EMD's Japan Trip Report, 3/05

Old Mar 29th, 2005, 08:17 PM
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EMD's Japan Trip Report, 3/05

After a yr. of planning, my son (14 yrs) and I set out on a 2 wk. trip to the Tokyo and Kyoto areas. This was my first pleasure trip abroad since I backpacked through Europe after college. I’ve never traveled for more than 3 days (and only in the U.S.) alone w/my son. I’ve never been on a plane for over 8 hrs.

DAY 1: Sat., 3/12

Slept fitfully last night. Tried to go to sleep by the counting method; instead of sheep I was counting the number of ziplock bags I had used packing. As the alarm rang I was dreaming that my son woke up on Sat. and decided he was not going w/me, and I ended up driving to the airport alone.

1st flight uneventful, to Minneapolis. The flight to Narita didn’t seem long. We left MN at 1 p.m. on a NWA 747. We had primo coach (FF) seats, 63A and 63C, two seats alone together in the rear of the plane, with an huge amt. of space btwn. 63A and the window, thanks to RKKWAN’s suggestion. I did planning re the trains for which we needed to get reservations and we watched episodes of “24” on our DVD player. No sleep at all. The two guys behind us acted and smelled funny, ala Cheech and Chong. They laughed and cursed the first hr. and then passed out. More on them later.

The food was decent, but they do not offer much in the way of fluids. One drink after takeoff, w/meals, and they went through the cabin w/H2O only one other time.

We arrived at 4:30 p.m. on Sun., awake for 20 hrs. The plane went way out to a remote area where other 747s were parked (I later heard the area referred to as “the graveyard”). They unloaded us and we got on buses to the terminal. Problem was that not everyone could fit on the buses, so we waited 25 min. til more buses showed up. In the terminal, we got in customs line for 80 min. We got our bags and just outside of the baggage area was the famous TIC office! I stopped to get directions to the ATM, cell rental, and JR office. We hit the ATM- no problems using it, as it had English. We stopped at the phones, but no English there so I decided we would deal w/that on Mon. Last stop was the JR office and by this time (7 p.m.) they were closing. But I got in in time, activated our passes and got reservations for trains we thought we might need for the next 2 wks. The JR lady was patient and spoke very good English. One surprise was that we weren’t able to get the first few choices for the day and time we wanted to go from Tokyo to Kyoto. JR lady said that was because we were going to Kyoto on a Sat. in spring. We ended up w/reservations on the day we wanted, but hrs. earlier. I vowed that we would get reservations before leaving the U.S. on the eki system next time.

Got the 7:30 pm limo bus. Cheech and Chong got on the bus, as they were also at the Westin. I kidded them about following us. The hotel was impressive and gorgeous at 9 p.m. I felt like throwing myself down and kissing the ground, but instead I barely made it to the rm. and collapsed.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 08:30 PM
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a great start to a good trip i hope...two things surprised me....i have never been parked not at the terminal at narita...they must be doing construction or something, but i do know some planes do remote parking...that is the way in bandkok too....only one passing of water...that is strange as they usually come through 6-8 times and sometimes with ice cream bars....you must have had one of those bad crews that we hear about from time to time...

you can always go back and take something from the galley or ask if there is someone there or ring your bell...

glad you liked the seats....i have them for my may trip again
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 08:35 PM
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Oh goodness, the only mistake I made in the report and it was on your name!! I meant to thank you, rhkkmk, for the seats! As you know the other poster I listed also travels to Asia. Mea culpa. I can't believe I did that. I would plead jet lag on this, but I haven't had any jet lag- maybe just the stress of being back in the U.S.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 08:39 PM
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BTW, the NWA flight attendants got really tired of me going to the galley to asking them to fill up my 16 oz. water bottle. At one point one of them told me that I should bring my own water on the plane! I said, yes well, I do but I can't bring on a gallon and that is what I will drink on this flight. But they were actually much better than the attendants on the way back. They all seemed a bit burned out.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 09:07 PM
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Am enjoying your report, emd.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 09:10 PM
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did you see my message to you on the other post...
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 10:21 PM
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DAY 2: Mon., 3/13

The Westin is a “10”. I’ve stayed in very nice hotels but this is the best. The exec. club level 21st fl. rm. (via points) was dark at 7 a.m. (good heavy drapes). We opened the drapes and there was the sun and Tokyo Tower, big and bright orange. The rm. is well designed. Big brownish marble bathroom w/large vanity area (big enough for two), soaking tub, separate glass-enclosed shower. Big rm. w/2 dbl. beds, 2 sitting chairs and table, desk and 2 desk chairs, and a lighted vanity table. Very comfortable bed, many pillows. Ornate décor, but classic. Everything looks new, but is 10 yrs old. I like the long wet bar by the door, where you can toss stuff as you come in. The H2O pot and bar area is by the door- I won’t wake up my son while I’m making coffee.

Where is that java. They told me by email that they had it in the rms. Mrwunrfl had advised me the day I left to take instant coffee. I find tea but no java, so I proceeded to drink 5 cups of tea. We had a choice of breakfast in the club or full buffet in the regular cafe; we chose the later (gratis w/the rm.). 6 tables of food, omelet bar, like U.S., European, Japanese, and Chinese breakfasts all at once. We ate there each morning and had one other smaller meal. The thing I liked best was lychee nuts. I’ve never had them before. Yum. I tried everything on the Japanese breakfast- rolled egg, pickled everything, Japanese custard (not sweet), steamed veggies, fish, rice, rice porridge, miso.

Off to the Vodaphone store. No English but they got a rep on the phone. We each got an Enjourno prepaid cell ($80/6 months), free incoming calls. Bought phone cards that we registered to the phone for our outgoing calls. While we waited for the phone deal to be official, we went to a Mr. Craft store. These stores sell miniature things, not in capsules but in display cases. They are a big deal. Businessmen are there at 11 a.m. It reminds me of little toys I used to collect as a kid, but then they were 5 cents in the machines, and business people did not collect them.

At the Ginza stop we were surprised by the panda. At Senjosi temple, my son was a bit taken aback w/the shrine itself, concerned w/what to do w/the incense, water, shoes, etc. He warmed up to the shopping street in front of the shrine. I spent a long time on a side street watching a man and woman (in traditional robes) making rice cakes in their little shop, over an open wood fire, 1 cake at a time. So much pride in what they are doing. As we walked back to the subway, we ran into Cheech, Chong, & Chong’s Mom. We’re amazed that of all places in Tokyo we could go, we run into them on a st. across town.

I used two squat toilets at the stations. Will someone tell me why these are supposed to “be better for you”? I find them a big challenge. Not until day 6 does my son tell me that if I go down to the last stall it will be western. Haha. I prefer the heated bells and whistle one at the hotel!
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 10:29 PM
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Oops, DAY 2 should have been Mon., March 14. The whole time/day issue still confuses me.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 11:24 PM
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It is good to see you back after your trip to Japan.
I am glad you liked the Westin Ebisu. You describe the rooms perfectly. Nice accomadations and great service make for a terrific hotel. The high tech toilets in the hotel make for great contrast with the old fashioned squat toilets you sometimes still see in public places. Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 12:12 AM
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Enjoying your report.

I wonder what the Japanese custard you described is. Could it be tamago-dofu (tofu)? They are rather salty and the yellow color comes from egg(tamago) in it.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 01:49 AM
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http://mbs.jp/love-kitchen/recipe/0408/040813.html

Did it look like something above? Tamago-dohu actually contains no tofu ingredients (soy milk). Basically it's only made of half egg and half dashi (japanese stock).
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 04:20 AM
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kappa, that picture is it! It isn't the first Japanese food I want to learn to make in the class I am signing up for. My U.S. mind thought it would be sweet, but it tasted a bit salty and had a piece of shrimp in it. Why do they like salt so much? Although I am hypertensive and should limit salt, I love it, but not like the Japanese. My son bought some candy that looked like it would taste like cherries or plums, and when he popped the first piece in his mouth he gagged and spit it out- salty and sour. But he kept the rest of the bag to trick his friends.
And what is that website, those two people look a bit like Japanese "Hee-Haw". Is it some wild and wacky Japanese TV cooking show site? I watched a few wacky live shows while I was there.
mjs: your recommendation made me decide to go ahead and spring for the points to Westin Tokyo instead of Sheraton Yokohama (I am a bit frugal, even w/points), and for that I am eternally grateful.
I will post the next few days here as an add on, instead of making a new post. Do I have to limit each post to 3000 characters since I am doing this in word and then transferring it over?
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 04:26 AM
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I saw squat toilets almost everywhere we went, trains, stations, stores, baseball games, temples on and on (just not at the hotel). But they usually had one western toilet- ladies, check that last stall.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 04:50 AM
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emd, in the Japanese breakfast usually there is nothing sweet. Grilled salmon, egg roll, pickles or miso soup, basically they are all salty. I know we take lots (often too much) salt which causes hyper-tension. It's like for us, the westerners seem to take too much fat.

I found the web page through googling (image search - keyword tamago-dofu in Japanese letters) only to show you a photo of the food I was thinking. The page is called Katsumi & Sayuri's Love-Love Kitchen. One of those funny (or wacky as you rightly said) stuff the Japanese do. The recipe looks serious though.

The salty and sour stuff your son spitted out is often called kari-kari ume (cripy plum). Red fruits, weren't they? The red color is artificial or by a red herb "shiso". I do like it so you hurt my feeling (kidding ). I got 2 bags of them from my trip to Japan this time. There is a softer version of this called ume-boshi. Didn't you see them on the breafast buffet? That's a very typical Japanese breafast item, even more salty & sour than kari-kari ume.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:11 AM
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I did not see those on the buffet. I guess is an acquired taste, more refined than my pallate. But the rolled egg was a little bit sweet.
I do not want to give anyone the impression that Japanese do not know how to do sweets. More on that in the following days reports, but let's just say their pastries and sweets give the Europeans very stiff competition (my apologies to you Swiss and French out there...) and that we rarely passed up an oppurtunity for that cultural experience.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:23 AM
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Japanese pastries are excellent, far better than most of what I can find around Geneva, and have won a seal of approval from my mother, who is a French version of "Hyacinth B-U-C-K-E-T-pronounced BOUQUET".

Umeboshi and kari kari ume should be named "culinary treasures of mankind" by some international agency (contrary to natto, which warrants a whole chapter of the WDM-anti-proliferation treaty ;-) ).
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:07 AM
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Florence you make me smile with your last remarks.

emd, perhaps you should warn your son in advance for his eventual studying/living in Japan about the typical Japnese food such as ume-boshi, natto and what else so that he will be prepared.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:53 AM
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DAY 3, Tues. 3/15

We’re confident today. We navigated the JR line & subway to Asakusa on Mon. We have no jet lag. Slept better than I sleep in the U.S. I took No Jet Lag on the plane, melatonin the 1st 2 nights before bed, no alcohol, little caffeine, and took Unisom sleep aid. My son did nothing & he has none either.

Spoke to the concierge re dinner reservations at Ninja Asakusa for 3/17 and asked about timing of baseball at the Dome on 3/18. The asst. manager heard me. He got excited about baseball and takes over, telling us we can get tickets today for Wed. 1 p.m. game. We have lively talk on the teams which we’ve researched, who might pitch, etc. He tells me that he is coming to D.C. in May and wants to see a Nationals game. I tell him Mr. Emd has season’s tickets to the Natls. He’s so nice, and I think maybe I can swing taking him to a game in D.C.

Son & I have agreement that for every thing we do for him, we do 1 for me. Most of what he wants to do is fun for me, and vice versa. Today is his choice, so we set off for Bandai Museum, home of the old Power Rangers, Ultraman, and most imp. for my son, Gundam. We take Yamonate line (flashing JR passes at the attendant) Ebisu to Uneo (or Nippori) and switch to another JR line out to Matsuda. We walk out,there it is. Cool exterior w/Bandai statues. We go in, guard stops us. It’s closed Tues. and Wed.! No mention of this on website. Lesson learned, concierge calls everywhere we go to confirm opening.

We head to the Dome to lift our spirits. It did the trick. Amusement park is open, right next to it, although it is cloudy, cool, and windy. The spokeless ferris wheel w/the roller coaster going through it and other rides are tres cool. There is a “Shonen Jump” store, my son is a big fan. There is a great “NPB” (like MLB) store and I buy for Mr. Emd. I tell my son I will handle the tickets. Out comes the dictionary and “ni kippu, ashita”; the agent understands! She shows us a seat chart. My son wants to up close to take pics for his Gym report on JP ball. I spring for 6th row seats at 3rd base ($40). We go to “American Café” as we are dying for a burger, although I never eat them. The cute wait staff are dressed in American bball team uniforms.

We took the train to Edo-Tokyo museum (exit sta., turn l., follow path til it turns l. under the bridge, on the l.). Very fine w/full size replicas of Edo life, villages and houses, etc. The exhibit on WWII is disturbing, esp. the footage of air raids over Tokyo, 3/10/45. A hint of feelings at Hiroshima.

On to Akihabara, electric town. Son’s in ecstasy. He wins a set of speakers in a game at SegaWorld. We split up, cell phones our lifeline. I wander around. Neon, like Times Square. We go to anime/manga stores, fascinating pop culture. We search for the Gee-store capsule place, not easy to find. Over 300 machines, teaming w/young people and men. I like these things. The attn. to detail is amazing, and I like collections. I feel like a kid. Is that the businessmen’s attraction?

Back at the hotel for appetizers in the club by 7:30 p.m. We walk around Ebisu a bit. Nice area, new, upscale. Many people on the st.. Our first bowl of noodle soup. A great day.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 08:52 AM
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DAY 4, Wed. 3/16

Lovely day, sunny, warm. We are psyched & head out to the Shinjuku Govt. Center. We are going to visit a fella who works there at the Tokyo Tourist Info Center. He’s been emailing w/me for 6 months, answering every query of mine patiently, and has sent me 3 packages of maps, etc. We are surprising him w/a box of U.S. chocolates (nicely wrapped per JP protocol). Shinjuku is the really busy station. Two people are dressed as a panda and a gorilla, promoting the zoo. They are small, thin Japanese people under the costumes, and they need more “padding”, but they are cute. We laugh at the “DO NOT WALK WHILE SMOKING” sign, and we take advantage of the free ultrasonic eyeglass cleaning station.

The “fella” turns out to be a cute 23 yr old woman. Son gets tongue tied. I chat w/her for half hr. She is sweet, and learned English studying in Britian. She has never been to the U.S. and wants to come, and I can see son figuring out how she could visit us. She almost cries when I bring out the chocolates. Her coworkers are all very interested now. We exchange emails and she wants to correspond. She offers us a tour of the center, very impressive. We also go up to the observatory on 45th floor. Views of Tokyo and lots of smog. Is this why so many people wear the face masks? Or is it SARS or what? I see the Pfizer bldg. out the window, one of my clients.

Walked around Shinjuku and Odakyu dept. store. Food basement is amazing. But what grabs my attn. is the rows of 25 huge contraptions that people are lounging in. These are like BIG recliners, but clearly I am missing something, because everyone has their eyes closed or are asleep. I get the brochure, they are called Momi Momi Real Pro by National. These are amazing. “Grips” that grab around your calves and feet w/internal rollers and massage that increase circulation, arm covers that come down on your arms and so same thing, butt, back, neck and a full computer control panel that is manual or voice activated. These people are in a state of bliss at noon in a dept. store in full view. Mr. Emd would like this.

It turned out that the game is at 6 p.m., so we go back to hotel to rest and then out to the Dome (Yamonate, switch at Yoyogi to Sobu line, exit Suidobashi). Nohmi pitches for Tigers, Utusmi for the Giants. Tuffy Rhodes hits a triple homer in the 1st. We see Gabe Kapler (who played in the ’04 Series for the Red Sox) steal bases. The Giants win (6-5) but not without a big rally from Tigers, who are down 6 to 0 and then got 5 runs in the 4th. We sit on the Tigers side. Fans are NUTS! They are all wearing Tigers outfits and chanting a diff. chant for each batter, and banging plastic bats together. I buy a Tigers jacket (more like a short yukata), son gets noise bats and we are blowing out w/the Japanese. On the way to the train we are high fiving w/Tigers fans.

Back at hotel, we encounter 250 young beautiful Japanese women in kimonos all over the hotel. It’s an all girls high school graduation. Baseball and now this. Son is beside himself.


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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 09:13 AM
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emd; great report, and it seems to be going as planned, xcept for bandai. its a trip your son will never, ever forget.

florence; you hurt my feelings about natto. . that with miso shiru is the breakfast of champions. never liked ume, too salty and sour for me.
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