I arrived at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport this morning. There were two forms I had to complete for immigration, though both were similar: address while in Japan, reason for visit, arrests & convictions, etc. The first form that you're given on the plane, as usual, is the one you hand to the immigration agent. The second form you pick up and complete right in the baggage area and hand it to the security guard before exiting the restricted area. That was annoying, but I'm glad I was out of the terminal before the others on my flight got their check-in luggage.
Because I got to my hotel around 10:30 AM, I wasn't able to check in. But, after I dropped off my bag, I decided to take a quick subway ride to Tokyo Station to purchase my train tickets to Osaka and from Kyoto; I guess I'll pick up my ticket between those two cities while in Osaka since I didn't have an exact time in mind. Apparently, you can buy every type of ticket (bullet train, regular train, reserved seat, non-reserved seat) from the machines available, but I played it safe and went to a real-life human being for the purchase, and she was very helpful and friendly. I'm psyched that I'll be riding the high-speed bullet train from and back to Tokyo.
After lunch at the overwhelming Tokyo Station, I walked around and ended up in the Ginza area where much of Tokyo's high-end shopping seems to be. Once you break south, it's maybe a 15-minute walk to Tsukiji where the famous fish market resides. Though it was Sunday afternoon with no fish auctioning that day, and all the action is done by 6:00 AM on the days they're open, many of the food stands and shopping outlets were doing business.
I was still able to check in an hour early at 2:00 PM, but because of that pretty long flight with the transfer in Jakarta, and THOSE VERY NARROW SEATS on the plane, I ended up taking a nap without meaning to, that sort of thing. And by the time I unpacked and powdered my nose, I ran out of dinner options near the hotel; like in the US, joints close at 10:00 PM and you have to get your last order in by 9:30. Oh, well, skipping a meal is something I should do more often....
January 7, 2018
Next Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Anime Food
View from my hotel room.
Closeup of Tsukiji Fish Market from hotel room window.
A Tokyo subway map inside the subway car; looks like the schematic for building a ham radio.
Holiday lights at the Caretta Shiodome plaza.
View after landing at Haneda International, Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Hot soba noodles with eel filet and side of bamboo shoots. Yummy to my tummy!
January 8, 2018
"Suntory Hall, where have you been all my life?!"
After breakfast and some Internet searches about Tokyo at large, I headed to Suntory Hall to try to catch an afternoon concert, as well as pick up a ticket for a show next Monday when I return from Kyoto. Getting the ticket for next week was no issue there at the box office, but I had to stick around until 2:00 for same-day tickets to today's show. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat down at floor level. The concert program was completely in Japanese, but I was able to get some information from the hall's website.
It was a very diverse program starting with a young, female violinist performing some of Paganini's 24 Caprices. That was soon followed by this short play of several men in classic Japanese garb talking about...I really don't know what, but there were plenty of laughs by the audience. I'll try to keep the program, and one day I might come across someone fluent in Japanese to describe the story to me.
After the intermission came what I was heavily anticipating: a concert performance of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro." This was a condensed version of about 80 minutes, which is significantly less than half the length of a full performance. Anyhow, what made this so different was the narration between musical numbers. They did away with the recitative (sung dialogue of the storyline accompanied by harpsichord) and had the narrator, who pretended to be DaPonte, the librettist of the opera, describe the "action" to the audience...in Japanese. The singing was done in the original Italian with surtitles...in Japanese. Luckily, I know this opera well enough that I could follow along without translation. The singing was really excellent even if most of the voices weren't very large. But that's OK with Mozart's operas. The orchestra was OK, with the exception of a terrible French horn or two.
Anyway, I'm totally glad I was able to see a concert at this famed hall. The legendary Herbert von Karajan suggested the seating layout and acted as a consultant in the construction of the hall regarding its acoustics. To my untrained ear, the hall sounds great with very short decay; I thought it was most evident in the solo violinist's performance because I was 50 feet away and could easily hear her bow contacting the strings.
Ugh...time to shut up now. It rained for much of the afternoon and evening. After the show, I headed to dinner near my hotel.
Herbert von Karajan Plaza outside Suntory Hall.
Maybe those are supposed to depict gold records?
Waiting area and entrance to the large hall.
The entire yakitori family during my first dinner tonight.
Barbecued pork belly w/steamed rice. Why'd I only get the small bowl?!
Pork chashu ramen; though I found the pork a little salty, the broth was to die for!
January 9, 2018
"Will you seat one person if he pays for and eats two meals?"
Hmph! I can't go to two famous, high-end restaurants in Tokyo because they don't seat a party of one. Drat, drat, drat! Well, maybe I should be happy to save 500 USD on two lunches I won't be eating all because Narisawa and Ryugin have such discriminatory practices! Just kidding, they're not discriminating...they're just assuming companionship is standard for fine dining. Novices....
So, I went to the National Museum of Western Art knowing that it would be closed, just so that I could learn how to get there and check out the park that houses a few other museums and the Tokyo Zoo. The Western Art is normally closed Mondays but was open this week because it was a holiday, and in exchange, they were closed today. After walking around the area and taking a few photos, I relaxed back at the hotel...well, not really because I had to catch up with this dumb website.
I went to Shibuya, the part of town famous for those huge intersections that have record numbers of people crossing per minute or whatever. It was a huge area, that's for sure, and it was lit up pretty much like Times Square. It's mostly shopping and restaurants. After grabbing a very good early dinner at a ramen joint I happened upon, I spent what must've been 45 minutes looking for the famous side street that has these tiny bars and restaurants; many of them only seat three or four people. I hear many of these joints are open all night as a refuge for those folks who've missed their last subway soon after midnight and need to wait until 5:00 AM for the trains to start running. I'll try to go one or two of these places, if not at 3:00 AM.
After a second dinner near my hotel, it was time to finish catching up on here!
The Tokyo National Museum; maybe I'll check it out after the Museum of Western Art.
I think this was a cherry blossom; if it is, it's probably rare to be in bloom in January.
One of the big intersections in the Shibuya neighborhood.
Absolutely delicious fried chicken!
Dynamite ramen; I wonder how long before I get totally fed up with soup meals. So far, so good...
Eel donburi, a rice bowl...no soup for a change, until you break out the chicken broth in the little pot there.
January 10, 2018
"Oh, if only I didn't require sleep!"
I started out the day by hitting up Tokyo's National Museum of Western Art. It had an exhibit showcasing the works of 19th-Century Japanese artist, Hokusai, and how his work influenced European Impressionism. Some of the museum's permanent holdings were located in this wing, so I'm doubly glad I saw the exhibit. The permanent collection of 19th- & 20th-Century works is quite impressive. It was a great way to spend a morning.
I headed back to Shibuya because I wanted to see the place in action during the day. Needless to say, it was typically busy for a weekday with workers, students and tourists all over the place looking to grab lunch or do some shopping. Coupled with the shopping and restaurants, I guess because it's a major subway hub as well as a bus depot that it's often so crowded; there aren't theaters in the area, like at NYC's Times Square.
After a tremendous tonkatsu lunch followed by a terrific bowl of ramen, I headed over to the Chiyoda district, while I still had daylight, to check out the park area making up the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Most of it was closed off, but it was still a nice walk along a portion of the perimeter of the grounds.
I hit the sack early in the hopes of getting up around 4:00 AM to head over to the Tsukiji Market to witness one of their tuna auctions. And you know I was tired if I didn't get up to have dinner.
Definitely a Degas I'd never seen before.
One of the Shibuya intersections during the day. It's always crazy busy.
The British Embassy across the street from the Chiyoda grounds of the Imperial Palace.
This Degas has the silhouette of a gentleman in a top hat towards the right edge of the painting; a similar scene exists in a painting at The Met.
View of Tokyo Bay from my hotel room.
One of the best meals I've had, so far, on this FEAST: pork tonkatsu with miso soup & an appetizer of fried chicken.
January 11, 2018
"Faster than a speeding bullet train..."
Because I went to bed incredibly early last night, I was able to wake up pretty easily at 4:00 AM to try to view a tuna auction at the Tsukiji Market. I hopped in a cab and was there in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, while there was already a lot of activity going on, a guard at the information booth said there wasn't going to be an auction this morning. The market is closed on Sundays and most Wednesdays, but I don't think there's an up-to-the-minute posting online as to whether or not there'll be an auction that morning. I wasn't too upset since I knew I could get a couple of cracks at it next when I return from Kyoto. I felt bad that two other parties showed up right after me only to find out the same news, and one pair of tourists had backpacks and luggage with them.
Another quick cab ride got me back to the hotel, and I guess I was gone a total of about 20 minutes. Anyway, it was the perfect time to get a load of laundry done!
After breakfast, I took my time and headed to Tokyo Station for my Shinkansen Nozomi train ride to Osaka. I had a nice lunch down in the concourse: my first taste of tsukemen. These are room-temperature ramen noodles with heavily-seasoned pork belly cut so thin it was almost like bacon served with a warm dipping sauce with pork broth as its base.
The train ride was really cool, but it wasn't luxurious or anything. The car was spotless, but you could tell the cloth seats have gotten heavy use. Far and away, these bullet trains seem to be used by business people. Besides the cool views of Mount Fuji for the first half of the trip, and I was on the right side of the train with a window seat to give me an unimpeded sight line to the mountain, I noticed quickly that you never saw an end of civilization for the 2.5 hours it took to get to Osaka. It was town after town with occasional views of patches of farm land. Without the long views of the countryside, I was left with the impression that Japan's pretty crowded, or at least the island of Honshu is.
See you Monday, Tokyo!
This sad face at breakfast is how I felt leaving Tokyo! Thankfully, I'll be back next week.
View from breakfast room at hotel, Mount Fuji in the distance.
One more photo of Tsukiji Market from my hotel room.