Sunday, May 18, 2008

Japan Travel Log - Day 5 (Ginza)

With the workshops behind us, I can now relax and fully concentrate on taking in the sights of Japan.

I'd visited this country 23 years ago under the sponsorship of my local Rotary Club. My Interact friends and I had the privilege of 'home-staying' with Japanese families for 3 solid weeks. At the end of the 3 weeks, not one of us was ready to go home and tears flowed easily because we had really loved our stay in Japan. Since then, I've not had the chance to return to this beautiful country until now.

Initially, Ivee and I had planned on going to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) but after the 'disastrous' 1st day of getting lost we were not that confident about 'mastering' the subways. Anyhow, both Ivee and I have been to TDL before during our own previous visits to Tokyo. So we finally decided to join Michiko and Judy for a trip to Ginza, the shopping district.

What an interesting pedestrian bridge

The day started with Hiro picking us up at our hotel, in his car, for brunch. At the restaurant, we were joined by Yuki. After brunch, Yuki had prior appointments to keep and said her goodbyes.

Our chariot [Hiro's car :-)]

Hiro then took us to a nearby street that was lined with sakura trees so that we could see first hand sakura trees in full bloom.

Not a sakura, but just as lovely - The Camelia

Actually, the single petal sakuras (the popular variety) had already blossomed and were now starting to fall. But another one, the double petal sakuras were only just beginning to bloom.

Double petal sakuras

Hiro parked his car and we took a leisurely stroll down one of the streets just relaxing and soaking in the sights, sounds and culture of the place. We were also very busy using up the memory card of our digital cameras by shooting everything in sight LOL :-) Suffice to say, we had a jolly good time talking, laughing and hamming it up with poses before the camera.

The many roles of Hiro (line dancer, chauffeur, tour guide and porter LOL)

After the walk, Hiro drove us around Tokyo for a quick city tour.

Highway into Tokyo

One of the many ferris-wheels to be found in Tokyo

Tokyo skyline

The Rainbow Bridge

Scenes of Tokyo city centre

An odd but interesting piece of architecture

'We're here' somewhere..... (map of Tokyo city with the Imperial Palace in the centre surrounded by several moats)

Next, we stopped at a lovely park opposite the Imperial Palace. Needless to say, more photo-taking took place. haha.

Homeless people taking a breather under the shade of the trees

Ungggh...Darn! Can't quite reach it

Nyeh.. nyeh nyeh.. nyeh nyeh. I touched it. Guess I'm taller than you are

Entrance to the Imperial Palace in the distance

Hiro the tour guide.

Hiro: Over there is the Imperial Palace...blah..blah..blah...
Judy: Hmmm...

Hiro: And over there is the...blah, blah, blah...
Mei Ling: Uh huh...

Soon, Hiro had to say goodbye as well. But not before he drove us to the train station where we took the next train to Ginza. Michiko was now our guide.

Everything between the station and reaching Ginza is a blur. All I can remember is following Michiko very closely.

Makes me dizzy just looking at that convoluted network of train lines

Finally, we reached Ginza. The first thing that hit me was the number of people around. It was just such a busy place filled with tourists and locals.

The whole mainstreet was lined with shops selling branded goods....Swavroski, Burberry, Prada, etc. The Japanese here were well dressed and well groomed. Highly fashionable....which made me feel like a fashion misfit in my jeans and plain top ;-)

Our first stop for the day...a toy store! Why? Because Judy and I have to fulfill our promises to some eager beavers back home about bringing back some things for them. Judy wanted to get her 2 grandsons some Kamen Riders (something like the Power Rangers) and I had promised my 2 youngsters at home I'd get them a few original Pokemons. They had even given me a list of names of the Pokemons they'd like to have. Both have got a Pokemon collection going you see.

Michiko took us to the biggest toy store in Ginza. It had 4 levels filled with nothing but toys, toys, toys. The moment I stepped in I couldn't help but feel like a little girl once more. I was totally absorbed by the variety of things they had for sale.

We each went our way to search for the toys we wanted. Michiko stayed with Judy mostly and Ivee and I were not worried about losing each other because she had the presence of mind to bring along 2 walkie-talkies for the trip. Ingenius!

I don't know how long we stayed in that toystore but after paying for our selected 'treasures' we finally left the place and headed to our next destination.

My stash (well....they're not all mine actually)

Ivee wanted to get some cosmetics and so we hunted for a departmental store selling just that. When we located one, Ivee went into 'shopping' mode. I'm not much of a cosmetics person and Judy couldn't stand the heat in the place so we decided to go out for some fresh air.

Judy and I had a nice tete-a-tete while waiting for Ivee to finish her shopping. I must say that I found Judy to be a really nice person (not that I thought her otherwise before that). Very friendly, warm, and a great sense of humour. It was easy to warm up to her and be at ease.

What can I say; I'm a sucker for flowers

Cute carnation 'kittens'

In a Japanese traditional snacks shop

Michiko had to catch a train back to Yuzawa at about 7pm and so before she said goodbye we decided to have dinner together before we went our separate ways.

While searching for a nice cosy place to eat and rest, Ivee and I came across a fruit stall. Check out the pictures below. The bananas were huge. And guess what. We found durians being sold in Japan! Observe the price tag.

Price of durian 5,000 yen. Equivalent to approx. Rm150 ++ (BIG WOW!)

After dinner, we were to make our own way back to the hotel without Michiko. Hiro was aware of this and had earlier given both Judy and I a detailed sketch of the stations (and the stops in between) that concerned us. He called it his 'love letter' to us. LOL

The sketch showed us the first station at which we were to board the train, where we were to get off to change trains and the many stations in between before we reached our final destination at Omori Kaigen station located just next to our hotel.

I must say his 'love letter' some extent :-) It still required a bit of 'brain' work between the 3 of us to fill in certain missing pieces of information. But we're an intelligent trio, we are ;-)

That concludes the first day of our free days after the workshops. A day well spent, we went to bed happy and satisfied with what we've accomplished (both in spending lots of 'moolah' and getting back safely).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hi everyone.

If you've been wondering whether Day 5 of my Japan Travel Log will ever materialise, please hang in there.

Weekends are the only days I get time out to post in my blog, and only if these weekends are not taken up with other activities.

These next few weekends will be quite packed what with Wesak Day celebrations, my mum's birthday coming up and not to mention 2 whole weeks of school holidays. Which means the boys will be needing attention.

So do be patient if you've been following my account of the trip to Japan. I'll be continuing the posts soon, promise.... :-)

To all Buddhists:


May You Be Well & Happy.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Japan Travel Log - Day 4

Yesterday, we were up at 6am and slept around 2am this morning. We were up again at 6:30am. So basically, we managed about 4 hours worth of sleep. Yet, I felt quite fresh and ready to face the day.

The weather was lovely this Sunday morning (final day of festival). In fact, we've been having lovely weather since Friday, with only an occasional drizzle which quickly stopped. Unlike the day we arrived (Thursday) and got lost in our 2-hour 'adventure'. That day was really wet.....and cold.

Today would be a rather short day with just 4 workshop dances (compared to yesterday's 9):

  1. Crazy Foot Mambo (Paul McAdam)/Hana
  2. CT Girl (Maggie Gallagher)/Mei Ling
  3. Give It Back (Rachael McEnaney)/Yuki
  4. Your Place Or Mine (Judy McDonald)/Judy
Dances from the previous 2 days were reviewed several times during the day: first thing in the morning and after the first round of workshops.

Then finally a Mega Review (of all workshop dances by the instructors) was done before general dancing got underway. Instructors walked through the previous dances quickly and everyone danced it once over. By now, you could hardly forget the steps to all the workshop dances if you've been diligently going through every review since morning..heheh :-)

Ivee and I met a lot of nice people and made many good friends during these 3 days. Yet, everything must come to an end and we had to say our good-byes. Though we don't speak a word of Japanese and they, English, we discovered that line dancing was the international 'language' that brought us together.

Me, Toshiko, Yuri & Ivee

Ivee & I with Michiko


From left (clockwise): Sachiyo, Me, Yuri, Ivee, Hana & Big Bird :-)

Yup, I shall miss Big Bird too, who's accompanied us the past 3 days

Whilst most of the attendees live around the Tokyo area, there were also quite a number who came from other cities like Osaka. That just goes to show their dedication to line dance and their support to Hiro. Look up a map of Japan and you'll see just how far Osaka is from Tokyo (550kms). At least 1 hour by flight and about 3 hours by train (Shinkansen/bullet train).

And so, on Sunday, we bade farewell to those who had to catch the train or plane back to their respective towns. We were sad, but glad to have had known them and danced with them.

Sad because it's 'SAYONARA'

But we'll meet again someday :-)

Before wrapping up, the instructors were asked on stage again and Hiro said his thanks. We, the instructors, also got to say our 'thank-you's and thoughts.

Finally, we got together for one more picture.....the group photo.

Happy faces all around. Good job Hiro, and thank-you!

The workshops are officially over! My 'job' is done. Time to relax and let my hair down!

To get to dinner, we took a leisurely stroll from the hall down the street, past a Shinto temple

To get to the temple, you'd have to take on those stairs.

and a street lined with Shinto shrines on either side.

Each shrine is dedicated for different worship/respect/remembrance: for unborn children, for ancestors, etc

White sakura blossoms

We saw a lovely 'weeping willow' sakura tree and just had to pause for photos.

Further on, we passed a house that had a cute garden and again, we couldn't resist. We had to take some photos.

We then walked over a bridge, past narrow streets and back lanes and finally arrived at our destination: a chinese restaurant. The walk would probably just have taken us 10 minutes but it ended up being much longer because we'd stop every now and then to capture the scenery on the digital camera.

Entrance to the Chinese Restaurant

A typical restaurant in Japan isn't like the ones we have back home. Here, there is no luxury of sprawling space where you can fit in 30 - 50 tables for a wedding dinner all within one hall on the same floor. Everything is cramped into a single shoplot that is probably just 16 - 18 feet wide.

The restaurant in which we had our dinner was the same, and our reserved tables were on the 2nd floor (or 3rd floor if you're using the Japanese or American system). We had to negotiate up two very narrow and steep flight of stairs. Though the room was small, it didn't feel cramped. In fact, the atmosphere was warm, cosy and lively.

Hiro asked me if I'd like to have beer or wine. I decided on tea but with some Asahi beer on the side. It isn't everyday that I get to travel so I figured I might as well live a little 'dangerously' ha ha. I'm not a beer drinker so before long, even after only a few sips, my face was turning red and I was feeling flushed. But the beer tasted nice. A little bitter but yet sweet at the same time. Not at all like the ones I tried back home.

Those who opted for white wine were really flushed in the face not too long after drinking it as well.

Many different dishes of chinese food were served but I do not know their names. Some looked familiar and others didn't but I gave them all a try. I especially liked the one which had 'sotong' (squid) in it. The 'sotong' was really fresh, soft and sweet. Not at all stringy as they're sometimes known to be.

It was a lively dinner with several conversations going on at the same time. Judy mentioned that she still hasn't mastered the chopsticks and immediately everyone tried to teach her heh..heh..

This time, with some proper instructions, she managed to get a piece of vegetable, I think, up from her plate and into her mouth. Hurrah! Success at last! And claps all around.

Aren't I a clever girl ;-)

Dinner was good, the company great! I was thoroughly enjoying myself. It must have been the beer I had consumed (though I only had half a glass) but honest to goodness, I can't for the life of me remember how we got back to the hotel that night. Either Hiro drove us or he hailed us a taxi. ......Or did we walk. No, no, no.....I'm sure we didn't walk. LOL

A lil' tipsy? Nuh-uh!

Another wonderful day concludes. Tomorrow we're going shopping! (BIG smile)