Return to the Rising Sun, Days 5-6: Wasting Away Again in Harajukuville or Fuji Gets Flushed or It’s Godzilla!!!

Day 5

It was a bright sunny Sunday morning as I knew it would be since I was carrying my umbrella.  But that’s OK because it also doubles as a fine walking stick.

Being in Japan, I realized it was highly unlikely that I would be finding a church to attend, but Mat supplied an event to touch on my spiritual needs when we visited Meiji Shrine.

The place was pretty much the same as the last time we visited, but there was a bit of excitement as we got to witness not one, but two, weddings that were taking place at the shrine that Monday.  It was a pair of moving ceremonies and I was glad to be part of it.

Then we went to Harajuku which I ranked as the blah moment of the trip.  Harajuku is known for its underground culture and for shopping.  I freely admit that shopping bores me to tears.  When I do it, it is a surgical strike as I know exactly what I want and I get it.  I don’t have much desire for knick-knacks or souvenirs and books are out in Japan since I can’t read the language.  So I spent three hours staying in the shade while other members of the party went on a shopping spree.

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On the other hand, Harajuku is also noted for its crepes and Dave paid his “fee” for my booking all the travel for us.  Unfortunately, he accidentally ordered the wrong crepes as I wanted cinnamon apple and gelato and got bananas and cream.  In his defense, he did order the number listed by my crepes, but it was a popularity list and not the number for the crepes I wanted.  I also only ended up eating half of it as it slipped out of my hand while I was tearing the paper.  Fiddlesticks.

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Banana and cream crepes.

From there we went to Mat’s favorite ramen restaurant, Tonkatsu Ramen, which I had eaten at during my last visit to Japan.  The ramen was as good as ever, even though the restaurant goofed by giving me a mild broth instead of the hot and spicy one I wanted.  Well, them are the perils of dealing with a language barrier when ordering food.

After filling our stomachs, Mat led us to his favorite shrine in Akasa.  It was still as peaceful as the last time and we got to watch the monks build a shrine for a festival.

We enjoyed a brief stay before heading off to Akihibara where more shopping was done before we closed the evening at Lion Ginza, a bar and restaurant where we took time to get to know each other better over drinks and food.

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Lion Ginza

Another exhausting day had ended, but the next day was to be filled with frustrations.

Day 6

When it rains, it pours.  Or did I say that once already?

Believe me, the rain that met us that Monday morning blew every other rainfall that we’d experienced out of the water (no pun intended).  Rain fell in sheets and would let up only for a few minutes before intensifying again.

This was meant to be a day for us to rest and recuperate as we were set to tackle Mt Fuji on Tuesday.  Then Mat hit us with the bad news.  We would be forced to pull the plug on the climb up Mt Fuji.

The horrible rain we were suffering through was supposed to continue for the next two days which would have made a climb miserable and difficult (well, more difficult at any rate).  Even worse, the winds were gusting so much that those who oversee the climbs were not allowing people to climb on Monday and Tuesday was set to be a repeat of Monday’s weather.  Sigh.

The good news is that we will be going to Mt Fuji’s 5th station to look around, eat lunch, and view the mountain, but it’s disappointing to lose out on what was to be the centerpiece of the trip.  On the other hand, I have gotten very fit training for the climb.

The rain finally let up enough around noon for us to leave the apartment and do something as we were going stir crazy.  We attempted to try an escape room in Akasaka which claims to be open nearly every day.  Monday was apparently not one of those days as the place was shut tight.  I suspect they are only open when people actually arrange for the tickets as neither the business nor its Facebook page list operating hours.

We hiked another 15 minutes to the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Europe and Asia.  We stopped for a quick lunch at McDonald’s where I had a Sudden Victory Chicken sandwich and it was delish.  We ended up going up to the observation desk even though the low clouds made it impossible to see very far.  But I did have a small dish of ice cream for dessert and there were a few new exhibits to look at.

From the Skytree we returned to Shinjuku to catch Shin (New) Godzilla or Godzilla:  Resurgence (as it will be known in America) at Toho Cinemas.  I don’t normally watch movies on vacation, but watching a Godzilla film in Japan should be a requirement.  And you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy a Godzilla flick.  Godzilla shows up and chaos reigns.  It’s a formula that’s worked for 31 films.

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Dave ordered the Mega bucket of popcorn. It could and did feed 5 people.

We hit the arcades for a brief spell after the movie before returning to the apartment to pack up our stuff for the next phase of our journey.

 

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Days 7 & 8: Traditional Tokyo & See You Later

Author’s Note:  This is my 50th post.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started this blog, but I’m glad that you’ve been here to share the ride.  It’s been a true pleasure to share my escapades with you.  I look forward to the next 50 stories.

In what seemed the blink of an eye, we were on our last full day in Japan.  Once again we had the day to do whatever we pleased, so Mat wanted to take Dave and I away from the touristy part of Tokyo and experience its real side.

Early in the morning, the three of us caught a subway to the Azabu-Jaban district.  Once we stepped out of the subway station, it seemed like we had journeyed back in time.  No traffic.  No noise.  All was quiet, scenic, and peaceful.  The streets were lined with little homes.  It was a magnificent world.

As we walked along the streets, Mat demonstrated his knowledge of Japan as he launched into an interesting lecture on the anime series, Sailor Moon, and its connection to the Azubu-Jaban region.  He pointed out that a lot of the embassies were in this district and it was incredible to pass all of these gated homes and see which ambassador was living there.

We also passed several schools, explored a little cemetery, and visited a couple of shrines.  After the shrines, Mat took us on a scenic route through a little park.  As we wandered through the park, I suddenly had a great moment of clarity.  Every once in a while, I have these moments and when they hit me everything seems so crystal clear and simple.  It’s as if God has momentarily opened my eyes and is letting me know that everything is going to be all right if I keep the faith and that right now, even if it doesn’t seem like it, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.  As I watched a waterfall in the park, I let myself sink into that moment.

All too soon, we were on our way again.  Upon leaving the park, we found a little library and Mat and I decided to stop inside for a moment while Dave waited by the fountain.  When we entered the library, we were given special passes so we could use the resources.  Mat and I examined a few newspapers and then went back outside to collect Dave and find a place to eat.

I discovered a rather inviting little café and we decided to grab a meal there.  I seem to recall that we had the special of the house which were pork cutlets and rice.  After the respite, we headed to the subway station and were off to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree.

The Tokyo Sky Tree is one of the tallest structures in the world.  I thought the view was amazing from Tokyo Tower, but it had nothing on the Sky Tree.  The Sky Tree has two observation decks:  a high one and a REALLY high one.  Needless to say, we visited both.

The view from the REALLY high deck was jaw dropping.  I don’t think I could see the whole city, but it couldn’t have been far off.  From this height, one could see just how massive this metropolis truly was and it was a sight I will be unable to forget.  I only wish it hadn’t been such a cloudy day because I would have been able to see Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day.

Once we had had our fill, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for a final group dinner.

We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant called Izakaya.  Upon entering the foyer, we were required to remove our shoes and were seated around a long table.  We sampled many different foods, but what made the dinner truly special was the company.  We had been together for most of the week, but this was the event where we truly got to know one another.  We had begun this journey beyond imagination as touring companions, but we were leaving as friends.

The next day arrived and we packed our bags and met in the lobby to say our final good-byes.  Mat and Dave had an earlier flight which would ultimately take them to Mat’s hometown in Phoenix where they would rest up for a few days before Mat escorted Dave back to Omaha and visited his family and friends.  Mat had been right. . .I did have the time of my life.  And as we said our farewells, our eyes all shared the same idea. . .our little trio would return to Japan to experience it again and anew.

After I saw Mat and Dave off, I walked Mike to a Hello, Kitty store in Ikebukuro so he could get some souvenirs.  As we headed back to the hotel, I noticed a ramen restaurant that our group had passed on multiple occasions.  The food there must be incredible as there is always a line out the door and Mat said the same had been true when he had first visited Tokyo two years previously.  For once, the line was short and I was sorely tempted to wait and try the ramen.  But it wouldn’t have felt right without Mat and Dave to share it with, so I resisted the urge, though we three have made a vow to hit it up when we return.

About 1pm, my bus arrived and, once again, I rode the 90 minutes to Narita International Airport.  I stopped and exchanged my remaining yen for dollars and made a bit of profit on the exchange.  Yukie helped get us our boarding passes and saw us off, taking a final photo.  But I knew it wasn’t good-bye for Japan.  It was merely see you later.

The flight home was a bit smoother as the Gulf Stream now sped up our flight, reducing it to about 9 hours.  This time, there was an empty seat between me and the other person in our row, so I was able to stretch out and get a bit more shuteye.  I remember it was about midnight when finally got back to my home and my internal clock was screwed up something awful.  It was nearly 3am when I fell asleep and I actually slept all the way to 11am.

The jet lag which I had managed to keep at bay in Tokyo struck me with a fury when I returned to Omaha.  I imagine jet lag is what being drunk must feel like except without the misery of a hangover.  Every few hours, I would nap for a little while as my body battled to reset its biorhythms.  It took over a week before I was fully recovered.  As I shook off the last remnants of Japan, I finally realized the adventure was over, but the memories will last forever.