Monday, November 13, 2006

Ah Tokyo...

We've returned from another most excellent journey into Japan's biggest city tired, but unscathed. Fantastic weekend it was, spent some time exploring some new areas, had some great food and did some relaxing along the way... somewhere... I think.

Sunday morning, we headed on down to the station and hopped on the 8:37 rapid to Shibuya. Oddly enough, I've taken this exact same train several times in the last few months... Shibuya seems to be a popular destination for me these days, though this time only as a transit point. I was quite excited, while on the train, to finally get my first real look at Mount Fuji. Seems the breezy weather had pushed all the clouds away and we could see the behemoth towering over Tokyo from all the way out in Tochigi prefecture. And it wasn't just a dark triangle either, it was so clear I could see some details on the snow which covers a good part of the mountain this time of year.

Our first destination was actually Shinagawa where we wanted to visit a new Aquarium. To be honest, if anyone is thinking of checking out the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium... don't bother. Sad to say, but it's true. Did we have a good time? Absolutely, but for the 1800Yen admission fee, there just wasn't that much going on and most of the 3 hours we spent there was waiting for one of the only 2 shows to start. From what I understand, the Yokohama aquarium is better, as is the old Shinagawa Aquarium... and of course I can vouch for Oarai's Aqua World to be a top notch facility. After a quick 5-10 minute walk of the fish tanks, we were surprised to come face to face with the exit! Very small place. The shows were good, and there are a series of other entertainment options but they all cost anywhere form 6-1800 Yen to check out... so we didn't.

As I said, there was some cool stuff there, including these huge crabs which were just across from the penguins.

Speaking of penguins, we did manage to arrive on time for a feeding\info session by the penguin pool and those little guys sure do know when it's feeding time! They followed that lady with the bucket quite closely. Of the two shows we saw, I'd say the best was the dolphins, of course. I love these guys, and you can really tell they enjoy putting on a show. As the trainers start coming out, they get visibly excited and start making laps around the pool.

After leaving the aquarium, we had a nice lunch at a little cafe which was surprisingly affordable considering the location right in the heart of the Shinagawa shopping district. Afterwards, we bummed around the shops and found THE coolest shop I've ever been to in Tokyo. It's called Dean and Deluca and it's a gourmet foods shop\bakery\deli\all kinds of other cool food related stuff shop. From what I just read on their web site, they originated in New York. This is amusing since I told Yoshiko that it had a New Yorky feel about it when we were there. In fact, it looked so good that we made a detour to Shibuya today to pick up some stuff at their other Tokyo location.

We then headed down to Odaiba, where we had reserved a room at the Meridien Grand Pacific where we stayed last April (as I was told by my lovely wife, not last March as I'd written in my last post... smart as a whip that one) and were immediately battered by some pretty nasty winds. I guess being by the seaside has it's drawbacks on occasion, and little Yoshiko almost got blown off her feet a couple of times. We did manage to fight our way from the station to the boardwalk area near the hotel where we had a great view of Tokyo and the Rainbow Bridge. The last time we were here, the weather was pretty crappy and we didn't get to see much... not the case this weekend. Here is Yoshiko trying to keep her hair out of her face for a picture.

Posing for pictures is so much easier when you're bald... :-)

One of the main attractions of Odaiba is of course this funky building, headquarters and studios for Fuji Television.

After meeting with a wall of people waiting to check-in to the hotel, we decided to leave our bags there and head into the malls near the hotel to walk around. Once in a while, we'd pop out and check on the progress of the setting sun, which highlights ol' Fuji-san quite well in this picture.

We did eventually get checked in to our hotel and were surprised to find ourselves on the 23rd floor. We weren't on the Tokyo side, but did enjoy a nice view over the port and out over Yokohama. The tunnel you see here is the highway into Yokohama by the way. The sunset was also spectacular from up here, I think this is my favourite picture from the weekend.

After catching our breath, we hopped on a shuttle bus out to Venusfort, another huge mall out there in Odaiba... as I always say, Shoppingu should be declared Japan's national sport! We were lucky to find the Toyota show room open and checked that out quickly.

This showroom is where they feature their latest models and gadgets as well as some of their prototypes. You get to check out the cars thoroughly, and even get to try out their little hybrid mini cars on an indoor track! Cool place to kill some time... unfortunately, I kept making the mistake of saying Honda instead of Toyota. Not my fault really, since Toyota has no plant out here in Utsunomiya but Honda does, the latter company is in our conversations more often, that's all.

Back in the mall, I found the level of detail quite amazing. In some parts, the hallways look like an old-style town, especially in the restaurant section. There was also an art-show displaying some interesting sculptures by Tatsuya Ishii throughout the mall.

Deciding we were finally a little hungry, we hopped on the bus back to Aqua City (mall near our hotel) and sat down to a fantastic Mexican meal. For those of you with a hankering for some good Mexican, head on down to Zest Cantina in Aqua City for some great grub. It wasn't at all expensive like Fonda de la Madrugada in Harajuku was, and it was great! To be fair, Fonda is a totally different experience... much higher end. We shared quesadillas and fajitas and were quite satisfied with the meal. Afterwards, we headed back outside in the cold for a little bit to check out the night view of Tokyo Bay. Here, a couple walked into a timed shot I was planning, but it makes for an interesting shot so I guess I don't mind. That's Tokyo tower on the left by the way.

We planned to have a drink at a bar on the top floor of our hotel but after learning of a 1050Yen seating charge and minimum 1000yen drink price, we settled for enjoying the view from the hallway outside the bar. And a great view it was.

Instead of the expensive drink, we went down to the hotel store and indulged in some Haagen-Dazs ice cream and a couple of canned drinks... all for the price of the seating fee upstairs for one person... ridiculous! We then retired to our room for the evening.

This morning, we awoke to a significantly less windy, and subsequently much more hazy, day. From our room, we could see right out the the Landmark Tower in Yokohama, which we went up last Winter.

A big part of the pleasure of staying in a hotel for me out here in Japan is the great breakfast one is usually treated to. Sure enough, the Pacific Meridien does not disappoint. We were admitted into the Sky Lounge (where we opted not to drink the night before) and enjoyed a wonderful buffet style breakfast while overlook the city, and snow covered mount Fuji as well. Like most good things in Tokyo, the breakfast was expensive, but well worth it in my opinion. We also took the opportunity to get some more pictures of the great cityscape below.

I also made a panorama out of some of my shots, I'd say this is my second favourite picture of the weekend.

After checking out of the hotel, we hopped back on the train with the purpose of getting my Vietnamese Visa, which was the secondary purpose of this trip into the big T. Unfortunately, it's not too easy to find the Vietnamese Embassy out here. We ended up getting off in Harajuku and having a taxi find the place for us by using a map... he had no clue where the Embassy itself was, but managed to find the address for us in a very isolated neighbourhood near Yoyogi park. The embassy itself looks like a house with an attached apartment building, which really surprised both Yoshiko and I. I guess we shouldn't have expected something like the Canadian Embassy we visited a couple of months ago... The visa process was quick and painless and after figuring out where we were (and taking a train from a ghost station which isn't on our maps) we made our way to Ebisu, after making a pit stop at Dean and Deluca in Shibuya of course. Neither I nor Yoshiko had been here before, and it seems to be a nice enough area, though highly expensive. Ebisu Garden Palace includes the mandatory shopping areas as well as an office tower filled with foreign companies. Seems like a very nice area to work in, not as dense as some of the other places in Tokyo.

Speaking of the density of Tokyo, I am always in awe of the mass of the city stretching out in every direction. From the top of the office tower, we had a good view of this teeming city.

This is a closeup of Shinjuku, with Yoyogi park in the foreground.

I also spotted this building, and am a bit perplexed as to how those cars got into the roof. Car elevator? I don't see an entrance\exit from any driveway down... odd.

That was pretty much the day. After a nice coffee next to a sleeping gaikokujin salaryman at Excelsior Cafe, we made our way back to the station and hopped a rapid home. Quite a lovely weekend indeed.


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