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3…2…1… Action – Taking to the Streets and Bathrooms of Tokyo

Step into Old Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood and rub shoulders with the masses:

We thought we had seen it all when it comes to bathroom facilities: squat toilets, holes dug in the ground, scrub brush, etc. But this video shows why the Japanese truly are the most technological people on Earth:

Ash obtains her “bad fortune” and has to go back to the well:

Hipster Japan on display on a street corner in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. For the women who worry about embarrassing bathroom noises, embrace the Sound Princess. No longer must you be self-conscience with an array of buttons at your disposal like an imitation flushing noise. Ash disappeared at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar and when she finally joined me at the table, she was gushing about the Sound Princess. Perhaps we should add that to our wedding registry?

 

Japanese Fortunes

Validating Our Japan Rail Pass Most backpackers on a modest budget like us avoid Japan like the plague. We could have traveled quite well in Southeast Asia for over one month on what we spent in just ten days. So we crunched numbers in our Excel budgeting spreadsheet then had a very frank talk. It didn’t take long for Ash and I to decide that Japan was in both of our “Top 5” countries to experience and tough decisions regarding our dwindling bank account would be worth negotiating at a later date. We landed at Haneda International Airport via Bangkok and Beijing, grabbed our packs, and headed for the convenient train bound for downtown Tokyo. It was immediately clear that the Japanese culture is proud, defined, and most of all unique.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden - Fading Cherry Blossoms Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden - Temple

Ash Among Fading Cherry Blossoms With little trouble, we located our simple accommodation ($85 per night) and though weary from two flights overnight, we could not have hit the streets faster. We aimlessly explored the expanse of Tokyo, with Shibuya, an area of the Tokyo that rivals New York City’s Times Square, our destination. There, we exchanged our Japan Rail Pass certificates for the actual tickets, which exhibit a terrifying tsunami on the cover. The irony of this considering the events that transpired in March 2011 and will impact the region for years to come, are not lost on us. In any case, these pricey tickets would allow unlimited bullet train travel for seven consecutive days throughout this island country. The next Spring morning, I insisted on spending a vast amount of time at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The people watching here was second only to the incredible landscape. We watched the Japanese culture reveal itself through families having picnics atop fallen cherry blossom blooms, teenagers laughing as they played cards, and an adorable elderly couple sitting back to back in an open field soaking up their surroundings. There were meandering streams, shrubs of unimaginable color, arching wooden bridges, and reflections of beautiful temples off peaceful ponds. This was a Japanese garden… in Japan! Alas, we had to move on as Ash had wine on the mind.

Sunset from New York Bar, Park Hyatt Metropolitan Government Building View

New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo - Wine & Scotch Lost in Translation made the already scintillating Tokyo Park Hyatt famous. Could two global travelers living out of backpacks gain entry to imbibe on a glass of red wine and tumbler of Glenlivet? We were about to find out. Ash reassembled my hair from wild to unruly, I tucked my zippers away on my shorts/pants, and my lady waltzed in ahead confidently as we thought her flowing aqua dress (made for $13 in Vietnam) held our best chance to impress. We were in, but Ashley had to trade in her flip flops for black flats with the hostess. There we sat, taking in the views of Tokyo from the 52nd floor amidst the ultra hip movie set of the New York Bar, quite literally sipping our wine and scotch. Seven o’clock was approaching which meant our departure was upon us. It was improbable we could keep up our glitzy charade with the pianist charging a $20 cover and Ash licking her chops for more red. The flats were returned and as we waited for the elevator to ping, an intense sunset saluted our morphing back to lowly budget travelers.

Ginza Asakusa - Madness of People

Ginza - Architecture Already intensely interested in the Japanese culture, we hit the streets in the Ginza neighborhood which is defined by wild architectural structures and high-end fashion boutiques. The streets were cordoned off for purely pedestrian traffic resulting in an area that would ordinarily be teeming with vehicles emitting choking exhaust being replaced with Japanese citizens enjoying a cafe atmosphere beneath umbrellas. The crowded Tokyo Metro shuttled us to the madness of Asakusa in old Tokyo next. Stall after stall of trinkets, Japanese treats, and a sea of jet black hair led us to Sensoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple. While exploring the grounds was worthwhile, Ash and I gravitated to Mikuji, or the fortune teller booth. Ash went first, depositing 100 yen ($1.20) in the slot, shook an octagon shaped container, extracted a long thin stick with Japaneses characters inscribed, located the matching symbol amongst the drawers, and withdrew her fortune. Unfortunately for Ashley, she drew #100 Bad Fortune and had to tie her fate to what was the equivalent to a metal drying rack and then completed the process once again hoping for a more favorable prediction. Yours truly plucked #78 The Highest, Most Excellent fortune. Who am I to contest this fortune considering so much of this is true: * Your request will be granted * The patient will get well soon * The lost article will be found * The person you wait for will come * Building a new house and removal are both well * It is good to start a trip * Marriage of any kind and new employment are all well.

Asakusa - Japanese Boy Gets His Fortune Asakusa - Matching Symbols

Our ten days in Japan was off to a stellar start, to be certain.

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Since we have returned back to America, we have encountered numerous people curious about Japan. I use the word ‘curious’ because those interested aren’t sure whether its a place they would love or loathe. As evidenced above, our first destination in Japan left us enamored and wanting more.
2) Tokyo has two major airports. Haneda is closer to the city and thus costs less for transportation to / from, though Narita handles most international flights.
3) Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Building, near the Park Hyatt, offers a free chance to absorb the views from the 45th floor observation deck.

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