Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 11.40 am JST
sotd: BoA, Winter Love
cotd: GWS191 Lexus GS450h Version L
And then the second semester of school finished. Which meant we were free to go somewhere . . . as long as we took vacation days to do it. Since leaving Japan was already out of the question, mostly due to cost constraints, we went to the only other natural place to go: Tokyo, to see the big city and reunite with as many friends as possible. We gave ourselves five days to be there by leaving on an overnight bus from Kobe on Friday, December 22 and arriving in Tokyo on the morning of Saturday, December 23, staying and cramming in as much as we could do until Wednesday, December 27 when we would take an overnight bus back to Osaka where we would meet Jamie on the morning of Thursday, December 28 and be with her until Sunday, December 31. (But that’s for an altogether separate post.)
As they say, rest is for the weak.
Friday, December 22 / Saturday, December 23
After work on Friday, which involved no classes as it was the last day of school and therefore reserved strictly for the 終業式 (end-class-ceremony), I quickly gathered up and packed the rest of the things I needed and then hit the road for Miki. Once there, I helped Kristine get the rest of her things together, stepping out briefly to run and grab us a light dinner from McDonald’s, and helping ourselves to part of the christmas cake I got via my school’s food processing section. It’s the way to go, folks. Don’t be fooled by those nonsense pamphlets at Lawson. After a 50-minute ride into Kobe which seems to be getting shorter the longer we live here (or it could just be me WANTING it to be shorter), we waddled over to the Sannomiya Bus Terminal and . . . waited. At 10:30 we were off, in a JR bus which was sadly much more cramped than the Keihan buses I’ve taken before.
At roughly 7:15 am, we arrived at JR Shinjuku Station, ready for our first vacation in Japan. After a stop at Starbucks, we got on the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku to Ikebukuro, then transferring to the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line to head to Edogawabashi Station, where we emerged from Exit 3 and crossed the street, passed Hanamizubashi (華水橋!) and arrived at the Endo residence. Trust me, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. After breakfast and freshening up time, we left and got back on the subway, heading for Chiyoda-ku (千代田区), the physical and political center of Tokyo City, home to the Imperial Palace and many of the national government facilities. Today, we would be going into the palace to experience 天皇誕生日. Normally, the interior grounds of the palace are closed to the public (read: commoners) except for two days: January 1 and December 23, the latter being Emperor Akihito’s birthday. Lucky for us that we could catch an overnight bus to Tokyo on December 22. I dare say, the timing couldn’t have worked out better. Before going into the palace grounds, we met up with one Christopher Killmer, back in Tokyo at his family’s house for winter break.
It was quite the event, with as much shouts of “Banzai!” and waving of paper Japanese flags as one can imagine. The Emperor’s speech was short and simple, thanking everyone for coming and wishing them health and good fortune in the upcoming year. On a side note, he speaks slower than any Japanese person I’ve ever met. I’m wondering if it’s his special speech voice, or his, you know, normal voice. After the event was over, Kristine and I and Killmer walked through the grounds of the palace and came out on the east side, perfectly placed to wander over to a rather more controversial location: Yasukuni Shrine.
After wandering around the Yasukuni grounds and having seen more than a sufficient number of scary black communist vans and similarly scary middle-aged suit-wearing Japanese men, we were off, heading back around the palace and finding ourselves at the beginning of Aoyama-dori, which cuts straight through one of the poshest areas in Tokyo. We three stopped at McDonald’s for a much-needed lunch and then split up, as Killmer needed to head home. We were headed in the direction of Shibuya.
Once at Shibuya, we took in the wonder that is the front side of JR Shibuya Station, took some pictures with Hachiko, and met Mari! After some walking around the Shibuya area, we stopped for food and conversation at a cafe that turned out to have some pretty awful service (for Japan standards). After parting back at Shibuya Station, Kristine and I headed back towards Ikebukuro where we waited for the Endos to return from a house party. Once that happened, we reconvened back at the 遠藤家 and took a taxi over to La Qua, a shopping/dining/entertainment complex across the street from the Tokyo Dome. We were in fact here to celebrate the opening of a new Hub, as the Endo children are acquaintances of the chain’s owner, which is a good or bad thing depending how you look at it. Considering the first drink on the menu is always absinthe, I’m leaning towards the bad side. Killmer also made it out and joined us for the time being. Pictures are on Fotki if you haven’t seen them already. After the festivities, half the group (which we were part of) took a taxi back, while Taka, Killmer, and Kaz walked back to the house. I’ll leave out Kaz’s head-butting incident for the sake of brevity. If you want to know, you can ask him yourself. Everybody crashed soon after and even Killmer stayed the night.
Sunday, December 24
The next day we got a not-too-early start and headed out towards Harajuku to see a couple attractions. They turned out to be half-success-half-failures. The first was to find the Nodame Cafe, a time-limited themed restaurant based on the popular Fall 2006 Fuji TV drama Nodame Cantabile. We ended up finding the exact place, but learned that December 24 and December 25 (also the airing date of the final episode) were completely booked up and that we couldn’t get in. Bummer. So we commiserated over an Italian lunch down the street. Afterwards, we headed to the new Audi Forum Tokyo showroom in an attempt to see the hottest car of 2008, the new Audi R8 sportscar. I had already read that coinciding with the opening of the Audi Forum was the first showing of the R8 in Japan, but when we got there, no R8 was to be found. In the spot where it used to sit was a much lowlier but still lovely TT. Oh well. Not to be deterred, we roamed through Harajuku’s famous Takeshita-dori and upon emerging from the backside, experienced the KDDI Designing Studio. Never mind that we are NTT DoCoMo customers. After playing with all the free toys in the KDDI building, we headed back through Takeshita, stopping for crepes and kind of unexpectedly meeting Killmer there, we headed back for the Christmas Eve Wine Tasting Party at the 遠藤家. See pictures.
Monday, December 25 [クリスマス]
After waking up pretty late, we waited with Taka for Aki to arrive, and then went to lunch at a nearby udon shop. Not having any very specific plans, we went with Aki out to Asakusa to see the famous Sensoji, and walk through Nakamise-dori and some of the other shopping streets. At the Asakusa station of the still-brand-new Tsukuba Express, we parted, with Aki heading for Ibaraki and us heading one station in to the terminus at Akihabara Station. From there, we
saw didn’t see much of the typical Akihabara fare, as it was a regular working day at approximately twilight hours. (Twilight and Akihabara in the same reference! Points if you can figure out what in the world I’m referring to.) After a couple laps of walking up and down Chuo-dori, we stopped in for a Christmas Pepper Lunch and then got on the subway to Ginza, home to the most expensive real estate in Japan. By this time, it was already dark, and we mostly enjoyed the lights and traffic of downtown Tokyo as we headed towards Marunouchi and the Tokyo Station area. Despite getting lost not a few times, we eventually made our way back to Yurakucho and got on the subway back for Edogawabashi.
Tuesday, December 26
After another mid-morning start, we ventured out into the worst rain of the year (seriously, I swear it was approaching typhoon status) to head to Odaiba, everyone’s favorite artificial island. After getting on the New Transit Yurikamome at Shimbashi (which is heavily featured in the first five minutes of Supli, btw), we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge and got off directly in front of the Fuji Television Headquarters Building. Once inside, we enjoyed to our hearts’ content the sights and sounds of some of Fuji’s most famous shows, including Kristine’s favorite Chibi Maruko-chan, and our encounter with the Fuji mascot dressed up as a samurai to promote a period drama. After we were Fuji-ed out, we got back on the Yurikamome and got off directly in front of the Toyota Mega Web. Highlights included the Lexus corner and the recently debuted Toyota Blade. I already know I’m going to need to go back sometime, as I didn’t have enough time to see the historic car showcase, as well as experience the Ride One attraction (though that was also on account of my not having my international driver’s license at the time). By about 5:30 we hightailed it off the island to head back to Edogawabashi to meet the Endos for a pretty authentic Chinese dinner.
Wednesday, December 27
On our last day in Tokyo, Kristine and I and Taka headed out towards Ochanomizu Station to meet Killmer and the one and only Takako Kamata! Having last seen her in December 2004 when I stayed at her family’s house during my first trip to Tokyo, it was a reunion waiting to happen. We immediately headed for lunch at the place previously decided by Taka(ko), the Mu’u Mu’u Diner. Loco mocos in Japan…wow. Afterwards we stopped at the always quirky Village Vanguard and saw the Confucian Yushima Seido, walked over to Kanda Myojin, and then headed back to Shinjuku. Emerging at Takashimaya Times Square, we walked over and across the tracks to discover Japan’s first Krispy Kreme Donuts…12 days old and with a 2-hour plus wait. Great. In the meantime, we had to say goodbye to Takako but a little while later met with Aki again and Yuki at the station. In our search to find food, we ended up at one of Shinjuku’s many 居酒屋 (izakaya)…you know the ones with the guys who stand on street corners with their headsets, advertising to groups to come to their particular store. After this and a couple pictures later, we headed back to Ikebukuro, where Kristine and I were in a literal scramble to find Tokyo Banana before (a) we had to get on the bus and (b) before all the department stores closed for the night. Luckily we did, and had it shipped ahead of us back to Hyogo. Then it was back to Taka’s house to pack up everything and say our goodbyes, and then we were on the Tokyo Metro for one last time to head to Shinjuku and wait for our JR Highway Bus back to Kansai. After lots of waiting and a few delays, we were on the bus–in the extra comfortable seats, no less–and back to whence we came.