Monday, July 19, 2010

Japan Part 1 - Tokyo

Our trip to Japan began with a week in Tokyo, and the above image, of Shinobazu-ike, one of Ueno Park's ponds, was one of our first major sights in the city. We spent 6 nights at the Hotel Park Side, a friendly little business hotel just across the street from the park, and we could see the pond from our hotel room. Here's another image of this very pretty pond and many lotuses close up:

Staying is Ueno was a fantastic experience. We had the park, which not only boasted this lovely pond, but also featured some really terrific museums, temples, shrines, and a zoo. I don't know the name of the temple below, but it was just around the corner from the pond, on the way to the area of the park with all of the museums in it. We spent a few hours one morning at the Tokyo National Museum, which holds one of the world's largest collections of Japanese art, and whose grand buildings and excellently-curated exhibits definitely did not disappoint. As for the neighborhood in general, it was very convenient in terms of transportation (we were able to take a train from the airport directly into Ueno station), there were a ton of shops, including the busy Ameyoko Arcade, and lots of good places to eat.

For our first morning in Japan, we were suffering from some serious jet lag and would up wide awake at 5am. Wanting to make the most of the early hour, we decided to take the opportunity to visit the Tsukiji Central Fish Market, where chances are good that you can find every and any kind of ocean-dwelling creature imaginable. Since all of the action pretty much takes place between 5 and 8am, and since it wasn't likely we'd be wide awake that early any other day, we took the opportunity to visit.

This picture gives you a pretty good idea of what it's like inside the market. There are people running everywhere, water sloshing around on the ground, boxes and packing supplies piled high, carts and trolleys that aren't afraid to run you over, and of course, fish.

Truly, every type of sea dweller imaginable, and many things that were impossible to identify, are on display here, much of it still wiggling around. From tiny baby fish in bins to giant six footers getting hacked apart by band saws, we saw it all.

And do you see that little trolley-like cart on the right of the above image? You really need to watch out for them as they zip down the narrow isles. Really guys, just try to not be in the way while ogling the fish.

But of course, the Tsukiji Central Fish Market was just the first place we visited that day. The above image is from the Imperial Place, where we spent a few hours strolling around the East Garden, the only area that's usually open the public. The image below is of the Tokagakudo Music Hall, a beautiful mosaic-covered building inside the grounds of the Garden.

Luckily for us, being used to navigating the New York City subway system gave us an advantage with figuring out Tokyo's many public transportation options. There are a lot of different ways to get around the city, but most days we just opted for buying a Tokyo Subway day pass, as we would inevitably end up bouncing between neighborhoods, or wind up in Aksaka when we really wanted to be in Akihabara, but had first accidentally traveled to Asakusa. Because of the fact that Tokyo is an incredibly large and confusing city, we would often end up lost at least once or twice in a day. Luckily, as we were on vacation and decided to take a very relaxed approach to sightseeing, the only time it was ever really annoying was when we were hungry and attempting to find a specific restaurant. These were the times when I was grateful for our pocket phrase book and that Patrick had decided to study Japanese language tapes for about 6 months before our trip. These were also the times when we realized that with very few exceptions, pretty much all of the places that we ended up eating in, whether we had planed to eat there or just happened upon them, all served absolutely delicious food. Everything, even the stuff that was unidentifiable, was fresh and beautifully presented.

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