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I didn't have much time after our tour to stay and do much traveling, so I really hadn't intended to do any. However, I have a very dear friend, Michiko Taguchi, who lives in Tokyo, and whom I haven't seen for almost 8 years. It turns out that she had a day off on the very day which I would be available to go, so I arranged to do a very quick stop in Tokyo. I was only there for 2 days, but it was great.
The airport in Tokyo is about 75km away from the city. I actually got to see a little bit of the countryside before arriving in the city.
Michiko met me at the hotel as soon as I arrived and we began our whirlwind tour of Tokyo.
We headed out to just see a few sights and take in a meal. We got in the subway and went to an area called Harajuku. Our first stop was a local sushi bar. I love sushi bars in the states and I've been to some really exceptional ones, but nothing has ever been as fresh and good as what I had in Tokyo. It was amazing.
After a wonderful meal we went for a walk through the local areas.
In a short while we ended up at the Meiji Jingu - a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. This is Tokyo's largest shrine and one of three of Japan's Imperial shrines (Jingu). At the entrance is a Japanese Torii which is a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at Shinto Shrines.
As you pass through this gate you are in the midst of a lush forest where you quickly forget that you are in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas of the world. Everything is so silent and peaceful. It's lovely. This forest covers 700,000 square meters and is said to contain 120,000 trees made up of 365 different species, all of which were donated by people from all parts of Japan.
Before coming to the buildings of the Shrine you pass Temizusha (a font for ablutions) where you rinse your hands and mouth using water from the stone basin.
There are several buildings which make up the Shrine. Here are photos of two of them.
We were quite fortunate to witness two different traditional Japanese weddings while at the shrine.
Michiko had to go back to work that evening so we left.
The 2 days that I was in Tokyo happened to fall during Japan's Golden Week. During Golden Week four national holidays fall within seven days. That means it is one of the busiest times to go to Japan. And it certainly was. Everywhere was crowded. There were times when we were shoulder to shoulder with people. It was crazy. But still it was amazing.
Michiko picked me up at the hotel the next morning and we continued our tour. We went first to Asakusa area. The famous temple in this area is a Buddhist one called Sensoji. In the photo below of the main gate, Hozomon, notice the crowds of people. I try very hard to photograph places without people, but as you can see, it was impossible.
As you go nearer to the temple there is another font for cleansing.
The Sensoji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple. It was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1945, but subsequently rebuilt. The main building is dominated by an enormous red lantern.
Near the temple is the five-storied pagoda. It is the second-tallest pagoda in Japan at 53.3 meters tall (the tallest being in Kyoto).
Next to the pagoda and temple is a lovely quiet garden called Dempo-in. This garden is centered around a pond in the shape of the Chinese character for heart. The pond is filled with carp. Measuring 12,000 square meters, the garden is well-insulated from the noise of the city.
Just before arriving at the temple you walk through an old shopping area called Nakamise Dori. It is said that vendors have been selling here since the late 17th century. The street is lined on both sides with tiny stalls, one after another, selling all kinds of things: sweets, foods, shoes, barking toy dogs, Japanese crackers (called sembei), bags, umbrellas, Japanese dolls, T-shirts, fans, masks, traditional Japanese accessories, brightly colored straight hairpins (I bought several), temporary tattoos, mobile phone trinkets, and just about everything you can imagine. It's quite a fun place to browse.
For lunch we went nearby to Imahan Bekkan, a very famous restaurant which specializes in Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu. This restaurant has been featured in several Japanese films. We ordered the Shabu Shabu which consists of very thinly sliced beef - less that 1/16" - and served with tofu and vegetables, including Chinese cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves, nori (edible seaweed), onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and enokitake mushrooms. In front of each customer is a gas burner on which they place a pot of boiling water or broth. You then submerge the thin beef or vegetables in the pot until cooked to your liking. There were several sauces in which to dip the meat and vegetables. I ate half cooked and half raw. Delicious. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, you can add noodles or rice to your broth and then finish with a soup. This was amazingly delicious. The name Shabu Shabu is said to come from the sound which the beef makes as it is swished in the broth.
After lunch we went to the Ginza area of Tokyo. This is the very upscale and expensive area of Tokyo. All of the big shopping areas are here. Being that it was Golden Week is was very crowded with people. But we walked around and saw as much as we could. In addition to the shopping areas and fancy office buildings there is the Kabukiza Theatre. Here you can see traditional Japanese Kabuki plays. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there.
As in Seoul, or most any large city, Tokyo is filled with many beautiful or interesting buildings. Here is a small sample of some.
After walking and seeing things and walking some more, Michiko insisted we go for another meal. I was still quite full from lunch. We went to another famous and lovely restaurant which I have unfortunately forgotten the name of. They are known for fresh crab dishes. The restaurant was on the 9th floor of a large building in the Ginza district. There was a lady playing a traditional Japanese stringed instrument called a Koto. As soon as we sat down they brought us a glass of the best Japanese Plum Wine I've ever tried. Michiko ordered an entire meal of crab dishes for us. It began with crab sashimi (yes, raw) which was absolutely a true delicacy.
We then had crab in many other forms: Fried crab, crab croquettes, crab legs, and many other ways. It was an astounding meal.
I was in Tokyo for less than 40 hours, but it's amazing how much I saw and did in that little amount of time. It was a fantastic trip, but the best of all was seeing Michiko again after all these years. Thank you for everything, Michiko.
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