Summer 2008 Roundup

Yep, it’s been a while. In this post, we round up events from the summer and fall of 2008. Lots of pictures!

So the summer has come and gone, and boy was it a hot one in Tokyo. Now winter’s upon us, and it’s still pretty warm. Quite unseasonably warm, the locals say.

Let’s have a look at what’s happened since June, shall we?

In July we checked out Kawagoe, a little town north of Tokyo. We began with a visit to an American-style diner that served great burgers. Unfortunately, these burgers made me miss two days of work. But they were delicious.

In the evening we went to the BayStars/Giants game at the Tokyo dome. This was actually our first baseball game in Japan, and our first exposure to the baseball “spirit” the fans show game in, game out.

Pictures from Kawagoe and the Giants game are online.

A couple weekends later we headed to Yokohama for one of the first fireworks displays of the season. In Japan, fireworks displays are held regularly throughout the summer, and lots of people come out to watch. Everyone brings a blanket or tarp and picnic food and beer. Many are dressed in the traditional yukata. The fireworks are great too, lasting about an hour. It was probably an ad for the summertime fireworks that Shux saw in late 2007 that led us to Yokohama for New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Pictures from the fireworks display are also online.

August came and went, and in September we took some time off work and headed west to check out western Honshu. We stopped by Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Hiroshima and Miyajima island. Along the way we ate excellent food, saw tons of cool temples, old Japan in Kyoto, and more Japanese baseball. Great time.

Pictures from the trip are — you guessed it — online.

After that we’ve just been working and otherwise spending time exploring Tokyo and area. One Sunday we headed to Yoyogi Park to hang with the rockabillies. We met up with Yuki, Shux’s friend from long ago. We also caught the last regular season game the Yakult Swallows played, after which three guys retired in a teary ceremony.

We had plans to do paragliding close to Mount Fuji. The rain looked threatening, but we still started our trip early on to make it to the paragliding place on time for our flights. On the way, we received a call that, due to the heavy rain at the site, all flights were off. Our thirst for adventure was not to be thwarted, though, as we changed our plans to drive down the Izu Peninsula to Shimoda instead. It was a long drive, and after eating some of the freshest sushi ever we didn’t get much time to visit the town, but it turned out to be a fun trip nonetheless.

We also visited Mount Takao, not too far from Tokyo. The summit became very popular in the last year or so after it was mentioned in the Michelin guide for some reason. From the summit, which is easy to get to, we were treated with a nice vew of Mount Fuji:

Mt. Fuji from Mt. Takao

Mt. Fuji from Mt. Takao

When Shux’s coworker was in Tokyo for a business trip, we went to Hakone for a day. It was a long weekend, and a hugely popular destination for many Tokyoites. We spent lots of time waiting in line for the bus, for the train, for the cablecar, and just barely caught our train back into the city. It was all worth it, though, for some nice sunset views:

Sunset in Hakone

Sunset in Hakone with Mt. Fuji

Sunset in Hakone with Mt. Fuji

Since then we’ve been doing shopping, getting ready for Christmas in Canada. Can’t wait!

Busy Few Weeks

In the past few weeks, Mike:
-did lots of sakura watching
-visited many touristy places in Tokyo
-left the city for a couple day trips
-and more!

…plus, there are lots of new pictures!

Yes, it has been. Last you heard from me the sakura had just bloomed and the city was turning pink and the family was on their way to visit. Today we’ll just gloss over the highlights and I’ll point you to some pictures I recently uploaded.

The day before our visitors arrived, Shux and I went for a walk to admire the cherry blossoms. We ended up at the Yasukuni Shrine. Pictures here.

Once the family was here, we did a bunch of sightseeing: the Meiji Shrine, sakura at Kitanomaru Park, Asakusa, Ueno, Yokohama, Hakone and more. Lots of shopping, too! Pictures here.

One of the places we missed was Odaiba. Neither Shux nor I had been there before, and we didn’t realize how interesting it’d be for visitors. We checked it out a few days after our guests left; pictures here.

Finally, tomorrow is Shux’s birthday. In honor of this wonderful event in our calendar, I arranged for a surprise weekend at Tokyo Disneyland. I booked a hotel room for Friday night and told Shux we’d go out for dinner. We met at her office when she was done with work, and headed to “a good seafood restaurant I read about.” After walking a few minutes to our hotel “looking for the restaurant,” Shux finally caught on when I started checking in at the front desk.

The next morning we were up early to make the most of Tokyo Disneyland. We hit up Space Mountain first thing, and also enjoyed a bunch of other rides and lots of popcorn (which we waited a long time for) and other junk food. Tokyo Disneyland is smaller than the one in Anaheim, but it was pretty fun nonetheless. Many rides were identical, like Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion. The latter was entirely in Japanese though, which probably contributed to our lack of fear. It was too cold for Splash Mountain. Pictures here.

Perhaps in the future I will write more details about the past few weeks… but somehow that’s doubtful 😀

Helpful People

How can you get lost, even with a map and directions? Don’t ask… Then, we embark on a quest for chestnuts. With a little help from complete strangers.

This past weekend, Shux and I headed to the Good Honest Grub in Ebisu for brunch. We couldn’t find the restaurant we set out for, so Shux stepped into a Tully’s for directions. One of the workers asked what the place is called, then went into a back room, looked it up, printed the map from the website, came outside with us to point us in the directions we should head. Very nice!

Unfortunately, we still didn’t manage to find it*… but we came across a different place, Fummy’s Grill, and ate there. I had one of the best eggs benedict, ever. They were delicious. And they came with the best potato wedges, too, they were perfect. Mmm…

* Shux tells me that apparently the Ebisu location has been closed …for about 3 years!

After brunch we checked out an English used bookstore, and picked up a couple of Japanese food cookbooks. While we’re living here, might as well try cooking some local fare, when the ingredients are fresh and readily available at any grocery store!

Chestnuts

So on the way back we stopped to pick up some things for dinner. We’re standing in an aisle, trying to figure out which dashi powder to buy — the one in the package looks white, the one in the book looks yellowish, what about this pasty looking stuff? After a while we just picked two of them, figuring at least one should be what we’re looking for.

We got all our ingredients except for chestnuts. As the lady at the cash register is ringing our items through, Shux opens the cookbook and points to a picture saying “Chestnut?” The lady looks and looks, shakes her head… calls one of her co-workers, he comes to take a look… another customer leans over, the lady from the neighboring cash register also looks, and all of a sudden we have a small crowd looking at this chestnut picture. “Chestnut-to?”

We didn’t find any chestnuts at that store, despite the many helpful sets of eyes. We got home, searched the net for more details on what these ingredients really were, then hit another grocery store to try our luck. No fresh chestnuts there either, but there were some in the snack aisle, ready to eat. These would do just fine…

Welcome to 2008

We welcome 2008 in Yokohama, pay our respects in Kamakura, and enjoy fried bananas with curry in Ueno. With pictures!

The holidays came and went. Japan has public holidays December 31 through January 2, so I enjoyed a nice and relaxing break from work.

I wanted to see fireworks on New Year’s Eve. From what we read in our Japan guidebooks, the new year is celebrated at the temples, where bells are rung 108 times at midnight. But somewhere Shux found an advertisement for a 1300 firework show lasting from 11:30pm-12:05am on New Year’s Eve, held at Cosmo World in Yokohama. They would be launched with the ferris wheel as a backdrop. We decided to go.

So on December 31, we jumped on the train early in the morning to maximize the sightseeing in Yokohama. It was a nice day, but very chilly in the persistent wind. We took some pictures, did some shopping and caught I Am Legend. The movie cost too much.

Then we parked our butts on a bench in front of a mall so we could have a nice view of the ferris wheel. Anticipating huge crowds for such a spectacular display we grabbed our spot early. After a long wait in the cold, 11:30 finally came… and went. No fireworks. Then 11:45, still nothing. Finally, at midnight the fireworks started. Thinking they would be grand and last for 30 minutes, I didn’t take pictures right away, waiting for the big finale. It came way too soon, at 12:04. What a let down.

Cosmo World ferris wheel

On January 2 we headed to Kamakura to visit the temples. We lined up with everyone else to see the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It took a while. Afterwards we walked the town, checking out the open stores and trying some street food. Then we headed to the Zeniarai Benten Shrine where we washed some money. Set in a cave, this Shrine has a cool atmosphere. Check out our Kamakura photos.

Towards the end of our break we headed to Ueno to walk around and check out bike town. The highlight here was putting on bibs to eat curry noodles with fried bananas — a surprisingly delicious combination. Yum!

Cosmo World ferris wheel

Harro from Japan

Mike’s first (and overdue) report from Japan…

Long time no post.

Japan is awesome. Things are finally settling down now that we’ve moved into our long-term place last weekend. Yesterday our couch was moved into our living room.

First impressions in point form:

  • everybody drives a Toyota
  • well, not everybody, I see lots of left-hand drive cars from overseas, interesting in a place with left-hand side traffic
  • other cool imports: Chevy El Camino, 10th generation Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, souped up Chevy minivans & campervans
  • mobile phones all look the same, quite disappointing
  • heated toilet seats rock
  • they have Wendy’s
  • I ate fugu and survived