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Monthly Archives: January 2020

On day 5 we decided to visit the Tsukiji Outer Market. When we arrived we had trouble finding the market because our Google Maps didn’t seem to be working. We finally stopped at a police station and asked for directions. As it turned the market was just down the street from where we got off of the subway. we finally spotted it on a corner.

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

We arrived about 8:30am and wandered around the market for an hour and a half. Unfortunately we ate a big breakfast before we arrived at the market. We won’t make that mistake again since there was a lot to eat. At the state fairs in the Midwest you can find almost everything on a stick. The Outer Market was very similar in that respect. One can find eggs, fruit, beef, vegetables and eel on a stick. The egg omelet on a stick was the most interesting item for me.

 

   

We saw this statue out in front of several stores and assumed it was a chain something like Big Boy in the Midwest.

There was all sorts of seafood available but as mid westerners we are not too adventuresome in our eating habits.

My wife wanted to try something so she tried these.

As we were walking away from the Market we noticed a big building behind some other buildings so we walked over to find out what it was. Turns out it was the Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple.The temple was open and we were able to go in and take a few photos. It appeared that there was going to be a service performed.

The site also houses the Mausoleum for the Ashes of Japanese Deceased in Taiwan. Their story is described below. There are also several other memorials in the same area.

We then decided to take the subway over to the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple complex in Asakusa. These are a few street scenes from the walk over to Sensō-ji.

We walked around the temple complex. There were quite a few people around even on a weekday.

There are quite a few pagodas and statues in the area. The red bibs and hats are to ward off evil.

There were quite a few people dressed in native costumes. They were likely rented since there were a number of costume rental stores in the area.

After touring around the temple area we walked over to the mall and found a McDonalds where we had coffee and ice cream. Portions are considerably smaller than in the U.S. On the other hand you don’t see many obese people walking around.

After lunch we decided to take the subway to Rikugien Gardens. We found it with ease but the gate we approached was locked so we had to walk all of the way around the park to find an entrance that was open. This was something that we encountered several times. Apparently all of the entrances are only open on a special days. The wait was worth it.  Rikugien Gardens is a relatively small but very beautiful park. It was midday  and there was some nice light. It is easy to forget that all of the parks in Tokyo are in the middle of a huge metropolis.

There were some nice backlit leave photos in the park.

It had been a long day so we headed back to our hotel.

We caught an early train to Mount Takao. It was nice to ride a train that wasn’t all that crowded since we were going out almost everyone else was coming into to Tokyo. It was a beautiful day and on the hike to the top we had some spectacular views of Tokyo and the surrounding area.

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

On the way up we passed a number of small shrines.

Carla had mentioned that the trail was flat. We took that to mean that there was not much of an elevation gain. What she meant was that the trail was level. I was recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and when I saw that the trail was very steep I was wondering if I could make it up. As it turned out we were walking on a road that employees and deliver people used to reach the top on the mountain. It consisted on many switchbacks and some of the turns were so sharp that trucks needed a pull out so they could back around to make the turn. The road was cement with rocks embedded to provide traction on the steep grade.

The large exposed tree roots made a nice place to sit and rest during the long slog to the top. These cedars are several hundred years old and can be seen all along the trail. I should mention that there is a cable car and chair lift that goes part way up the mountain but we decided to walk the entire way.

Just past the cable car platform we found a few shops offering food. We had seen Dangos a few days earlier but didn’t know what they were. This shop had a good explanation so we stopped to give them a try. On the way down we stopped for some ice cream.

The trail to Yakuoin Temple was crowded from the cable car dock on to the top of the mountain. Even though it was a weekday there were a lot of people out hiking.

There were a number of small shrines and an observation deck before reaching Yakuoin Temple.

There was the main Temple and a number of smaller shrines.

The Temple was adorned with beautiful artwork and carvings.

There was artwork and statutes along the trail.

As we continued to the top of Mount Takao we could see a few fall colors and had a nice view of Tokyo.

It only took us a couple of hours to reach the top. This included many stops for photos and a bite to eat. From the top we had a spectacular view of Mount Fuji.

While we were at the top several groups of school children appeared from one of the trails. I was interesting that each group had on different colored hats.

The trip down didn’t take long although it is tough constantly walking down hill. We noticed several places where workers were repairing damages from from the October typhoon. The other thing we noticed was how clean the trail and the grounds were. We only spotted one small piece of paper on the ground. This was amazing given the number of people walking on the mountain. There were many vending machines providing food and drinks along the way. Not a single plastic bottle could be found along the trail. You purchase it you carry it out and there are no recycling bins or garbage bins to be found. If only the people in the U.S. weren’t such slobs and disrespectful of nature.

We were back in Tokyo by early afternoon a decided to see if we could find National Stadium which will be the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It took a while but we finally found it. It was so large that it was difficult to get a photo of it.


From the stadium we took the train back Harajuku Station and took a walk down Takeshita Street.  Tekeshita Street is a pedestrian shopping street lined with fashion boutiques, cafes and restaurants and is very popular with the young people. We had been there a couple of days before but it was a weekend and was very crowded. We encountered a McDonalds so we stopped for some coffee and ice cream. As you can see it was still crowded but at least we could walk down it. The light was fading so we worked our way back to our hotel and called it a day.

Our goal for the day was to visit the TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Exhibit in Koto City. We had a little time in the morning so I took a photo of our hotel and the view across the street from out hotel.

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

We then walked on our sons apartment to meet up with him and his girlfriend. On the way we found footprints painted on the sidewalk. Apparently this is where you should stand before crossing the street.

As we walked around we noticed that some people had these little solar powered figures outside their homes. They wave at you during the day when the sun is shining.

We then took the train to DiverCity, Tokyo Plaza Where we had lunch. It was Culture Day in Japan so the place was packed with people. This is one of about 20 holidays in Japan. We keep telling our son that he has it made living in Japan. He gets 20 days of vacation, 20 holidays and his office closes down for two weeks at Christmas. In addition, he has health care an extremely clean and safe environment as well as a great public transportation system. Most important he is just a train ride from some of the best skiing in the world.

The cotton candy this little girl had was huge.

Outside the plaza we found the Unicorn Gundam Statue.

 

There were some great views of Koto City as we walked over to the Digital Art Exhibit. I thought this was an interesting flower exhibit.

It was crowded and there was a lot going on in the area. The Tokyo Auto Show was also taking place.

There was the obligatory Ferris wheel.

What we really came to see was the TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Exhibit. We heard about it several years ago and added it to our bucket list if we ever went to Tokyo. It was the most amazing art exhibit I’ve ever seen.

In these exhibits the people became part of the art.

One room was filled with lights that were constantly changing in colors. There were long lines to get in a you were only allowed about 10 minutes in the room.

These were glass beads that were hanging down from the ceiling with different colored lights reflecting off of them.

This was a walk through a room of giant toadstools.

Abstract art displayed on the walls and constantly changing.

One room consisted walls depicting raging seas.

Another room had large balloons that constantly changed color.

I wasn’t sure what was going on in this exhibit. There was art moving along all of the walls of the room. Folks were busy and work at desks doing something. Turns out that they were all doing art work. When finished the art work was scanned and then displayed on the walls. The seahorse was one that Carla and Justin did.

I would love to go back to this exhibit and spend more time. Since it was Culture Day there were large crowds and long line to some of the exhibit rooms. It was a huge exhibit and I’m sure the we didn’t see it all. Definitely a nice place to go on a rainy day.

After visiting the exhibit we stopped for some ice cream and then walked to the train that would take us back to the hotel. On the way we has some great views of the Rainbow Bridge.

 

We woke up at sunrise and had a bite to eat in our room. There is a grocery store a short walk from the hotel so we stopped the evening before and stocked up on some supplies for breakfast. We were out the door early to catch the trains to Harajuku Station  which was next to the Meiji Shrine complex. When we arrived it was mid morning and there were already quite a few people at the Meiji Jingu First Torii gate entrance. I noticed several cars with diplomatic plates and flags entering the park when we arrived. I wondered what was going on?

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

As we walked along the main path we could hear drums so we walked over to a restaurant area (bathroom) to see what was going on. There was a plaza where traditional drummers were performing.

Continuing on we encountered wine barrels from the Provenance of the Bourgogne which was consecrated at Meji Jingu. We also encountered barrels of sake wrapped in straw. Apparently these barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities by the Sake Brewers Association.

As we neared the Second Torii gate we notice policemen directing people to the side of the path. Something was up but we didn’t know what. We soon noticed that a Shinto ceremony was underway as the Kannushi were walking from their headquarters in the shrine complex. We watched the procession pass before we were allowed to continue on.

After passing through the Second Torii gate we encountered a beautiful display of chrysanthemums. We were amazed at what the Japanese can do with mums. the display included a large display of bonsai mums. At home we are used to purchasing a pot of mums to put out in the fall but we have never seen anything like what we found in Japan. As it turned out this was mum season and we encountered mum exhibits throughout Tokyo.

When we arrived at the main Meiji Shrine complex we discovered what was going on. We lucked out and timed our visit on the day of the Grand Shinto Ceremony commemorating the anniversary of Emperor Meiji’s birthday on November 3. This is why there were so many people in the park and the large number of displays and activities. we were able to see the procession of Kannushi enter the main shrine.

We followed the procession into the main shrine where the ceremony was taking place.

There were a group of what appeared to be soldiers marching toward the ceremony.

There were also quite a few people wearing traditional costumes for the ceremony. We took advantage of them posing for photographs.

We were able to look into the area where the ceremony was taking place but could not take any photos. The place was filled with dignitaries. As we walked away from the shrine I notice many diplomatic cars were parked along the road. I didn’t see the U.S. car.

We could hear sounds from another part of the park so we walked over to see what was going on. I should note that the Meiji Shrine complex is huge and is surrounded by a number of parks. When we arrived in the area we found a variety of activities taking place. Men and women were dressed in traditional costumes.

A nationwide archery tournament was being held.

Yabusame or horseback archery was being held by the Equestrian Archery Association.

Traditional martial arts were being demonstrated.

In another area there were agricultural displays of flowers and vegetables.

There were several stages where traditional Japanese music was being performed.

As we were leaving the area we noticed a number of men in a smoking area. As it turns out Tokyo is trying to crack down on smoking. When we were in Japan 5 years ago we encountered a lot of smokers. This time we saw very few smokers and we did see that smoking stations throughout the city were being used. Sometimes there were long lines to get into them.

As we were leaving the shrine area we once again encountered the Kannushi returning to their headquarters.

It was noon when we exited the park. There were a lot more people around many of the dressed in traditional costumes.

When we returned to Harajuku Station we considered walking down Takeshita Street. However, we reconsidered once we saw how packed it was.

We then took a train to Tokyo Station because we wanted to check out the station and also walk through the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.

We exited the East Gardens and walked through Wadakura Fountain Park Chiyoda City on our way back to Tokyo Station. It was beginning to look like rain so we didn’t stay long.

I took a panarama of the station. The last time we were in Tokyo the station was undergoing major construction and we were never able to get a good view of it. They also had a clock in front of the station counting down to the 2020 Olympics.Tokyo station is a city onto itself. I was easy to get lost wandering around the station. I only wish we had spent more time exploring.

Since it looked like rain we were trying to figure out where we could go and be inside. One of the strange traditions we have is that we visit the IKEA store when we go to a town. Since IKEA was an easy train ride from Tokyo station we decided to use this opportunity for a visit. I had my favorite meal. Checking out of the food line was a strange experience. My wife has a membership and we were asking for free coffee. However, the young lady checking us out apparently didn’t understand English. I’ve never heard anyone speak so fast in my life. It reminded me of a auctioneer in the states. We never did get our free coffee.

 

Our trip started on October 31, 2019. It was Halloween when we left the USA and we arrived in Tokyo the day after Halloween. We were told to avoid this holiday because things get a little wild in Tokyo. We flew from Minneapolis on a direct overnight flight to Haneda Airport arriving mid afternoon Tokyo time. As we flew into Haneda we were surprised at the amount of pollution in the atmosphere.

We went through customs  and then spent about 40 minutes in a line to pick up our JR Rail Pass. We purchased a 21 day pass that allowed us to travel on any JR rail line in Japan. This turned out to be a great deal and avoided many hassles as we moved around Tokyo. All we had to do was display the pass as we entered the JR tracks. There were a couple of issues with the pass. First, we had to go to a JR station office to make reservations on trains. Second, when we entered or exited the JR Stations we had to go through a manned booth and show our passes. Normally this just involved walking through and flashing our passes. During busy times we sometimes got stuck in lines and couldn’t easily get through. Both of these problems are going to be fixed in April of 2020 prior to the Olympics.

Our son lives in Tokyo so when he met us at the Hamamatsucho station he provided us with a prepaid Suica card which allowed us to travel on most public transportation in Japan. In our case we already had a JR Pass so we used the JR Pass on JR lines and the Suica card on other lines. This did result in some confusion on our part.

We took the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho  Station . This was included on our just purchased JR Pass. He accompanied us to help us find our way to the Axas Stay Hotel in Ishikawa-dai. We took the Yamanote Line to Gotanda where we picked up a local line to Ishikawa-dai. We checked into the hotel and our son made sure we knew how to work the various appliances. There were directions but they were not always correct.

He then walked us over to his apartment which was only about 15 minutes away. We stopped to eat at a little restaurant near his apartment We now had a good idea of the lay of the land and walked back to our hotel after a long day.

The next morning we were up before six am. We have never been jet lagged when traveling from east to west. We were scheduled to meet our son and his girlfriend late in the morning. We couldn’t convince them to get moving early in the morning.

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

We wanted to get moving early and decided to go for a walk. This Lotus Dealership was the location where we turned to go to our sons apartment. It was only fitting that it had the green and gold colors of the Green Bay Packers. It was on sale for 120 thousand dollars. Would have been great to buy it and bring it home but it might be a little cold driving it around Wisconsin.

Just down the street from the Lotus Dealership we discovered Senzokuike park. It was a beautiful day for a walk and there were quite a few people in the park.It looked to be a beautiful little park.

 

There were already quite a few boats out on the lake when we arrived. Boating is a popular pastime in Japan.

There were a few kids around dressed in consumes. I’m not sure what was going on but the previous day was Halloween so it may have been some carryover.

Walking across the main bridge in the park we noticed the fish wanting to be fed and a few ducks in the water.

The park contained a number of shrines including red Itsukushima shrine and the Inari Shrine.

We were finally able to get our son up and moving so we headed over to his apartment near Ookayama Station. As it turned out it is a very nice neighborhood with plenty of shops and places to eat. It is also right next to the Tokyo Institute of Technology. This is one of the reasons he has two 1 GB internet connections in his apartment. He never lets us forget it since we have a 25mb connection that is capped at 50GB.

After picking him up we walked back to Ookayama Station where we caught the train to Shinjuku where we were going to meet his girlfriend for lunch. The train was busy since it was already early afternoon. On the trip on son took the opportunity to give us some advice on train travel. To start when you arrive at the platform there are lines to indicate where you should stand while waiting for the train. When the train arrives those on the train are allowed to leave in an orderly fashion. Once everyone leaves then those in line board the train in an orderly fashion. If the train is crowded you should remove your backpack and either put it on a rack above the seats or wear it in front. There is no food eaten on the train. There is no talking on the phone on the train. In fact it is unusual to hear people talking on the train. Most people have their phone out but they are reading or texting. If the train is crowded when people board the train they then turn and face the door. then they then start backing up as others enter the train. If it is really crowded there are pushers available to push people onto the train. When the train is crowded and it arrives at a stop those near the door step off of the train to allow those wanting to exit to get off then they get back on the train. When entering or leaving the station you stand on the left side of the escalator and let people walk on the right side.

Lunch was my first attempt at using chopsticks. For some reason I totally blacked out the fact that we would be using chopsticks in Japan. I made a mental note to check on the internet to find the correct way to use them.

 

We then walked over to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. On the way we passed an Apple Store and Louis Vuitton.

There was a small entrance fee for the Gardens. It continued to be a beautiful fall day and many people were out enjoying the weekend. We headed over to the Shinjuku Garden Greenhouse to look at the flowers. Wow what a great collection of flowers and plants.

After visiting the Greenhouse we walked around the park enjoying the beautiful gardens. We encountered this boy looking at something in the water. He was in this position the entire time we were in the area. I was tempted to walk up behind him and yell Boo but I didn’t think that would likely end well.

There were some nice reflections in the water and the roses in the rose garden were still blooming.

It was getting late in the day so we walked back to the park entrance.

We took the train back to where Justin and Carla gave us a tour of some of the back allies of It was still relatively early, around 5pm, and they pointed out that the type of folks on the streets would change dramatically after 9pm.

Piss Alley was one that we walked down. It got its name when many of the bars in the area didn’t have toilet facilities so patrons had to walk outside to relieve themselves. There are many small eateries and bars in the area. We were told that some of them have been turned into “private clubs” to keep foreign tourists out. We happened to be in the area at the end of the Rugby World Cup and found this sign on one of the doors.

After a long day we took the train back to Ookayama where we dined at a noodle restaurant across the street from our sons apartment. Fortunately he was with us because we would have never figured out how to order. You had to order from a kiosk then take the ticket to the counter and they would bring you the food.

We then walked back to our hotel and started planing the next day.

With fresh snow I’ve been able to ski to the ice wall on the Red Cedar Trail. The recent cold weather has formed a very nice wall.

 

During the winter Trumpeter Swans gather on a small pond in Hudson, Wisconsin. We like to stop periodically to watch them. I was watching one swan chasing another when I noticed that the swan being chased had a fish in its mouth. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a swan eating a fish.

When we go down to Red Wing searching for eagles we usually stop at Nelsons on the Rush River to see how the ice formations are doing.

 

As I mentioned in my previous blog we had gone down to Red Wing, Minnesota looking for Bald Eagles. There were plenty of eagles but most of them were sitting in trees across the lagoon. Only a couple were fishing. What kept us entertained during the morning were the ducks that were fishing next to shore. There appeared to be a lot of small fish near the surface and the ducks were having a field day catching them.Unfortunately there was a lot of steam coming off of the water so sometimes it was difficult to see the birds. This female mallard had a large fish that she was in the last stages of eating. I’ve spent a lot of time watching ducks and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a mallard eating fish.

This Common Merganser also caught a large fish.

 

I had a great time watching the Common Goldeneyes fishing. They had the advantage in that they could dive to catch the fish. Every time they came up with a fish the mallards would all go after them. There would be a goldeneye racing along trying to eat the fish followed by several mallards.

It was below zero last week when my wife and I drove over to Red Wing, Minnesota. During the winter months Bald Eagles and Bald Eagle watchers gather in Covill Park. On this particular day there were probably 50 or 60 of them sitting in the trees. Unfortunately there was not a lot of activity. A couple of them were looking for fish but without much luck. At one point a train came by and sounded its horn. That got about 20 of them to take off all at once. Of course that was when I was sitting in the car trying to keep warm.

 

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