22 June 2012

Japan Day 8: Akasaka & last minute shopping!

Our last day in Japan was a whirlwind of sightseeing and shopping.  We definitely didn't get to do everything we wanted to do, but we did squeeze a lot into our short trip!

On our last day, our flight took off in the late afternoon, so we had the entire morning to fill.  We had already made arrangements with the hotel to check out an hour late; at 12noon.  We'd had to ask two different people, and they didn't really want to let us, but allowed it anyway.  We also made arrangements to take the Airport Limousine Bus (the same one we took getting to Dizunee Randuruu) back to the airport ($75 for the two of us).  The bus made pickups just about every hour, so we chose the 13:45 pickup.

We were both up super early again.  Perhaps because we knew we didn't have a full day, but wanted to do a full day's worth of visiting, perhaps because we weren't ever really on Japan time.  Either way, we were ready to head out the door by 7am.  All the bags were packed and we had even stowed our travel clothes in our carry-on bags.  We even had a quick breakfast of goodies we'd picked up at OMO Kinokuniya inside the Omote-sando eki last night: onigiri for G and inarizushi for T.

A restaurant on the way to the shrine.  Our online research told us that restaurants here cater the expense account crowd and are therefore very luxurious and expensive.  This morning, we did see some evidence of late night drunkeness, but figured we didn't need a photo and neither did you want to see.
Looks almost like something from the States right?  I wonder if we could use the Citibank branches to get money if we had Citibank accounts in the States?
We decided that we ought to see the local Akasaka shrine which is apparently the only sight to be seen in Akasaka.  Just a few blocks from our hotel, the Hie Jinja shrine had just had its festival.  It actually ended on the 16th, our 7th day in Japan, and we knew about it before coming to Japan, but we wanted to see other things more than the Sanno Matsuri.  Of course we didn't want Ōyamakui-no-kami, the great mountain god of business and all other things, to be upset with us for shirking his festival.  So we decided to pay him a visit early in the morning on Sunday to prove that we cared about him at least enough to get up early to see him.  (Shh... he doesn't have to know that we were up mostly because of being in the wrong time zone.)
Monks (? maybe they were just city workers?) sweeping the sidewalks with Harry Potter style stick brooms.

We started to see lots of people in traditional Japanese dress.

The many torii leading up to the shrine.
Because we were there so early, we got to see the monks cleaning the shrine area as well as preparations for the morning's service.  Trying not to look too much like tourists, we paid our respects by clanging the noise making device and throwing money into the box.  We said our "dozo youroshkus" (nice to meet you/please be kind to me) and proceeded to surreptitiously take photos (and I took a video too).  So maybe we didn't succeed in not looking like tourists, but at least maybe Ōyamakui-no-kami will be pleased that we were fascinated by his shrine.  It was really very beautiful and parts of it (you can see in the video) were full of offerings made to him.

Here's the video.  Remember, I was trying to be kind of stealthy...

After seeing the shrine, we had decided to do some last minute shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku.  Being on 2 different train lines and also needing to be able to check out of our hoteru at noon, we had a very tight schedule.  Fortunately, the trains in Japan are extremely precise in timing.  When the internet says you will arrive at 9:37am, you will absolutely arrive at 9:37am.  Unless you arrive at 9:36am, and then by the time you step onto the platform, it will be 9:37am.  Astonishing.  Public transport that is reliable, clean, functional and also quiet!

At 9:30am, we were inside the Akasaka-mitsuke eki, waiting for our train to Shibuya.  By the time we walked to our destination in Shibuya, Loft, it was 9:45am.  We had seen a one floor version of Loft in Asakusa, (where we bought our first batch of stationery stuff) and were intrigued by the multi-level one in Shibuya.  They didn't open until 10:00am, so we walked across the street to get some more breakfast at a little convenience store.  More onigiri for both of us:

I really liked this panda salt shaker...
Once Loft opened, we dashed in and ran past all the employees standing at the ends of each row bowing and wishing us a good morning.  We headed straight for the stationery section which was actually the first two entire floors.  I agonized over getting this Washi tape labeller (again; we'd seen it in every stationery section of every store...) and in the end, just settled on a photo and future internet research to see if any of the materials are available in the States.
We also checked out the kitchen goods/bento accessories.  We ended up buying the egg steamer here along with a tamago maker for T's brother (so it wouldn't feel like we were just blowing money on stuff for ourselves because we were leaving...).  I spent valuable minutes pondering whether or not I needed a super kawaii bear lunch box set:

Again, I passed.  But I did find a sale section (shelf.  half shelf.) of bento supplies and bought a panda onigiri box and two sectioned, leak proof bento box.

We ran through the rest of the store, trying to soak up all of the Japanese awesomeness, including this bank of bubble machines in the "party goods" area where we bought our MojiMoji Bear game (see yesterday's set on Flickr for photos).
By 11:00am, we wee cutting it close with getting back to the hoteru.  Our main reason for wanting to go back was to shower because today it was super hot!  It was in the high 80s and mostly sunny for the first time!  By Japanese metro magic, we were in our room, T showering and me packing away our last omiyage at 11:20am.  We got down to the front desk with 20 minutes to spare and gave them our luggage for safekeeping while we made one more dash to Harajuku.

Our main goal in Harajuku was Fancy Pocket.  The store where I'd been interviewed a couple days ago was said to be packed with teenage girls on the weekends.  Packed it was.
T quickly got in line while I perused the shelves for tiny goodies and stickers.  Pink poop goodies in hand, we headed down the street into a 390yen shop.  It had all kinds of fun stuff, but we didn't have much time, so we picked a few things and went back out onto Takeshita street which was quite busy in general.

We passed this interesting person, not sure what his deal was, but many people were photographing him:
We stopped in a little Korean shop, where the owner spoke to us in English (with an accent), but we had gotten so used to telling people (in Japanese) that we didn't speak Japanese, that we said it anyway.  He was confused at first and then we all got it at the same time and laughed about it.  He had us try some lotions and I bought a bell pepper shaped one, not having been able to find my cute fruits lotions I thought would be everywhere.  Our last stop was a strange Tamagotchi store.  They had some themed omiyage stuff, but very few of the actual Tamagotchi devices.  The second floor had a handful of bubble dispensing machines, but that was it.  We also happened upon a swimming pool on the 4th floor of the same building.  Swimming pool?  In a Tamagotchi store?  On the 4th floor?  We didn't know what was going on, but we were out of time anyway.

We arrived back at the hoteru with plenty of time to check in for the Airport Limousine bus.  The trip to the airport was like a drive-by recap of our trip because we were driving back out past Dizunee Randuruu and got to see the hoterus there and the castle also.  At Narita Airport, I recognized the GIANT Star Alliance check in area from my last trip, when we were escaping a typhoon.
We were flying home business class, so we headed for the Air Canada area only to find that there was only Executive First.  When we showed our confirmation information to one of the many employees, she showed us right through to the Executive First desk and got us checked in!  We were afraid our larger suitcase would be overweight, but she assured us we were safe at 22kg (48.5lbs!).  ICN:  Not for Japan specifically, but in our recent international travel, we have noticed that only the American airlines charge for baggage and other such nonsense.  Air Canada even serves beer and wine freely on board!

Bags checked, we headed for security and were glad to see that the Japanese do not require you to remove your shoes (neither of us was wearing socks; they were in our carry on bags, but not donned yet).  If you are randomly selected for a quite thorough pat down (including inside waist/bra bands!), they provide you leather slippers to wear during the experience.  Too bad we weren't picked.

When we checked in, the lady told us we could use the ANA First Class Lounge, so that's where we were headed.  Not having had lunch, we were hoping for some lunch-type options.  We were overjoyed to find not only a selection of sushi (which we hadn't had any of on the whole trip!), tea sandwiches, snacks and drinks but also a NOODLE BAR!  You could just walk up and order one of six types of noodle soup and presto! less than five minutes later, you were presented with a steaming bowl of deliciousness.  We tried everything.  They even had little bento style sauce containers of shoyu (soy sauce) for the sushi.  Some may have come home with us.  Also a couple special soup spoons may have stowed away.  We can't be responsible for runaway food items.
Food area in ANA Lounge, Narita Airport, gate 42.
Udon!  Oishii!!!!
Sushi selection, tea sandwiches and some dehydrated fruits dipped in chocolate!
When we finally had eaten enough, we found it was already about time to board.  We made a quick pass of the gate area duty free shops looking for a colouring book for me (I hadn't really brought much interesting to do on the plane and T insisted that the best thing to prevent jet lag would be to stay up the whole flight back...).  No luck with the colouring book, but I did find a cute Japanese guide book for Japanese traveling to the US.  I figure I can use it backwards.  It's way more colourful than anything Americans would produce.

Onto the plane... yay Executive First Class!
Each of us got a little pod with magic chair that could flatten out into a bed:
Individual pods
What?! It's actually comfortable to lie down?!
For future reference, rather than getting seats in line with each other, it would have been better to get seats in the same row.  Between the two seats in the middle of the plane were screens that could be raised or lowered depending on whether or not you wanted to chat with your neighbour.  Instead, every time I wanted to talk to T, I had to hit him with the menu.  He's probably glad I slept most of the time.

Our meals in First Class were decidedly worse than the ones we'd had in Coach.  We did have the option of eating whenever we liked and a variety at that.  But for dinner, we both had the Japanese meal which was full of the weirdest things we'd seen the entire trip.  Every item seemed to be made of a different, very fishy kind fish...

Rice, green beans, carrots, a mushroom and unknown other items made of fish?
Cheese plate before ice cream for dessert (neither of us had room for ice cream).
Anyway, it was a good thing we'd gorged ourselves in the lounge.  We were offered drinks every time a stewardess saw we were conscious (T was awake the whole time, so he also got a sandwich).  This required frequent trips to the bathroom, but fortunately, I'd brought along the hoteru slippers which made this all even more cushy.  Breakfast was no better than dinner; some kind of southwestern inspired rice and lentils concoction:
By then, we were 45 minutes from Toronto, so we were preparing to land anyway.  They didn't even make us put our seats alllll the way up.  It was ok to lounge a little.  :)

In Canada, we encountered our first returning taste of America/Americans at customs.  The officer was a typical "come on, come on, I do this every day, why don't you know what is going on?" type.  Ah, we were missing Japan already.

Until next time, Nihon, kiyo tsukete!

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