Thursday, April 16, 2009

OAT Japan, Saturday, March 21, 2009:

Day in Tokyo

Breakfast at the Mets; Welcome Briefing:

The Mets Shibuya offered a buffet breakfast consisting of both Western and Japanese food. We were to learn that all the accommodations offered by OAT provided buffet-style breakfast that appealed to both Western and Japanese tastes. The hotels were typically 3-star mid-priced hostelries that appealed to business travelers as well as travel groups.

Machiko led a welcome briefing for the eight participants who arrived after the Tokyo pre-extension trip:
Michiko (a native of Kyoto) who lives in Denver, CO; John and Sally also from Denver; Irina from Alpharetta, GA; Evelyn from Scotch Plains, NJ; Jean from Pittsburgh, PA; and Doug and Marie from San Diego.

Later on, the pre-extension participants joined us:
Ray and Virgie from Danville, CA; Tom and Marilyn from San Ramon, CA and “E.C” and Jana from Young Harris, GA.

City Tour of Tokyo:

We then embarked on a half-day tour of Tokyo. First up was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Complex, located in the Ward of Shinjuku. Since this was Saturday and the National Vernal Equinox holiday, this was a good day for tourists to visit the 48th-story enclosed observation deck in the City Hall tower. The cloudless day afforded us a distant view of 12, 388-foot Mt. Fuji, the highest point in Japan.

Next was the
Asakusa Kannon Temple complex, also known as Sensoji, containing the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Highlights included the impressive Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate” with its giant lantern guarding the entrance to the complex. We then jostled our way along the crowded Nakamise shopping arcade with its silk cherry blossom branches and tourist-oriented shops to the main gate, Hozomon, famous for a hanging giant straw waraji sandal. The centerpiece in the complex was Kannondo (Kannon), the main temple building. Another landmark was Gojunoto, a five-story pagoda that reputedly contains some ashes from the Buddha, according to Wikitravel.

We had a good time people-watching here as can be seen from the photos.

Another highlight this morning was a brief visit to the Imperial Palace Plaza, site of the Emperor’s residence. Since the Palace was not open to the public, we walked around the moat and were able to photograph the exterior of the main building and grounds.

Note the sculpted trees in the public park located across the street from the Palace.

Our final stop on the tour was the Ginza Shopping District, the most prestigious commercial district in Tokyo. The high end Mitsukoshi Department Store served as our lunch headquarters. Since this meal was on our own, we found inexpensive bento food in the department store basement, and took it up to the rooftop, joining the group for an outdoor snack. Right across the street was the Wako Department Store with its iconic clock tower, rebuilt in 1932 and miraculously surviving the Allied bombing campaign.

We were given time to stroll Chuo Dori, Ginza's major shopping street, closed to vehicular traffic on weekends, then we gathered on the bus for the ride back to the Mets Shibuya. We spent some free time exploring the Shibuya Station commercial district some more, then rested up for dinner.

OAT hosted a welcome dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant, where sake flowed freely. The most unusual aspect of this dinner was the grilled meats and vegetables cooked on a slab of lava. This food preparation style is called ishi-yaki or hot stone cooking. The waiter brought the food on the heated stone to our table; it was up to us to cook it to our taste.

After this full but enjoyable and informative day, it was time to turn in.

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