May 9

Robin, Steve and Charna went to Miyajima. I went to the Prefectural Art Museum where I spent several hours looking at an ukiyoe exhibit of Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi and some of their followers. I loved this exhibit of woodblock prints that was set up to highlight the skill of the Yoshi family and their students. Instead of showing each artist separately the exhibit was divided into four categories: warriors, beautiful women, ghosts and murders, and satire on current events.

I had lunch back at the train station and spent time walking around. I particularly enjoyed watching the bean paste cakes being made.

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At 15:22 we all got on the train to Kyoto.

May 8,Onward to Hiroshima

Looking forward to our first ride on the Shinkansen, but with regrets for all the things we hadn’t had time to see in Tokyo, we moved on. We weren’t sure if we would have to take the local train with all of our luggage or if we would be able to take a taxi. Using Japanese SIM cards in our phones enables us to contact each other and to use WiFi everywhere, but we are not able to make calls, local or otherwise. So getting taxis became a challenge. But the force was with us and within minutes of reaching the main street we got a cab. There are two main stations in Tokyo for the Shinkansen. Both seemed to be equidistant from our little house so I opted for the one where there might be less traffic. Tokyo is huge and we went into an area where we had never been. It was an amazing ride. First, mile after mile of tall buildings. This is no Chicago or even New York with dense centers and lower rising peripheries. This is all “downtown”. There was one area where three levels of roadway rose above us and then we immediately descended to an underground tollway that went on for more miles. I don’t think we have anything like this in the states.

The train ride was uneventful, but we did get to see Mt. Fuji.

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We stayed at the Vista Hotel in Hiroshima, which was a luxurious change from our little house in Tokyo. Arrived just in time to check in. Then the family went to the Peace Memorial while I went to Shukkeien garden. I went to the A-bomb Peace Memorial on a previous trip, when it affected me deeply. I think every American should see it, but probably once is enough. Shukkeien garden was destroyed by the bombing with the exception of one bridge.

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It’s much different now.

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Last day in Tokyo, May 7

And first day after Golden Week, so everything back to normal. We all felt the need to do laundry. Our little house has a washing machine but no dryer. The nearby laundromat had wood paneled walls and all the machines we needed. It took all four of us to figure out how to do it, but mission accomplished, we went for a walk along a nearby canal and found a tiny almost hidden shrine.

Laundry finished we went to a wonderful vegan restaurant, Nagi Shokuda, for lunch

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Where everything was delicious. Then onward to shop. Charna went off on her own; Robin and I went to the Asics store and Steve went to Meiji shrine where he did not shop.

Robin has a terrible time finding shoes to fit and usually has to order online. Today she had the pleasure of actually trying on several different shoes in the store and buying two pairs. I think she would have bought three but began to worry about getting them home. She and Charna are both able to find clothes that fit here. I don’t usually bother looking.

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We walked in Harajuku for a while then met up with Steve and Charna at a Starbucks on the sixth floor of Tokyu Plaza where I took most of the pictures above. As you enter the Plaza there is a mosaic of mirrors to look at as you rise three floors on escalators. Coming out of the elevator, which you have to take from the fourth floor, you feel like you are in a garden, or they call it a forest. And the Starbucks adds to the charm.

Steve and I headed back and had the Tokyo rush hour experience on three trains leading us to more fully appreciate our first days here being Golden Week. We bought sushi at the train station and all of us had dinner in our little house.

Monday, May 6

Charna went off on her own while Robin, Steve and I went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, a huge green space in the midst of a densely populated area, an oasis of quiet with a formal garden, a landscape garden and a Japanese garden.

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From there we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant. While I planned the trip overall, Robin has researched veggie restaurants. Not easy to find here. This one was on the seventh floor of Isetan Department Store. Robin had trouble believing this would be good, but I was hungry and tired of walking and persuaded her to try. We were seated in a lovely outdoor garden and the food was great. I had a salad with locally grown vegetables. Tokyo has an urban farms movement. We finished at Isetan by touring the basement food section where I got a real baguette. When I was here previously I frequently found myself looking for decent bread. The Japanese prefer something that resembles Wonder Bread but is even spongier. On previous trips I was able to get real bread in some French bakeries. This trip I’ve found fewer bakeries with more items that look good but definitely have the preferred spongy texture.

Finally, totally wiped out, I returned to our little house leaving R & S to explore on their own.

May 5: Less jet lag, more walking

Beautiful, warm, sunny day and we went to Asakusa. Because we are living on what seems like the west side of Tokyo, it was another long train ride. Transferring at Akihabara we got a look into another Japanese tradition. This is child’s day and this is how our introduction began.

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We saw these toy vending machines everywhere we went, but Akihabara was the best. This is kawaii, the culture of cuteness, at it’s utmost. I really wanted one of those blobs on top of the machines, but I restrained myself.

Asakusa is an older area of Tokyo with a large Buddhist temple, Sensoji, lots of shops selling very Japanese stuff and great people watching. 5810DA05-574A-489D-909A-409F633AAEFC

Almost immediately we were treated to a small parade, I think in honor of sake or some other potable.

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The fish (carp) kites are symbols for children’s day.

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We continued walking around the area and found another group preparing for a lion dance. I couldn’t get close enough to photograph the dance. This is the preparation.

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We continued walking around, stopped for lunch and finally went on a cruise down the Sumida River.

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Saturday May 4

Robin went to run a race taking Steve with her. Charna and I went to Meiji Jingu Shrine, shopping in Shibuya and lots of train riding and getting lost in train stations. I don’t know what I will do without her.

This shrine has lots of visitors but also large areas of stillness and beauty. There are beautiful Torii gates and wonderful old trees. We hung out (our specialty) and watched a wedding procession with the public lining the route and taking pictures like this was a Hollywood production. Near the shrine exit there was a marching band accompanying a small procession with someone in a character costume. Needless to say we have no idea what was going on. Just as we were finally leaving we came upon two dogs in costume being pushed in a stroller. The couple, who spoke English, told us the dogs were dressed for tomorrow’s child’s day holiday. These were their children.

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We had a snack in a Taiwanese restaurant, got lost in a huge crowd in Harajuku and went shopping in Shibuya. She bought clothes, I went to a department store food shop. Now we are back in our little house hanging out and waiting for Steve and Robin.

Never thought I’d do it again

I’m back in Japan for the month of May. I always felt if I came alone again, it would be the same trip. So this time I have most of my family with me: Robin, Steve and Charna. And already it is a different trip. Steve talks to everyone. He is clearly enjoying all the differences and it has become a richer experience for me.

We are staying in an Airbnb in Tokyo for our first seven nights. It is a real people area, almost no other tourists. We have a tiny house surrounded by large apartment buildings. I don’t know whether the house was here and they built all the other buildings because the owner wouldn’t sell, or they built all the other places and found they had just enough space for a tiny house.

 

We have enough space, the beds are ok, although we were so tired when we finally got here last night we probably could have slept anywhere. Only the towels and hot water could be better.

This morning we all got up early but took a long time to get out, there being only one shower. We went to Tsukiji fish market, a place I had never been. I love markets, particularly food markets, and this was terrific, although very crowded.

Robin took more pictures than I did so I will borrow some of hers. We had great sashimi and then walked through the market continuing tasting and eating street food, until tired of the crowds we entered the grounds of the Hongan-ji, Buddhist temple.

This temple has many memorials on the grounds, for fishermen, for the founder of the temple and surprising to me, a memorial to the leader of the Chushingura uprising to avenge the death of Lord Asano. Chushingura is the legendary story of the 47 ronin, famous in Kabuki plays, ukiyoe prints and modern film.

After all this we dragged our jet-lagged bodies back to the house and then proceeded to dinner at the home of one of Steve’s colleagues. Very special, since invitations to visit at home are rare here.