Thursday, July 9, 2015

Meiji Shrine

We've been to the beautiful Meiji Shrine 2 or 3 times since living here, but I just realized that I've never posted about it!  Meiji Shrine is truly a sanctuary in the heart of Shibuya.  Entering the grounds, it's hard to believe that you've just walked off a busy Tokyo street!  

The entrance is marked by a giant torii gate and once you pass through, you continue along a long, wide path through a beautiful forest.  

It's amazing how peaceful and serene the grounds are, since literally just outside the entrance is the Harajuku train station, which is always bustling and noisy!  Halfway along the path on the way towards the shrine is another giant torii gate.  This is one of my all-time favorites.  It stands so tall and majestically, and I love the natural wood.

Upon approaching the shrine, there's a fountain of holy water to cleanse your hands, and then there are three or four other buildings in addition to the main shrine.

And, if you visit Meiji Shrine on a Sunday afternoon (especially in nice weather), you're likely to see a wedding procession!  We've been lucky enough to see weddings two times that we've visited!  Seeing the brides in their traditional bridal clothing is fascinating!  And so beautiful!  

To get to Meiji Shrine, go to the Harajuku train station, and the entrance to the shrine grounds are just across the bridge when you get out of the station!  (Cross the bridge and go right; Yoyogi Park is to your left!)  GPS Coordinates:  35.676633, 139.699347

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Shopping on Kappabashi Street

Peter had the Monday after the 4th of July off, so we decided to drag ourselves out into the rain and check out Kappabashi, the kitchen district of Tokyo!  I was a little apprehensive about taking our kids shopping for dishes (breakable!) on a super rainy day (wet and miserable!), but in the end, I was really glad we went!  Most of the sidewalks on Kappabashi Street are actually covered with awnings, so we stayed dry and we didn't even break anything!!!  

We went right after the US Women's soccer team won the World Cup (they played Japan!), which is why we're all decked out in our USA (and Japan; Will was rooting for both teams) gear.

Kappabashi Street is awesome.  I'm sure all big cities have a kitchen district, or a restaurant supply area, but never have I heard of them being a tourist attraction, or even relevant for everyday people.  I think that's why Tokyo's kitchen district is so unique and fun.  While they sell everything from wholesale plastic take-out containers to shop flags and signs, to industrial sized snow cone machines, they also have aprons and dishes and chopsticks and more knives than you can imagine!  They have things that can be used in your kitchen at home, as well as all kinds of items that can be sent home as souvenirs. 

Our favorite shops by far, though, were the fake display food shops!!!  Everywhere you go here in Japan, restaurants advertise what they serve by displaying dishes of fake food in their windows.  At first I found it really strange and unappetizing, but now I love it!  It makes choosing a restaurant so much easier!  Anyway, it was really fun to peruse the stores that sell all of this fake food.  We went in thinking we'd buy a bunch of fake food that the kids could play with, but once we got in the stores and saw that a bowl of katsu curry was about $50 we quickly changed our minds!  So, we settled on a few magnets and keychains instead: Will chose a squid, I picked a sushi handroll for my car, and then we got shrimp sushi, onigiri, and gyoza magnets as well.

The stores had some other really fun things as well; I finally got a big lucky cat that I'd been wanting since we moved here and Peter found a really cool half apron that a lot of the restaurant owners in small mom and pop shops wear.  And then of course, mostly because Peter can't resist Japanese dishes, we came home with 5 big soup bowls and matching dipping dishes.  So, even though it ended up being an expensive day, it was definitely fun!

GPS Coordinates for Kappabashi Street: 35.710596, 139.788272

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Take Me Out to the Seibu Lions Baseball Game!

Not more than 10 minutes from our house is the Seibu Dome, home of the professional baseball team, the Seibu Lions.  Since we moved here a year ago, we've talked about going to a game down there, and we finally made it happen last weekend!  We went with two other families and had a blast.

The Seibu Dome is a really cool stadium; it's actualky open/outdoor, but has a giant umbrella-like covering over the top.  This keeps it nice and cool with the breeze flowing through and it keeps the rain and harsh sunshine out.  Plus, somehow, it seems really small; every seat is a good seat!

Going to a professional baseball game in Japan felt so different than going to a game in the states.  I don't know exactly what it was, maybe the fact that they sell katsu curry at the snack bar instead of footlongs???  Or maybe it's the fact that the girls walking up and down the aisles selling beer look more like Harajuku girls in beer-branded cheerleading outfits.  Or maybe it's the fact that normally Japanese people are so quiet and reserved, but at baseball games they go CRAZY!!!!  They had noise makers, everyone was wearing team gear, and they would sing full songs and chants the entire time!  It was actually pretty awesome; it took a while for Clara to get used to it.  She was really upset by the noise when we first got there!

But, as you can see, Clara warmed up quickly and was back to her normal, goofy self in no time!

You can get the Lions' game schedule here, and the GPS Coordinates for the Seibu Dome are:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kamakura Shrines Part 2: Great Buddha and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

After Odaiba, driving down to Kamakura and seeing the Houkokuji shrine, we then went over to the Great Buddha, which we'd visited before, but wanted to show Andrew.  Even though it's only a couple of miles from Houkokuji, the traffic was absolutely horrendous and since we were literally stopped on the road just under a mile away, Andrew and I finally decided to just jump out and run the rest of the way to see it while Peter and the kids slowly made their way over in the car to pick us up afterwards.

Unlike the last time we went, this time the place was packed!  There were tons of people, so it was impossible to get a clear shot, but regardless, seeing it up close is amazing and its size and construction are just so impressive.  

After walking around the grounds for a few minutes and checking out a souvenir shop, we ran back down to meet Peter and the kids and we drove back over to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a huge shrine in the heart of Kamakura.  The grounds were huge, there was tons of variety in the landscaping and buildings; we really had a fun time walking around and exploring it all.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kamakura Shrines Part 1: Houkokuji

I've found another favorite spot in Japan!  The beautiful temple, Houkokuji, with its accompanying bamboo forest!  After leaving the hustle and bustle, crowds, photo booths, and high-rises of Tokyo the other day, we hopped back into our car and drove down the coastline to Kamakura to see some of the more ancient parts of Japan.  They really have it all here I tell ya!  Fast-paced city life, quiet mountain towns, farms and farms and farms, beautiful beaches, and the most serene shrines and gardens in the world.  I seriously couldn't love Japan any more.  

Anyway, Houkokuji.  It's awesome.  Leading up to the shrine is a small, but beautiful, zen garden.  The shrine itself is pretty and unassuming, but with large windows that look upon luscious vegetation set alongside some small cliffs/natural rock.  In fact, there's even a small cemetery tucked inside a cave in the side of the cliff wall. 

Just in from the rock walls surrounding the area are more gardens, beautifully manicured, leading to a small, but unbelievably peaceful bamboo forest.  It's not huge like the one in Kyoto, or some that we saw growing wild by the roadside in Shimoda, but this bamboo forest was incredibly maintained and was so calming I think we could have stayed for hours.  

The bamboo didn't quite have the same calming effect on our children as it did us, but they had a great time nonetheless, and I think they really nailed their bamboo poses.  And Will's accessories really got him a great response from the other garden visitors ;)

So, if you're visiting Kamakura anytime soon, be sure to stop by Houkokuji!!!!  I want to go back again and again and again.

GPS Coordinates:35.320274, 139.569312

Monday, June 29, 2015

Experiencing Tokyo: Odaiba, Toyota Megaweb, and Zepp

On Andrew's last day in Japan, we really tried to pack it in!  We started out by going to Odaiba in Tokyo to check out Megaweb, Toyota's huge showroom.  We got there a little early though, so we walked through Diver City's Zepp's game/stimulation overload room and took some really soft and sweet photobooth pictures, then we played a big game of Mario Kart!  It was super fun!

Toyota Megaweb was pretty cool, but the whole experience is much better if you can speak Japanese; there are cars you can drive and race, but only fluent Japanese speakers are allowed to participate.  Boo.  Oh well, we took advantage of everything else!  We checked out all their cars, the regular ones, plus a bunch of race cars they had on display.  There were also several simulated driving games that we could play.  Will was loving it.

After spending a couple of hours at Toyota, we ate lunch at the mall next door and scored some awesome trick sunglasses and some pictures with Love Live cosplay girls!  Kawaiiiiiiiiii!!!!

From Odaiba, we cruised down to Kamakura!  Stay tuned for more pictures of our adventures in my next post :)

GPS Coordinates for Toyota Megaweb (Zepp is just next door!):  35.627090, 139.782530