Friday, June 26, 2009

Japan Day 15 - Heading back to Guam

By Leo

And so the journey ends.

We've spent two amazing weeks here in Tokyo, and today we head back to Guam.

Our flight is at 10 a.m. at Narita airport, which means we have to be there between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. to check in our bags. Which means we have to get on the Keisei Airport Express train by 7 or 7:30 a.m. at the latest. Which means we need to get on the subway by 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. to get to Ueno station for the Keisei train. Which means we need to head out of our apartment by 6-6:15 a.m. Which means Leo had to wake by 4:30 a.m., which he did. Or I did. My grammar is mixed up by this point.

Chloe and Justin fell asleep on the Keisei train, which was pretty nice.

Rain and Maia looking forward to getting home.

Eva, Seth and Noelle on the train.

We bought a couple extra duffel bags to pack the things we bought in Tokyo -- remember that we only brought carry-on backpacks on the way to Tokyo. So on the way to the subway and airport, I was carrying 3 big duffel bags (one on my back as a backpack, and one on each shoulder). It was a great workout. The journey to the airport was a rushed and rough one. We should have started earlier. :)

The plane ride wasn't too bad, actually, except there was one Japanese boy of elementary age who threw the mother of all tantrums, crying and screaming and throwing himself on the floor and rolling down the aisles ... all the way to Guam. The. Entire. Trip.

Other than that, the trip wasn't bad, though tiring. We got home and fell into bed. Actually, I couldn't sleep so I unpacked my stuff and reorganized my clothes in my closet.

It's nice to be home. :)

Japan Day 14 - Meiji Temple, Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Tower

By Leo

This was our last full day in Tokyo (we leave early in the morning the next day) and so we tried to get some last-minute sightseeing and shopping done -- stuff we hadn't done yet that we really wanted to do.

That included Tokyo Tower, which looks exactly like Paris' Eiffel Tower, as well as the Meiji Temple and the huge Roppongi Hills complex.

We started by heading to Shibuya, doing a little shopping and a lot of walking. We went to Dean & Deluca's (a little New York gourmet deli) and packed a picnic to take to Yoyogi Park for lunch. I was thinking sandwich stuff and fruits, but the kids wanted some pre-packed lunches such as Indian butter chicken and naan and tandoori chicken, or a pasta meal. I just had this asparagus and tomato salad plus bread, while Eva had a salad.

Eva after lunch, with her ever-present cup of coffee.

Eva and the kids at the Meiji temple tori (entrance gate). Meiji temple is the most popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo, and is really really lovely. It's set in the middle of Yoyogi Park and has wide gravel paths, very serene, leading up to the temple.

Eva and the kids again.

Here's Rain, picking leaves over a little gutter that the kids used as a racing track -- they raced leaves floating along the water. OK, I joined in too. :)

Maia, Rain, and Chloe drinking from the fountain at Meiji temple.

Noelle around this tree at the temple with really cool roots.

The kids looking at little wooden plaques with prayers from different visitors.

Here's one prayer written by a youngster from Singapore, wishing for his/her papa to slim down to at least 80kg.

After the temple, we took the subway to Roppongi Hills, a new development in the Roppongi district (often known as a red-light district). Roppongi Hills is a lot of things, but mostly it's really huge. It has a couple of really large towers, and you can go to an observatory at the top and see all of Tokyo. Within this complex are things such as: several shopping complexes, an art gallery, a library, a hotel, luxury apartments, offices, parks, many many restaurants, fountains, and more. We didn't see all of it -- we didn't have time. We just looked at this really cool spider sculpture (a favorite of Seth's -- he didn't want to leave it) and looked around the shops (really expensive ones) and then had ice cream at Coldstone.

After Roppongi Hills, we walked a good distance to Tokyo Tower. Here are Eva and the kids in front of the tower. I took it while on the ground. :)

You have to buy tickets to get to the observatory on Tokyo Tower, which was a disappointment because I was hoping to run up the stairs, but apparently that isn't allowed. The views from the observatory did not disappoint. You can walk around and see a 360 degree magnificent view of Tokyo. Above is one shot I took.

Here's another.

And as we left, I took a shot of the tower beautifully lit up.

Japan Day 13 - Disney Sea

By Rain and Justin

Once upon a time, in the land of Japan, on a rainy day, a family went to Tokyo Disney Sea. A place like Disney Land, but with rides for the older kids.

At the entrance there was this huge globe fountain. It looked pretty cool. There was water drifting down the globe like a clear sheet.

The buildings near the globe made a pretty good impression of old Manhatten. Steam even came out of the fake manholes when it was cold. And the cars were good too.

In that volcano was the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride. It was a roller coaster-like ride through a place that looked like what the center of the earth was in the movie. There was a really loud monster, weird things that ate moss off giant mushrooms, and a huge drop. At the end you go out to the side of the mountain, and you can see how ultra high you are before the cart goes down.

It was a very rainy day when we got there, but luckily, it dried up later. And Noelle was wearing a cute poncho!

The buildings look realistic at the Arabian coast area. They were the best life size building models we saw at the park. And the models were all very good!

The Mermaid castle was Noelle's favorite place. There were Jumping Jellyfish, a Theater, and an explore the sea place. It was more of a kids' place. But there was a cool roller coaster. It was kinda fast.

There was ab Indiana Jones ride. They took a picture of us so we could how scared we were. We were all smiling just in case. We already rode a ride that took our picture.

This is young Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, he was too short to ride, but we got him an Indiana Jones hat. He was pretty happy after that, even though he missed the one ride he was looking forward to.

The Sinbad ride was the Small World of Disney Sea. It was kinda boring (it was in Japaese). We pretty much just a ride through a bunch of scenes from the book.

Aquapolis was a fun ride. We got in these little floaters and they took us on a spinny (but kinda relaxing) ride through a little pond like body of water. Us boys liked it enough to ride it twice.

We met Goofy! He acted funny. But Noelle got too scared to take a picture with him. We'd love that job.

This lovely building will change your life. The Tower of Terrer houses a scary story, followed up by probably Disney's most thrilling ride. It takes you up super high, so high you can see the whole park. Then FLASH! It takes a picture of the paranoid look on your face, and drops you. Then it repeats the process a couple times without the picture.

Japan Day 12 - Tsukiji, River Cruise and Sensoji

By Leo

What a day this was! After all the shopping, we really wanted to do more cultural things today, so we planned it all out. We didn't end up doing it all, but it was still quite an experience.

We started out super early -- we left the house before 5 a.m. so we could get to the Tsukiji Fish Market (pronounced "ski-ji"), the top recommended tourist experience in many guidebooks.

When we got there, there were no signs telling tourists where to go. In fact, it seemed like tourists weren't welcome. We made our way through speeding carts, wet fishy pavement, and people hauling around all kinds of boxes and seafood. The dodginess of it all, however, is part of the appeal.

Here's a worker with a coupla large tuna that will soon be fresh sashimi or sushi.

The auction was something like we've never seen before -- it was worth hauling Eva and the kids out at 5 a.m. for this! Basically, there are several auctioneers in a room filled with huge, huge frozen tuna (caught the day before) and lots of buyers (or middlemen who will sell it to restaurants and groceries). An auctioneer will ring a brass bell for a couple of minutes before starting to auction a group of tuna laid out on the floor in front of him. He stands on a box and starts yelling things crazily and loudly and quickly, unlike any auctioneer I've ever heard. He seriously sounds demented. The buyers will bid with gestures, but all of the action is with the auctioneer -- he looks like he's going to burst a vessel. Sometimes there are a few going on at once, all in a huge cold warehouse.

Some of the tuna laid out in rows.

Here are some of the little shops and stands outside the Tsukiji fish market. You can get some good sushi and seafood in these little restaurants -- or so I'm told. We didn't actually eat breakfast here because the kids weren't in the mood -- they wanted something more American. So we went to Denny's and had pancakes. I know, but they're kids. :)

After our pancake breakfast we checked out a little temple. This is a fountain with ladles near the temple that I thought was neat.

We were going to go to the Hama Detached Palace Gardens next (it's very close to Tsukiji fish market), but it was still 8 a.m. and the gardens didn't open until 9 a.m. So we found a little playground and the kids played while Eva and I rested. Above, Maia enjoys the swing while the boys play some incomprehensible game in the background.

Eva pushes Noelle, who experiences pure joy known only to 3 year olds.

And here's the Hama Detached Palace Garden, really a beautiful garden that used to be part of the Tokugawa Shogun family's residences. The shogun hunted ducks here, we understand. It was extremely peaceful, nicely tended, an oasis among some really huge skyscrapers.

This is the teahouse in the Hama Gardens, where Chloe and Maia and I had some green tea and a Japanese sweet served to us. The teahouse seems to float on this little pond. The tea and sweet were delicious. Unfortunately, I embarrassed myself by spilling some of the tea while trying to demonstrate to the girls how refined I was. :)

After we strolled through the gardens, we took the Sumida River Cruise, which has a stop right at the edge of the gardens. Unfortunately, I was low on cash as there are so few ATMs in Tokyo that accept my debit card, so we couldn't buy tickets at first. I had to leave the gardens, run around the business district in the area looking for ATMs -- and it took me three tries at three different ATMs to get the cash -- and then run back, pay another entrance fee into the gardens, while Eva and the kids waited for me. Then we bought the tickets and took the river cruise. Above, Eva enjoys the peaceful river while Seth takes a rest.

Actually, the river seemed to have a sleepy effect on most of the kids, who had been up since 4:30 a.m.

At the end of the cruise, we were in Asakusa, a nice little district that is more traditional than the more modern districts in Tokyo. This is a little restaurant that had a tree and benches I really liked.

In Asakusa, we headed for the famous Senso-ji Buddhist temple, which was very cool but turns out to be at the center of a lot of little shops aimed at tourists. The shops are mostly along Nakamise Dori, a little pedestrian street with everything for sale from Japanese toys to samurai swords to sweets and t-shirts and shoes and handbags. Being the tourists we are, we loved it. :)

Senso-ji temple was pretty cool, if a little overcrowded.

Chloe washes her hands and drinks from the fountain with a ladle. The water was cool and clean and cleansing. There was also an incence burning thing where you are supposed to inhale the smoke and it gets rid of illnesses. Also, you can toss coins in the temple and pray. The temple is like a thousand years old (I forget the details now), although it has been rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII.

After the temple, we went home, exhausted after a long day of really cool sightseeing.

Japan Day 11 - Akihabara

By Justin and Rain

Today, we went to Akihabara, the electronics district. There were mostly stores full of cameras and computers, and laptops.

The stores had loads of phones, tiny laptops and cameras. We only went to four or five stores with stuff like DS games, PSPs, IPod Touches, and other games.

The streets were packed with people. There weren't a lot of cars on the road when compared with the people. And there was a lot of Pachinko (slot machine) places.

In the alleys, there were smaller stores selling DVDs, computer stuff, and sometimes games. There were signs everywhere, mostly ads.

On the streets and in alleyways, there were people dressed in costumes, most of them handing out ads. We didn't find any boys dressed up though.

Some stores with anime stuff. And stuffed animals. Most of them were characters we knew nothing about. There were also stuffed dolls of game characters, Kirby, Link, Mario, etc.

We liked the stores a lot. Even though we didn't know about the stuff they were selling.