May 28, 2022

Pat and Ray visit Tokyo (2-9 August 2015) Part II

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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