Friday I arrived in Tokyo. It was a welcome break from Hong Kong which felt a lot like Manhattan. The neighborhood I was staying in in Tokyo was much more roomy. It was a chilly 45 degrees and I ended up buying a sweatshirt.
I had chicken cutlet with curry and rice for dinner and then spent some time planning the rest of my week.
Saturday I started out by visiting the Imperial Palace. They only let people in the Imperial Palace twice a year and as things have been working out, I will just miss it. We are allowed to walk around the palace though which is like a nice park.
Then I went out to Shinjuku and had some sushi near the Hanazono shrine. After the sushi I walked around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. They had a few sections but my favorite was the traditional Japanese garden.
I stopped for coffee and then had some brisket at a Japanese steak house. Later on the recommendation of someone at my hostel, I went down to Omote-Sando street which was decorated nicely for Christmas.
While walking around I found a Wolfgang Puck Express restaurant, where I had some apple crumble and ice cream.
Sunday I took a day trip to see Mount Fuji. I met Brian from New York and Rosy from Chicago, and someone from Germany, and we spent most of the day together. We drove up as far as you can drive, to the 5th climbing station, and had a wonderfully clear view of the mountain.
Afterward we had a tasty lunch of toubanen, udon noodles, tempura and rice.
We took a ferry to a cable car which we rode to the top of a mountain. There was no view there due to a snow storm that rolled in. I was not dressed for snow or snow like temperatures.
We took the bullet train back to Tokyo where I had fried dumplings, a giant ball of sushi, and french fries.
Monday I started out with ramen for lunch. It was much better than top ramen. Then I went to Joypolis, a Japanese amusement park. I tried going to a barbeque place for dinner but it ended up being another Japanese steak House, so that was expensive but delicious.
Finally I went to robot show at Robot restaurant. They opened with a robot band followed by saki shots, and finally the robot show.
The robot show started with an amazing drum performance on top of robots. The second act was a battle between robots and humans, my personal favorite version of apocalypse. Then there was a Michael Jackson tribute, followed by a finale of seemingly everything. It was strange and excellent.
We couldn’t take pictures of the robots.
Tuesday I started out by going to Tokyo Skytree.
For lunch I had Pork Okonomiyaki with shrimp. Then I went to see the Meiji shrine.
Wednesday I took the bullet train to Kyoto. It was only a day trip but I covered a whole lot of ground. I started with a morning tour of Nijo Castle, where the Shogun lived.
Then the Golden Pavilion, a Buddhist temple that was reconstructed after it was burnt down.
And finally the Imperial Palace, where the emperor lived and still hosts visitors.
The tour guide went over some of the history of Japan, the rule of the Shogun for 700 years, the moving of the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the last Shogun returning power to the emperor.
After the tour I had conveyor belt sushi which was delicious. There were a few with surprise wasabi, which was tastier than I remembered. Or maybe we just have terrible wasabi in the US.
Next I went to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine and accidentally climbed Mount Inari. Accidentally in the sense that I didn’t know that was the task at hand when I started walking through the gates.
I took the subway back to Kyoto station and went to go see Higashi Honganji, a Buddhist temple. Now at this point I’ve seen so many Buddhist temples that I could probably sign up, but it was close to where I needed to be, so I went.
Then I stopped for some dumplings and went to see the pogoda.
I had a goodbye Asia steak and beer. The steak was wagyu and came in a skillet. There are plenty of places I’d like to see in Asia. The opening round was excellent, and there are places I didn’t know existed before that I’d like to visit.
I took the bullet train back to Tokyo.
I didn’t explicitly set out to educate myself on World War II last August, but that’s what has ended up happening over the last four months. So while I was in Japan, World War II first runner up, I figured I should continue with that.
So Thursday I went to the Yasukuni Shrine where Tokyo’s World War II museum is. What I found was mildly terrifying. I spent two hours reading a white washed accounting of World War II. They have the first locomotive from the Thailand Burma railway on exhibit with no mention of the war crimes committed by Japan used to build it. There was no mention of the million people that were killed in the occupation of Hong Kong. They also make an argument that the US forced them into bomb pearl harbor.
The controversy is documented in other ways, such as honoring over 1000 soldiers who have been convicted of war crimes.
Visiting Germany previously, you get the sense they know they’ve committed horrible crimes in the past. There was no sense of that in Tokyo, and the lack of it was upsetting.
I followed that up with a Christmas party organized by our hostel. We went to see some Christmas light displays. Japan is less than 5% Christian but you can tell they love Christmas.
After the light show things went Western pretty fast. We had burritos and nachos followed by pizza and sake for dinner. Then we ended up in an Irish pub.
Friday I took a Japanese cooking class with two other Americans. We also made Japanese sweet potato rice, a soup, some folded eggs, green beans, and a lemon dessert.
Then I started a two day transfer to New Zealand, with a
fourteen twenty hour layover in Shanghai.
As usual, Google maps saved me a lot of trouble in Shanghai. If you’re going to visit China, pay for a VPN, it’s worth it to use Google which is otherwise blocked in China.
I made it to my hotel at 3am. Thankfully I bought a 5 hour energy back in Hong Kong, so I had part of that and went out to The Bund.
After three hours of sleep, I woke up to see The Bund again in daylight. On the way I walked through a park where people were have a dance party. Another group of people were exercising. A third group were having band practice.
I tried to see the Yu Garden as well but I was distracted by a nearby market. By the time I found the entrance it was time for me to leave.
On the way to the airport I took the Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train in the world. The radio whole waiting at the station included “Take me home, country road”.
Then I set off for an 11.5 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. It turns out the flight was delayed by 6 hours, which is upsetting mostly because I could have spent that in Shanghai. I was enjoying some free airport spaghetti though.
Even though I came into Tokyo with a very sparse plan, I felt like I was always busy and in the end I ran out of time. Also one day in Kyoto wasn’t enough, but I hadn’t planned on visiting Kyoto at all, originally, so I’m very happy with how it went.
Here are more pictures from Tokyo.