Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some Pictures as We Pack our Bags

The bus for the airport leaves in about three hours, so we're packing our suitcases, going to the 7-11 to spend some of our coins, trying to keep Wynn happy/busy, and looking forward to a loooooong flight home.

Last night when I asked Wynn what she was going to do on the plane today, she said, "Play and eat!" Hope she fits some sleep in there too.

Entrance to the Imperial Palace Gardens

Enjoying the Gardens

"Electric Town" in Akihabara

We Don't Have Them Back Home Anymore,
But They Still Exist

The Control Panel on Our Hotel Room Toilet
(All Western Tourists are Required to
Take Pictures of Japanese Toilets)

Udon Shop Where We Had Dinner
View from the Top of the Government Center

Our Hotel

Bye, Tokyo!

Travels with Toddler

This morning we toured the gardens at the Imperial Palace - another serene and beautiful place. As it's Saturday, there were quite a few people there strolling around to admire the meticulously-maintained gardens. Amid all the peace and contemplation, one voice rang out - the voice of a toddler singing ...

"You can't catch me! You can't catch me!"

Don't worry.
We caught her.
It's her favorite part of the game.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The City That Never Sits Down

Today's big news is that it's after 8 PM, and we're all still awake! Wynn did crash when we were walking to dinner, but we managed to revive her, and now we're hopeful that we can avoid waking up before 4 AM tomorrow.

Our morning expedition was to the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park. It was originally built in 1920, destroyed during World War II, and painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950's. The grounds (about 175 acres) are completely serene, even though the entrance sits next to a busy subway stop and rail station. We strolled up a wide gravel path, stopped at the fountain to purify our hands and mouths, and then went to visit the main temple. It amazed us that in the middle of such a busy city you can find yourself in this oasis. In the park, everyone walked a bit slower, people stopped to admire trees and small streams, and voices were hushed. The other people in the park were, for the most part, not tourists; they were folks on their way to work, walking through the grounds and stopping to offer a prayer. It was a beautiful and tranquil way to start our day - and the first time in Tokyo that we've heard birds calling.

After visiting the shrine, we entered the Harajuku neighborhood, which is famous as being the home of outrageous teenage fashion. It was filled with the familiar combination of people, traffic, and noise which characterizes so much of Tokyo - and it is literally across the street from the temple grounds. Quite a contrast.

The Trees in the Background Are Yoyogi Park

The Clothes Are a Bit Over the Top

Even the Dogs Get Stylish Clothes in Harajuku

We then spent some time strolling down Omotesando-Dori, another street famous for it's shopping, most of which is extremely upscale. My favorite odd combination of stores in a row went: Chanel, Bulgari, Shakey's Pizza, and Kiddie Land. Guess which one we bought stuff in.

Taking Wynn to Kiddie Land was a bit of an adventure. It's five-stories worth of cuteness - and so popular that we ended up waiting with a good-sized crowd to walk in when the store opened. Now, we don't take Wynn to toy stores back home because it's just too much, so here we are in Tokyo, taking her into these dens of sensory overload. To her credit, she was very well-behaved. She did not like being carried on Baba's back, however, and let us know with a whiny, "I can't see! I can't see!" Scott and I took turns holding her hand and guiding her around the store so the other one of us could actually browse a bit. She ended up with a bento box with Winnie the Pooh on it and a game where you practice using chopsticks to pick up little toy ducks.

We hopped on the Metro and headed down to Shibuya, which was craaa-zy crowded, hot, and noisy. We grabbed a quick lunch at an amazing food court in the basement of a department store but were soon faced with one of the biggest challenges we've found in Tokyo - there is no place to sit down. Most restaurants ask if you'd like to dine in or take out, and we see most people doing take-out, but we have no idea where they go to actually eat the food. The food court we visited had no seating at all, so we headed back up to the street to find a spot. The best we could manage was leaning against some rails by a statue of a dog while committing the social gaffe which is eating on the street. After gobbling our lunch, we were all pretty wiped out, so we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tired, Busy, Happy

On this, our first full day in Tokyo, we made a pilgrimage to one of the most important landmarks in this great city ...

The Big Ol' Hello Kitty Statue
Honestly, Wynn worshipped at that thing as if it were an altar. She somehow managed to be both reverential and giddy at the same time. The Hello Kitty store it's attached to is, obviously, super cute, and we had fun looking at all the things you can emblazon with the likeness of a cartoon cat. We managed to escape with minimal damage to our pocketbook, but Wynn and I both own Hello Kitty purses and cell phone charms now. (She also got some clips for her hair. They didn't come in my size.)

The Hello Kitty Store

We had our first experiences riding the Tokyo Metro today. Slick and quick - everything's labeled well, tons of entry and exit points. We took the Metro to the section of the city called Shinjuku; this is where we were originally scheduled to stay until the lightning strike changed our plans and hotel reservations.

Anyhow, Shinjuku is a bustling part of town, filled with shops, traffic, and people. I believe I read somewhere that as many as two million people per day go through the train station at Shinjuku, and it is considered quite possibly the busiest place on Earth. Yeah, it was crowded.

Shinjuku Metro Platform

We spent quite a bit of time in Tokyu Hands, a big department store that feels a lot like Target in some places - and more like Ace Hardware in others. But then it also has departments such as "Laboratory Equipment", a name that made us curious enough to ride up eight floors worth of escalators to have a look. (It was beakers, models of the human brain, telescopes, educational games, etc.)

A Rainy Morning in Shinjuku

We walked around Shinjuku for most of the early-afternoon, peeking in the windows of Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Balenciaga, etc. but actually shopping in a small boutique that sells hand-dyed fabrics to use as wall hangings.

Scott and I spent the day pushing through the exhaustion of jet lag - and marveling at how it seems to have absolutely no effect on Wynn. Or seemed to have no effect on her. As we walked to dinner tonight, Wynn was suddenly struck by jet lag. She'd been great all day, but then it hit her like a ton of bricks. She passed out in the carrier on Scott's back and then slept on his lap through about half of dinner. She'd come to every now and then, looking around in a haze with this "Who moved everything forward fourteen hours?" expression on her face. She's passed out on the bed now, but Scott and I are still up and moving around; we're quite proud of the fact that we're up past 7:30 after the way we crashed last night.

For dinner tonight we found an amazing little restaurant about six blocks from the hotel. It's called Lotus Palace and is, seriously, about the size of our living room. The menu is in English (and even has pictures), and the features fresh, homemade Vietnamese food. I had spring rolls and pho ga (translation: the best bowl of chicken noodle soup in the world), and Scott had banh something, which was enormous, brightly colored, and involved shrimp, eggs, and bamboo shoots. Yummy, and amazingly inexpensive. One of the nicest meals I've ever had, and it was less than $30.

I mentioned how we were supposed to be at a hotel in Shinjuku but ended up in Akasaka instead. Having seen both parts of the city, I have to say I'm glad it turned out that way. Sure, Shinjuku would have given us greater variety of things right outside our door, but Akasaka feels more like a neighborhood. There's greenery around our hotel, and the pace here is a bit slower - and Starbuck's is only three blocks away.

Walking Around Akasaka

How We Get Under the Freeway
and to the Metro in Akasaka

More of the Streets of Akasaka,
Our Quiet Little Neighborhood

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This is what Tokyo looks like at 3:30 am...

We found a 7-11 and McDonald's one block east, grabbed some chow, and trundled back to the hotel. I managed to give Wynn a bath and find the children's educational TV channel for her, but ended up falling asleep a bit after 6 pm. Ann says she and Wynn made it until 7 or so.

Since midnight, Ann and I have been in and out of sleep. Wynn has been up since 3:30.

Right now it is actually getting light out. We're still trying to get some more shuteye but it's a losing proposition. Need to find a nice cheap place for breakfast...


We are finally in Tokyo!

Wynn being such a good girl yesterday
during the ultimately fruitless wait

The sight of a 747 full of people who aren't going anywhere,
getting their hotel vouchers

Finally, at 9:00 this morning, our repaired aircraft pushed back and launched into the sky.
Wynn behaved better than we had expected during the 11-hour flight.

(Wells Fargo employees may recognize
that pony she's strangling.)

She got more solid sleep than either of us - only whined a few times. We arrived in Tokyo at 11:00 AM local time - that would be 9 pm Minnesota time. Arrival and customs was a breeze as there were no other flights arriving at that hour. Given how long we had been running, we thought that Wynn might be groggy at the airport, but...

here she is running laps around the luggage cart while I get money exchanged, train pass set up, hotel bus arranged.

She did finally nod off on the 80-minute bus ride into the city:
But since our arrival at 1:30 PM local time, she's been up and at 'em. They didn't have our room ready (not that we expected them to, check-in starts at 2:00 ... I was thrilled that they actually had our reservation given the events from yesterday), so we waited in the lobby for a while. Wynn was coughing - not surprising after having been in a dry airplane for the past day - but we guess that the sight of half-zombie Westerners in the lobby with a coughing Asian child looked too much like swine flu, so they kindly suggested we wait in a different hotel room until ours was ready. House arrest, whatever.

We'll go into more detail about the hotel later,
but this is our view out the room where we are now established:
It is now 3:40 PM local time - Ann is crashed on the couch, Wynn is busy converting the room into her PlaySpace(TM), and I'm trying to get the Internet to work.

Next order of business is to cross that bridge, find a restaurant that we can figure out and a 7-11 to get supplies from, come back to the hotel room, and sleep.