Friday, August 14, 2015

Pat and Ray visit Tokyo (2-9 Aug 2015) Part I

2 Aug 2015

We left our Singapore apartment at 4:50 AM to head to Changi Airport for our 6:50 AM flight to Tokyo. The flight was uneventful, as one always hopes. We landed at Narita (NRT) at about 2:30 PM.

The line to get through Immigration was horrendous. Probably the longest delay we ever experienced in our many travels - room was hot and humid and it took over an hour to get through and there was no apparent reason for it. Fortunately, picking up our luggage and getting through Customs was easy and fast.

Once outside Customs, we looked for, and found, a Citibank ATM. Then it was off to arrange transportation into Tokyo (the airport is about 50 miles outside of the city). We took the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station, where we took the Marunouchi Line (subway) to Akasaka-mitsuke Station.

Pat enjoying the Narita Express into Tokyo.
Great views of the rice paddies along the tracks.

Trying to get a ticket for the subway was a challenge, but we were aided by a friendly gentleman who showed us what to do. After that buying subway tickets was a breeze - we even stopped clicking on the English language button.

Arriving at the Akasaka-mitsuke Station, we exited to the main street, Sotobori-dori (love how that sounds). Looking across the street we saw our hotel - the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu - how convenient! Also saw a sign in same building as the hotel for the Beer Kitchen - looks like we found a place to stop after checking in.

Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu

Location of our hotel

Our first dinner in Tokyo was at the Beer Kitchen. Oh, so good!

Taps at Beer Kitchen

Yona Yona Real Ale

Hare no Hi Sennin

Very rich broth for the noodles. Much more attractive than this photo shows. And really yummy.

Pork skewer with a tasty sauce

Here are some of the notes about these beer, taken and modified from the beer menu:
  • Yona Yona Real Ale - unfiltered rich aroma and uncarbonated direct malt flavor. This hand-pumped ale shows bubbles to create a creamy head. 5.5% ALC and 36.5 IBU. Ray started off with this one.

  • Yona Yona Ale - Fragrant aroma and rich flavor. Our flagship ale. Golden amber color, fragrant citrus-like flavor of premium cascade hops, and well-balanced bitterness and sweetness. 5.5% ALC and 36.5 IBU. This was Pat's first choice and all time favorite.

  • Hare no Hi Sennin - Rich and mellow. Over 1/2 a year maturation makes this ale high-alcohol like wine. Strong in body, bitterness and sweetness. Recommended to emjoy relaxed using a wine glass or brandy glass. 8.5 % ALC and 68 IBU. Ray's second choice came in a brandy snifter to hold all that 8.5% ALCs in.

  • Zenryaku Konomi Nante Kiitenaize SORRY - Striking aroma of Yazu, unleashed with coarse salt. A session ale of serendipitous combination. The bursting aroma of salted Yazu and 2 different aroma hops (Cascade and Styrian Goldings) creates an unprecedented unique flavor. 4% ALC and 13 IBU. Pat tried this one after her bowl of yummy noodles.

3 Aug 2015

Our hotel included breakfast each day, so today we had the standard breakfast buffet - hard to tell the difference between it and many of the other breakfast buffets we've had. The biggest difference: we had tickets to be presented at breakfast each day; this was handed to the person at the entrance, who handed it off to another person who walked us maybe 10 yards and handed it to someone else, who walked us a few more yards before handing the tickets over to yet another person. Each hand-off was, of course, enhanced by multiple bows. In all, it took 5-6 people to get us to a table!

We decided to start off our trip with one of the walks from the Tokyo Walks book we brought with us. There was one that partially covered the neighborhood we were staying in, Akasaka - so that seemed like a good choice.

We walked to the north side of the Imperial Gardens/Palace, where our first stop was the Wacoal Kojimachi Building that looks like a sewing machine. We read this description as we were walking towards the area and wondered how a building could possibly look like a sewing machine. Well it certainly did. (kind of reminded us of the Longaberger Basket main office in Newark, OH)  BTW, the Wacoal Company is a lingerie manufacturer. There was also some controversy when it was build about the large eye-shaped window at the top that happens to point towards the Imperial Palace and is high enough to "peak" over the moat walls.

Wacoal Kojimachi Building

From here we walked along the outer moat to one of the Imperial Palace's gates. Next was a statue of 3 naked ladies at the Supreme Court building. A 3 naked guys statue was not far away - seems only fair.

Moat around Imperial Palace

Three Naked Ladies in front of Supreme Court

The Japanese Diet

Continuing south and across from the Diet Building (Japanese parliament), we stopped to get our first geocache. The cache was next to a Romanesque little building (Nippon Suijun Genten Hyoko) that protects the official marker for the given height above the mean level of Tokyo Bay. All heights are then measured against this marker.

I know, yawn huh? The geocache was fun to find and it was interesting to see a Roman style building in the middle of Tokyo. I would be more interested in finding out why a Roman building was built here more so than what the mean level measurements of the city is.

Nippon Suijun Genten Hyoko

The geocache was in this tree, but
don't tell anyone.

Around the Diet Buildings there was a very obvious police presence - not only officers, but lots of patrols driving around the various streets, and dozens of "paddy wagons". The Diet has recently voted to increase the military, including providing troops for places like Afghanistan. This decision has brought out lots of protesters. Japan's military has been minimal in strength since the end of WWII so this is a big issue and important decision for the country.

We then walked to the Hie Shrine, a Shinto shrine. We didn't get a good photo of the main shrine because the camera started acting up (after sitting down and figuring out the problem, we left without taking the shrine picture and left the guide book behind on one of the benches).

Oh, the steps we had to climb

Before entering the temple grounds, you are asked to rinse your arms and hands.

The temple entrance

Temple Bells

Prayer boards

We came down these stairs after our temple visit

Next stop was the Itamae Sushi, in Akasaka, for lunch.

The menu had some English on it. Good thing for food photography!

My sushi lunch

Pat had Unagi (eel) for her lunch
My accompanying beverage

Off to Roppongi, walking in the heat. One of the things we wanted to see was Roppongi Hills, "an enormous complex which includes shops, offices, restaurants and an art museum". One level of the complex is a pedestrian area where a lot of people gather. Here are some of the things we saw on there:

Large spider sculpture

Cute figures were everywhere

Ray and his new friends

A 12-foot rose and gazebo

A large gathering of characters

Ad for a movie staring the cute figures

The real reason we headed here was 2 beer establishments (of course). The first one we walked to was BrewDog, a Scotish beer we enjoyed in London a year ago. Unfortunately, it wasn't open at the time we passed it, so we continued on to the Ant N' Bee, with several Japanese craft beers on tap.

Outside BrewDog

Ant N' Bee is in the basement (B1F)

20 craft beers should be enough

Down these stairs and turn to the left

The Ant N' Bee bar is a very small place

Twenty Japanese beers on tap

Walking back toward the hotel, we saw some interesting things.

Cute supports for keeping people and cars out of a construction site

Almost as bad as in Cambodia

Wine glass facade

Dinner was at a crowded restaurant in Akasaka, near our hotel. The place was filled with eaters (one of our criteria and always a good sign), so we decided to eat here, even though we have no idea what the name of the place was. The name on the front of the restaurant was in Japanese as well as the business cards and menu.

Our dinner restaurant

It was a busy place

Our menu (it was in English)

We walked back to the hotel and soon were in bed. We were tired after trekking 7.2 miles today.

4 Aug 2015

Subway to Tsukiji Station for out tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market (we found the tour at Context Travel), Then met Rosa Lee at Tsukiji Bon Marche for the tour. She was an interesting tour guide for a Tokyo fish market. She is from Australia, of Korean decent, and working on her PhD in Japanese culture. She had her favorite shops and stands to visit and was a very enjoyable guide. We were touring with three tourists from France.

A sign outside the Outer Market

Heading into the Inner Market

Rosa Lee (our guide)

The Inner Market (only open to public after 9 AM)

Miscellaneous seafood in the Inner Market

Fish parts

Dried fish parts and other goodies in the Outer Market

Outer Market knife store

The included lunch was at one of the many sushi restaurant in the Outer Market.

After lunch, went to the Tsukiji Hongwani temple.

Tsukiji Hongwani

Tsukiji Hongwani Interior

A German Organ

Tour group broke up and weI headed towards the Ginza area. We were looking for Bird Land restaurant - when we couldn't find it we went to a Tourist Information Center in the Sony Building where we found out the Bird Land restaurant was in the basement of The Suit Company, which we passed by earlier.

Since we were parched and there was the Pub Cardinal, the first traditional British pub in Japan, in the Sony building across from the TI, we stopped there for a beer. Then off to verify the location of Bird Land.

Decide to look for geocaches. First one in Ginza was a DNF. Then walked to the Hibiya Park, where we found 3 caches. One of the caches had a hint written only in Japanese. We knew we were in the right location but without the hint, we were a bit confused. A business man walked out of a parking garage and Pat asked him if he could interpret the hint. He looked a bit confused and said the hint said "don't be afraid to get your hands dirty". He asked me if that made any sense. It did and we found the cache immediately. It was down in the bottom of a tree stump but don't tell anyone. 

Walked to metro and came back to hotel to rest. Hot and sore feet and it was only the second day!

Subway back to Ginza for dinner at Bird Land Ginza, a grilled chicken restaurant awarded one star by Michelin in 2010, the first star-holder of its kind.

Bird Land

Pat's cup for her sake

Our Bird Land menu - we ordered the omakase (chef's choice) menu

In case you can't actually read the menu, we had the following: Chicken gizzard stewed in broth and cooled; liver pâté; vinegared neck skin of Okukuji Shamo Chicken; grilled chicken breast with salt and wasabi from Izu area; grilled chicken and spring onion; grilled meat ball of minced chicken; grilled chicken seasoned with Japanese Sansho Pepper; chicken and egg rice bowl. These were all small-bite plates that we shared between us. Oh, so good!

When we left the restaurant, the lights were coming on so we walked around, stopped for coffee and then walked back to hotel. (We walked about 10 miles today.)

See Part II for the rest of the trip...

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