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Published: October 27th 2019
Tokyo! This city is pretty amazing. We kicked off our travels with a week here because I like, LIKE cities. Protip: sumimasin is the best word ever. Learn it and use it. We flew in separately (Susan from Bali and myself from NYC) to Narita. I had purchased an orange for good tidings for our trip intending to share with Susan, but we forgot to eat it before she left so I brought it with me to Japan. It was confiscated and quarantined. I didn't know citrus was such a contentious fruit.
Turning in our vouchers for our JR Pass and ticket on the Narita Express was a breeze. Line was longish but moved quickly. There are several 7-11 ATMs at the airport, I suggest pulling out cash immediately. The pasmo card (for Tokyo Metro) can only be loaded with cash (apparently if you buy it at the airport you aren't charged the new card fee of 500 yen). Even on the express train, it's a trek to Tokyo so by the time we made it to our hotel and the sun had already begun to set (we arrived at the airport around 3pm).
Our first meal was yakitori
at Birdland. A total adventure to find and a lot of 'it says we're right on top of it' from outside on the sidewalk (it's through a set of doors before you exit the train station). Speaking of Google maps has been kinda horrible. It often let's you think you are walking the right way and then mins into the route will show that you have gone in the opposite direction. Super frustrating. So back to Birdland, it was a very good first meal in Tokyo, but not amazing. The vibe was super chill and the service was wonderful, but the yakitori while hot and good, just was missing something and it wasn't salt. The chicken mmeatballs were not my fave. We did the omakase (and quickly tired of chicken so do not recommend), added a piece of cheese and had a couple of suntorys.
The next day, we were up early and headed out for Japanese style pancakes and our first shrines. I got standard honey and added some rum raisin and roasted nuts. I thought they were tasty, but a little dry. Susan basically had an eggs benny stack and hers was delicious. Like with all things,
we got there at 8am and our timed eating ticket was for 10. After our morning set, we headed out to Nikko for the afternoon. If you use walking sticks (referred to henceforth as my sticks) you will need them at Nikko. Lots of steps. Very beautiful and lush and the water flowing around the site is ice cold and flowing fast. I got bit a lot here. I also didn't have my sticks and my ankle/leg was burning by the end of the day. It was a beautiful first temple to see - actually a masoleum - and one of the most elaborate in Japan. There were even a couple of rooms you could enter (but no photos) including one demonstration of an incredible echo in one spot and a version of the zodiac with gods and goddesses. I (susan) also really liked walking all the way to the top to see the original memorial site, which was quite simple in contrast to the temple below. And I fell in love with the cedar forests.
Our third day my ankle was already feeling fatigued from the walking at Nikko. We had reservations for lunch at L'effervesence. This was
an amazing meal. The service was impeccable; presentation, attention to detail and personable staff on top of delicious food. We got turned around and wound up near a cemetery before finding our way over to the garden we were seeking. We were those people, last entrance and escorted out by a guard. Then ended the night with a stroll around Harijuku and with the most amazing fucking sea bream/tai (red snapper) ramen from this TINY place (http://ramen-toka.com/tai_toka) I saw on the 'Ramen Heads' movie. It was SO good and the second ramen master was in love with NYC so it was super fun sitting at the counter. I ended the night after this, but Susan continued on to piss alley. Which was also a crazy extravaganza of food and beer - and since we were new to Japan it was awesome to see the crowded alley and so many food places and lites.
We had a slow start to the day and had to do a hotel switch. Our original booking turned out to be a fifth floor walkup info of which wasn't in the listing and which wasn't disclosed until two days before our arrival. Our second hotel
was traditional Japanese style with tatami mats. The smell of the mats takes some getting used too and you repeat acclimization everytime you come back to the room. The futons were super thin. And I conclude that floor sleeping is not for me - even with three futons on top of each other. I spent the rest of this day resting and Susan went to the imperial garden. It was a cool garden, although portions were closed in preparation for the upcoming coronation. My (Susan) favorite part is a section where there are gifts of different trees from each part of Japan. Then I met up with her at an Owl cafe. It was pretty freaking cool. I felt like I was in Harry Potter! You got to have an owl rest on your arm and I hung out with Peanuts. We share a birthday and a predilection for sleep. We ended this evening with a home cooked meal from 7-11. Susan of course picked the second biggest owl and it proceeded to shit within one minute of being placed on her arm. I didn't switch owls but she followed up big shitter with a super active one that kept
wanting to climb her head (who she loved because the owl was just like her - always on the move). Made me appreciate Peanut's preference for napping.
We started this day with a trek over to teamlab Bordless. For sure, for sure do this! It's pricey and it's far from Tokyo center, but it was totes worth it. If you can get there after 3:30pm there was basically no line so you would have a more to yourself experience. We were meeting up with an old friend so couldn't come in late. I think there were 13 different immersive experiences and they were definitely not all created equal but the ones that I loved, I LOVED. Really enjoyed the spotlight one, the led room, the bird one, the lamps and the tea room. Protip upgrade to the ice cream set for an enchanced tea experience. After teamlab, we trekked across town for dinner at this pretty cool yakitori spot picked by a friend. What I learned from that was yes cabbage is delicious and I am not a fan of natto nor cartilage. We also got to see the sun set on Mt. Fuji.
For our last day
in Tokyo, we decided to do a day trip to Hakone to see Mt. Fuji and do our first onsen. It wasn't too bad getting out there and by this point I knew all the spots to grab onigiri for train snacks. It was a clear, sunny day and Mt. Fuji is a beautiful mountain. Hakone is still pretty far away though so don't expect it to be towering above you or to see the entire mountain. To get to the views was another story. The bus to the boat is winding and sickening and right at the edge of a cliff. The view from the boat is for about the first 5 mins and if you didn't pony up for first class it's hard to get a shot of Mt. Fuji without the boat in it. Do to ongoing volcanic activity (which given my origins story, still makes me nervous) the 'cool' part of the tram was closed, but the first section does take you up to another viewpoint and if you walk over to the hotel you can get some great shots from their garden (which no one else was doing because it isn't advertised but Susan saw
the hotel and was like there has to be a better view from there so we found our way). After the tram we took the rail down to Gora and had an amazing if somewhat pricey lunch at the brewpub. If you are there in season I would recommend making a reservation beforehand (we quickly found this to be a good tip for almost everything in Japan). From there, we went to the open air museum. It was a bit Meh! for me, but Susan really enjoyed it. Then it was back on the train into town to go to Tenzen Onsen. I bought the towel. Buying the towels is great as it's a souvenir and perfect size for the hot springs. Like most this one was gender separated, but it was unique in that it had 7 springs, one wet sauna and one dry on each side. The saunas were SO good; like I sweated out all the impurities and the wet one had like cedar eucalyptus aromatherapy that cleared out my lungs. I really liked being able to try out all the different temp pools and the one milky blue one and that it was all outdoors to
boot. As I've gotten older, I'm less self conscious of my naked body and really got to enjoy these more than I would have years ago with my more Western Puritan notions about naked bodies. We were here til right before the last bus and when we got back to the station I came across an Evangelion store! It was this anime series from the 90s/2000s I was obsessed with. Very tiny shop, but cool to stumble upon. For our last night in Tokyo, I had my first bowl of Ichiran in Japan (I've had it in NYC)like and didn't dissapoint :D
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