Let me tell you that the fun from our trip to Thailand and Japan did not stop when we left. When we got back, we received and poured over pictures from our trip, and I quickly got our pictures printed and scrapped! Bo Bunny's Serenity line is just perfect for them! You can see more details about this layout here.
As you can see, we visited the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and the Tokyo National Museum, but I am getting ahead of myself. First, we braved a 6 1/2 hour flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, which actually wasn't too bad because we were in a nice plane. We told an "Airport Limo" [bus] from the airport to Shinjuku Station, which was just a couple minute walk to our hotel. We stayed at the Shinjuku Prince Hotel, which is a cute, clean, centrally located hotel that we would recommend. As an illustration of the differences between Japan and Thailand, however, the price for our great room at a beach-front Hilton hotel in Hua Hin was the same as the cost of our tiny Tokyo hotel room, which was literally twice the size of our double bed:
The room also had the smallest full bathroom known to man (basically an airplane bathroom with a shower added) but the toilets were high-tech and outfitted with a seat warmer and bidet:
The coolest part, though, was when you ducked into one of the alleys, you walked into a whole different world: quiet & charming (and, of course, safe -- we felt like you could really go anywhere in Tokyo at any time).
Our first eating adventure in Tokyo was at a restaurant at the end of one of these alleys. It was a very typical Japanese restaurant that served hot food that they cooked there, but the way you ordered was totally different! Instead of ordering at the counter or with a waiter, you ordered at a machine. It was actually really helpful, because the machine had pictures with prices and you just selected what you wanted, put money in the machine, and it spit out a ticket that you handed to the person behind the counter (goodbye language barrier!)
We started sight-seeing in earnest the next morning by taking the train (JR -- much easier to navigate than I feared) to the Tokyo district (a business district) to get to the Imperial Palace. Since the palace is occupied, you can't go in (or really get too near it). You can see the palace to the left in the background of this picture:
The public is allowed to explore the palace's East Gardens. As soon as we got inside, we encountered this confusing sign (don't hang around the entrance to the garden? don't come in at all? don't spend the night?) and had to take a picture:
One of the coolest aspects of the various gardens that we visited in Tokyo (more to come) is that they are smack in the middle of the city, like a bunch of Central Parks. You forget you are in Tokyo unless you happen to get a view of the office buildings over the treeline:
After we left the park, we found lunch in the basement of an office building and ate udon surrounded by Tokyo businessmen!
Next, we took the train to Akihabara ("Electric Town"), the area of Tokyo devoted to electronics and gaming. There were countless multi-story buildings over blocks and blocks of city just packed with various electronics and appliances.
And the games. They had wall to wall claw games and super-intense pod games with 300 degree screens in arcades that took up all 8 stories of a building:
And, of course, there were cute shops with ridiculous merchandise:
Our last outing for the day was much more refined: the Tokyo National Museum. It is located in Ueno, the district in Tokyo that has a number of different museums (love how all of these districts show a different side of Tokyo!) We saw beautiful paintings and manuscripts and, of course, samurai armor and swords:
We finished our first full day in Tokyo with a fantastic tempura meal!
For day three, we used the metro (we got free one-day metro passes when we purchased our airport limo tickets).
Our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is in the area of town called Chuo. We did not get there at 4am to see the fish auction (we value our sleep waaaay too much) but we were able to make it at 9am when the market officially opens to the public. It is certainly a working market, with tons of seafood coming in and being moved around. We saw tuna,
and so much more. The best part? Eating it! In the "outer market" there were cute ceramic shops where Rachel picked up a few things and a number of sushi shops. We found some delicious sushi and sashimi at this cute place where the chefs cheered both when we entered and when we left! We had some of your more typical sushi and sashimi (the best quality ever, literally pulled out of the ocean hours earlier!) but we also tried new things (I will admit that the sea urchin -- the orange stuff next to the cucumber fourth from the right -- was not my favorite, but good to try nonetheless!)
Our next stop was Asakusa, which had cute shops, their version of the Hollywood stars, and a famous temple.
The Sensoji Temple is very beautiful and has the biggest lanterns I have ever seen!
Our last stop of the day was in Shibuya, another bustling city center. We went there to see the Shibuya intersection, an intersection famous for its huge pedestrian crossing. The thing about Tokyo is that most people take the train/subway so the amount of motor vehicle traffic is very small for a city of that size and population. Since most people walk to/from the stations, the sidewalks are crowded (but very orderly) and the intersections are full of people! Each intersection has lights for cars going one way, then cars going the other way, and then pedestrians going every which way! This intersection in particular is where 5 different busy streets intersect and it is also right next to the station, so throngs of people constantly cross there!
Stay tuned for our final installment of our Japan adventures!