Friday, May 25, 2007

Tokyo Part II

At the end of March we went to Tokyo for a dental conference, but we found enough time to see quite a bit of the city. During our visit in January we figured out the subway system, so navigating around was much easier this time...not to mention that we had our personal tour guide Junko! Our first stop was to the Sony display was 6 stories of Sony's newest electronics, many of which aren't available in stores yet. I guess I was somewhat disappointed in it. My expectations were much higher than what they put on display for me. And you would think that electronics would be cheaper in Japan since they don't have to import them...Ha!, think again.

After that we headed to the Ebisu Garden''s a large shopping complex built in and around an old Sapporo brewery which has now been converted into corporate offices and a beer museum. We saw some Japanese celebrity singer who had just performed. We stopped him and got a picture with him, but we still don't know who he really is. We really couldn't understand anything in the beer museum, but that didn't make the beer taste any worse. And although I tried, I wasn't able to make it home with the Sapporo truck.

The next evening we made our way to the Akihabara district. Several blocks of this neighborhood are devoted to multi-storied electronic emporiums. These stores have any and everything you could think of electronic...the highlight for me was seeing a $750 toilet seat with remote control. After being disappointed by the Sony building, Akihabara renewed my belief that Japanese are definitely into their gizmo's and gadgets.

The next morning we got up early and headed to the famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Even though we didn't make it there for their busiest hour, there were still enough trucks, carts, fish, runners, and tourists to flatten an army. It covers about 3 city blocks and consists of over 1,200 fish stands. 90% of all the fish eaten in Tokyo comes through here.
We saw everything from octopus to swordfish. And many of the tuna were as large as a full grown man. The primary means of transporting the fish from the market to the various restaurants/grocers was a little stand-up motor-cart about 6 feet long with a flat, round steering wheel.

While one of the runner's was busy loading fish, Amy tried to make off with one of these fish transporters...needless to say, she didn't make it very far. (Have you noticed a grand theft auto theme?)
After the hustle and bustle of the fish market (not to mention the smell), we headed to one of Tokyo's many gardens. The Hama Rikyu Garden was once a game reserve for the powerful shogun's and later came into the hands of the imperial family in 1871. When we visited in March half of the garden's foliage had yet to bloom, but this didn't take away from the beauty of the wooden bridges, channels, and the ponds. There was also a large field of rape blooms as seen in the pic below.
After the garden we ventured back near the fish market and had some fresh sushi. We've found that in Japan sushi is a lot simpler than in the States. Most sushi in Japan is simply a slice of tuna or another type of fish over rice. Whereas in the States, sushi is presented in flavorful rolls for the most part (ie, spicy tuna roll).
One of the neatest things we got to see in Tokyo was the Imperial Palace and Gardens. Once the largest fort in the world, most of what remains of this huge fortification are the massive stone walls built without mortar. They were built to withstand earthquakes (not to mention US bombings during WWII). There are a few guard towers that have been reconstructed, and large moats surround the whole area. The imperial family still lives in the garden's, so a lot of it is off limits. This was the first area we got to see the blooming cherry blossoms (don't worry, we'll get into that soon).
The next destination on our tour of Tokyo was Ueno district. As soon as you get out of the train station you are overcome by hoards of people smashing their way through crowded allies in the shopping district known as Ameyoko. As you can see in the picture below, if you didn't keep walking you got ran over...I have no idea how anything gets bought or sold there.

Once we made our way out of that chaos we headed for Ueno park. Although the cherry blossoms weren't in full bloom yet, many people had gathered there for the weekend to eat, drink, and be merry in anticipation of the coming spring. There were a couple of neat shrines/temples, a pagoda, and plenty of food vendors. We also go to visit the Tokyo National Museum which is located in the park.
That evening we took a train over the bay to the island district known as Odaiba. There is shopping, restaurants, and even an amusement park. The main reason we came, though, was for the panoramic nighttime views of the city. With the Rainbow Bridge lit up and the sky scrapers in the background, it was definitely worth the trip. Unfortunately, my photography skills aren't so good as to get a quality shot at night, so this is all we have.

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