Sunday, January 10, 2016

Japan Trip 2015 - Kameido Tenjin Shrine

After we spent a few days in Osaka, we took a domestic flight to Tokyo for the remainder of our trip.
The obligatory pre-flight selfie

We had wanted, bucket list type thing, to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka to Tokyo, but lots of purchasing restrictions and poor planning made it cheaper for us to skip the Shinkansen and take a domestic flight to Tokyo. We would eventually get to ride the Shinkansen several times, but not the long ride through the countryside.

We got to Tokyo safely and had reserved an airport limousine bus from Haneda airport to our hotel, The Shinjuku Washington Hotel. The bus was so convenient for us as we had four people traveling with large suitcases. We would have loved to explore the subway and train system at a cheaper price, but it just didn't make sense getting off of an airplane and dragging luggage through Tokyo public transportation rush hour. Taxi cost way too much (x2) so we researched airport buses while in Osaka and found this bus company. Very convenient, especially since one of its three or four stops was OUR HOTEL! Sweet!

We were delivered to the front door of the hotel from Haneda (There are two airports in Tokyo, Haneda is more domestic and Narita is more international), checked in and then went out to see what was nearby.
One of the many entertainment and food alleys in Shinjuku
Our hotel was in the Shinjuku district, so close to lots of "Times Square" type touristy shopping and just lots of people deep into the night. We basically walked around Shinjuku the first night, looked at the lights, walked some of the alleys, found food and found dessert (of course).
After getting back to the hotel for the evening, Pae and I would do our preparations for the next day. We researched places of interest, subway and train passes, side trips to other cities, etc. We wanted to be prepared for the next day and three days ahead of time as well. We normally would have done all of this before leaving Thailand, but BunBun's passing put a dark cloud on our weeks before traveling, so we did it once we hit Japan.
That's right, several of our meals in Tokyo were ordered through a vending machine. Once I just chose one of the buttons as I couldn't read the Japanese...just see what came to my table ;)
We planned lots of destinations for our first day and got to most of them. We wanted to go find some flower gardens that I had found online, see the city from above, go see a famous temple and just basically walk around and experience the atmosphere of Tokyo.
Got this cool picture of a fishing restaurant from the train ride to Asakusa area. They are either fishing for fun or fishing for food. We used to eat at one such restaurant here in Thailand although we never went fishing there and I think the fishing here is for sport rather than food. It's fun taking in the sights and "culture" from the train ;)
One of the things I was most impressed with, yet often confused by as a newbie to Tokyo, was it's expansive subway and train system (we're not even including the bus system). Name a place you want to go, you are there via train or subway or a combination of the two.
Click on this map that combines the subway and train routes in and around Tokyo. Sprawling is a good word to define it. It can be very confusing, but eventually you'll get anywhere you wanna go!! It even connects to the Shinkansen trains (bullet trains) to take you to other prefectures.

They even had several companies that ran a subway system (and the two companies allowed transfers between competition trains) as well as train systems. The trains and the subway were nearly all connected as well. This made for ultra convenience but again, super complexity in planning. Planning wise, there were also so many different ways to get where you are going.

In this day and age, of course, there is an iPhone application and website to make this travel easier for the commuter, or in our case the tourist. This site is called HyperDia and I can say without hesitation that this is one of the most helpful, useful, awesome websites I've used.

The app took your departure station and destination station and gave you every combination of ways to get there including trains, subways, buses, walking, taxi, etc. It was a savior so many times during our trip. We would be finishing up at one site and be walking to the subway station or eating, all the time figuring out exactly how the best and fastest way to get to the next destination was.
Here is an example of the output of the hyperdia website. Train from Shinjuku (Train station, not subway) to Asakusa (subway station) for the first part of our day in Tokyo. It gives approximate time, fare and even seat reservation fees for some of the trains.
Having this app and renting pocket wi-fi for the whole trip absolutely made our trip and planning a whole lot more seamless and easy (it was never easy, but it got easier as we grew accustomed to the layout of the city and the different trains and subways available).

One other thing that we did (purchased) that made things easier was a commuter pass. There were so many different passes for the normal Tokyoite and even for tourists, but we found the perfect one for us that fit our needs called the JR Kanto Area Pass. The name has since changed to the JR Tokyo Wide Pass. It was 8,300 yen per person and lasted for three days. That seemed like a very poor choice as the expiration was the day before we left Japan, but when we worked it all out, including the trains we wanted to go on farther from Tokyo, it was the perfect pass for us. It got us on most trains and most subways.
There is a lot of pressure when you're at the front of line at a ticketing machine, looking up, confused at the subway map (and can't find your destination cuz it doesn't show train stations, lol) and there are people behind you, switching lines. Sorry yall!! That's why it's much better to get a pass ;)
It required us to walk through the ticket gate and show our passes to the guard rather than go through the turnstiles (bonus). Walking through the gate was so much easier than having to go to the ticket machines, find our station, insert the proper amount of Japanese money, get four tickets, round everybody up and go through the turnstiles in the rush Japanese crowd. All we had to do is make sure we had our pass on us at all times and flash it to the station attendant and he'd allow us to pass right through the gate. A side benefit was that when we passed through the gate I would always confirm the platform number that our train would be leaving from. It went something like this. Me to attendant: " Asakusa  number 8?" and in true, professional, Japanese fashion, the response was a smile and a "Yes" or a smile and a white-glove-covered hand pointing towards the correct gate. They didn't particularly speak great English, but they were effective, highly visible and eager to assist.
This picture of dessert the night we arrived in Tokyo may be misplaced within this post, but I'm sure you can forgive ;) The one with strawberries was mine!!! Nom Nom Nom!!!
The pass also allowed us, when we purchased them at a tourist information center at the Shinjuku JR (train) station to reserve both our tickets AND seats on our trains for our trip down to Mt. Fuji as well as the Shinkansen bullet train up north ot Tokyo to a big garden that Pae had researched and really wanted to go see. We got all of these reservations done days in advance, round trips also. It saved us so much hassle and so much time not to mention stress. Pae was a pro and we made a really good team when it came to finding our way around. Whenever I would be looking around only 70% sure of where we needed to go while down in the guts of subway stations people and crowds screaming by in every direction, she would pick up the slack and either confirm that my direction was correct or make sure that we double thunk (nice word) which way we were going. Our travel was pretty much seamless. I think Mom and Dad must have been impressed that Pae and I got them through so many days of a foreign country with very little standing around looking at maps looking helpless and clueless. It happened once or twice, but for the amount that we traveled, I think we did an awesome job ;)
Pae and Guy, figuring out our next move while Mom and Dad wait patiently
Mom and Dad also did great. You have to realize that they are both 60+ years old (Mom?) and just walking from the entrance of a subway station to the train platform, standing on a subway, reaching a transfer station and having to walk 800 meters underground through throngs of humans to get to the train, then standing on the train for twenty minutes to a station where we had to blah blah blah...ya know!!?? They didn't complain, but I could see their faces now and then and even my legs and feet would start to get fatigued. That's when I knew (probably too late, but they never complained) that it was time to just take a taxi ;) Sometimes I forget that I'm an endurance athlete ;) Pae is also quick to remind me of things like that as well, things that I may overlook. Again, we're a great team ;)

One of the main places that we had to make sure we went was a garden north of Tokyo that had Wisteria flowers blooming in late April and Early May.
As I researched, I had a backup plan for seeing wisteria at another site just in case we weren't able to see the bigger garden. This backup, smaller wisteria garden was at a place called Kameido Tenjin Shrine near the Asakusa Station.
Small road leading to the Torii at the entrance of Kameido Tenjin Shrine
The wisteria wasn't in full bloom yet, but it was lovely. The temple ground was actually small and super crowded.
People would stop on top of the drum bridge and take pictures of the Tokyo Skytree in the background
If memory serves, it was a weekend, so EVERYBODY and their mothers were there in the park taking in the warm weather and beautiful flowers.The wisteria hangs down from the branches of its tree.
As such, it can get quite heavy so the gardens that make it a tourist attraction have to basically build supports around all of the trees and extensive branch systems.
I really didn't notice the scaffolding too much because the flowers were just something I don't see very often here in Thailand.
Tokyo Skytree in the background
The temple itself was pretty normal, the little bridges were cute and they had a bunch of food stalls.
It paled in comparison to the place we would go in a few days to see wisteria (the place that Pae wanted to go to) but it was still a nice experience.
With limited days, being novices at the public transportation (complex but convenient) we just wanted to have backup plans for everything, just in case we got lost and wasted three hours of our day and had to cut part of our itinerary.
We enjoyed a quick walk around the shrine and then headed back to the subway to do some more sightseeing. Up next was Senso-ji Shrine, one of the more popular Buddhist temples in Tokyo.


mardenheyjude said...

Guy & Pae:
I clicked on the map of the combined subways and train routes and I immediately thought of a maze puzzle that I used to play with the object being to pick the right path. I actually went from right (start here) to left (finish here) over the photo and finally got the right path. That took me back to my younger days. ;) I was also impressed with the garden scaffolding (we call them garden trellis) that supports a wisteria vine. I use a metal trellis for my climbing roses and I am thinking about taking some tree branches and making a wooden trellis. I also have some peonies that could use a little support. You are giving me some good ideas for my summer projects. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

Haha, that's right Auntie, it's a trellis rather than scaffolding. Ha, I'm in construction mode right now so "scaffolding" just came straight to mind!!

I'm glad that you have your own "garden" or yard and I'm sure the climbing roses are something we'd love to see. When do they bloom? Spring? Summer? Here we don't have seasons, just hot season and hotter season. haha!

Pae and Guy said...

p.s. There are more beautiful wisteria photos coming, whenever I find the time to post them ;)

mardenheyjude said...

Guy and Pae:
Our roses bloom Spring to Fall. I cut the climbing ones down to about 2ft every so many years just before a first frost and come Spring they are climbing and blooming like the dickens. We have other roses that spread rather than climb and they grown only 4ft high and 4-6ft across the ground. We also have a very colorful flower garden (from tulips to black eyed susan)in our front yard. I love my gardens. Our side yard is hilly and weedy so I put together a garden bridge (5ft), surrounded it with wood shavings, crushed gravel stones, a half circle rock border in front of the bridge, a couple of wooden slat type walk ways, a solar lamp post, and some solar path lights. I plant annuals in the summer and Mums in the fall. My favorite flower is my Gaura. They bloom Summer to Fall and produce pretty pink flowers that are shaped like little butterflies. You both would love the Gaura flowers.
I look forward to the beautiful wisteria photos. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

Wow, that sounds like an awesome garden/yard! Spring must be an exciting time, coming out from the bare winter and seeing the blooms and leaves all come back ;) Googled the Gaura flower, must look very nice in bunches.

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