Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Japan Part I: There Goes Tokyo! (Go Go Godzilla!)

Last August, after our misguided attempt to ski in New Zealand, Ethan suggested we go to Japan for a ski trip in February. I have wanted to visit Japan for about 10 years, so this was a double win for me. As it turned out, due to time constraints, we did mostly sightseeing with just a little skiing thrown in. But the trip was absolutely, unequivocally awesome, and I can't wait to go back for a longer ski trip in the future. Our first stop was Tokyo, where we spent 2 days. After an uneventful flight, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and went out to explore the city. We found a little noodle place, where I ordered by pointing at the picture on the wall, and then headed out to check out the Imperial Palace.

The Imperial Palace, or at least part of it.

You can't go inside the Imperial Palace, but you can check out the grounds around the area. I thought it was awesome, as this was the first traditional Japanese building I had seen since our arrival.   But it was only a taste of what was to come.

Ethan standing in front of a bridge over the moat.

Loads of people were enjoying a pleasant winter's day in the gardens surrounding the palace. There seemed to be some sort of race going on, and people were walking their dogs and doing other relaxing Sunday activities. I can't say I haven't seen dogs in unusual outfits outside of Japan, but I was fascinated by these dogs. Who has the time to put pants on their dog? And why, on God's good earth, would you do that?

Dog in pants!!  I don't want to know how he goes to the bathroom.

Next, we went to Ueno Park, where we were hoping to see Elvis impersonators wandering around. Sadly, Elvis had left the park (or had never arrived), but Ueno Park was still pretty cool, with shrines, fountains, and lots of museums. We also got a surprise when we took a shortcut away from the mosquito incubating lake and ended up in what can only be referred to as "Boobie Alley". Whoops.

Pardon me, but can you direct me to Boobie Alley?

The next day, we had tickets to the Ghibli museum, which was built by the creator of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and other beautifully animated films that I adore. This was a highlight of my trip; something I really looked forward to, and I almost completely screwed it up by losing our prepurchased tickets! Fortunately, I found them in my Lonely Planet guide.

Check out the spiral staircase on the right.
We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the museum, so you can't see how awesome it was, but it was fantastic. It was so cool to see the original artwork behind the films, and the museum had spiral staircases, lifesize "movie sets" and a great exhibit on motion pictures with a carved wooden display that appeared to move when it spun. All the small details in the museum made it seem really magical, like you had entered another world based on Miyazaki's imagination.
One of the beautiful details, a mosaic drain in the courtyard.

Next, we met the daughter of an American friend of mine in Shibuya station for coffee. By this time, it was absolutely pouring. I had purchased a rather crappy umbrella and a giant raincoat that Ethan named "The Human Condom" at Family Mart, so we ended up only damp, not soaked. Shibuya Station is Tokyo's busiest train station, and contains the busiest intersection in the world. I couldn't wait to see it, as until that point, Tokyo had been unexpectedly uncrowded for a city with 12 million people. While I didn't manage to capture the station at its busiest, it was pretty crazy. There were so many people that they had pedestrian only crossing times, where all the lights changed and everybody crossed every which way at once.

This was after peak hour.
We met Ella by this statue, which is a popular meeting point and has an interesting story. In the 1920s, every day this dog would greet his master at the train station. Even after the man died, the dog faithfully returned to the station daily to wait for his master, until he eventually died 11 years later. I think that kind of loyalty deserves a statue!

Fievel could learn something from this guy.
After coffee with Ella, she rushed off to a going-away dinner and we got caught up in the hubbub and went shopping. We didn't stop by too many stores, but we did visit one called Loft, which was full of everything you can think of and many things you haven't.
Shake, shake, shake, shake your booty! (A "party costume")

As the daylight faded and the rain stopped, Shibuya station began to glow with 1,000,000 watts of pure commercialism. Now this, this was the Tokyo I expected. It was loud, flashing, overwhelming, and spectacular. I can't say that I would want to stay in a hotel there, or even spend too much time dealing with the crowds, but standing in the middle of the station was a definitive Tokyo experience, like standing in Times Square is for New York. At that moment, I really knew I was in Tokyo.


The next day, we got on the Shinkansen (a.k.a. the bullet train) and headed to Nozawa Onsen for the ski portion of our vacation. 

Shinkansen arrival

To be continued...

For more Tokyo pictures from our trip, go here.


Lynn said...

Awesome. I can't wait to hear more about your trip!

L said...

Thanks, Lynn! More coming soon, I promise!