It’s been a few packed days, touring ceaselessly (well, not really ceaselessly – we developed a nice pace during our second week in Japan) through Tokyo’s many neighbourhoods and briefly in Kyoto.
Our second day in Tokyo took us to the Tokyo National Museum, where we saw some traditional Japanese prints and ceramics, and then to the Museum of Western Art, for an exhibit of paintings from the Royal Museum in Belgium (including Lisa’s favourite Magritte). We visited a shrine (can’t remember which one now, but it’ll come to me sooner or later), and walked down a crazy alleyway filled with tiny bars in the Shinjuku ward, before heading into Kabuki-Cho, which is Tokyo’s red-light district. As it was afternoon, we didn’t really see much (other than the theatre where the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, is on, proving that tastelessness knows no bounds).
After a quick nap, we ventured back to Roppongi, the trendy neighbourhood near our hotel, for some Robata Yaki, a dining experience often seen in movies depicting Japanese life. You enter, the waiters scream at you. You sit around the counter, the waiters scream at you. You order some chicken sticks, the waiters scream at you. The waiters then scream at the other waiters. Then the chefs – cooking while kneeling in front of you, scream at the waiters. Eventually, the food arrives, delivered on a board by the chef, who screams at you (the waiters then do a call-response). The process is a joy, and costs a fortune – at least when you do it in Roppongi, we gathered. At one point during the evening, everyone participated in the shift change ceremony, captured below.
The next day, we hopped on the Nozomi bullet train for Kyoto. The train runs at about 300 km/h, and is incredibly smooth (and quiet. And spacious). Compared to the snail’s-pace-always-delayed-in-Alexandria Via behemoth that runs to Ottawa, this was living it up big time. We arrived early for check in at our ryokan, so we visited the nearby temple (Hagashi? Honanji? something like that), which includes a building billed as the world’s largest wooden structure. I think it’s burned down a few times.
That night we headed downtown for some conveyor belt sushi, which is pretty much as it sounds – you sit at a counter and plates of sushi rotate along a conveyor belt in front of you. I think it’s the ideal way to eat sushi – incredibly efficient. When you’re done, you pay according to the size of the stack of plates in front of you. We then did a lot of window shopping along the streets of Kyoto’s covered shopping arcade – think St. Hubert street’s northern end.
The next morning, our only full day in Kyoto, we visited the complex of temples known as Nanzen-Ji and the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art, which was only showing some of its permanent collection (for free!). After a long-lost quest for mythical gyoza (mythical only because we arrived at 2 to a restaurant that opens at 6), we did some strolling throughout the downtown periphery and visited the Yakasaka (I think) temple area, where we saw some “Geisha.” Apparently, the only authentic Geisha left are, shall we say, getting on in age. These two appeared to have paid to dress up and wander around like Geisha, which would explain why they kept taking photos of each other. Nevertheless.
For dinner we had some great sticks of all kinds (asparagus + bacon = yummy) at a tiny joint called Ichiban, which sat about six. Excellent experience. We did some impulse shopping and headed home to pack for Tokyo.
We left Kyoto the next morning, arriving in Tokyo for our first torrential downpour. We decided to spend a couple of hours indoors at our ryokan while the rain let up. Thankfully, Japanese Saturday afternoon TV includes both Buddhist opera and Karate tournaments. Phew! After some rest, we called up David, who has been living in Japan for a few years and offered to show us around (when David quit his job to move to Asia, I was fortunate enough to fill the post, so thanks again D!). We had a yummy meal and then hit Tower Records to shop for some English books (I had finished Richard Russo’s touching novel, The Risk Pool, on the train). We had an 11pm curfew and a thirty-minute subway ride, so when we hit the station at 10:25, we knew it would be tight. Fortunately, a friendly couple sitting next to us agreed to call the ryokan to get the passkey for those arriving a little late. Thanks again, guys – we made it to the hotel by 11:02, but it was locked up. Five digits into the machine and we were in – disaster averted :-)
The next morning, Sunday, we (and everyone else in Tokyo it seems) visited the shrine in our neighbourhood – Asakusa. We then met David for more conveyor belt sushi lunch, and walked around the Meiji shrine in Harajuku, where teenage goth girls go to vamp around on Sunday afternoons. Very odd. Very, very odd. Apparently, the secret – thanks to Gwen Stefani – is out. As the sun began to set we rode up to the 45th floor of one of the towers that make up Tokyo City Hall just in time to see the giant fireball dip directly below Mt. Fuji. Amazing.
David’s wife Maki joined us for dinner, which was lovely despite the horsemeat sashimi I ate (mmmm… iron) and then headed back to the ryokan with plenty of time to make curfew… So, we’re about to board our flight to Bali, where we’ll meet up with G and M for some fun on the beach before returning to (shudder) cold, rainy Montreal November… Sayonara!
(New photos are all at flickr.)