When we got back to Tokyo, we went directly to the airport to pick up our good friend Mike Estee. We presented him with a Pasmo, the super-easy way to pay for your metro fare, so he wouldn’t have to deal with paper tickets. It took us almost 3 hours by subway to get to our final destination: the SOHO Asakusa Hotel. We got a very reasonable price of $91 for a room for 3. The biggest value being that Kai, the front desk guy, spoke perfect English.
For the 2 weeks that Mike was with us, we walked and subwayed like fiends, Mike taking in the city with new eyes and us finding new and interesting bits we hadn’t noticed and going to new places. Jacob was excited to have some newfound time to himself and play lots of Go (Igo, in Japan).
Here’s Mike at the Meiji Shrine near Harajuku, you can’t tell he’s heartbroken that he broke his favorite lens by dropping it in a 100 Yen shop:
Over the next few days we went to Shinjuku, Harajuku (shopping!), and Akihabara. Mike freaked out about as much as we did over Akihabara and we took him to a maid cafe where he was possibly more uncomfortable than I was! We tried new foods as we had a companion with different tastes than us, however, we never could figure out the restaurant vending machines.
While Jacob was playing a fighting game in a video game shop, we went to a Kawaii Photobooth. Mike pretended it was work research since he works on Photobooth. You can see him here seriously deconstructing how they box up the cute (photo from his Flickr):
After a few days of Tokyo silliness, Mike wanted to go see Kyoto while our train passes were still valid. Since Jacob was “shrined out” and I can go to temples and shrines indefinitely, we took Jacob’s Japan Rail Pass and went to Kyoto for the day (a very long day).
Kyoto was great the second time! We went to Tōdai-ji, the world’s largest wooden building. Then we took the subway to Gion where we had lunch and went to the major shrines there. It was quite warm as shown here by Mike cooling his feet in a stream wating ice cream:
We spent a lot of time on the river relaxing and watching people and birds. Then we got on a train that would get us back to Tokyo before the subway stopped running. In all, a silly trip to make in a day, but we had a great time!
Kai, the front desk guy at our hotel, mentioned that there would be fireworks (for some festival) visible from the roof of our hotel. We had a fantastic view of 2 different shows!
Another night, we went to Odaiba to see the Gundam. We made it there right at sunset for some amazing photos and the show I heard rumor of: where the Gundam lights up, moves its head and smoke comes out of its chest. I had never seen so many cameraphones come out at once!
When the show was over, we went to the other part of Odaiba to ride the Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel. I don’t usually have a fear of heights, but on the way up, I couldn’t move and could only clutch the hand rail out of complete terror. Here’s Kitty mocking me:
For some reason, the way down was much easier. Probably being able to see the rest of the wheel and the other people in their ferris wheel cars.
Something we all wanted to do was go to the Studio Ghibli Museum. Jacob had read that you can buy tickets ONLY inside Lawson’s convenience stores using a special machine. We had been buying food at the Lawson’s right next to our hotel, so we went in and Jacob attmpted to use it. Unfortunately, it was 100% in Japanese with no English options. We got the guy at the store to help and (after many frustrating minutes using very bad UI) managed to buy them for a few days later.
It was totally worth the wait! Going in, there’s a little room in the front with doors leading off of it into at least 4 more rooms, and a second floor with balcony and a spiral staircase enclosed in wire. We opted for door #1, a room with zoetropic displays from many of the movies and a really interesting movie projector-like thing that showed bits of movies in different parts of it by shining light through the film. Then we headed over to the movie room to see the special 20 minute long, changes every month, movie. It was a cute film about some kids in school building a ship and setting sail in it. No subtitles, but easy enough to understand. After that, we all separated and went off to the other rooms and to explore outside.
Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed at all inside, so we only took photos outside, mostly of the Castle in the Sky robot:
We left Studio Ghibli happy and tired and went back to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
We decided on which day we would go to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Jacob and I decided to sleep for a few hours somewhere near the market and be among the first people to get there. So, we went to a karaoke salon and booked a room for 5 hours (11-4AM). They have a special for that time knowing that a lot of people just use it (like we did) to crash while they wait for the subway to start running again. It wasn’t the most comfortable few hours of sleep I’ve ever had, but it worked. We were quite early to the fish market and were 4th in line for the tuna auction viewing. They shuttle the tourists in to a special area where you don’t get in the way and then they start their business.
The giant tuna are laid out on palettes on the floor in groups. Each group is its own auction with its own auctioneer (and a guy on the side who goes “hup hup hup hup” for some reason).
The tuna each have a piece cut out of their backside for inspection and their gills and tails are cut off. Because there are so many auctions, the whole thing lasts quite a while. When it’s all over, you’re free to walk around the wholesalers’ market – and in our case, go home and sleep.
We also took a day trip to Kamakura where we rented bicycles and went around to some of the shrines. My favorite one was the giant Buddha where it had windows in its back and you could go inside it.
In all, it was a very busy 2 weeks in Tokyo with some excellent side trips. We all left on the same day: us to Bangkok and Mike back to San Francisco.
Next up: Bangkok and Chiang Mai withour next visitor!