Pat and Ray visit Tokyo (2-9 Aug 2015)

2 Aug 2015

We left our Singapore apartment at 4:50 AM to head to Changi Airport for our 6:50 AM flight to Tokyo. The flight was uneventful, as one always hopes. We landed at Narita (NRT) at about 2:30 PM.

The line to get through Immigration was horrendous. Probably the longest delay we ever experienced in our many travels – room was hot and humid and it took over an hour to get through and there was no apparent reason for it. Fortunately, picking up our luggage and getting through Customs was easy and fast.

Once outside Customs, we looked for, and found, a Citibank ATM. Then it was off to arrange transportation into Tokyo (the airport is about 50 miles outside of the city). We took the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station, where we took the Marunouchi Line (subway) to Akasaka-mitsuke Station.

On the Narita Express into Tokyo
On the Narita Express into Tokyo

Trying to get a ticket for the subway was a challenge, but we were aided by a friendly gentleman who showed us what to do. After that buying subway tickets was a breeze – we even stopped clicking on the English language button.

Arriving at the Akasaka-mitsuke Station, we exited to the main street, Sotobori-dori (love how that sounds). Looking across the street we saw our hotel – the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu – how convenient! Also saw a sign in same building as the hotel for the Beer Kitchen – looks like we found a place to stop after checking in.

Our first dinner in Tokyo was at the Beer Kitchen. Oh, so good!

Here are some of the notes about these beer, taken and modified from the beer menu:

  • Yona Yona Real Ale – unfiltered rich aroma and uncarbonated direct malt flavor. This hand-pumped ale shows bubbles to create a creamy head. 5.5% ALC and 36.5 IBU. Ray started off with this one.
  • Yona Yona Ale – Fragrant aroma and rich flavor. Our flagship ale. Golden amber color, fragrant citrus-like flavor of premium cascade hops, and well-balanced bitterness and sweetness. 5.5% ALC and 36.5 IBU. This was Pat’s first choice and all time favorite
  • Hare no Hi Sennin – Rich and mellow. Over 1/2 a year maturation makes this ale high-alcohol like wine. Strong in body, bitterness and sweetness. Recommended to emjoy relaxed using a wine glass or brandy glass. 8.5 % ALC and 68 IBU. Ray’s second choice came in a brandy snifter to hold all that 8.5% ALCs in.
  • Zenryaku Konomi Nante Kiitenaize SORRY – Striking aroma of Yazu, unleashed with coarse salt. A session ale of serendipitous combination. The bursting aroma of salted Yazu and 2 different aroma hops (Cascade and Styrian Goldings) creates an unprecedented unique flavor. 4% ALC and 13 IBU. Pat tried this one after her bowl of yummy noodles.

3 Aug 2015

Our hotel included breakfast each day, so today we had the standard breakfast buffet – hard to tell the difference between it and many of the other breakfast buffets we’ve had. The biggest difference: we had tickets to be presented at breakfast each day; this was handed to the person at the entrance, who handed it off to another person who walked us maybe 10 yards and handed it to someone else, who walked us a few more yards before handing the tickets over to yet another person. Each hand-off was, of course, enhanced by multiple bows. In all, it took 5-6 people to get us to a table!

We decided to start off our trip with one of the walks from the Tokyo Walks book we brought with us. There was one that partially covered the neighborhood we were staying in, Akasaka – so that seemed like a good choice.

We walked to the north side of the Imperial Gardens/Palace, where our first stop was the Wacoal Kojimachi Building that looks like a sewing machine. We read this description as we were walking towards the area and wondered how a building could possibly look like a sewing machine. Well it certainly did. (kind of reminded us of the Longaberger Basket main office in Newark, OH).  BTW, the Wacoal Company is a lingerie manufacturer. There was also some controversy when it was build about the large eye-shaped window at the top that happens to point towards the Imperial Palace and is high enough to “peak” over the moat walls.

Wacoal Kojimachi Building
Wacoal Kojimachi Building

From here we walked along the outer moat to one of the Imperial Palace‘s gates. Next was a statue of 3 naked ladies at the Supreme Court building. A 3 naked guys statue was not far away – seems only fair.

Continuing south and across from the Diet Building (Japanese parliament), we stopped to get our first geocache. The cache was next to a Romanesque little building (Nippon Suijun Genten Hyoko) that protects the official marker for the given height above the mean level of Tokyo Bay. All heights are then measured against this marker.

I know, yawn huh? The geocache was fun to find and it was interesting to see a Roman style building in the middle of Tokyo. I would be more interested in finding out why a Roman building was built here more so than what the mean level measurements of the city is.

Around the Diet Buildings there was a very obvious police presence – not only officers, but lots of patrols driving around the various streets, and dozens of “paddy wagons”. The Diet has recently voted to increase the military, including providing troops for places like Afghanistan. This decision has brought out lots of protesters. Japan’s military has been minimal in strength since the end of WWII so this is a big issue and important decision for the country.

We then walked to the Hie Shrine, a Shinto shrine. We didn’t get a good photo of the main shrine because the camera started acting up (after sitting down and figuring out the problem, we left without taking the shrine picture and left the guide book behind on one of the benches).

Next stop was the Itamae Sushi, in Akasaka, for lunch.

Off to Roppongi, walking in the heat. One of the things we wanted to see was Roppongi Hills, “an enormous complex which includes shops, offices, restaurants and an art museum”. One level of the complex is a pedestrian area where a lot of people gather. Here are some of the things we saw on there:

The real reason we headed here was 2 beer establishments (of course). The first one we walked to was BrewDog, a Scotish beer we enjoyed in London a year ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open at the time we passed it, so we continued on to the Ant N’ Bee, with several Japanese craft beers on tap.

Walking back toward the hotel, we saw some interesting things.

Dinner was at a crowded restaurant in Akasaka, near our hotel. The place was filled with eaters (one of our criteria and always a good sign), so we decided to eat here, even though we have no idea what the name of the place was. The name on the front of the restaurant was in Japanese as well as the business cards and menu.

We walked back to the hotel and soon were in bed. We were tired after trekking 7.2 miles today.

4 Aug 2015

We took the subway to Tsukiji Station for out tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market (we found the tour at Context Travel), Then met Rosa Lee at Tsukiji Bon Marche for the tour. She was an interesting tour guide for a Tokyo fish market. She is from Australia, of Korean decent, and working on her PhD in Japanese culture. She had her favorite shops and stands to visit and was a very enjoyable guide. We were touring with three tourists from France.

After lunch, went to the Tsukiji Hongwani temple.

Tour group broke up and weI headed towards the Ginza area. We were looking for Bird Land restaurant – when we couldn’t find it we went to a Tourist Information Center in the Sony Building where we found out the Bird Land restaurant was in the basement of The Suit Company, which we passed by earlier.

Since we were parched and there was the Pub Cardinal, the first traditional British pub in Japan, in the Sony building across from the TI, we stopped there for a beer. Then off to verify the location of Bird Land.

Decide to look for geocaches. First one in Ginza was a DNF. Then walked to the Hibiya Park, where we found 3 caches. One of the caches had a hint written only in Japanese. We knew we were in the right location but without the hint, we were a bit confused. A business man walked out of a parking garage and Pat asked him if he could interpret the hint. He looked a bit confused and said the hint said “don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty”. He asked me if that made any sense. It did and we found the cache immediately. It was down in the bottom of a tree stump but don’t tell anyone.

Walked to metro and came back to hotel to rest. Hot and sore feet and it was only the second day!

Back to Ginza on the subway to have dinner at Bird Land Ginza, a grilled chicken restaurant awarded one star by Michelin in 2010, the first star-holder of its kind.

In case you can’t actually read the menu, we had the following: Chicken gizzard stewed in broth and cooled; liver pâté; vinegared neck skin of Okukuji Shamo Chicken; grilled chicken breast with salt and wasabi from Izu area; grilled chicken and spring onion; grilled meat ball of minced chicken; grilled chicken seasoned with Japanese Sansho Pepper; chicken and egg rice bowl. These were all small-bite plates that we shared between us. Oh, so good!

When we left the restaurant, the lights were coming on so we walked around, stopped for coffee and then walked back to hotel. (We walked about 10 miles today.)

5 Aug 2015

Today we are headed out past Shinjuku to look for Japanese yarn. Unfortunately, the shop we went to had Japanese yarn, but the brand is one that Pat can easily find in the U.S. It wasn’t a wasted trip though because it took us into a residential neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants. It was also good to get out of the business side of Tokyo for awhile.

Puppy Yarn near Shimokitazawa Station
Puppy Yarn near Shimokitazawa Station

We got back on the train and went to Shinjuku for at least 2 reasons:

  1. there are more yarn places there (Pat had them organized before we left Singapore;
  2. 34 years ago, I was there for 2 weeks, consulting with Nomura Securities, while working for Battelle Memorial Institute, and I wanted to see how things had changed and whether I would recognize anything.

Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in Japan, serving an average of 3.6 million passengers a day (there are over 200 exits, which makes it even more confusing). When we got there, nothing looked familiar (as I kind of suspected – after all, 34 years is a long time). We wandered toward the area I thought should be the correct direction and I did recognize the Yodobashi Camera store, or at least the name. It is a large camera and electronics store. I think I may have actually bought something there at some point, but can’t be sure.

As we were walking, nothing looked familiar. The area had certainly changed – lots of new, tall skyscrapers, hotels and government buildings. In one of the big government buildings, we found a Tourist Information center and picked up a couple of maps. Leaving the TI, I definitely recognized the Hyatt I had stayed in on my previous trips – it was known as the Century Hyatt then; now it’s the Hyatt Regency.

Unfortunately, I led us in the wrong direction when trying to find the building I had worked in. The heat must have gotten to me. Finally, spotting the correct building on the map, we turned around, headed for the Nomura Building, stopped for a nondescript lunch, took some pictures and continued toward an area know as the Golden Gai, where I vaguely remembered seeing people playing Pachinko and an overall fun area.

We didn’t make it to the Golden Gai, because I led us the wrong way and went through an unrecognizable area that was quit seedy, so we turned around and headed toward the station to find another yarn store Pat had listed. While consulting our map, we must have looked really lost and a lady offered to help. Not only did she explain how to find the store, she actually led us to it. Pat bought some yarn – all is well.

We then took the metro and back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

As we were walking through the restaurant and shop area across the street from our hotel, a staff member from one of the restaurants, located off the main streets, pitched his place very well, so we went to a little hole-in-the-basement for dinner. Not bad.

6 Aug 2015

Out to Mt. Fuji today.

We walked to a nearby hotel to catch a bus provided by the travel company we were booked with. This bus took us to bus terminal where we boarded the travel company’s bus that took us on our trip. A bit convoluted but we finally got on the road. The official trip began at 9:05 AM for our 2 hour drive to the Mt. Fuji area. Traffic was terrible, especially on the Tokyo streets, but didn’t improve much outside the city.

Stopped at the Mt Fuji visitor center for a bathroom break and then headed up to the 5th station on the mountain. This station is 1/2 way to the top and where most people, who are planning to hike to the top, start their trek. We had about 1/2 an hour to visit the souvenir shops and look around. The top of the mountain was obscured by a cloud. We hoped it would clear eventually, but it never did.

We would have loved to stay at Station 5 longer in case the clouds cleared up but we were on a tight schedule to get to our lunch spot. The lunch was less then memorable but we did get to take a “ropeway” gondola ride atop a mountain peak giving us another opportunity to see Mt. Fuji. The clouds were still around unfortunately. It was really hot at the top so we scurried down as soon as possible back to our air conditioned bus.

Just so I would have a clear picture of Mt. Fuji, here is one from a brochure!
Just so I would have a clear picture of Mt. Fuji, here is one from a brochure!

We then drove another 1/2 hour to a pretty lake for a boat ride. It was a very short ride and fortunately there was a nice breeze making the trip much cooler. When we docked, we had an opportunity to talk to a US family who were living in S. Korea (Army dad) and were vacationing like us.

We were then bused out to Odawara Station to catch the bullet train (Shinkansen) back to Tokyo. This was the highlight of our Mt. Fuji trip.

The train was amazing. Not only did we reach 154 mph, but it was so smooth we hardly knew we were on a train.

We arrived at Tokyo Station and made our way back to the hotel.

7 Aug 2015

This morning it’s off to the Ueno neighborhood.

We must have left a little too early as we got to experience being pancaked on the subway. We had seen pictures and read about the crowds on Tokyo subways and how there are people outside the trains whose job it is to push people onto crowded subway cars. It happened to us. You can’t imagine how it feels to be shoved together so violently. It certainly was not necessary to hold onto railings. There was no room to possibly fall down.

At the next 2 stops, it was almost impossible for passengers to leave the train, except by violent pushing. Unbelievable! It took about 3 stops before it was reasonably comfortable standing on the train. This was the only time we saw a break in the customary bowing and courtesy. This was everyone for themselves.

Once again, I messed up and got us off at the wrong station (2 stops before we should have). So we got back on for 2 more stops. It only took a couple of minutes after leaving the correct station to find a very interesting shopping/eating area – Ameyoko. This place reminded me of Chinatown in Singapore, lots of shops selling everything you could imagine, competing with each other. In addition, there were small restaurants everywhere.

Once we had our fill of this shop area, we headed to the large park that makes up much of Ueno. The first place we entered was near Shinobaazu Pond. However, you could not see any of the pond because of the lotus plants!

We walked a short distance to the Bentendo temple on an island in the lake. Here we got one of the 2 geocaches near the lake (the other was just outside the entrance to the park).

Lunch at a nearby restaurant (as happened many times, there was no English translation of the name of the place) was very good. Earlier, when we passed this restaurant, we had seen 4 elderly ladies going in and decided to eat there ourselves. The restaurant mostly serves eel, which is fine with us.

After lunch, we strolled through another part of the park and picked up another cache. The next cache we wanted was located outside the park in a cemetery. We have wanted to see a Japanese cemetery so this cache gave us some directions. The cemetery was really interesting as the pictures below show.

The heat finally got to us and we decided to head back to the hotel to cool down and rest before going out for dinner.

As is often the case, Pat and I have trouble picking just the right place to eat. Tonight it was no different. We were looking for a noodle shop, but most of them were full and we didn’t want to wait. Or the place was totally empty – not a good sign. We ended up at what could be considered a “fast-food, noodle” place. It was just okay. Served only water – no beer. We did have an opportunity to see and hear noodle slurping. The guy next to Pat placed long fat noodles into a bowl of broth and slurped them down. It was hard not to stare at him or try not to laugh.

8 Aug 2015

Our last full day in Tokyo.

We decided we did not get quite enough time at the Tsukuji Fish Market, so back we went.

From the Market, we then walked to the nearby Hama Rikyu Garden that had once been an outer fort to the main Imperial Grounds.

Back to the Market for lunch. Then to the Imperial Palace grounds.

Then back to the hotel for a rest and off to dinner in Akasaka.

9 Aug 2015

Later today we head back to Singapore, arriving there about 11:30 PM. In Singapore, it is the 50th Birthday celebration. Everything should be finished by the time we get back, although tomorrow has also been designated a holiday.

10 Aug 2015

From The Weather Channel. covering the time we were in Tokyo:

A heat wave that has already killed dozens and sickened thousands in Japan reached another torrid milestone Friday as the nation’s capital, Tokyo, suffered an unprecedented eighth consecutive day of extreme heat.


Tokyo reached 37.7 degrees Celsius (99.9 degrees Fahrenheit) Friday, marking its eighth straight day of highs at or above Japan’s “extreme heat” threshold of 35 C (95 F). An analysis of Japan Meteorological Agency data, conducted by The Weather Channel, confirmed that the previous record was just four consecutive days sent on five different occasions between 1978 and 2013. Records began in central Tokyo in June 1875.

Really glad we found this weather news out after our trip was underway or Pat may have tried to back out.

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