Temples

Exploring Hanoi

Hanoi StreetsOne of the things we are finding most wonderful about visiting Vietnam is how incredibly affordable everything is.  Seriously, if you are looking to take an interesting and exciting vacation, this just may be the place to go.  It has history, culture, shopping, beaches, and a whole lot to just observe and digest.

Because it is so affordable here, we are able to stay in a wonderful hotel for a reasonable price.  The Hanoi Moment Hotel, a boutique hotel in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, prides itself on customer service.  They arranged for our taxi from the airport so we wouldn’t get scammed and when we pulled up out front, the doorman ran to get our bags and carry them inside.  We were ushered in, presented with fresh mango juice and asked to sit on the couches while they checked us in.  Soon, the very smiley and friendly Jimmy sat down with us to review the amenities of the hotel and room.  When we looked up, our bags had already been taken to our room and Jimmy was escorting into the elevator and upstairs.  As he opened the door, Jimmy informed us that he turned the air conditioning 30 minutes prior to our arrival so our room would be cool for us.  A welcome tray of fruit sat on the bed and along with a complimentary bottle of wine.  The room also has free water, robes, slippers and a WiFi connected laptop plugged in.  It is really beautiful.

Welcome to Hanoi MomentThese things helped Hanoi Moment Hotel to make a great first impression, however it is everything else that has really made us fall in love.  There is a travel desk downstairs run by the very knowledgeable Ching.  She is always eager to help and has been very patient with our many questions.  She took care of booking a tour of Halong Bay which we will embark on tomorrow and also helped book tickets to a theater event.  The best part is the awesome restaurant suggestions.  They are really looking out for us.  They even gave us a list of cab companies we could trust so we wouldn’t fall prey to the scams which are so common.  We originally only booked two nights here, but we like it so much we are staying for a third.  And the most amazing part is how affordable the hotel is.  This wonderful stay is only costing $67 USD per night, including taxes.  Amazing.

Central Hanoi

It isn’t just the hotel that is affordable.  We can’t believe how little things cost here.  We first had to get used to doing the conversion from Vietnamese Dong to the US Dollar.  Twenty-one thousand dong equals one dollar.  Which means that 2,000,000 Dong equals $100. So, it is a little strange to buy two bottles of water and see the price ring up as 28,000.  But, when we stop to think about it, we realize that is less than 2 bucks.  That’s a great deal for two bottles of water!  In addition, the local food we’ve eaten has not only been inexpensive (totaling about 15 bucks for a full dinner with two beers), but it has been delicious.  The staff  have guided us to outstanding places locals choose to eat and we look forward to trying more adventurous dishes.

Temple of LiteratureAside from our interacting with the locals at restaurants and bars, we actually found ourselves engaging in some more typical tourist activities today.  The first place we visited was the Temple of Literature, essentially an academic hall of fame for scholars of Confucius.  This complex looks like a temple, but is not dedicated to religious study. Instead, it honors the teachings of Confucius which are basically focused on how to become the best person you can be (really, how to be a gentleman but I’m trying to be PC).  They have stone stelae with names of doctors who have passed the 82 Confucian exams and some of these date back to the 1400’s.  I’m glad we visited, but overall it was a bit underwhelming.  Perhaps a guide would have been helpful and we maybe could have appreciated it more.

After the Temple of Literature, we went to the Vietnam Military History Museum.  This was easily the most interesting and unsettling thing we saw today.  Of course, we all know the history the US has with Vietnam and I was really interested to visit this museum to see a new perspective.  I didn’t anticipate how upsetting it would be.  Outside the museum they have aircraft which have been captured from the French and the US, and in the center of all of these is a huge sculpture formed from wreckage of downed aircraft.  Looking at this gigantic pile of crumpled metal which had been shot down, thinking about the pilots of these aircraft and reading the plaques which brag about how many planes were brought down made me feel kind of sick.

French and US aircraft

Throughout the whole museum we got a sense of boasting about winning battles, downing aircraft and defeating the enemy.  In one exhibit, they even had the uniform of Lt. Everett Alvarez on display.  He was the first American pilot prisoner of war and one of the longest POWs in American history, having been held for over 8 years.  Seeing his uniform on display like a trophy was surreal.  I’m not sure if I’m describing this right, but the whole museum focused on triumph and victory, nothing about any casualties suffered by the Vietnamese.  They call the Fall of Saigon the Liberation.  They called the Saigon Government the Puppet Government.  The whole thing was so one-sided and filled with propaganda.  Of course, it constantly reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell, a book I love and know well from having taught it for 6 years.  It may sound strange, but we could really feel the Communism in this museum. Perhaps it was the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin across the street.  The whole thing was really interesting.At a square in Hanoi

Phil and I wondered, are American war museums like this?  I realize the closest I’ve come to one is the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but I remember that as being more a display of artifacts, not celebrations of killing.  I can imagine how visiting this museum could be very difficult, especially for members of my parents’ generation.  I’m glad we went, but our response to the exhibits has made us reconsider if we should to go the Hanoi Hilton Museum, the infamous jail where US prisoners of war were held, most notably John McCain.

Our visit to the museum today and our response to those exhibits illustrate for me the reasons why it is important to travel.  Seeing other perspectives, analyzing how information is presented and considering if that is reflected in one’s own culture broadens your horizons and makes you think about things in new ways.  I think that is one of the most valuable things that will come out of this trip.  We can’t wait to continue our journey and explore more of Vietnam.

-Brooke

The waiter had to show Brooke how to eat her Vietnamese pancake with shrimp and bean sprouts. Wrap it in rice paper and dip it in delicious sauce. Yum!

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Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Exploring, Finances, Hotels, Reflections, Surprises, Temples, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Many Differences and Surprises of Japan

Downtown TokyoDuring our time in Japan, we have naturally noticed that there is just so much that is different.  Different than we expected and also different from what we are used to.  Some of these things are small surprises, like the crazy numbers of ferris wheels and sky-reaching towers.  Some are more obvious differences, like the fact that we haven’t seen any places of worship besides temples and shrines (though we did see Mormons on riding around on their bikes).  And some are probably just silly–like how seeing an overweight Japanese person is so unusual you actually take notice.  With all of these differences and surprises, we thought we would take some time to highlight some of the more interesting things we’ve observed.

1.  Eggs, eggs everywhere–That’s right, believe it or not, the Japanese love their eggs.  This may seem like a strange thing for us to notice, but seriously, you can’t miss it.  One of the first quick meals we had here was an egg salad sandwich from the convenience store at the airport.  We figured they were just catering to Americans and didn’t think anything of it.  Since then, we have seen egg salad everywhere, from sandwiches to fillings inside of pastries.  In addition to that variety of egg, we are constantly finding sushi rolls filled with steamed egg and vegetables.  I thought it was tofu at first, but was surprised when the chef told me I was wrong.  Our ramen noodles had the optional hard boiled egg on top and the Okonomyaki (savory pancake) has an egg making up one whole side of it.  I’ve been to Japanese restaurants in the states and I swear I’ve never noticed a proliferation of eggs.  On a related note, we’ve seen no chickens.  Curious.

More Shrines2.  Super Polite People–Okay, perhaps it is no surprise that the Japanese people are super polite.  In fact, this is pretty much a stereotype that many Americans have of this country.  However, we had no idea how far this behavior would extend.  We already mentioned that people line up at the train doors rather than all crowding around in a mass.  Okay, that helps things be more organized, we can understand.  But even when the train is crazy-crowded, there is no shoving or shouldering past one another to get on or off.  People here are constantly saying “Domo” (thank-you) and bowing to you in greeting or departure.  But our favorite example came when we heard a fire truck barreling through a crowded intersection.  They were shouting over their loud speaker for people to get out of the way.  Of course, since it was all in Japanese, we only caught some of what he was saying, but he started the whole thing with “Konnichiwa,” essentially saying “Hello, good afternoon” before telling them to get the hell out of the road.  We thought that was the perfect exemplar of their incredibly polite behavior.

So many people crossing the street!3.  People, People Everywhere–Okay, we knew Tokyo would be crowded.  It is a big city with tons of people and Asia in general has the reputation for being overpopulated in many areas.  Fine, we get it.  What we didn’t get was that the entire country would be jam packed with people.  Whether it is a small town or a major city, it seems there are people everywhere.  We didn’t really realize how crowded it is until we were on Miyajima, a small island outside of Hiroshima.  Here, a ferry boat ride away, was the first place in Japan (other than a temple garden) where we found ourselves with some room to breathe.  We’ve lived in New York City for six years so we know what crowds can be like.  A typically crowded New York street is nothing compared to what we’ve seen here.  It is like Christmas at Rockefeller Center all the time, especially at the train stations.  We are not saying it is a bad thing that there are people all over, but it certainly has made us take notice and appreciate the quiet moments.

Kimonos in Kyoto!4.  Fashionistas–First, let me remind you that it is crazy hot here right now.  There is a ton of humidity, the sun is always shining, and people here walk a lot.  I am always a sweaty disaster looking like I can barely breathe.  On the contrary, the Japanese women look totally unfazed.  No matter where we are, whether it is a major tourist attraction or a small coffee shop, Japanese women are so well put together with nary a drop of sweat anywhere.  They are always wearing full make-up, quite often cute skirts, and 75% of them are wearing high heels.  (In order to keep themselves looking dry and fresh, most of them carry “sweat towels” to dab their faces.)  These are not all women who are going to and from work, either.  This is just part of the culture here.  Interestingly, almost all of the women wear some sort of stocking or hosiery all summer long.  It is completely normal to see a woman wearing stockings in the middle of summer with her open-toed sandals.  However, if they choose not to wear full stockings, many of them wear some sort of cute sock with their high heels and sandals.  It looks strange at first, but it is really cute and I bet it makes those shoes much more comfortable.  They sure look better than I do!

If this looks confusing, imagine the toilet!

If you think this Air Conditioning remote looks confusing, imagine the toilets!

5.  Awesome and Confounding Bathrooms Experience–The public bathrooms here vary from being completely awesome to totally disgusting.  I guess this is true in most places.  However, there are a few things that make their bathrooms particularly unique.  The first is the amazingly high-tech toilets found in some of the nicer restrooms.  These toilets are hooked up to a panel on the wall and they do all kinds of fun things.  The toilet seat can raise automatically, they spray water to clean you (you can adjust the pressure of the spray and the temperature), it will blow you dry with warm air, spray deodorizer and give you  multiple levels of flushing.  These are very refreshing bathroom visits.  In addition, even if the toilet isn’t this fancy, almost all of the restrooms I went into have a sensor on the wall so as soon as you sit down, a fake flushing sound starts happening.  This allows for a little background noise and some privacy to prevent any possible stage fright.  (Note:  Phil said the men’s restrooms were not this fun.) With all of these cool gadgets, you would think they would have amazing sinks and high-tech hand dryers.  To the contrary.  The bathrooms everywhere here do not have any air dryers or paper towels to dry your hands after you wash them!  We don’t understand.  Why can’t there be something to dry our hands?  Why do you want us dripping wet as we leave the bathroom?   Phil kept forgetting about the lack of towels and he would splash water on his face and have nowhere to dry it.  It’s very frustrating, but also kind of amusing.

Brooke and Gate at sunsetOf course, in any foreign country there are tons of differences both big and small, and getting to discover these is part of the fun of travel.  We were surprised to see both men and women dressed in traditional kimonos.  We figured this was outdated, but as it turns out this is common for formal occasions like weddings, funerals and fancy parties.   Another small surprise was the overwhelming number of vending machines.  They are everywhere, even in people’s front yards.  And they sell both hot and cold drinks.  Hot coffee in a can!  Genius.

We look forward to continuing our journey in Asia to see how these countries compare with one another and with the U.S.  No matter what, we will leave all of them with some amusing stories and having learned a lot about a new culture.  And that is what this is all about!

–Brooke

One of Brooke’s new favorite Japan snacks: Asparagus Biscuits!

As seen on Japan Rail

We saw this sign in a few places on the Japanese train line. I believe that when translated, it reads, “If you’re a small child who drops her hat onto the tracks, please wait for a man with a long, long pole to retrieve it instead of going down there”

What's Beef Kyoto

Sign on a restaurant in Kyoto. This one of Phil’s favorite photos from the trip thus far. As Brooke said at the time, “Well, if you don’t know what beef is, I’m probably not going to eat at your restaurant!”

Categories: Clothes, Customs, Destinations, Differences, Exploring, Japan, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Surprises, Temples, Tokyo, Trains, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Miyajima and Mazda

After visiting Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima, we decided we needed to do something different. Something totally unrelated to the atomic bomb and the events which follwed. One of the things that is so great about this trip is the fact that we find ourselves in interesting and unique places that we never even knew existed even a month ago. Miyajima Island, about 45 minutes outside of Hiroshima, is just that place.A beautiful Island

Miyajima is a renowned tourist attraction in Japan and is most widely known for its beautiful shrine gate. When I read the descriptions, what drew me most to visiting this island is the flame burning near the temple at the top. I know this sounds strange, but apparently this flame has been burning continually since it was lit 1,200 years ago. Twelve hundred years! That is utterly amazing. So, without knowing much more than this, we made the journey out of Hiroshima, first taking the street car, then the train, then a ferry! Many modes of transportation are required to get there, but Miyajima is totally worth it. Once again, our JR Pass paid for itself as the trip out and back didn’t cost us a single Yen.

Domestic Deer?When we first stepped off the short ferry ride and began walking around the island one thing struck us immediately–the amount of “wild” deer. I say “wild” because they really seem quite domesticated and docile. Having grown up in Ohio, I am used to deer which run away at the sound of people or cars. I expect deer to be skittish and elusive. Not these deer. They walk amongst the people like they are pets. People are told not to feed them, and we didn’t see any of that happening, but people were definitely petting the deer and even touching their antlers. Phil and I kept our distance, but at one point the deer came right up to me, sniffed my bag and kept going. We saw one deer steel a bag of snacks from the back of a man’s wheelchair. It was very strange and a little unsettling.

Gorgeous!Because we got there so close to sunset, we were unable to go up the ropeway which would have taken us to the 1200 year old flame, but it was totally worth missing to get to view the brilliant red shrine gate of Itsukushima-jinja at sunset. This huge gate is set out in the water, so at low tide visitors can walk up to it and at high tide it looks as though it is floating. It is one of the most sensational sights we have seen thus far. We realized that most of our time in Japan has been spent in bustling cities and crowded areas. Miyajima at sunset is the complete opposite. Sure, lots of people were there taking photos and watching the sun slide behind the mountains, but it was incredibly quiet and tranquil. We sat for almost an hour, watching the sun go down and the stars come out. It was really majestic.

Our final morning in Hiroshima found us touring the Mazda Museum. I’m not really a car buff and I certainly don’t know what makes Mazda different from any other type of car, but it was so great getting to take this tour. First of all, the facilities are absolutely huge. We were not allowed to take pictures of the outside buildings, but did learn that the assembly line is 7km long, the longest in the world. In addition, this Mazda facility has its own private bridge which is 500 meters long making it one of the longest privately owned bridges in the world. They also have a private port where their ships transport up to 5000 cars at a time to different areas overseas (it takes 14 days to transport a car from Hiroshima to Northern California).

Mazda Museum

The tour was really great, starting with a little history of the company and moving through the years. Of course there were 2 major parts which were most spectacular. First, we got to see some of the classic Mazda cars. They were absolutely beautiful. We even saw a Cosmo Sport, a sports car from the sixties which is very rare because it is entirely hand made; there were only 1200 in existence. I also thought the 3-wheeled trucks were awesove me–these were the first motor-vehicles Mazda ever made. I think I could drive one of these as my everyday vehicle!Love this truck

But to be honest, the best part of tour was actually getting to see the assembly line. It was amazing. The cars would creep down the conveyer belt while workers put different parts into place. We were surprised to see different models of cars being made on the same line. We figured that would get confusing, but they clearly have a way of keeping it all straight. We were especially fascinated by the machine that put adhesive around the edges of the windows, windshields and rear windows. It knew exactly where to go–it really is like magic. The cars are put together from start to finish at this plant, and it takes about 15 hours per car. They make about 1,000 cars per day. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the assembly line, but just trust me when I tell you it is one of the most intricate and interesting things you can see–we could have stood there watching all day.

Toy Truck?After visiting the Mazda Museum, we decided it was time to leave Hiroshima and head back towards Tokyo. We can’t believe how quickly our time in Japan is going, although that seems to be a pretty consistent theme of our trip so far. Now, we spend the day buying souvenirs and shipping some things home (we have the benefit of using the U.S. Postal Service on base). However, the most important thing we are going to do today is get prepared for tomorrow–the day we climb Japan’s tallest peak – Mt. Fuji!

-Brooke

Miyajima gate at sunset

The shrine gate at sunset is truly a sight to behold. The tide is coming in at this moment, but at high tide it looks like it is floating.

Going Green
One of Mazda’s concept cars. In an effort to “go green” there are grooves on the roof to collect rain water, filter it, and pour into a bottle for the driver to drink. Really!?

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Temples, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Kyoto, Japan


So very peaceful
Almost everyone we spoke to before arriving in Japan told us we should visit Kyoto.  It is known for its traditional Japanese buildings, its overwhelming number of shrines and temples, and its beautiful gardens.  It is at the top of every Japan Tour list and so we decided it was a “must see” for us.  We are so glad we made a visit.

Hot and SteamyWe arrived in Kyoto yesterday evening after taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Yokohama.  It was turning dark, raining and not really the right time for sight-seeing, so we did what we do best–explored the restaurant and bar scene!  Everyone who has ever been a poor college kid (or who was raised in a house with my mom) has had their fair share of Ramen noodles–you know, the hard brick of noodles with the flavor packet.  You may have had the Cup-o-Noodles variety.  I’m sure you are familiar. Don’t get me wrong, they are great and perfect for cheap eating.  But that little 49 cent pack of Ramen barely comes close to resembling the real thing.  We tasted our first real Ramen at Ippudo which sits nestled within the tightly packed streets of the Nishiki Market district.  We spied the food in front of the people next to us, pointed to their dishes and the picture of dumplings on the menu, and our order was complete.  While we waited we watched our neighbors eat Ramen with chopsticks and a spoon so we would know the etiquette.  Slurping is totally allowed and putting your lips up to the side of the bowl is expected.  Thank goodness!  When our huge bowls of steaming hot Ramen arrived, we had broth flying everywhere!  The flavor combinations were really amazing with fresh scallion and some delicious peppery oil drizzled on top.  However, the real highlight of the meal were the Gyoza, Chinese style dumplings.  These were like little bites of heaven–easily the best dumplings I’ve ever had.

Kyoto BarAfter our delicious dinner, we made our way to some bars.  Our first stop had us trying our hand at darts fairly unsuccessfully.  We left there defeated and once again found a tiny little alley and wandered down it to see what was happening.  It was so cool–door after door were bars with people lined up on stools taking turns singing karaoke.  Well, we couldn’t resist!  We are in Japan after all.  We went into one that was essentially empty and took it over by singing everything from Bon Jovi to the Backstreet Boys.  It was so tiny that when we sat on the stools our backs were up against the sliding doors.  It was essentially a hallway.  The bartender brought us this crazy looking plate with fish and noodles (which we didn’t ask for or want) and continued to chain smoke while we sang.  We were having a blast in this cramped little space, until the bill came.  We couldn’t believe how expensive our two beers were.  It turns out, we think we were being charged for each song we sang.  Crap!  We had no idea and we tried asking, but she spoke no English at all.  Oh well, that was a tough lesson learned.

Peaceful gardenThis morning, we hit the ground running and went to Hagashiyama, an area in Kyoto loaded with shrines, temples and gardens.  Wow, we fast-paced New Yorkers could really learn something from these Buddhists.  We first went to Shoren-in, an ancient temple complex which is no longer in use.  After taking our shoes off, we strolled along the tatami mats and wooden walkways of the temple buildings.  In the center of this serene complex lay a beautiful garden with a koi pond.  We found ourselves just sitting there, listening to the singing cicadas and rush of the water.  Relaxing isn’t even the word for it…more like, peaceful. My brain felt clear and still.  I can completely understand why people would come here and pray.  We both agreed the equivalent to this would be amazing in New York City.  Not far from Shoren-in, we walked to Chion-in.  This is another huge temple complex, but it is still actively used today and is a popular place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.  Unlike the other, this temple was bustling with people and activity.  We could hear chanting and bells ringing and there were certain places where we could not go because there were people worshiping. The coolest part of this temple is the San-mon, the gate at the main entrance.  It is the largest temple gate in Japan and let me tell you, it is huge!  Pictures really don’t do it justice.

Largest temple gates in Japan

After seeing a few temples, we were in the mood for something a bit different, so we headed to Nijo-jo, a castle built in 1603 which was the official residence of the first Tokugawa shogun (essentially a military dictator).  The castle and its grounds are absolutely gigantic!  We were unable to take pictures (or even sketch them, not that we would have) inside the building, but we basically understood that the shogun was the most important person in the room and all activities revolved around him.  For his protection, the castle is surrounded by both in outer moat and another inner moat.  However, if some stealthy Ninja warrior managed to get past both moats, they would have a hard time getting past the “nightingale floors.”  These are floors which “sing” each time they are stepped on so intruders are unable to come in unnoticed.  (I think Phil’s mom should have had these floors installed in the house he grew up in to keep him from sneaking out while she slept.)  The movement of the boards really does cause them to creak at each step–very clever, shogun.  Very clever, indeed.Huge castle in Kyoto

After traipsing around Kyoto in the crazy-hot sun, we found ourselves exhausted and ready for a rest.  Luckily, a smooth and air-conditioned ride on the Shinkansen awaited us.  And so, we said goodbye to Kyoto feeling much richer in our understanding of Japanese culture and history.  Now we attempt to understand modern history as we head to Hiroshima.  We both anticipate being disturbed by some of what we will see there, however we feel it is important to pay our respect and gain a greater understanding of this city and the events which took place here so many years ago.

-Brooke

We don't speak Japanese!

One of many instances when we wish we could read Japanese. What is this sculpture? It kind of looks like potatoes on a big rock, but that can’t be right.

Traditional Japanese

Our traditional Japanese style room at Hana Hostel, complete with tatami floors and mats to roll out for sleeping.

No shoes allowed!

Since guests are not allowed to wear shoes inside Hana Hostel, they have dozens of these slippers upon entering the building.

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Rail, Relaxing, Temples, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Japanese Baseball!

Tokyo Dome ScoreboardIf you had asked me back in June what was a “must do” on our trip, I would have said hitting up some international sporting events. Cricket, Rugby or even Sumo Wrestling. Want to see some sports live and in action. Yesterday, our evening in Tokyo brought us the highlight of the day and one of my favorite moments of the trip so far – attending a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome!

Holy crap on a stick, this was cool! It was baseball…in Japan. Brooke and I had an amazing time watching the game against The Hiroshima Carp (one of only 12 other teams in the league.) Wow, what an experience. Our seats were relatively high up, but the entire space was relatively small for a dome so we could see it all. The Giants wear the exact same colors of the San Francisco Giants and the team had six mascots running around the field. Six of them! Also of note were that ALL of the beer vendors were women. There were working hard: hustling up and down the aisles with min-kegs strapped to their back and big smiles and colorful outfits. And, yeah, the beers may still cost $10, but at least it was a high quality Asahi brew served by a very cute girl!

...And there were two more mascots after this!Tigers fans are loud and amazingBut the most eye-popping part of the baseball game was the crowd. Through every inning, a small brass band and loud drum led the entire stadium in a wide variety of cheers, songs and chants. Hard to do it justice in this post, but the enthusiasm and energy was infectious and constant. Every batter had his own song and when a homerun was hit – look out – the roof almost came off the place. I’ve never seen anything like it! It was like a college football game with a drum corps and even a vocal (but polite) visitors section. Remarkable. I love baseball in the states, always have, and now I think I love baseball in Japan.

The game play was exactly the same as in America and it was a high-quality competitive match up. As good as any MLB game (and there were some American players on each team). No 7th inning stretch, but there was plenty of singing. We never could find the bullpen- believe it to be behind the stands. And, sure, the Tokyo Dome is a little bit on the older side, but who cares?  With a nearly sold out crowd and those never-ending chants, the good guys won 5-0. To celebrate the win, the home team lined up and bowed to the fans! We never knew what was going to happen next. After the game, player #25 Takahashi was honored for hitting his 300th home run. At least we think that’s what was going on…baseball may be an international language, but the signs and announcements were still in Japanese. After a small ceremony, he rode on the back of a golf-cart and threw out several autographed baseballs to eager fans waiting in the outfield stands! The game is so fan friendly that it’s dizzying. A night out at the ballpark was anything but ordinary and an absurd amount of fun. Go Giants!

-Phil

Brooke and Phil at Tokyo Dome!

Categories: Destinations, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Temples, Tokyo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tokyo, Towers, Temples and Back Alley Restaraunts

Our first Japanese TempleI begin this update from Japan by asking for your forgiveness in advance. This is going to be a long blog post. There is just no way around it. Our second full day in Japan was so full and amazing, that we have a lot to share. Today was our designated Tokyo day and the entire day was spent exploring just a bit of this mammoth, expansive city. Even had an encounter with a giant Pikachu. We spent the better part of 13 hours absorbing Japanese culture from district to district. Lucky for us, you can’t really go wrong in Tokyo. With a town this gigantic, just about every neighborhood offers something capitivating, interesting and worth mentioning in a ridiculously long blog post.


Eating in TokyoWe started our day in the well-visited district of Asakusa which is likely best known for it’s Senso-Ji temple complex and hundreds of tiny, cute shops in Nakamise-Dori. Once off the train, we grabbed lunch at a beckoning seemingly-Japanese restaraunt. The language barrier struck again because I’m pretty sure that we might have actually eaten at a Chinese restaurant. The jury is still out. We had pangs of regrets later on because we passed dozens of food booths that we’re hawking delicious smelling, exotic street meat. We strolled from shop to shop, investigating endless keepsake and souvenier options (we’re overdue for some new chopsticks and Brooke thinks I would look good in a Kimono) and enjoyed the sites despite the scorching sun. We even saw some interesting plaques that gave us some handy pointers on how to Ninja Proof our new home in Louisville.

Five Storied PagodaWe finally happened across the giant, bustling temple complex. Although rebuilt in the 1960’s, Senso-Ji had an impressive collection of gates, temples and pagodas. We even took part in some rituals when we threw 100 yen in the well, said a prayer, and received a fortune based on the Japanese character for luck. There were also rituals involving burning incense and washing with temple water that were popular among the visitors. The temple complex, complete with giant lantern that could replace Lady Liberty’s torch, was a great visit.

From Asakusa, we set our sites on the newly-completed Sky Tree Town tower. Opened this past spring, Sky Tree is…well…a giant tower. Impressively tall, notably modern and complete with an entertainment complex that includes an aquarium, planetarium and crazy toy store that looks like a Tim Burton dream (this is where I saw Pikachu). The tower was packed with excited, massive crowds to fill every space. The cost to get to the top of to the tower was enough alone to dissuade us, but if that didn’t do it, the ridiculously long line would have.

The Sky Tree Town Tower Thing

Two distinct nickname: Memory Lane or Piss AlleyOur last stop of the night, was in the neighborhood of Shinjuku – with 3 million commuters going through here each day, it is home of one of the city’s largest train stations. The hustle and bustle of Shinjuku at 10:30 PM on a Friday night makes Grand Central Station look like a backwater bus stop. Once again, we learned that just taking that extra step around the corner will take you all kinds of places. We looked down a narrow and appealing alley and ended up in what they call a Yakitori style restaurant. We learned later that the alley has been called both “Memory Lane” and “Piss Alley” – which should tell you something right there. After being beckoned into a itty-bitty restaurant smack-dab against a dozen clones, we were ushered upstairs to an even smaller dining area that barely held eight people.

Kempai for New FriendsThis was a dinner like no other made up of kebabs and long sitting crowds. You know you’re having an authentic experience when the other guests are so fascinated by your presence that they ask to take pictures of YOU! The various chicken kebabs we’re tasty and “oyshikata.” When we ordered beer, we received a “White Hoppy” and “Black Hoppy” in a bottle. The waitress, in broken English, suggested we mix it with at least 1 to 2 parts water that she had brought to the table. I loaded my glass with this water, poured in the beer and sampled. Hilarity (and a touch of drunkenness) ensued when it turns out that the water….was Sake. Let’s just say it was a much stronger “beer” than I was expecting. On the long train ride home in the middle of a beautiful summer night, Brooke and I reflected that the Yakitori were shady enough to be fun, but not shady enough to make you nervous.

Today was the epitome of what we want out of our Round The World trip. Sensational new discoveries and unexpected cultural experiences. Just a great day! And it is only our second day in Japan! We’re finding our way around with greater ease by the hour. The endless amount of well marked signs is a big help. Although it’s an interesting puzzle trying to find a pattern of why some signs are in English and why some have zero English. As a bonus, we’ve even able to master a few handy phrases. As we shut down for the evening, I asked Brooke, “What will see tomorrow?” Her answer: “Everything!” Tomorrow: Kyoto!

-Phil

Gates welcoming us to shopping/temples in Tokyo

one small restaurant

Table for 10? How about restaurant for 10! I look like a giant in this place…

Pika Pika

Holy crap, it’s a life size, hugable pokemon. Pika Pika!

Categories: Destinations, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Temples, Tokyo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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