Archive | October, 2013


14 Oct

(This post is way overdue..but here goes)

Konnichiwa! Leaving Manila was pretty upsetting and sad. I made great friends and had a fabulous time exploring the culture and living like an expat. My mom even made the journey, and I had very little time to show her around metro Manila and no time to travel to some of the other Philippine islands. I scheduled us to take the same flights back to the US and therefore we would be flying back to JFK via Narita, Japan. Neither of us had been to Japan before, and the Yen is such that its no longer as outrageously expensive as its been in the past, so we opted for a three day stopover in Tokyo. Fortunately, I have amassed a large number of Marriott points which allowed me to book us into the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. De-planing in Narita was easy, but traveling from Narita to downtown Tokyo was almost a 2 hour bus ride on the “friendly” Airport express. The whole bus experience was extremely efficient. They tagged all of our checked luggage and gave us the ticket stubs. They dropped us off at the hotel entrance and matched the stubs to the bag tags. The Ritz reception is located on the 45th floor and our room was on floor 51. The one luxurious / slightly unsettling thing about hotel check-in in Asia, is they typically show you to your room and explain all the amenities. I say unsettling because the entire time I can’t stop thinking, “there’s a stranger in a my hotel room…if you touch me… I kill you”. Its a brilliant idea, especially if something is broken or is not to your satisfaction, but it still makes me a little nervous. In Tokyo, I Lee, escorted us and she had a degree from the Boston University, go figure! I Lee explained that on Saturday nights in the summer we can see fireworks from the giant picture window in our room. This hotel could seriously not get any better, and we were very excited. After showering and professing our love for the heated Japanese toilet with all its fancy buttons, we went to the lounge on the 53rd floor for a delicious spread and a happy hour cocktail. Attached to our hotel was the midtown tower, with shopping, restaurants and a park. Our first restaurant experience was at a small sushi bar with the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted. The waitress could barely understand us, but somehow we got everything we ordered, from an electronic pin-pad.

The next day we went to the Meiji shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Of course in advance of this visit we researched Japanese temple and shrine etiquette. But once we got to the main shrine there was a fellow tourist instructing her husband in exactly what to do. “Now wash your hands, no dip the scoop into the water and pour over your hands, now bow, now clap.” We felt bad for the poor guy and her sons, yet we couldn’t help following them to listen to her explicit directions. We were also able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony, which we hoped might happen. The poor wedding party in their traditional outfits and long suits in almost 32 C / 100 F degree weather! And like crazy people, we walked directly from the shrine in Shibuya to the Shibuya crossing and then to a beer garden, which was closed on Sunday. We were drenched, but getting that first glass of champagne at the Ritz lounge was definitely well earned. Going off the Tokyo blog, we made our way to Ebisu. There were three to four restaurants on the street we thought was mentioned in the blog, but neither of them had a name in English on the sign. We opted for the one mom chose, which turned out be an exclusively chicken restaurant, Momotaro. All of our food came out on skewers and was extremely tasty. I also tried the Shochu ( pronounced show-j-ewe)

On Monday we had booked an afternoon tour. After getting lost a couple times, and arguing over directions, we made it to the Intercontinental hotel for the pick up. Why they made us walk to the Intercontinental, when nobody actually staying at the hotel was taking the tour was annoying. It only got better from there…sarcastic tone included. We had one guy wearing a hat with a fish head coming out the front and an Angel’s baseball t-shirt, two very nice looking Indian families, two American guys (I thought it was a father and son but my mom seems to think otherwise), and another American family of six. The adults in the American family consisted of an older looking, hefty husband and wife, their daughter, and her husband who looked like he was probably in the military. Half way through our walk of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens, I realize the daughter is smothering a roughly 4 week old infant in between her breasts and a toddler. Why on earth you would tote an infant in record heat, I mean people were dying, around Japan is beyond me. I’m not a mother, but I’m pretty sure there is no way in hell I would take a one month old on a 4 hour day tour. And not only did the mother ask if the park in the middle of downtown Tokyo was affected by the tsunami (I mean seriously?!) but then on our river boat ride the daughter changes the infant on the dining tables and then proceeds to breast feed. Not to mention that fish hat guy was late to the bus after the first stop and did not shut up the entire time about how all the Japanese women love it when he tells them they’re beautiful. I really couldn’t make this up if I tried. We really did see some great sites, Sensoji Temple that we wouldn’t have seen unless we were on the tour, but do not see them on the Grey Line tour.

As soon as we broke away from the crazies we began the frustrating adventure of trying to find the Shinjuku Washington Hotel and the restaurant Zauo. After more arguing over directions we finally found it. Why all that trouble for a restaurant? This wasn’t just any old Japanese restaurant where everyone just orders off the menu….boringgg. This restaurant gave us the option to catch our own fish and then select how we wanted it prepared. Half grilled/half sushied, all grilled, the choices were endless. We stood by the water with our poles waiting for any type of fish to bite. My mom thought it would be a good idea to swish the line back and forth in the water so the fish don’t realize the bait on the hook is dead. But nothing seemed to work until our waiter came by and gave us magical bait, which looked like steak. Mom caught a fish and our night was complete.

Going back to the airport was difficult. There was still so much to do and see and eat. The Delta Lounge in the Narita airport made life a little more bearable, Especially the amazing beer dispenser. After stocking up on green tea and cherry blossom kit kats, getting on that plane meant that my red hot south east Asian summer was officially over. All I can hope is that I’ll be back soon.