We Went to Japan: Part 3

Posted by: Peanut in MyBlog

Tagged in: Vacation , Japanese Stuff

We used our last few days in Japan to do anything remaining that we didn’t want to miss. We took a second walking tour, this time of the Asakusa and imperial palace areas. We went to the temple and the shrine at Asakusa. The walkway to the temple is lined with little shops selling touristy things like postcards and ornaments, renting kimono, and making sweets (of which we got some). I think my favourite part of was the branches of artificial plum blossoms and shiny spangles that lined the upper edges of the walkway. There were a lot of people around but it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder and we didn’t have any trouble managing to see anything we were interested in. Our guide showed us how to cleanse ourselves with smoke at the temple entrance and told us to pour some over Maisie’s head “to make her smart”. He also showed us how to pray inside the temple and gave us a refresher on cleansing with water and praying at the shrine. Behind the temple is a garden that was lovely to walk through on a hot day. There were plenty of shady trees and little bridges over pools of water with brightly coloured fish. There was also a row of food stalls. Maisie had a chocolate covered banana and Rob and I burnt out mouths on fresh takoyaki. Other things of note in the area included a covered arcade where Maisie tried to catch fish with a paper net and had her hair done up with Japanese hair sticks. Wandering around outside we found someone advertising an owl cafe. We didn’t go to the cafe but Maisie was delighted to meet the owl. We had lunch at a sushi restaurant where the sushi is all on little plates that go past on a conveyer belt. The price of each dish is shown by the colour of the plate and you just take whatever you want off the conveyer and keep a stack of plates to pay for at the end. Maisie was very excited when she saw a plate of ebi nigiri (shrimp sushi) going past. Our guide was able to special order a couple of plates for her, one shrimp and the other salmon, with no wasabi. I mostly stuck to things I could recognize but Rob’s method was to try everything that looked weird or was suggested by Maisie. This meant he ate everything from shrimp and fish to tiny octopuses and brightly coloured roe.

After lunch we visited the imperial palace grounds which were open for the cherry blossom viewing as well as the gardens that are open all year round. The cherry blossom walk was a bit hot and crowded but it was still interesting to see different parts of the palace grounds and outbuildings as we went along. The gardens were cooler and not as busy and make me want to go back to Japan at a different time of year to see them in another phase. They were beautiful in March but I’m sure are equally beautiful in the other seasons. I think the fall colours would be especially lovely. Just for fun, since he thought Maisie would enjoy it, our guide took us to a petting farm … on the 13th floor of a fancy office tower in downtown Tokyo. I can’t think of anything I would expect less but there it was with a cow and an alpaca, several goats, a pig, four owls, some flamingos, and a bunch of chickens. It was all very neat and clean. Maisie was offered food to feed the goats but chose not to in case they tried to eat her dress instead.

For our last full day in Tokyo we went to our regular breakfast spot and “our” kombini and picked up some fun candies and things for our trip home the following day. We spent the afternoon in Shibuya taking the trains there and back again. I think our highlight for Shibuya was visiting the Tokyu Hands shop. It is a huge DIY shop with everything you could possibly imagine, and then a whole bunch more, under its roof. In the entrance was a display with a scrappy looking quilt made of pieces of indigo dyed cloth. It was the second or third time I’d come across something like this and I still like rustic, cozy the look of it. The stairs in the shop tell you how many calories you burn if you climb them and I think there were seven floors all together so it’s not an insignificant amount. Somewhere along the way Maisie spotted a plush kitty that we decided would be a good souvenir of her trip. On the top level is a cute little cafe with some very good food. I was very taken with some displays of shallow ceramic bowls filled with aquatic plants and tiny fish until I realized that they would just be “The Best Cat Toy Ever!!” and would not be an appropriate or long lived addition to our home decor.

When we were packing up to get ready for our trip home I realized I didn’t have any clean shirts left so Maisie and I went for a little adventure and I bought a shirt in a little clothing shop we’d walked past a few times in our wanderings. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal but for most of our transactions Rob had been the one interacting with shop keepers so this was pushing me a little outside my comfort zone. I also needed to make sure the top I was buying actually fitted so I had to communicate the need to try it on. I got a light sweater covered in big stars that Maisie thought was just beautiful. She chatted quite happily with the shop keeper while I was trying it on.

Our last dinner in Tokyo was tempura and probably one of my favourites, and not just because I love tempura. We ordered sets (mine was veggie, Rob’s was seasonal) which meant getting a whole array of little things along with the tempura. Maisie got to try anything she wanted from our meals and ate almost all of Rob’s shrimp and loved my miso soup with the clams in it. Rob had sake, which is poured so it reaches the very top of the glass. The meal ended with an orange jelly dessert that was a perfect refreshingly tangy, sweet finish after the deep fried tempura. It tasted so fresh and light. I have been searching for a similar recipe to try since we got home.

Going home day was reasonably calm thanks to a late afternoon flight time and some careful planning the day before. We went out for breakfast and Maisie got her last gachapon (surprise toys where you put money into a slot and turn a handle) to put on her backpack. We walked up to the train station with our bags and looked at fancy bento snacks while waiting for our train. I think we all dozed a bit on the train. There was some more waiting around at the airport. We wandered through the shops and ate some lunch and then finally went through security to search for our gate. Naturally it was the very last one. Fortunately there were lots of moving walkways so it didn’t take as long to get there as I thought and there was some time to sit and have a bit of ice cream before we had to board the plane.

Flying home was a bit surreal since it meant crossing the date line backwards. We left Narita airport at about 5 pm on Thursday, landed in Calgary, muddled our way through customs and rechecking our bags, had something to eat, tried to nap without missing any important announcements, found our next gate, tried to stay awake long enough to not miss our flight, and then left Calgary airport at 5 pm on Thursday. Somewhere in the middle of our stay in Calgary airport someone asked me what date it was and I really had no idea. We’d planned our trip so we’d get home at the beginning of the Easter long weekend giving us some extra time to recover and get back on schedule before heading back to work and school. It was a decision I was very glad we had made because it turns out children and adults respond very differently to jet lag, particularly in terms of how long a person can run on adrenaline (hint: kids never stop, grown-up get a couple of hours max.)

Some last thoughts about Japan:
- Everything was quieter, sliding doors, elevators, trains and the people on them. Nothing made more noise than necessary and it became even more apparent when we were back in Canada.
- If you want to blend in wear black, navy, cream or beige, especially if it is a workday.
- The crows sounds like screeching children.
- The ambulances sound like air raid sirens.
- If you express a need to be helped, people will help you.
- If you keep to yourself, no one will bother you.
- Everything was very pedestrian friendly and even the busy roads were not as packed as I have seen in some places in Canada.