Monday, 26 March 2007
We drove to Kansas City International airport as the sun was rising. The flight to Detroit on Sunday was peaceful; we had some lunch at the online café before boarding our other Northwest flight right into Tokyo-Narita airport. The airplane food upset my stomach again, so I did not get much sleep. Hoyt was sandwiched in the middle so also did not sleep much. We saw The Prestige and Flushed Away, but I tried sleeping during the Man of the Year. Instead, we watched some of Memoirs of a Geisha on the laptop. The airport was eerily empty when we arrived in Tokyo, we both expected it to be crowded by international flights. We went through customs easily, asked information how to get to the hotel, and ended up purchasing bus limousine tickets that stopped at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel for 3,000 yen a person. The ride was much longer than we anticipated, taking us an hour and a half. The bus drove through a great deal of Tokyo, so we were able to see some things such as Tokyo harbor. It was dark when we arrived, and we were both nodding off. We were directed to the executive hotel towers, and given a small room on the seventeenth floor. We then went and explored the hotel looking for food. They had a food court, but my stomach was still sore. Saw the vending machines that are frequent in anime. Eventually we just went to a convenience shop in the hotel and bought two rice balls and some water. They were tasty and just the right amount. We were both exhausted, so went to bed. The toilet has bidet options that kind of freaked me out. Hoyt enjoyed it though!
Tuesday, 27 March 2007
I woke up before 3 a.m. having a hard time sleeping on the stiff bed. We finally started moving around five thirty with a shower. The food court had opened for breakfast, but we weren’t given a coupon, so we went to the Yahoo! café instead. Hoyt ordered a traditional Japanese breakfast of salmon and rice, which he enjoyed greatly. I ordered a waffle and yogurt — the waffle tasting more like a flattened donut and the yogurt very plain and bitter. I should have tried the Japanese breakfast, but we had rice balls the night before, it would have been too much rice. We checked out after cashing another five hundred dollars into yen, then got directions to the Diet building and Ueno Park. I had to write down our destination because they could not understand us. At Shinagawa station we purchased three JR tickets — one to Tokyo station, then two to Ueno and back to Tokyo. At Tokyo station we put our luggage in a locker for 500 yen, then purchased commuter rail tickets to Kokkai. Luckily, this brought us right under the Diet building, which is well guarded. The National Diet Library was next to it. A plaza area at the entrance and surrounded by trees and rock railing, it actually sat a story lower than the road. We had to leave the rest of our belongings, including our camera, in another locker, then had a temporary pass made for us. We wandered for a while before asking if they had any scrolls. After surpassing the language barrier, they sent us to the rare books room, where the librarians seemed somewhat reluctant to take one out. I can’t blame them, but in the end they did take one out. The scroll is wrapped around a wooden dowel and tied shut with a ribbon or rope. To preserve these, each scroll is place din its own thin long box. Each scroll is typically nine meters, but they can vary according to their content. The one we observed was an annual pictoral depiction with a watercolor of each month. The paper is made from wood pulp and pasted together. I am curious to know what type of paste is used. Afterwards we took the commuter rail back to Tokyo to go to Ueno. I was getting more comfortable with rail transportation by this point. Ueno station took us straight to Ueno Park, The park was very busy for the cherry blossoms, with food vendors and people eating on blue tarps under the trees. We ordered some noodles at 500 yen a piece and made the mistake of not removing our shoes on the tarp. Two men stared and pointed at us, then came over and somehow conveyed we needed to take our shoes off. After eating we stumbled upon Toshogu shrine. The entryway was lined with food vendors that had lots of food I would have loved to try, but Hoyt carries all the money. It had many interesting large lanterns. We eventually found the zoo. I was a little dismayed at the size of each cage; it made me quite uneasy. I could see the sadness in the animals’ eyes. We did see the panda, or at least its butt, and a few very cute bears. Once we got to the birds my feet were hurting, so we turned around back to Tokyo station. We recovered our luggage from the locker and purchased reserved seats on the Nozomi Shinkansen. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast, so we were unable to spot Mount Fuji. The ride itself was very smooth and fast, reaching a maximum speed of 186 mph (300kph). One thing I keep noticing is people’s respect with cellphone use. Everyone has a phone, but they do not speak on the phone while driving or using public transit. I will miss this — I wish America would enforce such laws. Quite a few drivers also wear white gloves, which adds a touch of professionalism. The people wear business suits and tend to be nicely dressed. These people still have a sense of pride and respect not found back in America. Everything here seems to run much better, quieter and more efficient. We arrived at Kyoto station and easily found the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. A “bellboy” (was really a girl) much smaller than us took us and carried our belongings to our room. The beds are soft and toilet seat heated. Very comfortable! We went to Kyo Rinsen, the tempura restaurant Jamie highly recommended, for dinner. Most of the food we weren’t sure what it was, and it cost us about seventy dollars. I think we’ll be sticking mostly to rice balls and noodles now, but it was good to try. The waitresses were pretty too in their kimonos. We took a walk afterwards to walk it off and saw some of the mall in Kyoto station. Isetan is huge, we’ll have to see the rest of it later. At eight most places closed, so we got back to the room and fell asleep shortly after.