Friday, April 27, 2012

of mythical anime creatures, food-serving ninjas, and giant metal spiders

Day 2 of our trip to Tokyo was just as productive as the first day. We left the hotel in the morning for Shinjuku Station. We navigated through several stations to head to the Studio Ghibli Museum. We were excited to visit the museum, as we had all watched and enjoyed several of the Ghibli movies. The museum held amazing movie memorabilia, including original artwork from the movies. There was a giant Totoro at the ticket office, a Laputa robot from "Castle in the Sky" on the roof, and a Ghibli short film only viewable at the museum. Their gift shop was great, and we bought a puzzle and frame of a scene from "Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind," Ben's favorite Ghibli movie.

After a few hours at the museum, we walked through the nearby park to see more sakura blossoms. It was beautiful, though windy.

We trekked back to the stations, dropped our goodies off at the hotel, and then headed back to the station to head to Ninja Akasaka. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip to Tokyo. The restaurant was dark and unassuming from the outside, as if it didn't want to be seen. Very ninja!

We went in, and the hostess explained that we'd have to trek to the ninja village to go through our "ninja training." She yelled something in Japanese and out of a secret door came our ninja leader. She led us through a dark labyrinth that included pits of lava and being chased by other ninjas. We finally made it to the ninja camp and were led into our dining area. This was an enclosed tatami room where we were introduced to our ninja server. We then experienced some of the most amazing food we'd ever seen and a ninja magic show that blew our minds.

After Ninja Akasaka, we wandered around the area of the restaurant. We found an awesome car dealership that sold Bugatti Veyrons! I'd never seen one in person and was ecstatic. Then we saw one of Tokyo's car rotators in action! A woman drove her car into the little garage area, got out of the car, turned the rotator on, drove it into the car elevator, and then pushed in the number for her spot. The garage did everything else! She found it amusing that all three of us had our phones out to video tape it!

Our last adventure of the night was visiting Roppongi Hills. I wanted to visit the area at night to photograph the huge spider sculpture and the Mori Building. It was a nice night for walking, and we had all the pent-up energy after sitting at the Ninja restaurant for several hours!

We made it back to the hotel around midnight and sunk into bed, exhausted.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

let's get ready for some baseball!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about our harrowing (ok, it wasn't really harrowing, but it was pretty entertaining) journey to purchase baseball tickets in Tokyo for the opening series of the MLB 2012 season. (It's here if you want to read that part to catch up.)

After the baseball tickets were purchased, we navigated Japanese websites to book seats on the overnight bus, called hotels in Tokyo to make reservations, and made another trip to that special machine at the Lawson's to get the Studio Ghibli tickets. When that was done, there was really nothing to do but...wait.

School was a distraction, as we had Terra Nova testing and Read Across America week. The few days before our trip seemed to sneak up on us!

And then finally, we were on the bus, headed for Tokyo.

The bus was just another testimony to the amazingness that is Japan. It was incredibly efficient and just about as comfortable as a bus with upright seats could be. We all slept at least a few hours, and around 6 am, we were dropped off at Shinjuku Station.


I could write a whole blog post (or several) about the station itself. If we saw nothing in Tokyo but this station, it still would have been worth it. The busiest train station in the world, it's estimated that more than 3 million people pass through at least one of its terminals daily. It's at least a square kilometer in length and has more than 200 entrances and exits. It's got 29 platforms and railway tracks spanning 5 different levels (there is a level several floors underground that has walkways leading to city blocks that are several kilometers away), an entire mall, and at least three different Starbuck's coffee shops. Knowing this now, I wouldn't have felt bad that we seemed to wander around the station for about 45 minutes before figuring out where we needed to go.

We finally found our way, put our luggage into lockers near the terminal we'd need to use to get to our hotel later in the day, and headed out the south exit to find what we hoped would be a Starbuck's. After the long night and the crazy morning, we all needed to take a breather, charge our phones/gps's, and relax for a while. Between our broken Japanese and the locals' broken English, we were able to find it. We sat for nearly an hour, enjoying our mochas and Japanese pastries, charging our phones, and people watching. It was a great hour of relaxation.

After our time at the Starbucks, we meandered through Shinjuku as we found our way to Shinjuku Gyoen, the Imperial Gardens. On our way, we passed a Krispy Kreme (which none of us had seen since leaving the states), the tracks entering the station, and several great Japanese neighborhoods.

The garden was about a mile away from the station. We arrived, paid the admission, and entered. As we wandered around, we noticed that a few of the sakura trees had blossomed! We had been hoping to see the blossoms while in Tokyo, and we were on the front end of the two week span. Several others had crowded around the few trees, but we were able to get in and get some pictures while we were there! I can't imagine how beautiful the park would have been in the height of the sakura season!

One of the things we had planned to do if there was time was to visit Yokota Air Base. Yokota has a Chili 's and we had been craving some good American food for a few months. After we finished at Shinjuku Gyoen, we walked to the nearest train station and rode to Fussa. We then took a taxi to the Yokota gate and walked to Chili's. It was about an hour one-way, and completely worth the detour! We feasted on ribs and enchilada soup and reminisced about our favorite restaurants in the states.

After traveling back to Shinjuku from Yokota, we stopped at the lockers to retrieve our luggage and then caught another train toward our hotel. The directions weren't perfect, but we found the hotel and checked in. We were exhausted and napped for a half hour before heading toward Tokyo Dome City for the baseball game.

The stadium holds 47,000 people and there were no empty seats. I kept hoping throughout the game that we wouldn't experience an earthquake while there! The Mariners played the A's and we had a great time showing the locals the American way to cheer for your team. They got a kick out of us and we soon had our neighbors clapping along with the cheers and songs. We lost the game, but everyone was a good sport about it. Then, it was time to leave. The 47,000 members of the crowd stood up and left simultaneously, and yet it was the most organized departure from a stadium I've ever encountered. No pushing or shoving, and we were out within a few minutes. After leaving the stadium, we found a British pub for after-game snacks. We finally made it back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep around 11 pm, not believing how much we accomplished in one day!