Friday, May 28, 2010

More Narita Airport Scenes, Layover in NJ, and HOUSTON!

After our stroll through security, we headed to our gate for a short wait... our plane departed Narita at 4:35pm...

We arrived in NJ at Newark Airport at 4:30pm - 5 minutes before we left Japan!

We weren't excited about our short layover before heading to Houston, but it was a special treat getting to fly over the Empire State building, Statue of Liberty, and where the Twin Towers once stood...

We arrived back in Houston IAH at 9:30pm... we grabbed our luggage and our car and headed back to La Marque... excited to see all of our babies... stopping only to grab a quick bite of Taco Bell before reaching the house (SBeast was craving tacos and didn't trust the ones she saw at the airport in Japan)...

This has been a life changing experience... great respect for the Japanese people and their culture... some of the nicest people I have ever met...

Narita Airport Scenes (Starbucks #5)

After our 1.5 hour ride from Central Tokyo via bus, we finally arrived back where our Tokyo experience began... Narita Airport.

While walking to baggage check-in at the South Gate we found Starbucks #5!

Tokyo Day 6: Last View from Hotel, Last Tokyo Beast Photo, and a Drink for the Road

We finished up with packing and prepared ourselves to leave... we had to take a taxi back to the Hotel New Otani to catch the 9:50am bus ride back to Narita Airport...

We took one last look at our Tokyo view and snapped a final shot of the Tokyo Beasts before heading out the door...

We only had one last drink to try from our vending machine stash... this one was a very interesting fruit soda-like drink... I eyed this for days until I finally dared purchase it from our last vending machine in Central Tokyo. I have no idea what it was, but it was really good (I bought another one from the vending machine in Narita Airport to have on the plane)...

Tokyo Day 6: Packing, Ramen, Asahi and Jerry Lewis' Japanese Twin

After enjoying our sake and conversation about our tour of Tokyo, we began our packing for the flight home...

about 5 am taking a short break from packing - we heated up some water for ramen and cracked out the Asahi... turned on the TV and found a channel with a Jerry Lewis' comedian twin who spoke Japanese! The guys facial expressions and voices he used during his act was very similar to Jerry Lewis and even though we have no idea what he was saying - people were laughing in the background so he must have been funny too...

Tokyo Day 6: Blogging at Strange Hours with Sake and Onigiri

Day 5 ended around 10pm Tokyo time and the morning of Day 6 began a little after 1 am... I don't know if I was anxious about leaving Tokyo and our trip home, or anxious about all the things we still had to finish from the refrigerator before leaving and the fact that we had begun to pack for home - but I couldn't sleep any longer...

I crawled out of bed and turned on the computer... things were running through my mind about our trip so I decided to hop on the blog and write a few things down while listening to SBeast sleep away... she crawled out of bed around 2 am - inquiring what I was doing awake... so I reminded her of all the remaining treats we were supposed to finish the night before, but had crashed from our aching feet instead...

a little after 2 am, we pulled out our sake and onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed)and began our toast to Tokyo... we found the sake and onigiri on our second day in Tokyo at an ampm store... the sake was in a very cute little glass jars... very good treat.

we also found out our final morning in Tokyo that the Astros released 2nd baseman Kazuo Matsui while we were in Tokyo... we won the tickets because of his Dream Destination choice and while we were here we watched his old Japanese team the Seibu Lions play... too strange.

Tokyo Day 5: Final Tokyo Night

After an awesome experience at Sengaku-ji, we made our way back to Sengaku-ji station and headed back towards Hanzomon station.

We had to have one last metro scare before arriving to our "final destination" (everyone kept asking us where our "final destination" was going to be throughout the trip - I must admit it was a little weird hearing that because of the movie)...

at Sengaku-ji station we both hopped on the line taking us back towards Hanzomon, but for some reason Syl decided she needed to walk to another part of the subway car instead of staying near the door we had entered into... well this seemed okay - until we reached the next stop and we realized that rush hour had just begun... very quickly a flood of Japanese entered the car and smashed up against each other until no more could fit inside... needless to say - I couldn't see her at all... and even though I had repeated the name and number of our next stop - I wasn't sure if she remembered... up until now I was able to see her and motion when it was time... there were about six station stops between our entrance and when we needed to exit and lucky for us the station right before our stop most of the people jumped off...

as we both sighed relief - we exited the next stop and made our way to Hanzomon...

we walked back to our hotel, took our things to the room, and went downstairs to the Patio restaurant for one last meal... we ate the Margherita Pizza that we had the first night we had arrived in Tokyo and some spring rolls...

later we headed back upstairs to the tenth floor, relaxed, watched TV, and slowly finished off the last of our vending machine/convenience store buys we had in our refrigerator... including an interesting peach soda, jello, snack corn sticks, and an awesome melon cream soda (not sure why I waited to try this one - it was really good)...

More Sengaku-ji Photos: Ronin Graves

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sengaku-ji Photos

Visiting Sengaku-ji was a very surreal experience... the temple grounds were very beautiful and everything has been kept very similar to the way it was back in the early 1700s... very awesome!

We got to walk right up to the well known as Kira's head-washing well and touch the blood-stained rock that the samurai thrust themselves against their swords on...

incense were burning near the site of the graves...

Tokyo Day 5: Sengaku-ji - Tale of the 47 Ronin & True Samurai Loyalty

After leaving Chuo-ku's Ginza, we headed towards Sengaku-ji Temple located in the Minato-ku district of Tokyo.

Sengaku-ji was the Temple of the 47 Ronin and the site of their graves - one of the greatest loyal samurai stories in Japan's history.

It took everything in this Humanities student to not become overwhelmed by visiting the site of such awesome historical events.

Here goes my attempt at a short version of the story:

Lord Asano, master and samurai leader of the men who became the 47 Ronin, was given an assignment with higher up samurai Lord Kira. Kira tried to get Asano to accept a bribe and when Asano told him he wouldn't because it wasn't the samurai way - Kira called him a "country boor". Asano having enough pulled his dagger and struck Kira's head, but failed to kill him before he was pulled away by Kira's samurai.

Asano wasn't punished for the attack on Kira, which was seen as just...but he was punished for pulling his weapon within the Imperial grounds - a crime usually punished with execution. They allowed Asano to take the more honorable punishment of seppuku (ritual suicide)... Asano returned to his temple Sengaku-ji, committed suicide and was buried on the grounds. His men were told to leave and were now considered "ronin" or masterless samurai.

47 of these samurai decided to plot a revenge against Kira for his slight on their master...Oishi, who was the head samurai for Asano, became the leader of this group. Lord Kira was very scared of an attack since under bushido, code of the samurai, revenge was proper. Kira sent spies for the next two years to follow Oishi and his men.

In order to trick the guards they came up with the plan to separate and leave their lives as samurai - becoming tradesmen. Oishi moved to Kyoto and began taking up a life full of geisha girls and alcohol. He was so believable in his guise that at one point while drunk outside... a passerby stopped to yell insults at him, spit and slap him... telling him he was a coward for not seeking revenge. The spies seeing this returned to Kira and told him there was nothing to worry about any longer.

Some of the men, who were now skilled in their trades, got jobs inside of Kira's estate as carpenters or other tradesmen...they began to learn the makeup of the entire estate. After a little while, Oishi returned to Edo (Tokyo) and met secretly with the other ronin. In 1703, they surrounded Kira's estate - let the innocent leave and attacked Kira's retainers...they finally found Kira hiding with his wives in a closet.

When they found Kira - they told him who they were and offered him the honorable death of taking his own life...they handed him the dagger that their master Asano had committed suicide with, but Kira fell to the ground crying. Oishi then took the dagger and chopped off Kira's head...the men took the head and returned to Sengaku-ji. They washed Kira's head in a well and placed it on their master's grave. Then, knowing that they would be punished for their actions, they turned themselves in.

The shogun had a tough time punishing the 47 ronin because they committed the crime of murder, but did it as an act of revenge which followed bushido... many spoke on behalf of the ronin and the shogun finally decided that their punishment would be honorable suicide instead of execution.

The 47 ronin returned to Sengaku-ji and each committed seppuku against a rock within the grounds of the temple and buried within Sengaku-ji next to their master Asano.

A few days after the punishment... the man who had once spit and slapped Oishi for not being brave - went to Sengaku-ji to visit his grave... he apologized and asked for forgiveness from Oishi and then committed suicide near Oishi's grave... he is buried at the temple as well.

Even though the men knew their punishment would be death, they followed through with the revenge for Asano in order to clear his name. The shogun after all of these event decided to return part of Asano's former lands to Asano's heirs.


So that wasn't very brief, but I love the story...

Ginza Matsya-Dori Dept Store Starbucks x 2

After the police museum, we headed back down Ginza street towards the large Matsuya-Dori department store in search of the first Starbucks of Japan. We got a bonus when we got to Matsuya-Dori and found that there were two Starbucks located in the store... both of these Starbucks had two levels - which is common in Japan...

These two stores were our #3 and #4 Starbucks locations we visited while in Japan.

The store with the dark brick is the location of the first Starbucks built outside of North America and the first Starbucks built in Japan!

After enjoying some awesome Starbucks coffee, we headed back to Ginza-itchome station and on to our final place to visit on our trip... Sengaku-ji.

Tokyo Day 5: More Police Museum

The Police Museum opened in 1994 and has about 800 exhibits showing the history of the Tokyo police as well as the equipment and technology they use.

The first floor is the only section we could take photos in so we checked out all of the motorcycles on display and hopped into the helicopter for a photo before heading upstairs to the rest of the museum.

The third floor included a section dedicated to police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty - very moving section. There were photos of each of the officers as well as some displays of the uniforms and gear that was worn when the officers lost their lives... with a photo of the officer the gear had belonged to... sad.

After walking through the upper levels of the museum, we headed back to the first level... we had a little talk to the museum host at the front (in the best half Japanese-half English we could muster and SBeast pulling out her badge to better explain when he didn't really understand us)... he seemed very excited when he realized what she had been trying to tell her and gave us a bunch of police goodies including Pipo-kun stickers. As we were heading out of the museum a very nice Tokyo police officer came into the museum and the host told him Syl was an officer too... the host gestured to Syl to show her badge to the officer and then got the officer to pose for a photo with us... we felt very large next to him.

There are four floors in the museum:

1st: The patrol man experience and the photo op gallery with motorcycles and a helicopter.

2nd: Historical documents from the birth of the police department to present day.

3rd: This section honors police who have lost their lives in the line of duty and displays a history of the uniforms and weapons used.

4th: Section dedicated to police forensic science

Tokyo Day 5: Ginza - Police Museum

After leaving Sumida-ku, we headed to Chuo-ku's Ginza area - where the famous shopping district is located. We didn't go for the shopping though...we were in search of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Museum. As soon as the Beast found out there was a police museum in Tokyo and that I mapped out the location - she has been super excited... (Cops can be such dorks when it comes to police memorabilia especially if you promise them that coffee is nearby!)

The museum was very easy to spot with its giant Pipo-kun outside.

Pipo-kun is the mascot of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. We found him on crime prevention and safety posters throughout the city. Pipo-kun is said to be a combination of several animals; taking the best parts to be the best law enforcement officer: his large ears help him hear people in trouble, his antenna catches quick movements, and large eyes help him watch every corner of society.