Thursday, September 13, 2012

From Nashville to Tokyo and back again

The past few weeks have been full of flights, new food, new friends, Asian beer and lots of layovers. After 30 hours of travel, I returned home from Vietnam. My jet lag is pretty significant, but getting to enjoy an evening with my Vance definitely helps! August 27 kicked off my Asia tour, starting in Tokyo, then Taipei, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Vietnam. It was an amazing trip, and in an effort to help me remember where I went and to share with friends and family, I am going to dedicate various postings to my trip. First up, Tokyo!

Nashville to Chicago - one and a half hours. Three hour layover at O'Hare. Chicago to Narita airport - 11 hours. I arrived in Tokyo in the afternoon and took the Friendly Bus Airport Limousine to the Tokyo Hilton. I met up with my new friends Kelly and Christine for dinner. As a side note, I was a little stressed about getting from Narita to my hotel in central Tokyo, but this bus system is so straight forward. Flying into Narita is a pleasure! The staff at the airport and bus terminal are helpful, and they make sure you get on the right bus. For about $30 U.S. dollars, this is the way to travel. 
Kelly (from Pittsburgh) and Christine (from Minneapolis) and I walked around our hotel - located in the Shinjuku business district in Tokyo. Between the jet lag and overwhelming hunger, we ended up back at the Japanese Steak House in our hotel - Musashino.
Scallop, tuna and shrimp with caviar - first Japanese sushi and it did not dissapoint!
Our dinner was at a private hibachi table and consisted of a sushi course, soup, crunchy fish salad (the little buggers still had eyes and all), seaweed salad and then shrimp and Kobe beef hibachi with rice. It was a delicious (and expensive) welcome to Japan. One questionable part of the meal were little pieces of fat that were grilled for quite some time - those didn't go down so well. The next night, we had a group dinner at Oto Oto Restaurant. This multi-course meal is a bit of blur, but I do remember great tempura and even better beer. 
Adjusting to the time made enjoying Tokyo a bit of a challenge, but a group of us did get out to see some sights including Meiji Jingu shrine. The shrine is from the Meji Era (1865 - 1912) under Emperor Meji, a peaceful emperor who promoted friendship with foreign countries and cultural development. Unfortunately, the original shrine was destroyed in fires during during World War II. The reconstruction was completed in in 1958. 
When entering a shrine (in proper dress - "shrine shoulders"), rinse hands and face in the Temizusha (fountain above). I opted to just rinse hands, there are directions as to the proper rinsing procedure. En route to the shrine, there were lovely Japanese structures.

Sake rice wine barrels, given as a gift by sake brewers in Japan. The wine is used for shrine ceremonies and then the decorated barrels are put on display. 
The shrine, located in Meiji forest, is a peaceful and calming place within the chaos of Tokyo. I purchased a plaque to hang on a prayer tree. After the shrine, we headed to Takeshita Street, full of Japanese fashion and food. Definitely some really funky stuff down this little alley.

A few days in Tokyo is not nearly enough, but I really enjoyed this introduction to Asia. We headed to Haneda Airport and took the short flight to Taipei, Taiwan where more adventures (and an old friend) awaited me!
No matter how far you go, you'll most likely have access to Vogue and Starbucks.

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