Tokyo

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 22 : Tokyo Streets and Eats

Our second day in Tokyo was packed with great activities. After our morning coffee boost we headed to the observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is a free observatory, which is really cool. It’s only 45 floors up, but still high enough to get a pretty good view. It was a little too hazy to see Mt. Fuji in the distance, but we were assured that it was there.

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From the observatory we went to Yoyogi Park. We could see the park from the observatory and it looked like a big wooded area, but it was hard to tell what it would be like on the ground. When we got there we found a wide dirt road between giant stands of trees. It was very peaceful and quiet even though there were lots of people there.

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Inside of the park is the Meiji Shrine which supposedly houses the souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken.

We weren't really supposed to take pictures of the shrine since it is sacred, but this is sort of the side of the shrine. Plus, hubster became obsessed with this tree which he felt was the

We weren’t really supposed to take pictures of the shrine since it is sacred, but this is sort of the side of the shrine. Plus, hubster became obsessed with this tree which he felt was the “most symmetrical tree in the world.”

On our way out of the park we found these displays with barrels of wine and casks of sake. Apparently these are donated every year from the wine and sake brewers to thank the emperor and empress for blessing their production.

Casks of sake donated to the shrine.

Barrels of sake donated to the shrine.

When we left the park we found ourselves in the Harajuku district, an area know as a popular youth hangout. This is an especially good area to see the young people who like to wear anime-esque costumes and there are many shops that sells those kinds of clothes.  I don’t know a lot about this particular subculture, but in Japan it is fairly common to see people (especially girls) dressed in these costume-like clothes trying to emulate favorite characters. We saw some girls in pretty amazing outfits, but weren’t really comfortable chasing them down with a camera since they are just regular people going about their regular lives.

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I made a pretty important purchase in Harajuku. Hubster did not understand why I had to have this shirt and was reluctant to let my buy it, but I finally convinced him that I needed it in my life and promised to wear it every day. In fact, I put it on immediately.

Belle has a sleeve of tattoos and glasses and is wearing a Bazinga shirt. What's not to like?

Belle has a sleeve of tattoos and glasses and is wearing a Bazinga shirt. What’s not to like?

In this area there were tons of crepe and soft-serve ice cream shops, but we were intrigued by a store that sold homemade chips and soft-serve. Like together. You could get them with chocolate drizzled on top or you could get the chips in a variety of flavors. I went with regular potato chips and plain vanilla soft-serve. Since I’m a huge fan of salty sweet combinations (I would sell my firstborn for anything salted caramel), I really liked this. Kind of like dipping your french fry in your frosty.

Chips and ice cream

After shopping and snacks we decided to visit the Shinjuku Gyeon National Garden. By this point in the day we had already done a ton of walking. We walked around the garden for a while and then found a bench to sit on and do a bit of reading. I liked that these gardens were so beautiful and well-maintained, but they were intended for people to really use, so there were people with blankets all over the place relaxing and enjoying the day.

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After relaxing for a while we decided to head back to the area around our hostel and look for dinner. I really wanted some sushi (because, Tokyo, duh) but we needed to find an ATM first. For some reason, we had the hardest time finding an ATM in Tokyo that would take my card. I’ve never had this problem before, but we tried 7 or 8 ATMs and none of them would work with either my Korean or American cards. I have no idea why, but the only ATM we could get to work was CitiBank. Just an FYI for anyone traveling there.

We went to a tiny conveyor-belt sushi restaurant where you paid per plate (plates were different prices depending on what fish they used). I love sushi so eating it in Japan was high on my list, but I have to admit that I still enjoy the westernized versions with all the fancy ingredients a little more than the real thing, which is usually just a piece of fish lying on top of a little rice mount, possibly with some wasabi. 😉 Jonathan is not a big fish eater, so he mostly watched and afterwards we went to a kebab place where he got a kebab. (Side note: there are Turkish people running kebab stores absolutely everywhere in the world. Random, but I’m not complaining as I love that stuff).

We took a few pictures in the area around our hostel while we were trying to find a bank/go to dinner.

We took a few pictures in the area around our hostel while we were trying to find a bank/go to dinner.

Of course, we needed to finish trying out the local snack varieties, so we picked up a few of those from the 7-11 and continued our assessment.

Baskin Robbins Candy

In case you are wondering, these are little chocolates filled with a vanilla flavored nougat and also pop rocks. Yes, pop rocks. As in they fizz and crackle in your mouth. It was quite the surprise.

These were intense. A little too intense for me. But if you really, really love wasabi they'd be great.

These were intense. A little too intense for me. But if you really, really love wasabi they’d be great.

Our hostel had the smallest room I’ve ever seen – we could hardly both stand in it at the same time – but of course, that didn’t matter much since we spent most of our time out and about. But one good thing about our little room is that there was a huge window that looked out right on the river so we could see sights like this at night.

I have no idea what that weird scultpture thing is...we called it the rutabaga the whole time we were there.

I have no idea what that weird sculpture thing is…we called it the rutabaga the whole time we were there.

All in all it was a fantastic adventure and we’re so glad we took the opportunity to take in Tokyo before leaving Asia. Who knows, maybe we will end up back here someday!

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure (also about Tokyo) you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 21: Temples and Robots in Tokyo

Usually, Korean holidays don’t coincide with American ones, but this past weekend (Memorial Day in the US) happened to be the holiday celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Asia. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar which means it’s on a different day each year, so it really was a happy coincidence that it fell on a Monday, creating a long weekend for us government employees.

This is our final holiday/day off before the end of our contract in August and was therefore our last opportunity to travel, so even though it was only a few days, we headed to Tokyo to take advantage of them. We’ve been to Osaka and Kyoto in the past, but we’d never been further than the airport in Tokyo. It seemed a shame to live so nearby (less than a 2-hr flight) for two years and never make it to the biggest city in the world.

We arrived in the city around noon on Saturday and immediately set out to see the Sensoji Temple which was within walking distance of our hostel.

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The temple area was packed with people, many lighting incense sticks or tossing coins into a big trough in front of the Buddha statue. Outside of the temple there were long streets of stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs. We wandered around for a while an eventually stopped at a little ramen shop for lunch.

The ramen shop was a super narrow hole-in-the-wall with just one long counter where you sit and eat what these guys cook up for you.

The ramen shop was a super narrow hole-in-the-wall with just one long counter where you sit and eat what these guys cook up for you.

So much deliciousness.

So much deliciousness.

After lunch we had to go back to our hostel to check into our room and put our bags away. From there we took a long subway ride to the Shinjuku district looking for the famed Robot Restaurant. We’d heard about this place from friends who went in the past and we were intrigued. Restaurant is a bit of a misnomer since food isn’t central to the experience. In fact, we didn’t eat anything while we were there. It’s more of a show at which you can have food and drinks if you want. We weren’t exactly sure where it was, so we wandered around for a while before we found it, but the area was interesting so we didn’t mind the stroll. We were intending to buy tickets and come back later that evening for the show, but when we arrived around 3:45 the evening shows were sold out, but there was a show starting in 15 minutes, so we just went for it.

Area near the Robot Restaurant complete with Godzilla head attached to one of the buildings.

Area near the Robot Restaurant complete with Godzilla head attached to one of the buildings.

The tickets were pricey, but this was one of the weirdest and most unique experiences of my life. It was everything you imagine when you hear stories about how strange Japanese culture is. There were robots and dancing girls in weird and revealing costumes and huge radio-controlled animals and lots of drums. It was like a super geeky 13-year-old boy had been given unlimited resources to create the world of his dreams.

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The show itself was incredibly corny. The best (and by best I mean most ridiculous) part was a story where there was a peaceful planet that gets invaded by robots and the forest and sea creatures must band together to fight the robots. The robots literally came out and said things like, “This planet is so peaceful. Let’s trash it!”

The part where Kung Fu Panda came out on a cow to save the forest from the robots.

The part where Kung Fu Panda came out on a cow to save the forest from the robots.

After the show we decided to look for Yoyogi Park which has a shrine in it. Unfortunately, we had some trouble finding the entrance, and as we wandered around looking for a way in, I started to get very tired and very hungry and very cranky. Eventually we abandoned our plan and resolved to come back the next day. Instead we found a tasty dinner of donkatsu and Japanese curry.

Fortified with dinner we went down to Shibuya Station, famous for being the busiest intersection in the world. We walked back and forth across the intersection a few times taking pictures of the crowds and then went up to the second floor of the department store to look out the windows. This was a great place for people-watching.

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By the time we’d finished with all of that it was after 10 pm and we’d been going non-stop since 5:30 that morning. We headed back to our hostel to shower and sleep, but not before picking up a few local snacks to try. One of our favorite things when traveling is to try out all the special varietals of regular snack foods. Japan is especially famous for their green tea (matcha) flavored treats. I happen to like green tea, so I enjoyed a lot of these.

Green tea mini oreo. Loved these.

Green tea mini oreo. Loved these.

Raspberry Kit Kats. These have such a strong fake raspberry flavor and it is so artificial tasting that we weren't big fans.

Raspberry Kit Kats. These have such a strong fake raspberry flavor and it is so artificial tasting that we weren’t big fans.

Green Tea Kit Kat bites stuffed with red bean paste. I really like the regular green tea kit kats, but I'm not that into the red bean paste.

Green Tea Kit Kat bites stuffed with red bean paste. I really like the regular green tea Kit Kats, but I’m not that into the red bean paste.

Check back next week for more Tokyo adventures! If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.