Despite having been awake for most of the last three days, I still managed to awake before either of my roommates. I felt greatly refreshed and felt only slight effects from the jet lag so my acclimation plan seemed to work in that regard. I took a look out of our window and marveled at the fact that I was now on the other side of the planet. Then I decided I would take a long, hot bath which unwound me a bit and helped clear up the slight fog of jet lag.
My cohorts were up and about by the time I had finished cleaning up and soon we were in the lobby meeting up with Yukie and the rest of the tour group. Joining our little group were Kelly and Savannah Nicholes. Yukie gave us our tour bags which contained swag, itineraries, and a little card worth 2,000 yen that could be used at Family Mart which is similar to a 7-11 in America. These convenience stores can be found on nearly every street corner. At one point during the trip, I found a Family Mart across the street from a Family Mart which was kitty corner from a third Family Mart.
We were given about an hour to kill before beginning our half day bus tour, so Dave, Mat, and I wandered around the neighborhood a bit. What I found most amazing is that I felt safer in Japan than I have in parts of America. A big reason for that is that Japan has a low crime rate. This is probably because America is very egocentric, meaning that the focus is on the self. But in Japan, the focus is on the family unit. If you do something wrong, it brings shame to your family as well as yourself, so that probably helps keep the crime rate down.
There was a Family Mart right across the street from our hotel, so I bought a ham sandwich and a cocoa drink that was so tasty, I had it all, but one day that we were in Tokyo. Mat had melon bread and Dave bought some little pancake sandwiches which two little pancakes about twice the size of a silver dollar that had the butter and syrup in between. It was a nice day so we ate and chatted outside of our hotel.
Soon we had hopped onto a bus to begin our half day sightseeing tour. We began by going to Tokyo Tower which looks exactly like the Eiffel Tower except it is a bright orange. The top of the tower gave us a spectacular view of the city. After exploring the tower, the bus took us to the Mejier Shrine. Before entering the shrine, we went to a purification area to make us worthy to enter the shrine.
The purification area consists of a long vat of water and you take a ladle and pour water over your left hand, then your right hand, then you swish the water around in your mouth, spit, and tilt the ladle backwards to remove any remaining water. In the shrine was a prayer board where people would post prayers they hoped to have fulfilled. Once the board is full, the prayers are burned and offered to the gods. Apparently, the board fills up pretty quickly around school entrance exam time as tests must be passed not only to get into college, but high school, as well.
I spent my first yen here when I bought a charm for my mother. I was a bit puzzled at first when the clerk pointed to a tray instead of taking my money. Mat pointed out that taking money from a customer was considered rude in Japan. The customer places the money on a small tray because that means he or she is giving the money to the clerk. As I placed a crisp, new 2,000 yen bill onto the tray, I saw Mat’s eyes flash in wonder.
“Did you just pay with a 2,000 yen bill?” asked Mat.
“Yes,” I replied, concerned that I was making a faux pas.
“Son of a b—–!” exclaimed Mat. “I didn’t know they had those. Do you have any more?”
“Yes, it was the only denomination I brought,” I said.
“I’m buying some as soon as we get back to the hotel,” said Mat.
From Mejier Shrine, we then went to the Imperial Palace gardens where I stared goggle eyed at the lush beauty of the grounds. After soaking up the scenery, our tour bus then took us to Akhibara where we would begin an afternoon shopping tour.
First, Mat, Dave, and I had a light lunch in the Gundam Café, which is based on the anime series, Gundam Wing. I had a light snack of a couple of chicken wings and some water and my companions played their 3DS machines while I snapped photos.
Soon we were walking the streets of Akhibara, visiting the numerous toy, electronics, and manga shops that littered the area. In a place as massive as Tokyo, space comes at a premium. You can’t even own a car unless you own land that you can park it on. So most people get around Tokyo using foot power, bicycles, or the subway. Consequently, one didn’t see a lot of traffic in the area. The lack of space also means that businesses are housed in tall buildings. Either multiple businesses will occupy an individual floor on the building or the business will have each department on a specific floor.
After wandering around and shopping, our group met up back where we had been dropped off and we caught a subway back to our hotel. From there we took a night walk around Ikebukuro and ended the evening at an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is like a Japanese pizza. The fillings are mixed into the dough and it is cooked in front of you. I partook of a shrimp, octopus, and pork okonomiyaki. The waitress really liked the Son Goku (a character from a series called Dragonball) shirt I was wearing and after dinner, we took a group photo outside of the restaurant doing the Kamehameha wave (Goku’s signature attack).
After an exhausting day, we returned to our hotel to rest and recharge for more adventures.