Japan & China, Day 3: The Day We Rode the Japanese Subway

Day 3 - Saturday, 9/13/14

We woke up around 7:00, got ready for the day, and headed down for breakfast. The buffet featured a mix of Western and Japanese food, so we loaded up on scrambled eggs, pancakes, and french toast. I was going to try some seaweed salad, but upon closer inspection, it looked like there might be little white fish in it.
We were picked up for the first day of our tour at 9 AM, and we met Nao (pronounced NOW), our tour guide for the duration of our time in Japan. She was a tiny, older Japanese woman whose catchphrase was "I'm small, but strong." We were scheduled for a half-day Tokyo City Tour for the first day. As we drove, she pointed out different parts of the city.
Our first official stop was the Imperial Palace Plaza, the current residence of Japan's Imperial Family. We walked through a park filled with black pine trees - beautiful!
This is the front gate to the Tokyo Imperial Palace.
 Nijubashi is the main bridge to the Imperial Plaza.
Next, we proceeded to the Asakusa district where the most famous Buddhist temple Senso-ji is located.
Asakusa shrine entrance
We passed under the torii, a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred.
Then, we were able to perform Temizu using the hand washing basin. This involves taking the dipper in your right hand and scooping up water. Pour some onto your left hand, then transfer the dipper to your left hand and pour some onto your right hand. Transfer the dipper to your right hand again, cup your left palm, and pour water into it, from which you will take the water into your mouth (never drink directly from the dipper), silently swish it around in your mouth (do not drink), then quietly spit it out into your cupped left hand (not into the reservoir). Then, holding the handle of the dipper in both hands, turn it vertically so that the remaining water washes over the handle. Then replace it where you found it.
Senso-ji, ancient Buddhist temple
There was a five-story pagoda in the area.
 The incense burner used here is believed to have healing power.
We explored the grounds a little more...
...and then walked around the Nakamise shopping street that is the front entrance to the Senso-ji Temple. We bought a couple souvenirs and tried some bean paste pastries. Francisco loved them; I can have issues mixing sweet and savory, so I wasn't the hugest fan.
Someone in our tour group had purchased something similar to share with everyone on the bus. We really had a good tour group overall.
The final stop of the day was the Ginza district, an upscale area in Tokyo reputed to be the most luxurious shopping district in the world, where numerous department stores, boutiques, restaurants and coffeehouses are located. Since we were there on a Saturday, the streets were closed to traffic, which was tremendously convenient.
The bus was scheduled to depart to return to the hotel at 1:00 or 5:00. We entertained the idea of sticking around until 5:00 but quickly affirmed that we are not luxury shoppers, so as impressive as everything was, we had no interest to window shop for an extra four hours.

We stopped at a vending machine and got a bottle of Pepsi Special, a fiber-packed soda. Tommy Lee Jones was pictured on several vending machines as he regularly appears in Japanese canned coffee commercials for Boss Coffee.
We made one more stop at Manneken to get Belgian waffles.
As we walked back, we could see the bus on the other side of the street, but we had to backtrack to the intersection to cross...and by the time we got to where the bus had been, it was long gone. I had no interest in spending the next four hours here, so we debated what we should do. Ultimately, we decided to venture into the subway - we had one transfer and then a short walk to our hotel. Francisco was actually super-excited to experience the subway in Japan.
There were several restaurants outside that were basically connected to the lower level of our hotel.  After perusing the offerings, we decided that Saizeriya, a Japanese chain of family-style Italian restaurants, seemed like the safest bet. The menu at least had plenty of pictures we could point to! So, we walked in, were seated, decided on what we wanted to order, and then we sat there. And sat there. Eventually, we started looking around, kind of wondering if we needed to go up to the counter to order. A very helpful Japanese couple seated next to us began gesturing to the green button on our table, and we realized we needed to push the button to summon a waiter. How nifty is that?!
And then began the pointing to menu items and the waiter holding up fingers to verify how many of each menu item we wanted.  After dinner, we retreated back to our room and noticed there was a Western-style wedding being held at the pool below our room.
It had been a rather hot day that left us headachey on top of the tiredness of jet lag, so we decided to just call it an (extremely!) early day and went to bed at 5:30 PM. I was so tired, I felt like I could sleep until we had to be up the next day (around 6:00 AM). 


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