9 – 11 June; 22 – 23 June 2002
Tokyo First Impressions and Nikko Day Trip
Our first two days of this trip were spent in travel to Japan, losing a day crossing the Date Line. We left at 8am on Saturday (8 June) and flew Korean Air non-stop to Tokyo. Our flight to Tokyo took 10 hours and 50 minutes and was uneventful. After we landed at 2:45pm on Sunday (9 June), we needed to validate our train passes before we went into Tokyo on an hour train ride from the airport. We stayed in the Tokyo Youth Hostel, located in the center of town right next to a light rail station. The rooms were on the 18th and 19th floors of a very tall building. We had a nice four person room. At 10:30pm there was a lights out announcement over the loud speaker in the room. At 7:00am, that was also a ‘Good Morning’ wake-up call. The view of the city from our room was great! For dinner, we took a light rail ride to Ginza. We found a Japanese restaurant and ate while a World Cup game was on the radio. After dinner, we walked around and saw the lights.
On Monday, we took a day trip to Nikko, which is 150km north of Tokyo. The area, which was established as a hermitage in the 8th century by a Buddhist priest, is a National Park full of temples and shrines and surrounded by tall cedar trees. We took a bullet train as far as Utsunomiya and then transferred to a local train. The whole trip took about two hours each way. The entrance to the National Park was about a 25 minute walk from the train station. We spied a girl dressed in a komono walking by one of the temples. We even saw the ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil’ monkeys carved on one building. On the way back to the train station, we stopped to have some yakitori (skewers of chicken) at a restaurant. Back in Tokyo later in the day, we had fish and chips and salad for dinner at a restaurant near the hostel.
Tuesday (11 June) was spent visiting different areas of Tokyo. First stop was the Ueno Zoo, where we spent several hours. One of the big highlights for the kids was the petting zoo. After we left the zoo, we went to Ginza for a late lunch. Unfortunately, the only place that was open was a McDonalds. They had huge cokes to quench our thirst, as it was hot and muggy! The afternoon included a trip to Shinjuku, where the Government Building had an observation deck on the 45th floor. The view of the city from all sides was spectacular. Before going back to the hostel, we visited some of the Shinjuku shops east of the train station. Dinner was a combination of pizza and sushi from the mall right next to the hostel.
Return to Tokyo and Temple and Garden Sightseeing
On Saturday (22 June) we left Nagano and the Japanese mountains for the big city life of Tokyo. The train quickly left the mountains and we were soon back in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Our train to Tokyo, via the Asama Shinkansen, left a little after 11:00am. We really enjoyed our last 1 hour and 40 minute bullet train ride. When we got to our hotel, they had overbooked, and we were sent to their sister hotel a couple of subway stops away. This actually turned out to be a better place, as it was close to a wonderful pedestrian street and to a train right to the airport! Once in Tokyo, we got a chance to ride the subways since our rail pass was no longer valid for light rail. We spent the afternoon relaxing and then treated ourselves to a picnic dinner with items purchased from vendors along the pedestrian street. Our picnic included dumplings, sushi, cooked tofu in soy sauce, fried fish and (unfortunately) liver on skewers!
Sunday, our last full day in Japan, was spent seeing some other areas of Tokyo that we didn’t see at the beginning of the trip. We bought subway passes for the day (for 710 Yen for adults and 360 Yen for kids) and started out at the Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa part of town. There is a belief that the incense here will bestow health on you if rub the smoke onto your body and the kids tried it. There were some good shopping streets and we bought some souvenirs. Later, we took the subway to the Otemon entrance to the Imperial Gardens. The palace itself is only open two days of the year. We visited the Imperial Gardens and a couple of parks. The gardens that we walked through were very peaceful. Our last stop of the afternoon was at the Meiji-jingu Shrine, completed in 1920 and rebuilt after the war. It was built in memory of Emperor Meiji, who ended Japan’s isolation from the outside world. We went to an Indian restaurant for dinner and then headed back to the Metropolitan Government Offices for a final view of Tokyo. By the time we got to the Government Offices, the sky was a little foggy, but the view was still nice. We toasted our trip with beer and soda floats that were green.
We woke up early on Monday morning and did our final packing before checking out of the hotel. We walked to the train station and took the 9:09am train to Narita Airport. It took about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get there. When we went to check in, the flight had been delayed a 1/2 hour to a 2:30pm departure time, so we had four hours to kill. We went outside to an observation deck and watched the planes and then had lunch at McDonalds. Our flight did leave at 2:30pm and made a quick 8 hour and 40 minute trip across the ocean to Los Angeles. When we landed, it was Monday morning again at 7:45am! We were happy to be home with such fond memories of a wonderful time in Japan!
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