If it’s Tuesday, this must be Tokyo!

It’s the land of Iron Chef, shoguns, Hello Kitty, Pokemon cards, Bill Murray singing karaoke (think Lost in Translation), Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, geishas, culinary delights from raw chicken to the freshest sushi, photo booths, The Last Samurai and so much more.

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Welcome to Japan, home to approximately 125 million people, all of them polite, all of them smiling. Hallie, our 16-year-old daughter, has been spending her sophomore year of high school in Tokyo as part of her school’s exchange program. Rather than a detail-infused day-by-day itinerary, I’m posting pictures from when we were in Japan over the holiday break, Dec. 18-Jan. 3. There’s a short description of each picture if you scroll over it.

We had many wonderful moments in Japan but, by far, the most memorable was when Liza, Phoebe and Miranda were reunited with Hallie. It’s the moment I was most looking forward to – and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Thirteen million people in Tokyo and not a speck of trash in the subway stations. Amazing. Pedestrians at crowded intersections wait patiently for lights to change, even when there is no traffic. Jaywalking is practically nonexistent. It’s a clean, orderly, service-oriented and precise city where organized chaos resembles an elegant, metropolitan dance.

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Glinting skyscrapers are abundant. From the holiday lights of Roppongi Hills to the Ginza, the city is so lit up it looks like a blend of Times Square and Vegas. From one neighborhood to another, there are hidden narrow streets and low wooden buildings and … people!

Harajuku
One stop north of Shibuya Station, this fun neighborhood is full of cafes, restaurants, department stores and boutiques, but the real treat here is to stroll down Takeshita Dori – the lively main drag that on weekends might resemble the outdoor dressing room of a circus. It’s the latest in teenage Tokyo street fashion where everyone puts on a show.
Tsukiji Market
Sushi! Nearly five million pounds of fish pass through Tsukiji market everyday. If you love sushi, there’s no better place to be.

Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine, completed in 1921, is Japan’s most famous Shinto shrine, which is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his consort. Prior to the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912), Japan was a closed nation, but, as ruler between 1869 and 1912, Emperor Meiji rekindled lost friendships, fostered overseas relations and, in so doing, laid the foundations of modern day Japan.


Ema, small wooden votive tablets, are sold at almost every shrine. People write wishes on the tablets in black markers. The wishes range from everything imaginable: “Pass the entrance exam!” “Meet beautiful company!” “Improve English!”

Sensoji Temple
Also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, founded in the 7th century. The colorful Nakamise Shopping Arcade extends from Kaminarimon Gate to Hozomon Gate. From kimonos to candy, you can buy nearly everything here.

On to Hiroshima!
We took the Shinkansen, Japan’s “Bullet Train,” easily cruising at almost 200 mph.

Hiroshima’s Peace Park
If you get to Japan, take time to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, see the A Bomb Dome, tour the grounds and take in the moment.

Miyajima
Located in the Seto Inland Sea, 10 miles southwest of Hiroshima, Miyajima (12 square miles) is a sacred site of Shintoism and Buddhism. Long before Buddhism arrived in Japan, Shinto sages lived as hermits in Miyajima’s forested hills. In the water near the Itsukushima Shrine, stands the O-Torii (Grand Torii Gate), one of the largest in Japan. During high tide, the Torii gate seems to float on the water.

Deer are a symbol of Miyajima and wander freely on the island. It is believed that the deer have lived on Miyajima for more than 6,000 years. According to Shinto belief, deer are messengers of the gods.

Kyoto
With a population nearing 1.5 million, Japan’s former capital city of Kyoto is the keeper of traditional culture with more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shinto shrines. Most of what you see or what you hold in your imagination, all those popular images of Japan, originated in Kyoto: raked pebble gardens, bamboo groves, shrine gates, zen gardens and geisha disappearing into nondescript doorways.

With its sweeping views of Kyoto from a veranda that juts over a hillside, Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple that dates back to 798, but the present buildings were constructed in 1633.

Another Buddhist temple, Sanjusangendo, dates from the 13th century and houses 1,001 statues. The temple name means “hall with thirty-three spaces between columns.”

The Nijo Castle was built around 1600. There are two main buildings; Ninomaru Palace and the castle itself, with its immense walls and moat. Ninomaru Palace is the largest building on the castle grounds and is famous for its “nightingale floors,” which squeak when you walk across them so as to warn the residents of invaders. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited inside.


Geishatraditional female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts, such as classical music and dance. Or… Liza, Hallie, Phoebe and Miranda on vacation!

Nara
Located less than an hour from Kyoto, Nara is home to the famous Daibutsu at the Tōdai-ji temple. This Buddha statue is the largest in Japan and one of the largest in the world.

Back in Tokyo we visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  It was January 2nd, and there was a celebration for the New Year. Taiko means drum in Japanese but outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming, sometimes called “kumi-daiko.” The performances can last up to 25 minutes and speed up significantly towards the grand finale.

Mt. Fuji, the country’s highest mountain at 12,389 feet, is also an active volcano that last erupted in 1707. It’s about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo.

Language Sidebar:

One should always be prepared with the language when visiting a foreign country. Below are a few Japanese words/phrases I mastered. It was just enough to embarrass Hallie every time I opened my mouth.

Sumimasen – Excuse me
Wakarimasen — I don’t understand
Arigatou gosaimasu – Thank you
Kon-nichi wa – Hello
Konban wa – Good evening
Hajimemashite – Nice to meet you
Hai – Yes
O negai shimasu – Please
Dewamata – See you later
Vafanculo! – Screw it! (that’s Italian, but, no matter what country you’re in, it’s always fun to say)

Thanks for reading!

George

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6 Responses to “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Tokyo!”

  1. Tim Hoch Says:

    Hey man! That was fantastic. I love the pics, esp. The Geisha Girls. Arigatou gosaimasu!

  2. George Ayres Says:

    Thanks, Tim! Let’s talk this week!

  3. Pat Harris Says:

    Found in Translation. Fun.

  4. Guy Lipof Says:

    What terrific pictures and write up of your adventure. So, great to see you all at ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. I hope you walked by the restaurant.

  5. Phil Thoden Says:

    Enjoyed the writeup. Glad everyone is back in Austin after a long year apart.

  6. Monroe Says:

    What an adventure she must have had. Would love to catch up with you sometime, George.

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