1 PICTURE ALBUM
Thursday, April 1
Paula: Exploring Tokyo by riding the subway and walking
through streets and parks was the main agenda today. We had been warned that
getting around Tokyo on your own could be tricky, so we stuck a Japanese business
card for our hotel in our pockets and set off for the day's adventure.
the short walk to Shinjuku station, we quickly navigated the huge train and
subway center, and realized that the system is amazing. Maybe this is because
we are comparing it to our experiences in Rome or St. Petersburg, but Tokyo's
subways allowed us to make our way around the city without difficulty. Signs
clearly indicate the ways to stations. The signs were in English as well as
Japanese and even counted down the meters to each platform. Purchasing tickets
was automated using machines, and with only a little help the first time we
were able to purchase tickets throughout the day. The subway cars are clean
and efficient - we never waited more then a few minutes and at
each platform a clock indicated how much longer until the next car arrived
as well as how much time elapsed between each station. The subway cars were
never overcrowded even when we rode them during the rush hour. People were
quiet and friendly. No one pushed or shoved.
What a difference from most of our other subway experiences!
By the end of the day, we had decided that the subway experience really defined
how we felt about the whole city - clean (no litter anywhere, and no smoking
allowed on the street) , efficient, orderly, quiet (we never heard one car
blow their horn) and well marked. Given Tokyo's size, we found this to all
The Imperial Garden is in the heart of the city. The skyscrapers of the rest
of the city are always in the background making it feel somewhat
like Central Park in New York City. The grounds were beautiful manicured making
for a peaceful escape. It is especially pretty right now as the cherry blossoms
are in full bloom, and today was an absolutely perfect spring day. The Imperial
Palace is on the garden grounds but is closed to the public.
The emperor and imperial family actually live in this palace which was rebuilt
after World War II.
After walking through this garden and an adjacent area with neat water fountains,
we decided to explore Asakusa, an area in the city along the Sumida River.
Cherry blossoms lined both sides of the river and we enjoyed walking on the
pedestrian street where hundreds of Japanese were picnicking along the perimeter.
We saw groups
of young adults, families and even businessman in suits and ties having picnics
on blankets and plastic tarps placed along the sidewalk. We laughed when we
saw everyone's shoes lined up neatly along the edges of the tarp.
into the Asakusa district, we discovered a variety of streets lined with shops.
These shops, unlike the expensive, high-fashion shops near our hotel, are
like the markets that filled Tokyo before the economic boom of the 1970s.
We even found stores selling traditional sandals and kimonos. We had
a wonderful tempura lunch in the area, Japanese style, eating at low tables
and sitting on cushions on the flour. The waitress spoke little English but
we managed to place a simple order and enjoyed the food.
this area, we visited a small temple dedicated to a raccoon dog. This dog
was made a deity of public entertainment and a guardian to protect against
fire and robbery. In this temple, called Chingodo, people pray both to the
raccoon dog and other Buddha statutes.
The Senso-ji is a much larger temple and graced by a beautiful five-tiered
Pagoda. Here we saw a steady stream of people enter the temple to toss coins
and then bow, clap and pray to Kannon, a golden image of the Buddhist Goddess
of Mercy. A large cauldron in front of the temple is used for burning incense
and visitors stand among the smoke which they believe bestows health.
the end of the day, we enjoyed coming back to the Shinjuku area of our hotel
to marvel at the neon lights lining the streets packed with people. Again,
we felt like we were in New York City.
Tomorrow, we plan to get up very early to attend a fish auction in the T|sukiji
Fish Market. The auction, which is only 45 minutes long, begins at 5:00 AM
so we hope it's worth it!