Tokyo

After a wonderful time in Hakuba, we said goodbye to the mountains and returned to Tokyo. We'd spent nine nights in the lodge - the longest time we've ever stayed in one place on vacation. The lodge is owned by two Australian families who immediately make you feel like you've met your long-lost family. If you ever happen to travel to Hakuba, you must stay at

Panketo Lodge

- no other place will make you as happy as this.

Snowboarding in Hakuba, Japan - Panketo Lodge
Snowboarding in Hakuba, Japan - Panketo Lodge

So needless to say, we were sorry to leave but looking forward to exploring the wild metropolis of Tokyo. We managed, in 48 hours, to hit up all the major neighborhoods: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Tokyo Dome, & Asakusa. If you think it's a mouthful to say, just try

walking

 through them all.

shopping in Tokyo, Japan
shopping in Tokyo, Japan

Building art outside of Tsukiji Fish Market (unfortunately, closed during our visit)

Harajuku

is a famous district in Tokyo for its quirky fashions and the youth culture that spills into its streets on the weekend. Although we were there during the week, we walked through the main street, which was literally packed with thousands of Japanese enjoying the holiday week and shops selling everything from good luck charms, Hello Kitty key chains, rockabilly outfits, goth chains, and a whole shop selling only dainty, lacy socks.

Harajuku in Tokyo, Japan
Harajuku in Tokyo, Japan

We also visited a large Shinto shrine which is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who ruled Japan in the late 1800's and early 1900's and who is credited for welcoming Western knowledge and influence into the country while still maintaing Japanese culture. Over the new year holiday, Japanese visit shrines all over the country to pray to ancestors and make wishes for the new year. We joined thousands of Japanese walking through the garden surrounding Meiji Shrine towards the central building. Along the way we saw large barrels of wine and sake (Japanese rice wine) that are donated to the shrine - thousands, if not millions, of dollars worth of expensive alcohol.

Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine
Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine

Barrels of wine donated by French vineyards

Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine
Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine
Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine - sake offerings
Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine - sake offerings

Barrels of sake donated by Japanese breweries

Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine
Tokyo, Japan - Meiji Shrine

The entrance to the main shrine

In the evening, we fled the cold and found ourselves in a

tori-en

 restaurant, a typical "salaryman's" pub and restaurant, where you pay a cover charge for a table and are told, quite sternly, you can only sit for 2 hours, no longer. We ordered skewers of grilled chicken, beef, shiitake mushrooms sitting in a thin salty sauce, and

gyoza

, fried potstickers. Japanese food never ceases to amaze me with its variety of textures, tastes, and presentation.

Tokyo, Japan - tori-en restaurant near Shinjuku
Tokyo, Japan - tori-en restaurant near Shinjuku

Andrew outside the tori-en

After dinner, we trekked over to Tokyo Dome, a sparkling new shopping mall and amusement park. We paid for our tickets and loaded into the "Big O", a ferris wheel that took us up over the city to look over the night skyline. No matter how much we squinted, we couldn't see the end of the city.

Tokyo, Japan - skyline at night
Tokyo, Japan - skyline at night

On our last morning in Tokyo, we walked over to Kappabashi Street, a long street stretching north-south and lined with all sorts of shops, all related to cooking and food. Unfortunately because of the holiday, most shops were shut, but we were able to see the infamous plates of plastic food sold to restaurants for their display cases, stacks of heavy Japanese bowls, and shops selling only one commodity, such as

maitre d'

 stands and signs printed with "Open/Closed" on each side. 

Tokyo, Japan - Kappabashi Street shopping
Tokyo, Japan - Kappabashi Street shopping

The famous "chef's head" marking the entrance to Kappabashi Street

But our Tokyo adventure came to an end too soon, and found ourselves in a plane, bound for Macau. We finally got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji as the sun was setting, a fitting end to our trip.

Tokyo, Japan - mountain sunset
Tokyo, Japan - mountain sunset

Macau, you ask? Check in tomorrow for the rest of the story....