I took 215 photos on my tour of Tokyo yesterday. You can thank me now for narrowing my photo selection down to only the 14 that I am sharing with you.
I booked a tour for myself to see Tokyo because I know it would be hard for Bethany to take her kids to all the places I wanted to see and I know I probably won’t be able to get to Japan again in my lifetime. I’m not ruling another trip out, of course, but it’s not likely. And let me tell you, the money I spent on the tour was the best $100 I ever spent! So worth it.
I saw so much!!! I learned so much. I went from being terrified of getting lost in a big city in a strange country where I can’t speak the language or even read any of the signs to feeling like I could even live here. It would only take me a few months to learn how to get around and everyone is so nice you just have to ask for directions (in English even!) if you get lost. Tokyo is now one of my favorite cities. Right up there with Paris.
The top photos are from our walk from the military base in Yokosuka to the train station. Bethany and Troy were so kind to ride the train with me to Tokyo. It’s pretty complicated to navigate the train/subway system, especially in the morning rush hours where trains are so packed they have to push onto the train with white gloves. While we walked I found myself being amazed at how Annalie and Elliora navigate their way around town. It is their normal. I have to admit I’m a little jealous of the stories they will tell when they grow up. Kind of like my mom told me.
Which, by the way, did you know my mom lived on this exact base that Troy and Bethany live on now when she was a kid and her dad worked for the military? I can’t wait to talk to her about all the things I’ve seen and done. (Hi mom!)
Our first stop on the tour was a Meiji Shinto Shrine. This shrine was dedicated to Emperor of Meiji, the first emperor of Japan. We walked through the forest, under giant torii gates and down a pebbled path to a building where we could throw money into a grate and clap to get the Shinto gods attention if we wanted to. But first we had to purify ourselves from a chozuya fountain.
I was a little scared to do this but our tour guide seemed pretty enthusiastic that we do in order to purify ourselves. We were instructed to take the ladle and wash our hands and then take some water from our hands and rinse out our mouths but not drink it. And then when we were done with that we were to scoop up some more water and let it run down the handle to clean the ladle for the next person. Our tour guide was so adorably cute I didn’t dare not do this. And so far I have not gotten sick so I guess it was okay! Bethany says the water here is probably cleaner than the states so really I had nothing to worry about.
At the entrance of the Shinto garden (before the long pebbled path walk to the temple) there is this wall of sake barrels that the local merchants give to the temple. It’s respectful and great advertising. I think the labels are so pretty. I wonder if I would think so if I knew they said something like Coors light.
I love all the characters and the way they look. I’d probably buy a shirt selling insurance and think it’s cool. But then the Japanese are the same way. They have shirts saying non-sensical English words like Harverd and notebooks with things like “pleasant time with cats is sweet with tea” on them.
Next we visited The Imperial Palace Garden East. Our tour guide was quick to add that there is no west garden. I don’t know why but I thought it was funny. She was hilarious. If you take a Hato Bus tour I strongly recommend Nobu-san. I loved her.
The garden was very pretty. I learned a lot about Shoguns and why fish is so important in Japan. Besides being food, fish also symbolizes water. Through history many buildings in Japan were built of wood (brick is too dangerous in earthquakes) and fire was their biggest fear. So obviously water is important for people who are afraid of fire. Our tour guide told us that during many years (I forget the time period) tempura was forbidden because it caught so many houses on fire. And that is why you see fish statues on the top of so many Japanese buildings and temples.
Next we visited Asakusa, a shopping destination and a Sensoji Temple (a Buddhist temple). Behind the temple is Nakamise walkway that is filled with all kinds of interesting shops. Our tour guide called it the Bermuda Triangle where tourists go in but never come out and I can understand that completely because it was fascinating! Kimonos, t-shirts with shoguns and Japanese art on them, Kokeshi dolls and swords…I could have stayed there for hours. Unfortunately we were only allowed 20 minutes. I made desperate purchases and I really hope the ninja outfit I bought Joon will not be too small. I’d go back there in a heart beat.
You might be wondering what the smoky pot is. That’s a giant caldron of smoking sage or incense. Believers let the smoke waft over them to cleanse them or cure themselves of ailments. It’s also supposed to be good luck. Which is kind of funny to me because there is a lot of shopping there so I guess we are all very pure or lucky shoppers.
Then back on the bus and off to lunch.
We rode through Ginza (no stopping because it’s like shopping in Beverly Hills and who has $$$ for that!).
We had lunch at a restaurant on the very top of a tall building. The view was amazing. I was seated at a table in the middle (with all the loser, single people) facing a wall. I wanted to get up and move to the window the entire time. At the end I did because who cares about small talk with strangers when you can look at a view like this!? The food was not as amazing as the view. (It was Western style: a thin but well-seasoned steak in gravy over a flat tater-tot cake thing with over-cooked broccoli and carrots.)
After lunch we took a cruise on the bay in a boat. More great views.
This was the first time all day that I was little lonely on my tour. But I didn’t really mind. A latte a view and some quiet time by the water never hurt anybody.
After the cruise we rode the bus over The Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba. Many people chose to shop at Daiso and visit a giant pet store on Odaiba but since I have Daiso at home I chose to wander to the local man made beach and check that out. The sand was shipped in from China. It was pretty and peaceful and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves there. Lots of teenagers gathered and wrote their names in the sand.
And that was the end of my tour but NOT my adventure. My train ride home was the biggest adventure of all. (Per my request I navigated my way home from Tokyo to Yokosuka all by myself.)
Bethany and Troy and my tour guide walked me through my route many times but you can never really be prepared enough for the organized mayhem that is the train system in Japan. People run everywhere frantically. If you weren’t already stressed out by not knowing which way to turn, you quickly become stressed out because everyone else seems to be in a very big hurry and if you don’t hurry too you are probably going to miss your train! So there I am a giant foreigner wandering through the many levels of underground passageways frantically looking for my platform. Signs everywhere going everywhere. It was all terribly confusing.
Finally, I just gave up trying to read the signs and asked a women at a ticket counter with a big sign that said “English Speaking Here” where I should go. She directed me to keep going to yet another lower level. I think I must have been four stories underground and every level was just as busy as the next. I found my platform but the signs didn’t quite say what I thought they should say and the train was just about to leave. I stood there paralyzed, not knowing what to do. I finally asked a nearby business man if this was the train to Yokosuka. He nodded and since everyone else was running, I jumped on the car nearest me. The doors closed behind me and we were off in a blur.
But things didn’t look right. There were seats and well-dressed men were sitting in them drinking cans of beer and reading newspapers. I motioned to an older grandfather looking man who was reading a manga magazine if I could sit next to him. He nodded okay. I thought to myself, This sure is nice compared to the cattle car we were packed into this morning I hope I’m on the right train. That should have been my first clue but Troy had mentioned earlier that sometimes you get lucky and catch an express train that is a lot nicer than the usual one. So I figured I must be on an express car.
Then a woman came around to take drink orders and asked me for my ticket. I was in first class.
I asked her where I should go but I didn’t really understand what she was telling me to do. Was I supposed to go to another car or get off and take another train? She only just motioned for the door. I followed where she pointed but that just put me in another car that was also first class. I really didn’t want to get off the train because then I’d miss my train and I might have to wait an hour for the next one. I rode a couple of stops in between cars because I didn’t know what else to do. Finally, she found me there and shuffled me through another car until I got to the economy class car.
You can probably guess what that was like. Cram-packed to the gills with people of course! I had to squeeze in by pushing eight people out of my way. Bodies were touching me on all sides! Everyone jostled and made room for me and then went back to looking at their phones as if nothing happened. I, however, was sweating bullets. Thankfully, my deodorant seemed to work. I’m sure this happens all the time to tourists and the locals inwardly roll their eyes or worse cuss and swear, but outwardly all stayed calm. As calm as people with only one inch of personal air space between them can be.
It took me about five stops to stop sweating and cool down. At one point everyone whooshed out and I was all alone in my train car. It was quite cool then and I even needed my sweater. Then another stop later they all whooshed back on. All this gave me plenty of time to study the map above my head. At first it was a spiderweb of spaghetti but eventually I figured out where I was and was able to count off the stops on the map as we passed them. The end of the line was me!
I got off the train at the correct stop and was able to walk myself the whole mile through Yokosuka to the base (in the dark!). I was SO proud of myself and my awesome sense of direction. I successfully navigated a foreign country all by myself!!
This was probably such a big deal to me because I remember my mom telling stories about doing the same thing when she was a teenager. Even though it was scary, I’m so glad I did it because it was kinda like seeing my mom’s stories come to life. If my mom can do it then so can I!