Day 2 – Misou’s birthday

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.

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Misou was born in the year of the monkey, hence the card design.
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She had tears in her eyes while reading the card.

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.

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Our hotel lobby

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.

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We went "Hmmm" for a while in front of the machine.
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There're many choices but only 4 with pictures so we were limited to those.
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Worth the effort of ordering. These came out to be about $5 each.

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

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Brandon's coffee
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The busy Ueno station. Checkout the maps of the lines!

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.

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Along the way to the temple is the Nakamise-dōri, a street lined with about 90 cute little shops.
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We love that the shops sell everything. From umbrellas...
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... to chopsticks
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... to kimonos
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... to fans
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Misou has her first picture of her taken.
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since Brandon decided to be a photographer for the day, too.
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The Sensō-ji temple, built in 645.
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This lantern is one of the most recognized image of Japan.
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"Luck drawing" - you shake the can and a stick will eventually come out. On the stick is a corresponding number to a fortune in the drawers. Misou drew a "bad luck" sign. Brandon said it's because we didn't donate the 100¥ as requested. We had given all of our change earlier to this monk who probably was a scammer, since he asked for 10,000¥!
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Some 30 million people visit the temple per year.
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Koi pond
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Photo by Brandon.
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Photo by Brandon.

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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.

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The super expensive plastic food. I believe it was more expensive than the real counterpart.

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As we wandered around the streets of Asakusa, we stumbled upon this toy car race track.
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People seemed very dedicated and serious about their hobby.
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Very cool looking!
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Asakusa street
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Higashi-Honganji temple

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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…

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“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time…” Oops, wrong guy. Same difference

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We left Asakusa and took the Ginza line to Shibuya where we had lunch.

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The fashionable Shibuya.
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Photo by Brandon.
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Photo by Brandon.
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Misou's lunch was rice, egg and salisbury steak.
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Brandon ordered (by pointing to the picture, of course) rice with egg and something that tasted extremely like chili.

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.”

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Yoyogi Park, one of the largest park in Tokyo.
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The park is a popular hangout on the weekends.
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Photo by Brandon
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Photo by Brandon
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Photo by Brandon
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Photo by Brandon

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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.

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Entrance to Meiji Shrine

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Shinto way dictates that you cleanse your hands, mouth and mind before entering a temple.
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The bride taking pictures with family after the ceremony.

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People write messages on these wooden tablets and hang them on a rack. These prayers will be reinforced by the temple's priests.
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Ours read, "Gratitude for everything that I have. Praying for our family and good friends. Thankfulness and love for our family and friends. Help to those who need it in difficult times."

Then we walked back through the cool, damp dark to the bustling streets of Shibuya and saw this:

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From Shinto shrine to Condomania…

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]).

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The HUGE comic book store.

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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.

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Our first real ramen bowls!

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What a great way to end the night, tucking in with some warm, yummy soup.

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. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Day 2 – Misou’s birthday

  1. First of all, although it’s not surprising that my brother would find and peruse a bookstore in a foreign country halfway around the world where you don’t know the language, I AM surprised that it took him two days to do so. I assumed it would be one of your first stops off the plane. Second, I find it extremely ironic and very amusing that you two walked around Tokyo, cameras around your necks, exploring the city without knowing a lick of Japanese. Talk about a reverse stereotype 😉

    Love you both! xoxo

    1. Technically, we made it to a bookstore on our first full day in Tokyo. (We did not see any in Ueno when we arrived, and we were mostly concerned with stuffing our faces.) We’ll be posting more tonight! Love you and miss you!

  2. Totally love your blog and your picture. Most of all so happy for you for such a special birthday with a special person ^_^ Find it very amusing to see Photos by Brandon under the one that he took… Can’t wait to read day 3 of your blog

    1. Haha. I said the same thing, Jenny. I keep teasing Misou that she does not want my crummy pictures mistaken for her work. 😛

  3. Ohaiyo! (That is if it’s still morning when you read this.) The blog was such a great idea . Keep the photos coming, they’re wonderful. You can never have too many. Happy Birthday Misou.

    1. It is morning here–but a few days later. We’ve fallen behind in our blogging while up in the mountains. We’ll post more tonight. Thanks for checking out the blog, Aunt Diane!

  4. Having fun reading my son and my second daughter’s blog while in Japan. The photos are fantastic and make me miss you all the more! It is Wednesday here and I suppose you will be boarding another plane for your next trip to Vietnam. Keep the photos and information on your travels coming. We love and miss you both and wish you a safe trip to your next destination. Can’t wait to see the photos from Vietnam. Love you muchly, Mom

    1. We love and miss you, too, Mom! Indeed, we are going to be leaving for Vietnam tomorrow. We’ll be heading out from Ueno at around 1:30 pm local time, and we’ll get to Vietnam later that night. We’re about to post a couple more pieces tonight, and we have the past two days to cover as well. So look for more soon!

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