Monday, April 7, 2008

weekend in tokyo

For my last few days of 'spring break' I decided to travel down to Tokyo with Doug to get a taste of city life and jumpstart the sakura season (The cherry blossoms in Akita won't be blooming for another couple weeks due to the cooler temps). We traveled in style, on the shinkansen (high- speed bullet train), and it took just a little under an 4 hours from a city to the south in Yamagata. It was nice to arrive in Tokyo at a reasonable hour (ie. not 6am, as with the night bus) and we began the day right outside the station at Ueno Park. We were there for debatably the best part of the approximate 2-week bloom cycle, when the petals are falling off the trees like snow. It was a magical feeling when the wind shook the branches and the petals fell all around you. We tried sakura petal snowballs, which were just a pleasure to have thrown in your face!

A somewhat creepy display float from a local festival at the shinkansen station in Shinjo, Yamagata

The trip began as any trip should, with a stop at 'Misdo' (yumcha?)

Prepare for Ueno Park sakura overload...

In the park we also got our fill of ancient Japanese art at the Tokyo National Museum and Doug humored me with a rowboat ride around the pond, one side of which was lined with sakura trees, lovely. From there we walked to the Yanaka district, a quiet neighborhood filled with old houses, temples, and wonderful narrow pedestrian and bike-only streets.

the devastating effects of hanami

Doug and I kept up a theme of being fraternal twins by dressing similarly

down some quiet lanes in Yanaka...

We stayed at the same capsule hotel I had stayed at before with the girls, and the familiarity was great, it's beginning to feel like a little home away from home! We had excellent Mexican food in Roppongi (though the chicken used for my fajitas was more teriyaki than chipotle) and caught a movie. These may seem like strange activities for foreign Tokyo visitors, but our inaka (countryside) living had us seeking out cosmopolitan wonders such as cinemas, ethnic restaurants, and shoe stores that sold our sizes.

The next morning we went to the Tsukiji fish market for sushi breakfast. We opted for just the culinary aspect of the visit, and skipped out on the messy market experience (which had ended before we woke up anyway). It was hands down the best raw fish I had ever had. Even the tamago (omelet) tasted infinitely better than at our local kaiten sushi. Then, in Akihabara, the 'Electric Town', Doug searched for an appropriate anime figurine mascot for his school's brass band while I went to the 101Tokyo contemporary art fair, a welcome alternative to attempting to navigate Tokyo's gallery scene. The exhibition was in an old junior high school and the way they had laid out the space was quite smart, and it had a nice 'open studios' feel. I felt right at home, which must have been visible to the greeters, who assumed I was an exhibitor! All the rage in Akihabara are the maid cafes. I was intrigued, but thought it might be more fun to check out a butler cafe, though unfortuantely in the end we couldn't find one.

mmm...sushi. and 'hairy crab' soup! oishiiso!

'ice cream cone' sushi aka hand rolls

In the subway...this was in a "Women Only" car (sign above)


Some shopping in Harajuku, down its infamous Takeshita-dori, was followed by a somewhat accidental visit to the Meiji Shrine and an early evening of hanami partying (picnic-ing under the cherry blossom trees) with a friend from home in Yoyogi Park. It was nice to talk to some fellow New Yorkers again (here on vacation), as well as meet some new folks. We met an Austalian woman who had started out in Japan as a hostess at a hostess bar and eventually moved on to teaching, and is now an English teacher at a private school in Tokyo (it is seemingly impressive for a foreignor to be a full-time non-assistant teacher here), and her Japanese boyfriend who claimed to have snowboarded 19 days this March (didn't realize there were ski slopes so near Tokyo!). From there we moved on to Akasaka for a splendid French restaurant (what a gourmet trip!). We attempted to go to a jazz bar as well, but it was full for the night, so unfortunately no live music fix this trip.

In Harajuku, my tribute to The Orion Experience

Meiji Shrine

Slightly less crowded than on New Year's Eve!

Julie and I hanami-ing

The next day was spent at the Imperial Palace park, which had bikes to rent for free (genius! NYC Parks Dept., get on it!) and later, exploring a new neighborhood for me, Daikanyama. It was as hip and fashionable as described in my dependable TimeOut guide. Our last moments in Tokyo were spent in the Ebisu Garden Place, on the way to which I was suprised to find a Doughnut Plant NYC outlet, which had to be tasted to be believed! I checked out the Metropolitan Museum of Photography's Beauty Convulsed special surrealism exhibit, as was recommended to me, which was quite impressive. I am quite taken by how much Tokyo loves their multi-use mall development super-complexes - "mini-cities" a la Roppongi Hills, Omotesando Hills, Ebisu Garden Place, and Ark Hills and Address in Daikanyama. I do enjoy their public space, though their corporate feel can be a turn-off, and wonder why these have not caught on to such an extent in NYC (though I guess there is South Street Seaport and the Time Warner Center).

Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills

Today is the first day of school! Ceremonies abound, so I was glad to have spent a bit of last week attempting to memorize the school song. My former elementary 6th grader students are now fumbling around my school looking awkward with their parents, as opposed to their usual mischievous demeanor.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sophie,

Your pictures of the cherry blossoms are great. Hopefully there will be some blossoms to see in Akita when we arrive in two weeks.
We did the free bicycle rental when we were there, along with visits to Ueno Park, Tsukiji fish market, Akihabara, but I'm sure you don't remember all that since you were only about 5 years old. Geez has it been that long.


sophiesaffron said...

Actually, I thought the bike rental place looked really familiar!