Last Day in Tokyo

On Thursday, it was time for me to head back to Tokyo and the Ginza district. The return went off without a hitch, Fuji-San as beautiful as on my way to Kyoto. As we neared Tokyo, I noticed that a lot of cherry trees were blooming – many more than I had seen only five days earlier on my way down.

Despite the guilt of not fully using my half day in Tokyo for touristy things, I decided to rent a laptop at the hotel so I could transfer the three hundred photos I had taken to a flash drive and upload them to WordPress. I had grand plans of getting them all into blog posts, but it actually took a substantial amount of time just to transfer them. Hence why I am even farther behind posting pictures than I am even with writing.

The next day, Friday, I flew out to Korea in the late afternoon. This meant that I had the morning to get some last things accomplished before I left. I wanted to go to the post office to mail home some souvenirs and items I just don’t want to carry for the next two months. I figured I’d have plenty of time to mail the package and check out Ueno Park’s cherry blossoms before checking out. Well, whenever I make that assumption, it’s just begging for something to go wrong.

I set out to walk what looked, on the hotel map, to be about six blocks laid out in a grid format. It wasn’t. Well, it may have been six blocks, but it wasn’t a grid, and I got fairly lost. However, I finally came across the post office, only to find out that they didn’t take credit cards and didn’t have an ATM. That threw a bit of a wrench into actually mailing the package!

I headed out of the post office, determined to find an ATM, sure I was going to miss seeing the cherry blossoms, and wondering frustratedly why everything has to be so hard when you don’t speak the language. Not being able to communicate means that some things we take for granted are next to impossible. I’m gaining more and more sympathy for toddlers!

I found a convenience store but it didn’t take my card. I headed to a big pedestrian overpass, hoping to get my bearings. I got there and realized I was only a couple of blocks from my hotel – that windy road I had taken meant I had pretty much gone in a circle! I popped into the hotel to ask directions to an ATM, and also got directions to a closer post office. Of course, the post office didn’t open till ten, but by the time I got there, I only had a few minutes left to wait. My 20 minute errand was taking 4 times as long as anticipated.

Once in the post office, the nice lady at the counter pointed out to me that the envelope the hotel had given me was the equivalent of priority mail, and too expensive. She helped me repackage my parcel, even running back to grab a handful of candy to throw in. She either wanted me to join in an international candy smuggling operation or was trying to be welcoming to the poor American!

Finally done, I raced off to Ueno. And when I got there, what had been an avenue lined by bare branches less than a week earlier was now crowded with people and surrounded by trees loaded with pale pink fluff. It was glorious – it looked like it had snowed on the trees – and I felt very lucky to have seen it. I wandered down the avenue with the masses of people enjoying the blossoms. I can only imagine how crowded it would be when the actual cherry blossom festival started the following day!

From New to Old: Going from Tokyo to Kyoto (Part 2)

And that brings me to the view I spoke about earlier. Now the highest tower in the world, the Tokyo Sky Tree weighs in at 634m tall. It’s a tall spire with two circular viewing stations, one at 345 meters and another smaller one 100 meters higher.

We headed over, making our way through the mall around it filled with stores full of Japanese cuteness. Imagine our dismay when we found that there was essentially a line to form a line. We took a number that would let us come back and line up in over an hour later, and returned to the mall.

This was full of such intriguing stores as one which sold the life-like food models that many restaurants place in the window, plenty of stores with pretty origami paper and stationery, candy stores, and stores selling anime-related items. Anime fans, if you want to know what’s all the rage in Tokyo now, it’s Evangelion. You see signs and figurines everywhere.

T and I grabbed a snack to fortify us for the wait. I chose something with the perennial and tasty red bean filling, which was fine, but I also made the mistake of choosing some kind of melon-flavored drink box. Hmm. After the fact, T passed on some advice that I now wholeheartedly pass on to you: never get artificially melon-flavored drinks or food. They are always bad.

That experiment over, it was time to get in line for the Sky Tree. After an hour in line, we made it up to the first viewing station. It was a night view, so no chance to see Mt Fuji, but it was equally enjoyable to see the nightscape of Tokyo. And for those of you scared of heights, you need not fear to go to the lower level platform. Just avoid the pair of see-through glass floor windows (not hard to do – I didn’t even see where they were). T wanted to go to the higher platform and while I dithered (I am after all terrified of heights), I ended up deciding to go as well. I have to say it was an even more gorgeous view – especially seeing the city through the clear front of the elevator – but much harder for those of us with an irrational fear of heights, aka me.

I was staying at the Courtyard Marriott Ginza, which is much like any other Courtyard except that it is much nicer and it follows the Japanese hotel custom of providing a cotton kimono as loungewear/sleepwear during your stay. It’s a few blocks from the National Kabuki Theater, so I got to see that building on my way to the hotel. Ginza is the ritzy shopping district of Tokyo, with all the major designer boutiques you might expect. I didn’t really observe anything more than the names of the stores, however, as I was carrying the megalith of a backpack.

Then it was off to Kyoto the next day, Japan Railpass in hand. I got to take the super high-speed train called the Shinkansen. As I waited on the platform for my train to arrive, I noticed several women in bright pink uniforms (especially interesting for those who were sick and wearing a face mask – must be cold season because everywhere you look, there are masked people. Makes it a bit surreal at times.) I discovered they were the train cleaning crew when they jumped inside and ran down the aisle pulling off headrest covers and replacing them. They literally “flipped” the car by swiveling around the seats to face the train’s new direction.

I was a little bummed that I had not been able to get a window seat because Mt Fuji is visible on the train route, but when my neighbor saw me taking pictures, she switched seats with me. She then tried to tell me in Japanese that I should wait for a better shot as later I’d be able to see the base of Mt Fuji as well. At least I think that’s what she said as it was, after all, in Japanese, combined with a hand gesture that indicated either the base of the mountain or something about western women having wide, child-bearing hips. She left the train before me, helping international goodwill further by handing me a couple of Japanese treats she had in her purse. One was essentially a slice of pound cake and the other looked like a Smuckers crustless PB and J sandwich. Trying to stay on a budget, I pounced on the latter, figuring it could be a budget lunch. And indeed that first bite seemed to support this theory, as I had a mouthful of something like Nutella. However, when I tried the next pouch, it was filled with custard, and I found the other two each to be filled with other flavors. I ended up having lunch after I reached the hotel, in Kyoto station which has a floor of ramen restaurants. In front are machines like vending machines which spit out a ticket with a description of your order. No pictures, unfortunately, so I tried to match up the characters with the characters on the picture on the sign. My bewilderment was obvious as soon as a waitress saw me – she ducked inside to get the English-speaking waitress. Thank goodness there was one!