postcards, chopsticks, kimonos. Whatever your heart’s desire of Japanese stuff and things.

IMG_4672

IMG_4690

IMG_4674

Turn down one of the many alleys and all you need to do is follow your nose to find a snack – food shops galore. In case you didn’t know, waffles smell like heaven on a brisk – read: COLD – sunny day. The specialty shops tend to be down the alleys as well; like the knife maker (forger?) or rather, craftsman’s shop.

IMG_5661

We browsed and made note of souvenirs and gifts we might buy (as we were going to Kyoto the next day, we didn’t want to buy anything right away). I wanted to buy everything, but the Libra in me and my budget demanded that I be patient. Since we went to markets in three towns, I am glad we waited and so we could make informed purchases.

My favourite part of the market, was, of course, food related. Going back to my waffles comment, we had these wonderful chocolate filled, fish-shaped waffle cake things that I think are called Ningyoyaki. One word: YUM. They were fresh and warm when we bought them, and the chocolate was that wonderful gooey, but not messy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I love, love, LOVE. Like a chocolate lava cake. I’ve realized that as much as I love to bake, I don’t tend to eat much of the fruits of my labour, partly because I don’t really have a big sweet tooth. (I find dark chocolate more on the savoury side.) I also don’t tend to eat anything like a chocolate stuffed waffles unless I’m on vacation or a special occasion. I think I appreciate these treats more because they are just that: treats. And it was dark chocolate, so really, I was in love before I tasted it!

IMG_5662 IMG_4684 IMG_4683

The temple itself is, like much of Japanese architecture, very regal and intricate in detail. It is very beautiful place of Buddhist religion. Legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple. (Excerpt from http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html)

IMG_4695 IMG_4700 IMG_4698 IMG_4710 IMG_4711

(Because it was one of the first things I noticed about the exterior of the building, I’m going to address the swastika at the top of the building in this photo. The fact is that swastika is a Sanskrit word and is one of the oldest symbols on Earth which can be found in all religions (particularly Buddhism) and traditions, on all continents. It represents good things. A certain individual chose it as a symbol for what is one of the greatest shames of the 20th century; therefore giving it a negative connotation. But really, it’s a symbol of prosperity and good.)

IMG_5671Sensoji Temple seems to be a special place for Matt and Dori, as Matt went off on his own for a bit. I lit a candle for Dori and all of my guardian angels. I love that the act of lighting a candle for someone or something seems to be a universal act across places of worship.

After the temple, we took the train to Tokyo Skytree, which I was told is the second tallest building in the world. It is a broadcasting tower, as well as restaurant and shopping mecca as well as a tourist observation deck. It is 2,080 feet tall! We did not go up the tower as we didn’t have time, but I can only imagine that the view is spectacular.

IMG_4719

Chocolate seemed to be the food theme for the day (it was also dessert at dinner that night) because we stopped to have a snack and a much needed hot beverage at a place at Skytree called 100% Chocolate Café. Does that not sound like heaven?! The ceiling even looks like a bar of my baking chocolate. (My mouth is watering looking at the picture…)

IMG_4721 IMG_5682

I am very picky about my hot chocolate, but I was very impressed by what I was served. Officially in my top three hot chocolates I’ve ever had. Napoli is still in first (I don’t think I’ve written about it, but it was life-altering), but this came a close second!

In charmingly Japanese fashion, the chocolate in the café is organized in the most orderly way with a number system. There are 56 kinds of chocolate from around the world, each with a number. And you can buy a bar of each one if you like. Yes, please!

IMG_5686 IMG_5685And on that savoury note, there is a brownie in the fridge calling my name. I made a batch last night and they go very nicely with a cup of loose leaf peppermint tea. Good night!

 

Tokyo – Day 2 – Chiba

We took the bullet train to Kyoto yesterday, and are now back on the train and en route to Hiroshima. I am very impressed by, never mind how fast, but how quiet the cars are on the tracks. Like any mode of transport, there are some bumps, so if our friends and family get a postcard with slightly chicken scratch printing (note that my printing is already sub-par), sorry! 

Day 1, was a half day of jet-lag induced haze, so I had to rely on my pictures to express myself. I’m on local time now, so let’s see how I go. 🙂

Something everyone told me before I got the plane is that the Japanese are unfailingly polite. And they are. I’ve never been bowed to so much, ever. Or said thank you so many times (though if I had more of a grasp of the language, I would be able to express myself with more than just “domo arigato”). My thought is that the politeness softens the rigid structure of things in a country of very deeply ingrained tradition of a patriarchal society. It’s a bit paradoxical. The younger generation makes it even more so. It’s very interesting to watch.

There are queues to ride up the escalators and to get on trains. The trains are always on time. Always. Everyone has the latest in mobile technology, and the reason the trains are on time (present day) is because of the innovative technology that they develop every day. (The trains were on time before technology because of above mentioned structure.) Jay-walking is a rarity. (Although, there have been a few rebels I’ve seen jay-walk, and a few sneaky folks sliding in to a lineup to get on a train car.)

We are travelling with our friend Matt. Matt is an American living in Canada (now a citizen!), who lived in Japan with his Japanese wife, Dori, for two years (and then they moved back to Canada). Dori lost her battle with cancer this past September, so I will say that this trip is emotional and leave it at that for now. But I do wish she was here because she was a really lovely person, and a lot of fun to be with.

IMG_4574

Matt has the wonderful advantage of having a very impressive grasp of the language, which has been very helpful. It’s quite amusing to see the very subtle surprise on someone’s face when he asks them a question in their native tongue.

IMG_4569

On Monday, we took the city train to Chiba, which is a city just southeast of Tokyo. It is where Dori was from and where her parents own/run a very cool bar called Ashibi. First on the agenda was lunch at a sushi place where the food is served via conveyor belt. All I have to say is “YUM”.

IMG_4579

IMG_4588
Stacked so the waitress can figure out what to charge us. Each plate equates to a different price point.

We split up after lunch so Matt could run some personal errands, and Sean was given the responsibility of taking me to the mall for a couple hours. (He was here with Matt in October so has some recognition of where some landmarks are.)

IMG_5647
The mannequin and her pet. First time I’ve ever seen a dog mannequin…

Now, while I love to shop, I’m not made of money, so there was a lot of browsing in a multi-story Holt Renfrew/Hudson’s Bay combo style shopping paradise called Sogo. Lots of designer brands on most floors (everything Lanvin is popular here), and a couple floors with more accessibly priced kitchenware, flatware, stationery, beauty products, etc.

I wrote about paradox earlier in this post. Well, imagine walking through the Tiffany and Co. shop and having the instrumental version of the “Ghostbusters” theme randomly come through the speakers. We had a good chuckle about it.

IMG_4611
Dori’s father’s US car plate collection. All 50 states.
IMG_4617
Kirin Black. Love.
IMG_4608
Ashibi – Designed and built by Dori’s father. Imported British brick, copper roof. Impressive structure.

We wandered over to Ashibi to have a beer (Kirin Black; very Guinness like and very delicious) and then met up with Matt to go have dinner at an Indian restaurant he used to frequent very often. Yes, an Indian restaurant. In Japan. The gentleman who owns and runs it is a former architect who moved to Japan to study architecture and stayed to work for a firm. The Tokyo grind got to him and he gave it all up to open his restaurant.

IMG_4628

I could see the chef making the nan in the kitchen but I was not prepared for gigantic pieces of nan that came out in baskets with our meals. It was an fantastic and very tasty vessel for my butter chicken starter (an absolute favourite) and for my “Ladie’s Curry” thereafter.

The sign is obviously in Japanese and when I look the restaurant up, the site indicates (through Google translation) that th place is called Indian Nature Tandool. Works for me!
The sign is obviously in Japanese and when I look the restaurant up, the site indicates (through Google translation) that th place is called Indian Nature Tandool. Works for me!

I am a sissy when it comes to spicy food, so I was happy the menu listed the levels so you could choose the heat level. They even bring out a little dish of the curry sauce so you can test it and ask for less or more heat. Both times, I asked for less. Again, I’m a spice sissy.

Nan bread and butter chicken. It really doesn't get any better than that. I was a happy camper.
Nan bread and butter chicken. It really doesn’t get any better than that. I was a happy camper.

As Matt used to eat there a lot when he was teaching English to locals, he knows the owner well. We were treated very well (not that we wouldn’t have been otherwise) and it was a wonderful meal.

My laptop is dying and there isn’t an outlet on the train. It’s a sign I need to enjoy the rare opportunity of my having a window seat.

Matta ne! (See you later!)

Tokyo – Day 1 – Jet lag and randoms

Every time I travel, I always marvel at the whole time zone thing. It kicks my butt. After waking up at 4:30 am on Saturday to fly to Calgary in order to catch a connecting flight to Tokyo – Makes sense to Air Canada but still not to me… Though it did get us here earlier… –  we landed in Japan on Sunday afternoon. With little sleep on the plane after an early morning, by the time we met up with Matt to go grab dinner after checking in to our apartment, jet lag had set in pretty deeply. I almost fell asleep in my plate. And wouldn’t that have been graceful?

But before my brain batteries started to die, I managed to visually absorb the following for Day 1. Nothing deep. Just some randoms and standards. It’s getting more interesting every day and I’m loving it:

IMG_5580
He very rarely sleeps on the plane. This was a big deal.
IMG_5582_2
Konichiwa!

The second memory I have of Narita Airport is this vaguely creepy and trippy welcome “hologram” before you get to customs.

IMG_4530

IMG_5589_2

IMG_4526
5¥ coin

IMG_5593

IMG_5596
The life recharge: glass of water, plug in phone, send parents an email to let them know we are alive.
IMG_5598
I forgot my travel face wash at home by accident. And so ensued this drug store visit. After looking at almost every container I thought was face wash, I chose one, and my face is happy. That’s all that matters.

IMG_4540_2

IMG_4543_2

IMG_4551_2
The Homas – really lovely friends of Matt’s. Their first impression of me was a very tired girl who nearly fell asleep in her food. I will redeem myself in a few days.
IMG_4550_2
Tonkatsu dinner at MAISEN (http://mai-sen.com/) – YUM. It’s one of my favourite Japanese dishes. I will not be able to eat tonkatsu in Canada ever again. This was AMAZING.
IMG_4552_2
Homa-san and Matt
IMG_5600
What has become my daily snack
IMG_4542
I wonder if the priority folks also have to turn off their mobiles…

Time to go play tourist.