Tuesday, October 09, 2007

8/8/07 - Tokyo to Kyoto

We got up around 6:30 am and walked over to the Tsujiki Fish Market. It was a madhouse - trucks, scooters, bicycles, carts, and people everywhere! We were surprised that tourists were allowed in the area - it's definitely a working market. Robert's favorite part was the "Mighty Carts," small motorized carts with the engine and gas tank in a cylinder in front with a steering wheel on top. The whole cylinder rotates when the driver turns the wheel. The driver stand up front over the cylinder and behind him is a flat bed to haul things around the market. I liked seeing all of the different types of seafood for sale - fish, shrimp, squid, urchins, scallops, eels, etc.

We were hungry and had read about a good sushi place, Sushi Dai. We found it using the Japanese symbols in the book. It was small with counter service and about 14 seats. There was a line when we arrived, and we waited about 40 minutes to get in. We both order the "Standard" - 7 pieces of nigiri, a roll, miso soup, and rolled egg with green tea. The sushi was served one piece at a time, and the chefs put the sauce and wasabi on the sushi, if it was needed. We had two pieces of tuna, salmon, squid, mackerel, yellowtail, and eel. Robert's favorite was tuna, and mine was the salmon. It was the first time either of us had ever eaten sushi for breakfast. The meal was 4200 yen.

After breakfast, we walked back to our "Superior" room. We were upgraded when we checked in, and the room was still tiny. The most interesting feature was the toilet with the heated seat and bidet. We found those to be pretty common, even in public restrooms. The Japanese seem to really enjoy their high-tech toilets!

We cleaned up, checked out, and went back to Tokyo Station for the Hikari Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. We were able to figure out the system without difficulty. The trains were nice - good air conditioning, comfortable seats, and very clean.

Arriving in Kyoto, we first noticed that the train station was much nicer than any of the ones we had seen in Tokyo - very new with lots of shops and cafes. One that really caught our eyes was a cake shop with cakes decorated with fruit in the most intricate designs.

Our hotel (Hyatt Regency) provided for a free taxi ride to the hotel. All of the taxis we took were nice and clean, with doilies on the sets and uniformed drivers. We were very pleased when we arrived at our hotel. The service was amazing - they wouldn't let us carry our bags, and someone escorted us to our room and showed us all of the features, lights, etc. The people in the service industry don't expect tips, so it was nice to receive such great service knowing that it wasn't just for a tip. Our room was much larger than the one in Tokyo. I was very happy with the bathroom. The shower and tub were in a separate room, and the tub was an extra-deep soaking tub. The toilet was also in a separate room with a sliding door - and lots of controls. You could choose between "regular" and "light" flush.

After settling in, we walked about a block to one of the main sights, Sanjusangendo Hall. The Hall was filled with rows of carved statues - 1001 in total. One of the interesting things was learning about the archery contests held on the porch of the Hall for hundreds of years - the porch stretches almost 400 feet.

Later we took the subway north to central Kyoto and crossed the canal which runs through the city. It has a recreational trail and is lined with restaurants and shops. We tried a restaurant that offered sushi via conveyor belt that was mentioned in our book named Musashi. There was a display outside the restaurant that featured a mini moving conveyor belt. Each plate had different types of sushi and the plates were equally priced (about $1) per plate. Most plates had one to two pieces of sushi or rolls and you could grab what looked good off of the conveyor belt as it passed in front of you. When you were ready for your check, the servers counted the number of plates and gave you your bill. It was $1 sushi and we felt that we got what we paid for, but really had a good time. Another fun part was that at the bar where you sit, there were tea bags and a fountain that produced hot water so that you could make your own tea.

Later that night, we walked around a trendy shopping district nearby and passed a movie theater that had lots of signs for the new Harry Potter movie. We also noticed that clothes with English words on them were popular – although their use of English was usually not proper and often seemed to consist of random words jumbled together.

We passed an arcade with 8 floors. Apparently arcades are very popular in Japan. There was an entire floor with photo booths where you could get all kinds of stickers with your picture on them. We played a couple of games: air hockey with 3 pucks on the table simultaneously and a drum game. The drum game was by far our favorite, especially once we figured it out. The object of the game was to beat on two loud drums to the beat of the music…let’s just say two Americans and a drum game can draw quite a crowd. We had a chance to play several more times before we left Japan, the game always seemed to be well positioned just outside the door of the Arcades to draw people’s attention.

Ice cream and candy stores were everywhere in Japan – apparently the Japanese have a bit of a sweet tooth. We stopped at Haagen Daas and got some ice cream – cookies and cream for Amy and Chardonnay and Peach for me. There was a Circle K about two blocks from the hotel that became a frequent stop for us. We also saw a lot of AM/PMs and several 7-11s. Besides for the convenience stores, Starbucks and McDonalds, there weren’t a lot of American establishments (although there surprisingly was a Quizno’s near our hotel in Tokyo).

Japan - First Day

A new post, finally! Robert and I went on a vacation to Japan in August and wanted to share our adventures.

Day 1 - The Trip Over and Arrival in Tokyo

We left for Japan on 8/6/07, flying from Dallas to Houston, then Houston to Tokyo. The flight from Houston took about 13 1/2 hours - a long time to spend on a plane! We were fortunate to have a whole row to ourselves, which gave us room to stretch out. Each seat had an individual TV screen with movies on demand, TV shows, games, music, and a map with a satellite picture showing where the plane was with stats such as speed, altitude, and outside temperature. For much of the flight, we were at 37-38,000 feet and the outside air temperature was at -60 degrees.

After we landed and went through customs, we got our bags, got cash, visited the info booth for maps, and got our rail passes. Then it was time for our train into Tokyo. We arrived at Tokyo Station, and it was a madhouse - a mass of people walking as fast as they could in every direction possible. After some searching, we found the reservation office to make arrangements for our train to Kyoto the next day. The agents didn't speak English, but Robert came up with a great idea and wrote down the date, train, and time, and the agent was able to figure out what we wanted and give us tickets.

The next hurdle was figuring out the subway system and ticket machines. Using our maps and guidebooks, we were able to get on the right train going the correct direction on our first try! We had a long walk to get out of the next station at the correct entrance for our hotel, the Mercure Ginza. We checked in and ventured out for dinner. The hotel was near a major department store, Matsuya, and we'd read they had several options for dinner. None of the restaurants were very appealing, but we found a market in the basement with lots of options. I choose something like an omelette with shredded vegetables and Robert got a sampler of different noodles and marinated vegetables. It was…different - but not bad.

After we ate, we went for a walk in Ginza, the area around our hotel, trying to stay up as late as possible and get used to the time change. We were surprised at how many people were out walking around. Ginza is like the 5th Avenue of Tokyo, full of high-end stores like Chanel, Mikimoto, Cartier, Bulgari, etc. After exploring, we called it a night and were in bed by 8:30 for a good night's sleep.


  • Most signs were written in Japanese and English
  • The Japanese like to illustrate everything with cartoon characters
  • There are vending machines everywhere
  • McDonald's changes their outdoor signage and menus for breakfast
  • Drivers sit on the right side of cars; cars & people stay to the left of the road/sidewalk
  • The airport baggage carousels have a buffer zone - no people or carts unless you're pulling your bag off the carousel. Very nice.