Friday, 31 December 2010

Boat trip, a ndwalk around Asakusa

New Years Eve, and we've decided we need to split the day so we can fit in a nap!  Fatigue is definately starting to hit us big time...

Up, out, and took the boat trip from Tokyo Bay to Asakusa (again) - this time in daylight.  Beautiful sunshine, and just sat aboard, taking things easy - but not for long.  The views were astounding - never seen so many people do so much washing!!  News Years Eve seems to be the day when everyone traditionally cleans, and prepares to have the old year washed out, and the New Year blessed in.

Arrived in Asakusa and took a nice long walk around the area (for approx. 5 hours!).  The Asahi Beer buildings are amazing - not sure what the gold blobby shaped motif is meant to represent though.  Found the Drum Museum - same old story - CLOSED!  Then found another cinema - only Harry Potter showing within the next hour and half - far too long to wait around.  You'd think with the amount of people in the area, they'd be offering slightly more choice that just three films (one of which we'd already seen).  Ended up back in Kitchen Town area, so started to make our way back out again towards a metro.

Having walked as much as our feet would permit; with raw heels we made our way back to the hotel for an afternoon nap and to prepare ourselves for the night ahead.  People were already starting to mass in the Shibuya and Roppongi areas, so we can only imagine what absolute madness it's gonna be later tonight!

Daytime visit to Kitchen Town and an Evening walk around Roppongi

30th December:  Yep... you read the heading correctly - Kitchen Town!  A whole block in Kappabashi dedicated to kitchenware and cooking utensils from the smallest of chopstick holders to full on industrial gas cookers, rice boilers, etc.  A totally inspiring array, some of the items for sale I wouldn't even know what to do with - but it makes Lakeland seem rather dull in comparison!  (On the other side of the block - it seemed to be an area dedicated to the sale of indoor shrines).

Wooden spoon selection

Colourful, shapely tea pots

Cooking on gas

Contemplative gardens

Frog man - wasn't an English translation - not sure what he had to do with this area, but was glitzy and needed to be captured on film!

The 'bug' building - don't think I'd like to live here particularly; is about as glamorous as saying we lived nextdoor to a Crem!

Community bus - drive in circular loops around the pre-schools, doctors, dentists, and hospitals.

And then come the evening shots of Roppongi; the lights and attractive shop fronts make it a wonderful place for exciting the eye (above a wedding dress).  We were actually looking for the cinema - we found it, but at 8.00pm, an hour too early for any of the start times - nevermind, a nice meal (posh burger and chips) was had in the Hillside complex instead.

Entrance to a wedding shop

Full shot of the wedding shop

An eatery with a completely plastic wrap frontage!

Part of the 'City Lights Celebration'

A rather interesting sculpture covered in fairy lights.  Then off home as the temperature is starting to drop here in Tokyo (I'm even having to sport my Micky Mouse hat just to keep the chill of my ears - embarrassing for Colin or wot!).

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Hair cut (success) and the B-flat Jazz Club

Well - that was certainly an experience.  Whilst waiting at the hairdressers for my allotted time, I was handed a couple of magazines to look at - not of hair styles, but craft projects.

My turn came...... neither of us could speak a word of the others language, so the hairdresser very kindly got a piece of paper and pencil, and started to sketch (very basically) a proposed cut; and to be honest - who was I to argue - she's the professional stylist after all!!

Sat in the chair, out came the scissors and off came the hair.....

They are wonderfully meticulous at checking the length is equal all around even taking a razor (scary) to my neck (using a very nicely scented cream) then, once the cut was complete, it was shampoo time.  Leaned back into a sink, a flannel cover placed over my face to prevent any splashing, and a hot flannel placed under my neck to stop a chill from the basin - very nice too.  The drying experience was similar to an English one, except I couldn't help out with style advice ie where fringe parts, etc.

All in all - after the initial fear settled, a very calming and relaxing experience.

Hair cut and styled just in time to get back, change and off to the Jazz Club.

Hopped off the metro and wandered around until we found the club; not as easy as it may sound - the first place we thought was it turned out to be a seedly looking little basement eatery.

Found the right door, entered, and had one of the warmest welcomes experienced so far....  The manager greeted us with an "Aaahhh Colin Hall san" (obviously, being the only foreign guests on the reservation list we were quite easy to spot).  He explained to us we had a token for the bar to hand in for a drink, and that a buffet was laid and we just helped ourselves.

We were shown to our seats - a fantastic view straight over to the stage area.

Went to get some food, a wonderful array of meats, rice, potatoes, vegetables and pizzas... and collected our drinks.  Settled in and started to watch the room fill.  A really atmospheric basement club - the typical smoke filled, murmuring you would expect.

Time was getting close to the music starting - a "Battle of the Four Tenors" - a mix of four different well known Japanese tenor saxophone players.  Visited bar to get a second drink - also free - it's a drink and eat all you can all night ticket - didn't know that (explains why the tickets cost approx £80 each though)!!  Pity we can't take advantage - still a little raw after the night before.  Col was on the orange juice, and I was on the wine (but not to excess).  A particularly original touch which should be especially mentioned is the table set up in front of the bar next to the buffet area, with bottles of whisky, a jug of water and a container of ice - basically help yourself - the Japanese are really mad about their whisky!

The music starts up.... the elder of the four giving a commentary before each song in his gruff, low, husky drone... quite mesmerising.

What can I say - the music was absolutely fantastic - well on par with anything we have seen live to date, Ronnie Scotts would have been proud.  A really good mix of smoothe playing, a 'Phil Jupitus' look-alike drummer, a very talented pianist, and a base player with incredible talent.  Throughout the evening there were three very different syles of female vocalists also joined them.

As the music played, the free drinks flowed, and the food was eaten, the local visitors began to loosen up and we suddenly found ourselves to be a great attraction and curiosity.  One of the regular members introduced us to the musicians during the break, and brought one of the singers over to meet us.  We chatted with many of the guests (sort of), and found them to be a really fun group - like naughty children being caught doing something they shouldn't..  In fact at one point all those seated near us grouped up around and said we needed a photo as a reminder.... Don't think I'd forget them in a hurry!

Second half began... people sort of settled back down.... and still we we were approached for further chats... quite difficult to have a conversation over the music, but we did our best.  Conversations included subjects such as a trip to Wales where the lady had to share an open shower in a B&B - absolutely horrific to her, and another a visit to London where it was so cold they had to walk around wrapped in two blankets - we did try to explain that things have inproved since 1988!

It was a really enjoyable night - at the end as the applauds were enthusiastically made, we found ourselves being recipients of an applause also - not sure why? - a little embarrassing.

Gave our polite thanks to all our new friends on the way out, shkaing hands, bowing, and repeatedly saying thanks.  What a night - couldn't fault it - would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Lazy Morning stroll around La Qua, Hair Cut booked at 4.00pm

Woke up feeling remarkably OK considering the evening before!  Need to do some more laundry - done more washing here than if we were at home!!!!!  Forget how smoky clothes get when people smoke in bars.  Once the driers were loaded (takes between 2-3 hours for about 6 items of clothing to dry), we took a stroll around La Qua in daylight - just taking in the atmosphere; lots of excited children queue-ing to see the Power Rangers show, and the bustle of teenagers waiting for the amusement rides to start up.

Made our way back to the hotel to finish up the washing, and booked me in at the hairdressers next door for a hair cut at 4.00pm!!  The hairdresser doesn't speak a word of English, and I've no Japanese - not a clue what sort of cut I'll be getting - nothing too extreme I hope as we're off out to the B-flat jazz club this evening! Will keep you posted as to how it goes....

Hibiya Park, the National Sword Museum, and back to the British Pub for a few too many!!

28th December:  Following on from yesterdays lack of museums, our plan for the day was laid out.

Off we went per the norm.... metro day ticket.....  stopped off for a nice leisurely walk around Hibiya Park.  A massive expanse of what, as a tourist, I would expect a Japanese park to look like.  An absolute delight.  Exquisitely shaped trees growing along the edge of rippling water sides, small wooden sheltering areas, fountains, amusing topiary, an area designated as a western park containing blooming lavenders, roses, pansies, and not forgetting the frilly cabbages?

Fountain at Hibiya Park entrance made of birds in flight

One of the many sun-bathing cats

Fish pond

An eery looking bear made of grasses and wire

We moved on from the park, having taken in the sunshine and watched the world rush by, and decided to head firstly for the Japan Sword shop (a famous antique shop selling both old and new swords) followed by a trip to the Sword Museum.  Needless to say, having found the block where the sword shop should be, we walked around several times - but it wasn't there..... seems to be a theme here!  However, we did find this slightly strange healthcare shop - definately my idea of health - Mmmmmmm Kit Kat!!  The cure all for everybody.

Once again giving up, we set out for the Sword Museum.  Just a metro ride and a two and half hour stroll to locate it (we did almost give up).  You can imagine our annoyance when, having actually found something successfully - the effin' thing was shut!!!!!  Who wants to see a sword anyway?  Slightly frustrated to say the least. 

Sword Museum - Closed Mondays, Public Holidays, and any day when a tourist fancies visiting!!!  What a disaster - all that leg work for no return:  what can take the edge off - a good drinking frenzy... off to the British Pub!

3 bottles of wine (actually 4 but took one home), four cocktails (first two off the menu above) plus a pint of kaluah with milk and some weird 3-colour concoction, fish n chips, a pizza (that well known flavour combination of salmon and mash potato), and some good company - met some Swedish people who were chatty; had a blast, made some noise, Col sang some Stray Cats strut (not too loudly though), and staggered home via the muchies corner of the local 7-11.  Hmmm, think we feel mega hangover coming on - hand us the Aspirin!  Bed by 9.30pm!  ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, 27 December 2010

Meiji Jingu and Ueno Park [but a row-boat ride this time]; Should have included museums, but didn't - not our fault!!

Off and out early this morning with all good intention of visiting the Meiji Jingu shrine and some museums.

Arrived at the Meiji Jingu [shinto] shrine.  A beautiful area of nature covering approx 700,000m2 (inner precinct), gardens, and a forest of 170,000 trees numbering around 245 species, together with several Torii (Shrine gates).  We wandered around the peaceful grounds, paid our respect at the Temizuya (font) by way of the hand and mouth cleansing, then entered the shrine area.  This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken, and was established on 1 November 1920, following their deaths in 1912 and 1914 respectively.

Once we had taken in all the atmosphere of this harmonious wonder, we set off in search of the Bonsai Museum; walked around a block of buildings where it was rumoured to be (9th floor somewhere) a couple of times but to no avail.  So we gave up.  Did come across a 7-Eleven Store though, so we could get some more cash.

Decided to try option 2 - the National Photography Museum.  Once again - walked around the block without success.  Not sure what we're missing by way of signage, but there's absolutely nothing obvious to signal where these places are.... I think the Tourist Info Board are missing a trick!

Once again with aching feet, having trogged for no reason, we made our way to Ueno Park - this time to take a row boat out on the lake (it meant we weren't standing).  What a luxury just bobbing around in the sunshine, taking in the scenery.

Left the boating lake and decided to try the more established museums/galleries situated around the park - still no luck - they all seem to be closed on Monday!  Not sure if this is just a Monday thing, or whether today was some sort of holiday - we'll never know.

Gave up on the idea of a museum visit at this point and made our way to the Ameyoko street market between Ueno and Okachimachi.  It was mayhem - a loud, lively, enthusiastic and animated mix of sellers offering everything from fresh and dried fish (definately the most popular area of the market by far) to stereos, leather goods, etc.

Having had our fill of eye-popping raucousness, we made our way around the back streets of the railway line to find somewhere to eat.  Came across a truly authentic Japanese restaurant; had to take the waiter to the door and point at a picture of the food we wanted to order as no English translations were available; also ordered two glasses of Sake and were promptly served with two cups of hot green tea - oh well....
The food was served on a tray and consisted of a bowl of rice, a bowl of chicken broth, a plate of chicken with dressed salad (I had thought I was ordering sticky bbq pork?), and a small side dish containing two slices of a vegetable we didn't recognise - the colour of swede, about the size of a fat carrot, but nobbly in shape - any clues?  It was a delicious meal - eaten with chopsticks, admittedly Col used his finger to try and push some rice on only to find it stuck to him - they don't call it sticky rice for nothing!!  Total cost 1,050 yen - a real bargain!!  Got up to leave, I explained to Col how to say 'delicious', and when he used it we were given a totally blank, confused look - obviously a mispronunciation - OOoooops!  And to top it off, having paid, we left with me giving a cheery 'Konichiwa' (Hello!!).  Think we're tired!!!  Concentration is definately waning.

Back to hotel via the cake shop for an early night... need time for feet and legs to repair themselves.

Probably not one of our more successful days out!  Better luck tomorrow.