On the evening of Monday, October 22nd, Rebecca and I flew to Tokyo, Japan. We took 2 extra days from work to add to our already 4 day weekend. The long weekend was due to the Islamic holiday of Eid al Adha. This religious holiday honors the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son Ishmael as an act of submission to God’s command and his son’s acceptance to being sacrificed, before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead.
We arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon and made our way to the neighborhood of Asakusa. We found the traditional Japanese inn, called “ryokan,” we had booked near the Minowa subway station. A ryokan is typically outfitted with small, tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and futon type beds. They also provide you with a “yukata” to wear. We checked in and took a well needed soak in the baths. Later, we went out on foot for a bite to eat and then wondered down to the Shinto shrine of Senso-ji.
After breakfast the next morning, we set off for the Imperial Palace East Gardens which is the former site of the Edo Castle and the true centre of Tokyo. Not much of the castle remains besides walls, moats, gates and a few guardhouses. However, the grounds are full of beautiful Japanese gardens. Later, we took the subway to the neighborhood of Shibuya known for its fashion and nightlife. We had a nice lunch of Udon noodles then later had a Starbucks while we watched one of the world’s most heavily used pedestrian crosswalks outside Shibuya station. We also did a little shopping in the Harajuku district.
On Friday morning, we got a little earlier start to the day in order to get down to the Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market. We were on the subway for rush hour and even got pushed into the car by a guy with those nice white gloves. We missed the tuna auction that takes place at 5:00am, but were able to venture around the market where they prepare just about anything that comes out of the sea. It is a very busy place that processes about 2400 tonnes of seafood a day! We found a little restaurant and had the world’s freshest sushi. We went back to the ryokan to collect our bags and head to Tokyo Station where we caught a Nozomi bullet train. We were off to Kyoto at speeds up to 285 km/h. We arrived in Kyoto around 6pm and it was a short walk to our ryokan. That night, we found a neat restaurant that cooks Okonomiyaki style which is a savory pancake containing cabbage, egg, and flour. It is then place on a hot grill at your table to keep it hot.
On Friday, we traveled to Ginkaku-ji or Temple of the Silver Pavilion. It is popularly known as the “Silver Pavilion” because of the initial plans to cover its exterior in silver foil. Later, we took the bus to the Kinkaku-ju or Temple of the Golden Pavilion which was built by the father of the guy that built the Silver Pavilion. It is covered in gold leaf that reflects brilliantly off the nearby pond. That evening, we attended a theatre performance in the neighborhood of Gion that showcased traditional music, comic plays, tea ceremonies, and Geisha dancing. We went for a nice “kaiseki” dinner that is a traditional meal served in multiple courses. After leaving the restaurant and strolling through the Gion district we spotted a few Geisha’s making their way to various teahouses to make their appointments. Kyoto is the only city in Japan that still has a working Geisha culture.
For our last full day in Kyoto, we took on some more shrines and temples. The first stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha. Leading from the main shrine to the mountain top are thousands of “torii” that is very neat to walk through. Next, we went to the Sanjusagen-do Temple of which the main deity is Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara or the Thousand Armed Kannon. The temple also contains one thousand life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon. That evening, we ate a sushi and Kobe beef dinner near the Kamo River on Ponto-cho Street. There were even some people dressed up for Halloween.
The last day in Japan brought rain so we decided to do some shopping. We spent the morning at the Daimaru department store then cruised the busy street of Gojo Dori. We then headed back for the bullet train to Tokyo then onto Narita Airport for our flight back to Abu Dhabi.
Japan is a wonderful place with great cuisine. We may be back there sooner than later.