Part 2 of the ski and see itinerary focuses on Tokyo, where we spent 3.5 days. I didn't include the last half day in the official count because we didn't do much that day, but it could definitely be better taken advantage of. Hope you like it!
Day 6: Arriving in Tokyo and Ameya - Yokocho
We woke up early and returned the rental car. I will go into more detail on this in another post, but it was not an easy task. After finding a taxi to get to the airport from the rental car center, we checked in and after a quick American style breakfast of coffee and a bagel (with schmear, no less), we boarded our domestic flight to Tokyo around 8 am. We landed a short time later, about 1.5 hours, we made our way to the metro and the subway to our hotel in Akihabara, the Dormy Inn. It's a hotel chain, but we stayed in it because it had onsen in the hotel, on the 9th floor to be exact. We left our bags with the front desk and went out in search of food. We ate at a restaurant close by that served udon. We went in, ordered at a machine, got a ticket and waited to be seated. After being seated, we gave the waitress our tickets, and our food came quickly, with green tea. It seemed lunch was not to be lingered over, so we didn't. Not wanting to waste the day, we walked to Ameyo-Yokocho, an open-air market that used to be a black market. It was neat, but it seemed like any Chinatown you go to in San Francisco, Toronto, or LA. A lot of cheap stuff. Still the area was neat, so we walked around for a while. We took the train to the Kabuki theater to see the times, but we were amazed with the amount of people in line. The ticket sales opened only about 2 hours before the show, and people lined up it seemed before then. We were not excited about the prospect of standing in that line after walked for so long so we promised to come back eventually and we went back to the hotel, after first stopping at a Lawson's station (convenience store) for some beers. We checked in and went to our rooms to get settled. We decided to try the onsen after that. There are lots of posts about onsen experiences, but I'll post mine later anyway. After the onsen, we tried to go out to dinner around 8pm, but we were either too late, too many or too much of a hassle, because we were turned away from 4 restaurants before settling on a more fast food style place with a picture menu we could point to. We ate dumplings, fried chicken, rice, and egg-drop soup with beer before turning in.
Day 7: Meiji Shrine, Takeshita-Dori, Owl Cafe, Golden Gai, and Piss Alley
The guidebook said to get to the Meiji Shrine early, to see the priests play the ceremonial drum and to avoid the crowds. We got there just after 8 am and heard the drums but didn't see them. The whole landscape was tranquil, peaceful and quiet (besides the obvious drums). There were several people walking through wearing suits. At first, I thought they might be cutting through the park on their way to work, but I realized they might be paying their respects before work. The Meiji Shrine itself was massive, clean, and well-attended even at the early hour. After roaming the grounds, we stopped at a Japanese cafe Doutor for a morning coffee, which felt a little like the Japanese version of Tim Hortons or Dunkin' Donuts.
After our fill of caffeine, it was off to Takeshita-Dori, a Japanese pedestrian shopping area filled with Japanese style clothing stores (many Lolita and Goth stores, but no one out wearing the clothes just yet that morning). Our friends had been wanting to visit a cat cafe, so they did that while we went to the owl garden. There were about 8 owls tied to branches, which seemed a little mean. Their sign said they mostly slept during the day and they were let loose at night, which was marginally reassuring. We were allowed to pet them with the backs of our hands, though a few of the owls looked rather menacing, tapping their beaks open and closed when we came near. We decided to avoid these owls. We didn't sign a waiver or anything when we entered so I don't know what would have happened if we did get bit.
On our way to Shibuya crossing we walked through the Harajuku district, and similar to Takeshita-Dori, there were no girls out in the odd clothing we were hoping to see. We made it to Shibuya crossing after a quick lunch, oft called "scramble crossing" as when the light changes, you can cross all ways. It's said that up to 1,000 people cross in a light change. As crazy as that sounds, it was all very organized and everyone still kept to painted crosswalks. Everything was chaotically organized.
We decided to go back to Shinjuku station and explore the Golden Gai and Piss Alley before they opened for the night. The area was almost deserted, only a couple of restaurants in Piss Alley were open serving a few people. Golden Gai, approximately 6 alleyways stuffed with bars, was rife with signs in English, welcoming foreigners, proclaiming drink minimums and cover charges. I read that it was where the locals go to drink, but after seeing all the signs, I was not entirely convinced.
We had dinner near our hotel in Akihabara at a steak restaurant named Dan-Te. They only had Japanese menus, despite the English writing on their sandwich board, the windows and the walls inside. Thankfully one of us had purchased an international plan on our phone and could translate using google translate. We were pretty proud we got what we thought we ordered - 4 steaks and several vegetable sides. The steaks were very tender and good cuts, but the best thing we ate was when the waiter brought us complimentary fried beef to our table. I wanted to take back the whole meal and just eat that.
Day 8 - Asakusa and Imperial Palace Gardens
We started our later morning at Asakusa, visiting the shrine and all the shops. We dined on fried, breaded cabbage and meat dumplings, fried curry dumplings, beer and ice cream (I had Sakura flower, which was sweet and almost tasted lightly berry and ginger flavored, very fresh) for lunch from the vendors.
After a thorough exploration of Asakusa (and plenty of souvenirs), we wandered towards the Imperial Palace Gardens. They were littered with people, performers, landscape features, and buildings, plenty to see. The area was ridiculously large. I honestly preferred the quiet reverence of Meiji Shrine to the Imperial Gardens. We did get to see one cherry blossom tree in bloom, although it was still early in the season.
Day 9 - Leaving Tokyo
We had an afternoon flight to Tokyo, so we took our time getting up, getting packed and having breakfast at yet another cafe, although this one poorly attended. We headed on the JR line to Haneda and took our time getting checked in and through customs, to head our way home.
What did we miss??
Let's get lost in Tokyo!