My Trip to Japan – Part 7 – Asakusa
We got up Monday morning, and headed back toward Tokyo from Niigata. This would be the only day without a scheduled baseball game, so it was essentially a “free day” for everyone. Some went to Sumo, some went sightseeing around Tokyo. I decided I would visit Sensoji in Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo.
Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. The first temple was built on the site in 645. The current temple was built with donations from the public after bombing raids destroyed the site in 1945. There were a ton of people there, even on a Monday afternoon. The first thing you see is the outer gate, Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”) with it’s huge lantern in the center and statues on each side.
Between the outer and inner gates runs Nakamise-dori, the famous shopping street. There are a ton of little shops along this street selling everything from toys to Japanese snacks to custom made kimonos. It’s a good place to pick up souvenirs for the folks back home (and I came back on my last morning in Japan to do that.)
After passing through Nakamise-dori, you come to the inner gate, Hozomon (“Treasure House Gate”). The Hozomon features a large Chochin in the center, flanked by two Toro each weighing 1000kg. The upper floor houses Senso-ji’s treasured sutras.
Between the Hozomon and the Main Hall, you could get your fortune or Omikuji. This guy has pictures and a great explanation of the process. (Another one is here toward the bottom of the post.) I got a “bad fortune,” so my paper got left there. Fortunately, I was reassured by the sign that said by tenaciously doing my best, I could carve out my own fortune.
That night, some of the group went to dinner at a restaurant in the neighborhood around the hotel. It was a nice chance to talk and hear stories from everyone. Tomorrow, I venture out to Akihabara and a game at the Seibu Dome.
Part 6 – Our day in Niigata
After a magnificent Saturday in Sendai, it was time to head to the other coast of Japan and spend a day in Niigata. Niigata is on the northwest coast of Honshu. We weren’t there too long, but our day and night in Niigata were a lot of fun. I wish we had more time there. (That one sentence pretty much sums up the trip, “I wish we had more time there.”) One of the interesting things I saw leaving the station were bags of dried(?), smoked(?) whole fish. Of course, I had to grab a couple of pictures of that. After a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our bags, the group split up again.
Lynn and I decided we wanted to walk around town before heading to the stadium. As we were walking down the street, Lynn said, “That guy has an Astros hat on.” After some encouragement, I caught up with the man and tried to communicate that we had the same hat on. Between pointing at the two hats, and his family helping him realize what I was pointing out to him, he finally realized what I was talking about. I got a quick picture with him and went on my way. I’d like to think they had a story to tell for the rest of the day about the crazy white guy who chased him down and wanted a picture.
We saw a lot of interesting shops and signs as we walked around Niigata. We didn’t go too far because we knew we needed to get out to the stadium for the start of the game. We were standing on a corner waiting for the light to change when a young lady came up and stood next to us. Being the friendly fellow he is, Lynn turned to her and said, “Konnichi wa.” She looked at us for a few seconds, and then asked, “Are you guys lost?” in perfect English. Why was her English so good? It turns out that she was from Colorado and was in Niigata working as an English teacher. (Unfortunately, we didn’t take a picture with her. So, if you’re an English teacher in Niigata and talked to two guys walking down the street, send a picture and I’ll put it on here. ) We decided we should head toward the stadium, but since we had wandered the streets of Niigata, we weren’t entirely sure where the stadium was. We started walking in the direction we thought we should be going before finally asking a couple of Japanese guys while waiting for the light to change. I asked where the baseball stadium was in my best broken Japanese. They guys looked at each other, then one of them said “nagai” and pointed at his legs saying “very long, long” in his best broken English. I said “nagai, far away?” and then I smiled and said, “Taxi.” They both laughed and nodded that yes, we should probably take a taxi to get to the stadium.
We had the privilege of seeing what is called a “countryside game” in Niigata. HERE is a great explanation of countryside games written by our companion on the trip Wayne Graczyk. You can read more about Wayne HERE to understand just how much of an honor it was to have him along at the games with us. We arrived at Hard Off Echo Stadium in plenty of time for the game. (Hard Off is a chain of resale stores in Japan. See a commercial on Youtube.) We would see the Yakult Swallows take on the Yomiuri Giants in a rematch of the first game we saw on Friday. I liked the stadium, as the view of Niigata over the outfield stands was great. It was definitely a different experience compared to the previous day’s game in Sendai. It was not nearly as lively a crowd, but the usual outfield cheering sections were active. There seemed to be plenty of empty seats, one of the many things Wayne wrote about in his column about the game. (They should have had some pizza for him like Seibu did.)
There are some differences between MLB and NPB that I have enjoyed experiencing, but there is one that I wish I could have avoided. Today’s game ended in a tie. I didn’t mean to turn this into a Wayne Graczyk link-fest, but HERE is an article about the stalling tactics used by some Japanese teams. It seemed like the Giants were playing for the tie in this one. HERE is a write up of the game by a Swallows fan. Official Box Score from the NPB website.
After the game, we headed back to the hotel and got ready to go out for dinner somewhere in the neighborhood. After walking past some clubs with some questionable characters hanging around outside, we finally settled on a little restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel. It was time for some Japanese ramen. Since every time I tried to ask them to leave out something (I didn’t want an egg in my ramen, for example) the girl just pointed at the menu again, we finally just told her to bring two bowls and I ate around what I didn’t want. It was delicious. I think Lynn has a couple of pictures of our dinner that night. I’ll post them here when he sends them to me.
We walked around the neighborhood a little more, stopping by a couple of places including one little bookstore where I got to bore Lynn with my talk about the different manga I recognized on the shelves. It was back to the hotel to take advantage of the only free wifi I came across to send a few emails and pictures before heading to bed. Tomorrow, we head back to Tokyo.
Videos: Train from Sendai, Train from Sendai 2, Giants vs. Swallows in Niigata, One more train video
My Trip to Japan 2012 – Part 5 – Sendai
So much cool stuff happened on this day. I’m sure I’m going to forget something. Saturday morning, and it’s time to head out of Tokyo for a couple of days. Our first stop is the largest city in the Touhoku region, Sendai. After a couple of days in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, it was nice to get different view of Japan on the train ride up. We took the Shinkansen to Sendai. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed back to the station. We needed to get a new memory card for Lynn’s camera. How did we ever expect to find a memory card for a camera in Japan? Luckily, we found a shop to buy one for him.
Lynn and I broke off from the group and went looking for a pachinko/slots establishment we saw advertised on the outside of the building. Imagine the loudest buzzing, clanking arcade you’ve ever been in, then multiply that by 10 and you might have an idea of what it was like in there. We did see some nice Eagles memorabilia there. Also while underground, we came across the scooter/bicycle parking area under the station. There had to have been 1500 bikes under there.
We decided were going to walk from the station to the stadium since it wasn’t that far. While looking at the map, we were approached a Japanese gentleman who asked us what we were looking for. We told him the baseball stadium and he gladly showed us the way to go. He started walking along with us. We thanked him for the directions and he went back toward the station. Thank you Yuuji for your assistance. We continue down the street toward the stadium, taking a few pictures along the way. A few minutes later, Yuuji comes around the corner. He gives us his phone number and e-mail address and even invites us to sit with him at a music festival that night. Unfortunately, we had other plans so we were unable to attend with him, but just being invited was a very cool thing to me.
We finally made it to Kleenex Miyagi Stadium, and we were in for an outstanding afternoon of baseball and fun in the stands. Before we even went into the stadium, we were amazed by all the activity outside. Once we got inside, we found our seats and got settled. The atmosphere was somewhat more lively than the previous night’s game at Jingu Stadium. The Seibu Lions had a great cheering section in right field. (We would take in a Lions home game in a few days.) And the Eagles fans in the stands around us were really fun to be around. There was some unique mid-game entertainment. Lynn made a lot of new friends giving away some baseball themed gifts to the fans around us. The 7th inning celebration with the balloons was a lot of fun. The Eagles won the game 6-5 in walk-off fashion.
That would have been enough to make it a great day, but the night was just getting started.
The “other plans” that prevented us from taking Yuuji up on his music festival offer were a barbecue at the home of Marty Keuhnert. (You can learn more about Marty at his website.) We had a great time enjoying the spectacular view from Marty’s balcony and talking with some of the players. The freshly grilled burgers and sausage were also outstanding. And while that was wonderful, there was still one more event that would make today even better.
Earlier in the day, while walking around Sendai, I mentioned to Lynn that there was a Japanese band I liked, Monkey Majik, that was based in Sendai. (You can see some of their music videos HERE.) We were sitting outside at one of the tables when I saw what looked like a familiar face getting some food inside. I wasn’t sure I was seeing right until I saw a second person I recognized. I turned to Lynn and said, “Hey, remember that band I was telling you about earlier today. Well, they’re here. Monkey Majik is HERE!!!” (Well, half of Monkey Majik was there.) And while I didn’t want to interrupt them while they were eating, I had to go say something. I approached Maynard Plant and said to him, “I hate to disturb you while eating, but I just had to come over and say something. I am a huge Monkey Majik fan.” He thanks me and then asks if I live in Japan. I said, “No. I live in Texas.” Needless to say, he was surprised. Surprised enough to tell his Japanese wife and her friend, which drew a reaction from both of them. We talked for a while about why I was in Japan for the baseball tour, how he met Marty and all kinds of things. I kind of felt like Chris Farley a couple of times, “Remember that song you did and that video? That was awesome.” His brother Blaise comes inside for a minute. I get a picture (coming soon) taken with the two of them, get a compliment from Blaise on my Brand Legendary Mike Modano shirt, and I go back outside one happy camper after chatting a few more minutes with the two of them. Both Maynard and Blaise were incredibly cool guys and patient with their Texas fan. Later, right before we left, we were sitting around a table outside talking with Maynard about eating healthy. (I obviously had zero to contribute to that conversation.) Anyway, I was hanging out with Maynard Plant from Monkey Majik!!! And that brought my day in Sendai to a perfect close.
Videos: Bike parking under Sendai Station, Eagles fans cheering on their team, Manager argument, Mid-Game Entertainment, Seibu Cheering Squad, Balloon release during 7th inning stretch, Lynn making new friends
This is part 4 of my adventures in Japan.
After an eventful morning and a trip to Tokyo Sky Tree, it was finally time for my first Japanese baseball game. We headed to the oldest baseball stadium in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu Stadium, to watch the Tokyo Yakult Swallows take on the Yomiuri Giants.
I think there may have been as many Giants fans as there were Sallows fans, but it was still a fun place to watch a game. We were there early, so we saw a little bit of batting practice and the teams warming up. An actress I hadn’t heard of, Gouriki Ayame, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. You can see pictures and video of the pitch HERE. Unlike US baseball games, Japanese baseball teams usually have cheerleaders, and the Swallows were no exception. Even the mascot was dancing along. Another one of the great traditions at Jingu Stadium is the fans and their umbrellas. When the Swallows score a run and during the 7th inning, the fans open their colorful umbrellas and wave them while singing.
Time for the game to finally start. The Giants jumped out 3-0 in the first and never looked back. The final score was 8-2. See a full report on the game HERE. We had some fun in the stands taking part in the organized cheers. It was also a good chance for the JapanBall group to kind of hang out and talk. It was a good first taste of Japanese baseball in a classic stadium. Tomorrow, we get up early and head out of Tokyo for a couple of days.
Videos: Part of the Swallows starting line-up announcement, Swallows cheerleaders and mascot dance, Cheering in our section, Drunk guy in our section, The 7th inning stretch (a must see)
Part 3 – Tokyo Skytree
It was my first full day in Japan. After walking around the neighborhood and visiting Kanda Miyojin in the early morning, it was time to go with the JapanBall group to Tokyo Skytree. For years, Tokyo Tower was the tallest structure in Japan. The new leader in that category, Tokyo Skytree, opened to the public in May 2012. At a height of 634 meters, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure. The figures in the height 6 (“mu”), 3 (“sa”). 4(“shi”) stand for “Musashi”, the old name of the region where Tokyo Skytree stands.
I had hoped to visit Tokyo Skytree while in Tokyo, so I was happy when I found out this was a planned trip for the group. One of the great things about the JapanBall tour is that while you are a part of the group, you don’t always have to do things as a group. A lot of us made our way to the lobby and the snaking ticket line. It probably took about 15 minutes to get up to the ticket counter. When Tokyo Skytree first opened, you had to get your tickets a couple of weeks in advance. I’m glad the crowds were not as big today. Anyway, I paid my 2,000 yen for my ticket and headed to the elevators to the lower of the two observation areas, Tembo Deck. Of course, lower is a relative thing as the “lower” deck is still 350m high, taller than the entirety of Tokyo Tower (315m).
I saw one of my fellow Japanballers, Lynn Struiksma, up there and we decide to stick together. (My theory is that if one didn’t come back, it wasn’t that big a deal; however, if two of us didn’t come back, they’d probably come looking for us.) There were quite a few people in the observation deck, so patience was required while waiting for some prime window spots to open up. The views of Tokyo from that high up were incredible. It was so interesting to just watch the city in action. Delivery trucks navigating busy streets. People on rooftop pools swimming laps. The shadows from the clouds as they moved across neighborhoods. Reminded me of when I used to play SimCity 2000.
After making our way all around the lower deck taking pictures, we decided we would pony up the extra 1,000 yen and take a ride to Tembo Galleria the top observation deck 450m above Tokyo. You got the same great views from a different perspective. You actually start at 445m and walk around until you get up to the 450m level.
On the way out, we stopped by some of the shops located near Tokyo Skytree. We saw a Yomiuri Tokyo Giants team store. (I successfully communicated in Japanese for the first time there when I asked if the trophies in the display case were real or not. They were.) We saw some great little toy shops. We ate Taiyaki. (Fortunately, we chose the cream filled one and not the one filled with red bean paste.)
The best shop there was the Ghibli store. I would try later in the day to get a ticket to the Ghibli Museum, but it was sold out for the day I could go. This wasn’t quite the same, but it was still very cool. They had a lot of great items, but everything was so overpriced. I took a lot of good pictures in there.
Videos: The elevator ride to 350m, Elevator from 350m to 445m, A view from 450m, Totoro and Mei
Coming up, time for my first Japanese baseball game.
This is part two of my recollections of my recent trip to Japan. Last time, I talked about arriving in Japan for the very first time. Today, I remember my first morning in Tokyo and a trip to Kanda Miyojin Shrine.
Despite a rather long first day with all the traveling, I was up bright and early Friday morning at 5:30 AM. We weren’t leaving for Tokyo Skytree until 9:00 AM, so I took the opportunity to wander the streets around the hotel before it got busy. It was still pretty quiet out, but I did see a few people out on their bikes or walking with their kids. Also, lots and lots of vending machines. There were vending machines every few street corners with canned coffee, soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled tea, water, beer, and even cigarettes.
I knew there was the Kanda Miyojin Shrine in the area, so I wanted to go get some pictures of it. You can read more about Kanda Miyojin Shrine HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. I was surprised to see people already coming by to say a morning prayer. (I tried to avoid taking a picture of someone in the act of praying.) I did take a ton of pictures while there that morning and even a video of some people doing their daily Radio Taiso.
(Click on any of the pictures to open an image browser. You can use the arrow keys to move forward/backward through the gallery.) There are over 75 pictures in this gallery. I could take a while to load on a slow connection. Please be patient.