Monday, August 15, 2011

The General Patton Tour of Japan

I made a run to Narita Airport on August 3rd and returned with Bill and Elaine Schreiber. Over the next seven days, we saw 8 Japanese cities. They requested what we call the "General Patton Tour", up everyday at 0-dark:30, hiking with a backpack for ten hours and falling down exhausted at night. Then you get up the next day and do it all again.
Here are the Schreiber boys on the Japanese Battleship Mikasa. This day, we started at the base. It's almost 600 acres on Tokyo Bay, is homeport to 11 ships, and almost 30,000 Americans. We took a car tour, then parked and left the base on foot to exchange some money. The exchange rate is 75 yen per dollar $#*//@!! (that's me cursing). This is a real issue to those of us who live off base. Anyway, we hit the Mikasa before heading to Hase to see the big Buddha.
As is the custom, Elaine and I washed our hands and mouths prior to enter the sacred ground. And there she is with the big guy! You've seen him before, but he's pretty impressive.
Kamakura was our next stop. We had heard good things about a new Italian restaurant, but couldn't find it, so we hit the Hachimango Shrine. The others walked up to the shrine, but since it's at the top of those steps in the next photo, I haven't made it in my 5 trips to Kamakura. Actually there are about 3 times as many steps as shown.
We did see a Shinto wedding. This was lunchtime on Thursday. The Japanese calendar has good days, lucky days, unhappy days... This was definitely a good marriage day. The ceremony wasn't attended by many family members or friends. That will probably happen later, when the couple has a civil wedding or maybe just a party.
These guys sounded very oriental. Ha ha, but you know, harp and flute sounds, the gong, it's all very Asian.

We did finally stop at a ramen house Allan and I like very much. Bill and Elaine liked everything they ate during the trip. We had yakiniku, sukiyaki, sushi, tempura, bar food (tapas) and even Italian food (or the Japanese version of same).

On our way back to pick up the car, we stopped just outside the base at a pretty fancy Japanese grocery for some prepared foods, which we ate at home before going to bed early. Remember Bill and Elaine's bodies were still pretty much on New Jersey time.

So ends our time in Yokosuka, for the next few days at least. We took the bullet train to Kyoto. Apparently there's no superstition about the number 13 as that's the number of our train car.

We dropped our luggage at the hotel and went to the local mall food court for brunch.

Next was a visit to the Golden Pavillion, a Buddhist Temple which happens to be covered in gold foil.

Then off to the Imperial Palace. As Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, its Emperors would have lived there.

Have I mentioned yet that it was hot? The Schreibers have a new expression - Kyoto hot, which is not just hot beyond any other region we've experienced thus far, but so humid you can almost drink the air. We got back to the hotel to check in, shower and nap, with plans to meet at dinner time. Bill had a treat from a vending machine - a single of Chivas Regal, believe it!
Pontocho is a lovely area that I had not seen during previous visits, but now I'm sorry I missed it. We walked down an alley filled with restaurants, and we couldn't choose between them. Dinner was a great end to our day in Kyoto.
Early to rise again, we headed to Nara and the Todai-ji (temple). It's the largest wooden structure in the world, with the largest bronze Buddha. The original was 30% larger, but it burned down and this one went up in 1709.
The path from the Nara station to the temple is nice too, lots of deer. You can pet them. If you have food and don't feed them fast enough, they'll bite your ass. Oh yeah!

Here's the temple. It is big! Impressive...

After the temple, we hopped a train to Osaka. I thought we'd be exploring the town, but we only went to the Osaka Castle (above). This castle was the home of Shogun Tokugawa when William Adams landed in Japan in 1600. Of course, he was held captive by the shogun and they had a history. Thus the book by James Clavell... Shogun.

That night we headed to Gion corner for a show. We saw 5 different forms of Japanese culture and entertainment... a tea ceremony (we only saw a short part of it since the show was just an hour and the full tea ceremony is quite long), then these ladies played the koto, or Japanese harp.

These maiko were next. A maiko is a geisha in training. They are young and can be seen around Kyoto in kimono. After the maiko came a play which we understood only because we had been given a synopsis in English. Last was this puppet show. We loved this part of the trip.
Afterward we walked to Pontocho and tonight we chose sukiyaki. It was dee-licious! We needed a walk to help digest dinner, so we headed back to the cruised to the shopping area. It was bustling and we ended the night there. Well, not really. We went to the hotel.

Our Sunday was a bit more relaxed, breakfast at the train station/food court, then a visit to Sanjusangendo. It's a temple with 1001 carved Kannon - these are non-gendered Buddhist dieties. They look female, but word is they aren't boys or girls.

The larger train stations in Japan have shopping and we did some shopping at the Kyoto station prior to boarding the Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo, then switching to the train that takes us home. Allan made pizza and we took some much-needed quiet time.

As temples and shrines abound in these parts, we made a stop at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. That's where we saw this Shinto wedding. It was still very hot back in Tokyo. We did a little walking tour of the Harajuku and Shibuya districts. There's good shopping (we picked up a few things), and it's a very nice section of town. We ate at a sushi-go-round where Allan and I had eaten with Jory Ramer during one of his visits. We enjoyed it, and in addition to sushi, Bill and Elaine tried takoyaki. Sounds like a Mexican dish, doesn't it? Well, it's a little fritter with grilled octopus inside.

Tell me you recognize this place from previous blogs. Yep, it's the Tokyo fish market. It's Tuesday. It was no accident that the fish market was scheduled on the day I was scheduled to teach English. They came home with a story about seeing and octopus gutted. What fun!

There's always another temple to see, but this one is surrounded by a pretty extensive tourist shopping area. I've picked up a few things there, I admit it.

At the end of this row of shops is the famous Senso-ji. It's probably the oldest temple in Tokyo, at least this site is the oldest. The first temple was built here around 700 A.D., and very few structures from that far back still exist. Since they are wooden, they usually succumb to fire.

So, when someone says 'Japanese tourist', what image pops into your head? A guy with a camera hanging around his neck or up to his eye...

I guess that street runs east and west.

Oops! Looks like Bill got a bad fortune. Still at the Senso-ji here. You select a paper from one of many drawers, then read the top first - if it says "Bad Fortune", tie it here and walk away, otherwise, read on. I hope Elaine got to read on.

The last thing on today's agenda was a ride through Tokyo down the Sumida River with a Japanese language tour. There are recorders with headphones if you want to pay a few yen to hear the English version.

Day 3 in Tokyo. There's really so much to see, like the currently occupied Imperial Palace. Well, you can't actually see the palace, but here's the guard house and one of the out buildings. This is the single most expensive piece of real estate on the planet.

We went shopping in Ginza, and took a trip through Mikimoto, the Harry Winston of pearls. Elaine and I made a few purchases in less expensive shops before we headed to Yokohama, about a 30 minute train ride to Queen's Tower. We paid to go to the 69th floor of the Landmark Tower. After buying our tickets, a young woman escorted us to the elevator, where another guide talked about the tower during the very fast ride to the top, where yet another guide welcomed us. Westerners are so impressed by the Japanese peoples' attitude about their job. They are immaculate in their dress and enthusiastic about their duties.

At the top, we had a drink and saw the entire city. Each large viewing window had a legend and we saw Yokosuka on the southwest side.

We headed for Chinatown (still in Yokohama) and took a quick tour. While scouting for dinner, we saw a burning building. This area is so crowded with tall buildings, a fire could spread and really cause a disaster. There was a flash straight up from the top floor, but it was short lived and 6 fire trucks showed up to handle the blaze.

The day ended with Bill and Elaine preparing for the trip home. The following morning, we drove to the base and checked in for the shuttle to the airport, then went over to Allan's office to meet his co-workers and say goodbye. I think it was a fun adventure for them and hope they have many lovely memories of their trip, including this one.

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