Thursday, June 2 2016
Meet Pepper. He was in our hotel lobby greeting and interacting with guests. We found Pepper in a popular clothing store several days later (obviously a different Pepper). You can ask him questions, and he can read your expressions and make comments based on what he perceives. One afternoon I caught him doing a sweet dance for a little boy. Here's a short YouTube video I found of Pepper if you'd like to check him out.
We didn't get much sleep our first night (woke at 6 a.m) because we were excited to start our first official day in Tokyo. We had breakfast directly across the street from our hotel at Cafe Velocé, a popular coffeehouse chain here. They're everywhere, like Starbucks, and offer delicious coffees and baked goods and light sandwiches. We discovered this morning bun filled with red bean paste that was very good. It may sound unappetizing to come, but we're no strangers to red bean paste. Since Paul is half-Japanese he's grown up on some of this stuff and thus I have learned to like it too. It was perfect with coffee.
Coffee observation: Much to my surprise, the coffee here and everywhere in Tokyo is excellent! I would've figured lots of tea offerings everywhere rather than coffee. But delightfully not the case. I'm a bit of a coffee snob and absolutely cannot stand "regular" brewed coffee in the States, but here the brewed coffee was strong, smooth and delicious. Quickly, I stopped ordering my usual Americano and stuck with regular coffees most of the time.
For our first day out in any new place, we like to just walk, walk, and walk. We learn our immediate area (within a 5 mile radius), get our bearings, and simply explore. We found this big Shinjuku display between our hotel and the train station. A favorite photo-op for many, since there are great places to tuck your body into.
Shinjuku is a great place to stay because of its location to the city life, the train station, and shopping. We loved all the signage and the buildings and billboards. And check those platform Converse of Jamie's! She ordered those (ironically) from Japan about a month or two before this trip. She fit right into the fashion scene here.
You'll see in many upcoming photos how interesting the city's buildings are here. This is just a typical city street. I had to snap it.
As we strolled around the city, we looked into an opening between buildings and saw Godzilla (hovering over the Deadpool sign). We observed later that he is a popular photo-opportunity to visitors, as you can imagine.
Again, walking along the busy city street, we glanced in between buildings and discovered the entrance to a small shrine called Hanazono Shrine. There are shrines and temples all over Japan, which had me wondering what was the difference between a shrine and a temple. Apparently, there is quite a bit of difference. I found a good explanation here, if you're curious like me.
We stood back in the shade and quietly observed several people entering the shrine. Off to the left there's a washing station where people go to first to clean their hands. Most everyone carries a small hand towel to dry off. Then they walk to the main temple of the shrine, put a coin in a contribution box, ring the bell overhead, clap their hands twice, then bow. This is the time for a "prayer" for "wish" for good fortune. Jamie had read about this before our trip and was explaining it to us. And, of course, she participated as we watched from a distance.
Part of our journey today included trying to locate the place to pick up this Wi-Fi device we reserved months ago online through Global Wi-Fi. It's a pocket wi-fi hot spot, and I can tell you that this was the BEST thing we ever did and I highly recommend it if you're traveling to Japan. Although Wi-Fi access around the city is free, it requires you to sign up for an account, and it's not the same as in the States. We researched this before our trip so we knew that this would be essential for us.
Normally, you can easily pick one up at the airport when you first arrive, however due to our delayed arrival yesterday, the kiosk was already closed. We phoned the company the next morning and found another location in an office building in Shinjuku where we could pick it up instead. As Jamie and I are big social media posters, we couldn't have lived without this device. We had unlimited data during the entire trip for about $5 per day. Well worth it, in my opinion.
On to lunch! We roamed the city and found this wonderful yet tiny noodle shop that quickly became one of our favorites during our vacation. Most restaurants have window displays with wax-figures of the dishes they offer. This was extremely effective and helpful for us foreigners who couldn't read Japanese very well. Once we visually identified what we wanted and took note of the corresponding number, we stepped inside and punched in the number and paid at a small vending machine, which spit out a ticket we then handed to the cook. Seating is limited to about 7 or 8, half of which is standing at a counter. The idea is not to linger and chat. Eat, enjoy and get out. Slurping is encouraged and appreciated, and quite common!
On the street Jamie saw this popsicle vendor, so we had to stop for one. Everything, and I mean everything in Japan is pretty. The food, the packaging, and the shops.
Peach with kiwi. She was clearly happy.
We walked some more and went back to the room to rest. The jetlag was hitting us. Sometimes we'd just need to put our feet up for a short while. Other times, an actual nap. Today Paul and I were too excited to see more so while Jamie napped he and I went for a walk looking around some more.
In the evening, we found a dinner spot where they featured pork in all its forms, and it was quite good. There are many little streets like this one everywhere. Very narrow and colorfully lit up. We just loved these!
Eventually we returned to the busier part of the city where Jamie and I discovered a great clothing store, similar to Old Navy with an Asian flare, called Uniqlo and decided to do a little shopping. I did a quick Google search just now to see where their other locations are and discovered a Uniqlo is opening here in Orlando at Disney Springs this Friday, July 15th! OMG!! Also you can find them in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. (Why do I get the feeling Jamie and I will be making a jaunt to Orlando this weekend?)
We were quite tired by this time, so it was back to the room for a glass of wine, relaxation and then sleep.
Stay tuned for more Tokyo adventures this week. Thanks for visiting, and thanks to those who left nice comments about our adventures last week. I love sharing my experience with you and knowing you also enjoy it makes me so happy.