Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friends in town

At home from Hong Kong, I had a week to teach, clean, cook and do all the routine things we do before Jean and Andy arrived from their week in China. They had such great stories, I can't wait to go. I told Brian that would be our next trip. Allan's determined we don't make plans until he's sure he can get off work - can ya blame him?
I went to Haneda Airport on Sunday, July 11th to pick them up and we rode the train to Oppama, where a Mikoshi parade was in progress right across from the station. We watched for a few minutes, but were too anxious to get the luggage home to spend too much time.

After a short rest, we drove to the base to meet Allan, who had finally made a successful dive with the Bubble Club. This time they chartered a boat in Izu, and were treated to an onsen (natural hot springs) after the day of diving.
We had dinner at Ootoya, where they serve Japanese homestyle food. It's a favorite of ours and Andy discovered tonkatsu, a breaded, fried pork cutlet that is always served with cabbage to help with digestion.
Allan worked on Monday while I took our visitors to Enoshima. This is a resort island where walking is always uphill or downhill. It's great exercise (or torture depending on your perspective).

Andy and Jean did well with chopsticks (first photo). No English was spoken at this restaurant, but we pointed to what we wanted and were all pleased. Have I mentioned that I've gained 3 kilos in 10 months? It's no wonder...

We headed for the shrine where Jean rang the bell. The large wooden box in the center is the donation box. After making a donation, one would ring the bell, I presume to announce that you made a donation. I've seen a father take money out, then have each of his children touch it before putting it in the box. Hey, cover all your bases.

We came to this plaque with handprints - I don't know what it is, but Andy's hands fit nicely.

I call this the 'luck circle'. You walk through, circle to the left, walk through, circle right, walk through and circle left a second time. You will have a long, happy, rich life (or not).
After Enoshima, we made a quick stop in Hase to see the 800 yr. old big Buddha, then to Kamakura to pick up the train back to base. We spent some time touring Kamakura before heading home. We planned to meet Allan in town and find a place to eat, but after such a hard day of touring, we were exhausted! Allan merely worked all day, so it seemed only right that he cook for us. Isn't he the best!?
Tuesday is conversational English with four very lovely ladies, who I hate to cancel, so they had two native English speakers for the price of one. Jean asked questions for nearly 2 hours and the ladies took us to lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant. It's close to the house and I hope to get Allan there soon.
Allan, Gene and Andy had lunch at the Officers' Club, then Andy toured the Japanese battleship Mikasa, docked a short way from the gate. After our lunch, we met up and toured central Yokosuka. When Allan was finished for the day, we ate and drank (sake and beer) at Watami. If you come, make sure we take you to Watami - it's goooood. I was the designated driver, you know what that means.

Since Wednesday was a day off from touring, Jean and I worked on photos and blog stuff ALL DAY. Andy enjoyed a little English language TV.

Thursday morning we packed up and took the train to Tokyo, dropped our luggage at the New Sanno (American military hotel) and headed to the Meiji Shrine. Allan and I went here last year with Jorey Ramer, but it was fun to go again. Here in the path leading to the shrine are Allan, Jean and Andy by the sake casks.

Inside the courtyard, you may purchase a wooden card where you print your prayer, then hang it. Most I can't read, but here's one I can. Nice sentiment.

After the shrine we headed for a little shopping in Harajuku, where the normally subdued Japanese youth were going crazy for sales in a mall area filled with hawkers announcing 50, 60, 70 percent off.

Dinner was at Allan's favorite Tokyo restaurant, Gonpachi. Jean and Andy were not disappointed.

BTW... All of these photos are from Jean's camera. I didn't need to take mine out. She was fascinated by the bizarre styles that are becoming kinda normal to me.

Friday morning we were headed for the fish market. This place fascinates people because it's the largest fish market in the world. To me, it's just a really slimy, smelly place.

Just outside the market, this guy was working on his IPAD. He looked really un-nerdy, so Jean asked to photograph him.

He agreed, then asked us to look at his English language web site. Yep, he gives tours of Tokyo.

The fish market is an unlikely tourist place. It is extremely large, several city blocks by my estimation. Andy and Jean liked it and since I'd tried to talked them out of it by saying it wasn't interesting, Andy told me that yes, it is in fact quite interesting and I should take all visitors to see it. Arrrggghhh!

Here, somebody is being interviewed. Can you see the camera and sound equipment? The guy in the gray vest is asking the fellow at the far left questions. It might be on the news that night or maybe there's a documentary about the Tokyo fish market. Maybe you'll see it. Prepare to be dazzled.

The Senso-Ji Temple was our next stop. Shrine, temple, shrine, temple, we give Buddhism and Shinto our attention when guests are around.

This is the market leading to the temple, and I like this one. We watched a machine make cookies and bought some freshly baked one with a filling and no preservatives. The vendor told us we had 3 days to eat them.

This was a common site. Andy loves his soft serve ice cream, and he indulged whenever the mood struck. I had my share too. He had never had 'green tea' or 'sweet potato' flavor before, but they're available wherever soft serve can be found in Japan.

And here is the Senso-Ji Temple. This site has been sacred to Buddhists since the 7th century and the temple and other buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, most recently after World War II.

There are several buildings within the area, including a pagoda and one that's dedicated to a deity who looks after women. I like a religion with a deity like that.

Here's something we enjoyed. Pay 100 yen (about $1.15 at the current exchange rate), and pick up one of these metal cans with a small round hole in the top. Turn it over and a stick with a kanji symbol falls out. Find a drawer with the matching symbol and pull out your blessing.

Jean's got a 'best blessing' while the rest of us got a 'good blessing'. Hey that's great, I've gotten a 'bad blessing' before. I think it was at this same temple. Imagine paying to get a bad blessing. I don't care who you are, that's not funny.

And we went to Ginza, the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo. If you're looking to spend $500 for a pair of shoes, here's your place. Oddly (or not), none of us bought anything here, but it was a good place to help you appreciate a white sale at Macy's.

Dinner on our last night was at the hotel, and we were very happy with the cuisine. Allan had beef wellington and cherries jubilee, complete with flame. I tried a seafood plate, since they do good seafood here. You could get squid or octopus if you aren't careful.

The breakfast was good as well, plentiful and economical. The military and the affiliated civilians are well cared for in Japan. If you know anyone who's spent time here, you probably have heard good things from them. You won't hear any complaints from the Schreibers.

So after 16 days in temples and shrines, Jean found the Pearly Gates. They're in Tokyo... whoda guessed?

I hope Jean and Andy had fun in Japan and will make another visit. When they do, she'll understand when I say 'irashaimasei'.

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