Warning: Picture heavy (didn’t we say Misou is a shutter bug?) This post also features some photos taken by Brandon.
As expected, we awoke early on Sunday. Misou and I have not woken up at 6 am on a Sunday since… well, I doubt that’s ever happened. But jetlag had us up and about at first light. First things first, I wished Misou a happy 31st birthday! Before leaving the US, I’d gotten everyone in her family and mine to sign a big foldout card, and everyone expressed how much they missed her on her birthday and wished her a great time here in Tokyo. The card also portrayed us all as monkeys, but in the nicest way.
After a bit of blog posting and some problems with a broken iron from the hotel front desk, we hit the streets. Our first stop, since we were both starving, was a small tempura and noodle shop just around the corner from Ueno station.
As we soon pieced together from what the chef told us in Japanese, we were required to order via an electronic kiosk at the entrance. The machine looked a bit like the Lotto scratch card machines you find in grocery stores, but with pictures of tempura shrimp or chicken and noodles instead of Jokers Wild. Many of buttons had just Japanese text, which made them off-limits to illiterates such as ourselves. Luckily, the top row included pictures of things that, though still a but uncertain, looked edible and filling. We ended up with tempura chicken udon and tempura ginger udon.
On the way to Ueno station, I stopped at First Kitchen to get a coffee and to fulfill a personal requirement for this leg of the trip. I had learned about First Kitchen from a video by Ken Tanaka on YouTube. I will let him explain the joke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDNtzMUy4vs
After getting a Suica card, which not only allows you to ride on the JR trains and the various Metro lines run by different companies but can also be used to make purchases at selected stores in Tokyo, we took the Ginza line across to Asakusa. This area is best known for the Sensōji Buddhist temple, which was completed in 645, making it the oldest in the city. It was built by two brothers who kept fishing a statue of Kannon, a goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River.
After exploring the temple, we wandered over to Kappabashi Dori, a street known for its restaurant wholesalers. We were hoping to buy a lot of plastic nigori and other fake food to bring back as presents, but it turned out that the prices were downright exorbitant. [Misou just pointed out as I write this at Roppongi Hills that Time Out Tokyo calls them “surprisingly expensive.”] Though disappointed, we were lucky to bump into the Higashi-Honganji temple on the way back, where we heard the end of a service, complete with chanting.
We wandered from there over to the Sumida River, then went back up to Asakusa station. Along the way, we saw some add for Boss, with a very serious looking Tommy Lee Jones…
We left Asakusa and took the Ginza line to Shibuya where we had lunch.
After lunch we took a long walk north to the South Gate of Yoyogi Park. Our goal was to circle around through, past the Big Fountains, then down to Harajuku Gate to see cosplay kids in their cartoon outfits. By the time we got to Harajuku, though, all we found were some older people in doo-wop dress dancing to “Stupid Cupid.”
Next, we walked all the way up to the Meiji shrine. Though built in the 1920s and restored in the 1950s after its destruction during WWII, the shrine felt a lot older. The grounds are deep in the forest, and it’s a long walk to get there. Despite a small crowd (nothing like the one at Sensōji), it was quiet and surprisingly tranquil. We caught the end of a Shinto wedding, then wrote a message on a small wooden placard to be included in the next day’s prayers.
Then we walked back through the cool, damp dark to the bustling streets of Shibuya and saw this:
We stopped for an overpriced beer and a chestnut chocolate milk in a small alley in Omotesando. We were planning to hang out until around 9 or so and then walk over to Golden Gai to find a jazz club as a special treat for Misou’s birthday. But in the end, both of us were so exhausted from ten hours’ of walking that we limped back to Shibuya station, stopping in the Tsutaya bookstore to check out the world’s largest intersection from the second floor. Finally, after checking out the manga section on the seventh floor, where I bought Misou a copy of Doraemon #1 (since she used to read the Vietnamese translations as a teenager [sic]).
We returned to the hotel in Ueno, took a brief rest, then popped out for a cheap bowl of ramen with pork and egg. That night we planned to kick our jetlag’s ass (and live up to our legendary capacity for snoozing) by sleeping in the following morning.
Misou’s post script:
I had a great birthday, all in all. Thanks to Brandon’s sneaky efforts, I received wonderful birthday wishes from my family half way across the world. Being Tokyo for one’s birthday is super awesome itself, but I’m even more thankful that I have a great family, nice friends, and an amazing boyfriend. Turning 31 doesn’t seem very bad right now.