Sunday, December 26, 2010

A day's outing in Tokyo with friends

Much as I hate it, sixteen months after starting my blog, I find it necessary to print my first retraction. Yuck! Previously, I've written that the building below is the residence of the Emperor's family - WRONG! It's just a building on the palace grounds.

Two days ago, a group including Allan, five co-workers and their families (20 in all) toured the Imperial Palace grounds. We met at one of the eight entrances to the grounds, which is considered the most valuable piece of real estate on the planet.

When the tour began, we got small recorders with the tour information in English. The Japanese guide spoke enough to tell us which number to listen to at each site. We were also instructed to stay in four lines, which is a bit of a joke. Who thinks that people are actually going to stay in line while wandering around gardens and buildings listening to the history of the Japanese Empire?

The buildings on this site were built and paid for by several 13th or 14th century Shogun and their men. To mark the areas built with their money and men, an identifying symbol was carved into a wall. Can you see the little circle with the lines across it?

There were lots of buildings with lots of purposes, historic and current, but we didn't actually see where the Emperor's family lives. I just know that you can't see it from outside the gates.

Raeni Russell and I are on the bridge that you can see again in the next picture. The tour took about an hour and a half. Afterwards, some of the group went to other sites in Tokyo, and we continued on to a great Chinese lunch on the 27th floor of a downtown building - great view.

LCDR Veronica Demaio, Allan, Gene Russell, Tom Takagi

Our destination after lunch is the building shown here. It's the Diet - pronounced just like diet coke. It's the Japanese parliament building. There's a House of Representatives and a House of Counselors, which we toured.

The day with the group ended after the second tour and Allan and I walked to Ginza. Ginza is the 5th Avenue of Tokyo, great shopping. Allan didn't buy me the $3,000 coat that I really liked.

We were looking for dinner when we saw this guy. It was December 24th. He was cooking in one of the cafes in the path to the train. We dubbed him 'Ninja Santa'.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hakone... or ha COLD eh

Last week, Allan and I took and MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) trip to Hakone. We've seen some areas of Tokyo multiple times, so we're searching for new attractions for day trips. When you visit, we'll have good places to take you. This qualifies as a day trip, albeit a long one. We left the base on a luxury bus at 0600 - early.
Drivers are required to stop every two hours, so we had a bit of breakfast, then around 9 am, arrived at the Hakone Open-Air Museum. There were some indoor exhibits and since the weather was very cold, indoors was good. I think this beautiful lady is the best example of outdoor art.

Next was a cable car ride. This is the third cable car I've ridden in 6 months! Hong Kong, Australia and now Hakone. People in this part of the world see alot from high up.

Riding over, we could see volcanic steam rising from vents in the ground. Hey guys, there's a volcano under your town. Haven't you heard of Pompei?

Hakone's claim to fame is their hot springs and black eggs. The eggs are black because they are boiled in the onsen (hot springs), something about sulfur. It's just the shell that turns black.

This fellow has a basket full of black eggs. I can't say that they taste any different, as neither of us tasted one. They were sold in every shop in town, but I didn't hear that anyone on our tour tried one.

Another part of the tour was a 40 minute boat ride across a volcanic lake. We were late getting to the dock, so all the inside seats were taken, and it was cold on deck. Our destination was a Shinto shrine. Yeah, another day, another shrine.

See the little squares at the bottom of this photo? There is a close-up below. You write your prayer and leave at the holy site. Most people prayer for peace and happiness in the world. Shinto and Buddhism are pacifist religions that revere nature.

There isn't a Japanese letter that equals an 'S', so they write it 'sumile'. The 'u' is silent. The date H.22.11.28 on the Japanese calendar indicates the Heisei era, twenty-second year, eleventh month, twenty-eighth day. Heisei is the period of the current emperor.

Shrine's have a place to wash your hands and this one is rather fancy. It's traditional to clean you hands here after you've passed through three torii gates, cleansing your mind, body and soul. You can arrive by boat and pass through this gate.

The trip to Hakone took over 12 hours. The hot springs is the big attraction for the Japanese. They go au naturale, which is less appealing to Americans. There are many other sites, closer and more interesting, so I can't get too excited about this one. But, if I had a 'bucket list', I can now check this off.
Next is... nah! I don't want to spoil it, so stay tuned.