Several members of the AllEars team spent most of March visiting Disney destinations far from home. We visited Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, and Aulani in Hawaii. Along for all or part or this journey were AllEars' Deb Wills, Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman, Jeanine Yamanaka, Linda Eckwerth, and Deb Koma, and friends Jack and Pete.
Tokyo Disney Resort - Day 5, Tokyo Area Sightseeing
Before the trip, Linda, Lee, and I had decided that if we were going all the way to Japan, we wanted to see a little more of it than just Disney. Linda had found a company called Viator.com that offered a lot of different tours from Tokyo, so we'd taken a look to see what we might be interested in doing.
Most of the tours of Tokyo proper seemed focused on shopping, which was of no interest to any of us. We found one that took us outside of Tokyo to Kamakura and Yokohama and visited a number of sights, including a garden, and that looked interesting, so we booked that one. It was offered on limited days of the week, and Thursday was the only day that worked with our schedule..as it turned out, that was a good choice.
The bad thing about the tour was that they didn't pick us up at the hotel, and we had to get ourselves to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in downtown Tokyo. That meant navigating the railway system. :-) Linda had talked to the hotel concierge and had gotten pretty good directions from her on what we needed to do. And really, we figured that we are three fairly capable adults, so it couldn't be that hard. (No, that's not foreshadowing.)
We were supposed to be at the bus terminal at 8:45, and we'd been told it would take us about 45 minutes, so we all met in the hotel lobby at 7:30.
First step was to take the monorail to Ikspiari (Ik-SPEER-ee, in case you've forgotten), which is also the location of the Maihama station for Japan Railway. We had to buy a ticket to our destination at the automated kiosks. The concierge had told Linda how much it would be, plus there was a map that showed the stations and the fare. The kiosks had instructions in English as well as Japanese.
This first station was pretty easy, because there's only one train - we just had to make sure it was going the right direction. It was already fairly crowded with commuters heading into Tokyo, and got more crowded at each station. We had no problem figuring out where we needed to get off (Tokyo Station). We needed to transfer to another line there, but there were lots of signs, so we had no trouble getting to the next train. It was a lot of walking and a couple of escalators, but all underground. Very clean and not horribly crowded. Really quite organized. And as this was one of the main stations, there were lots of signs in English.
We had a very short wait for our second train, and got off at the Hamamatsucho station and made our way upstairs to the bus terminal. There were several different bus tour companies but we found the correct one and checked in. It took us about an hour from the hotel lobby.
We had assigned seats on the bus, which was interesting. I guess they do that so people don't rush the bus to get the best seats. This was an English tour, so other than a couple of Germans, everyone else on the bus was American, Australian, or English. There were about 20 of us - it was more westerners than we'd seen in all three days at the Disney parks! We'd also gotten used to having casual conversations when no one around us understood what we were saying, and we quickly realized that now the people around us understood us and we needed to be more careful! :-)
Our tour visited Kamakura and Yokohama. This day the weather had deteriorated and it was overcast and foggy, with rain forecast in the afternoon. So it wouldn't have been a very good park day anyway. Our tour guide was a Japanese woman named Katie, who spoke excellent English. We started off driving through downtown and on the edge of Tokyo Bay, so she pointed out the sights that we were seeing (like the Tokyo Tower). Unfortunately the visibility wasn't very good because of the fog, so the views of Tokyo Bay were disappointing compared to what they would have been any other day of our trip.
The drive to Kamakura took about 1.5 hours. Along the way she told us some of the history of Japan, and also gave us a quick lesson on Japanese customs, like bowing, and how deeply you bow to whom. We learned some Japanese phrases, like "Good Morning", "Good Afternoon", and "Good Evening". And "Goodbye", "Thank you", and "You're Welcome". I was surprised that "Please" wasn't one of them. She also taught us to count to 10. (Ichi, ni, sun, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyu, ju.) It was very interesting, and it made the time pass quickly.
Our first stop in Kamakura was a Shinto shrine - the Hasedera Temple. The grounds were so pretty - a koi pond with blooming cherry trees around it.
We went up the hill to where the shrine itself was.
From that area we had a view of the water, too.
Our next stop was the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura. This is a well-known outdoor Buddha, made of bronze. It used to be in a hall, but the building was destroyed by storms (and then rebuilt) several times, but way back in the late 1400s they gave up and left it outdoors. It's about 45' tall.
Lunch was included in the tour, and we went to a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama. The restaurant was in an office building, which seemed unusual to us. It was on a pretty high floor with a view of Tokyo Bay. Though as I mentioned before visibility wasn't very good because of the clouds and fog.
We were surprised that on a Japanese tour we were getting a Chinese lunch. :-) But apparently Yokohama has the largest Chinese population in Asia (outside of China, of course). When Japan first opened to the west in the 19th century they needed interpreters, so many Chinese came to fill that role, and stayed.
Lunch was good - multiple courses served to us individually rather than family style. One of the dishes was cuttlefish, which I didn't care for - it was tough and had an odd texture.
When we went out to the bus after lunch it was raining lightly - up until then it had been mostly dry, except for light drizzle a couple of times. We stopped just outside Yokohama's China Town and walked down the narrow streets that were lined with all kinds of shops and food places on our way to a Chinese shrine - the Kan-Tei-Byo Temple. It was really beautifully carved and painted.
Back to the bus, and a short drive to Sankeien Garden. By the time we arrived at Sankeien Garden it was pretty obvious that the rain had settled in and was going to stay for a while. :-(
Sankeien Garden, while it has lots of plants and trees, is largely an architectural garden, where the original owner collected and preserved historic temples and Japanese houses. We couldn't go into them, but there was one that was open on the sides so that we could look into it and see quite a bit of it.
In the museum/visitor center there was an area where we could participate in a tea ceremony if we wanted to (nominal extra charge for that). The ladies performing the ceremony were dressed in beautiful kimonos. It was very nicely done. Linda and Lee did that while I wandered around the museum. I'd wanted to see more of the garden, but being out in the rain was not very appealing.
After the tea ceremony Lee and I took the long way back to the bus so that we could see a little bit more of of the garden, like some of the blooming cherry and plum trees.
That was our last tour stop. It was about 4:00 and we had about a one hour drive back to Tokyo. The bus was not going to drop us back at the bus terminal, but in either the Ginza or Shinjuku districts (shopping, for those so inclined), so on the drive back to Tokyo Katie went to each group on the bus and gave us directions on how to get back to our respective hotels from those places.
For us she advised walking from our drop-off point in the Ginza back to Tokyo Station, which would take 15-20 minutes. From the maps we had we saw that there was a subway station near where we would be dropped off, but she said that was the Metro and not Japan Railway, implying that it would be much more complicated to return that way.
When we got off the bus it was still raining, and we really weren't thrilled by the idea of walking to Tokyo Station in the rain. And we were right next to a Metro Station, and Lee had an app that told us how to get back to the Maihama Station from there. The trick was that we had to transfer from the Metro line to Japan Railway. First step was to purchase a ticket to get us on the Metro to our transfer point. That was pretty easy, since the ticket machines had an English option. We could choose where we wanted to go, and it told us how much we needed to put on the ticket. (Both the Metro and Japan Railway use the same kind of ticket so we could have purchased one ticket that would have had the correct fare to take us all the way to Maihama, but because of the transfer we didn't know what the additional fare was.)
Lee again navigated us without error to the correct platform going the correct direction. We got off at the transfer station, and followed the signs to the Japan Railway station, where we again needed to buy a ticket. And here's where the comedy began. :-)
The ticket machines did not have a mode that would allow us to select our destination and tell us the fare required. There were two signs on the walls illustrating the Japan Railway system - one had the train station names in English and Kanji. The other had the fare amounts but all of the station names were in Kanji. They were not right next to each other. So, picture if you will three otherwise capable adults running back and forth between these two signs trying to match Kanji characters to English station name to determine the proper fare. "Ok, it's on the red line, and it's just two symbols, and one looks like an archway with lattice work on top, and the other looks like the gate thing from Tron, with two little tick marks on the side." (We realized later that we should've just taken a picture of one of the signs!) Afterwards we all started laughing at how ridiculous we must've looked. :-) I was actually surprised that no one offered to help us...we'd read that the Japanese will often go out of their way to help those who obviously appear lost. And in the Metro station a Japanese man had tried to help us with our Metro ticket purchase.
Tickets in hand, we followed Lee to the train platform, just as a train was pulling in. He said, "I think this is going the right direction...if the next stop is Etchujima then we're on the right train." And it was. Our hero. :-)
It was about 5:15, which I thought would be a crowded commute time, but the train wasn't as full as it had been in the morning. We still had to stand, but it wasn't bad. It was still raining and it was very chilly when the doors of the train opened at an outdoor platform. (As we traveled away from Tokyo the platforms were above ground and they were covered but not enclosed.)
We got off at the Maihama station, and went into Ikspiari to get some dinner.
There were a lot of fast food type places as well as some table service restaurants. We found a noodle place in the food court that looked promising. Pan-fried noodles and veggies with either pork, beef, octopus(!) or all three. Linda and I had pork (which was ground pork) and Lee had beef. We were the ONLY westerners anywhere to be seen. We were able to find a table and we enjoyed our nice warm noodles - I even managed the chopsticks without too much trouble. (Lee and Linda were pros - showoffs!)
By the time we finished the seating area was full and people were obviously looking for tables, so we gave ours to a nice Japanese family. We went upstairs to look around Ikspiari a bit.
It's essentially just a large shopping mall. It has a Disney Store, a Disney information booth and ticket booth, and a gift store that sells a lot of the food-type gifts that are available in the parks. Most of the shops and restaurants are NOT Disney at all. I saw a bakery that had some yummy-looking pastries so we went in there to get some dessert for later and some breakfast pastries for the morning. I had a chocolate filled pastry of some kind that was really good. I don't remember what else we got for breakfast the next day, but those were also good.
We went into the Disney Store but it was pretty disappointing - just a generic Disney Store for the most part - no park merchandise at all, and I don't remember anything that was Tokyo-specific other than pins.
It was still raining, and we were very tired - it was 7:00 or so and we'd been out since 7:30 that morning! The main part of the mall wasn't totally covered so we had to dodge raindrops as we moved between places sometimes.
So we caught the monorail back to the Disneyland Hotel - it's the first stop after Ikspiari. We still had to go from the monorail station to the hotel out in the open, but it wasn't too far. Still, we were very glad to get back to our room where it was dry and warm. Lee and I made some tea and enjoyed our pastries.
Not too long after we got back we could hear it pouring rain outside - the rain was so heavy that it was sheeting down our window! Wow. Needless to say, the 8:30 fireworks were cancelled that night. We felt sorry for anyone who was out in the parks...it would've been miserable with the rain AND the cold AND the wind. (For those counting..it was our fifth night in Tokyo, and the fireworks had only been shown once. That's even a worse cancellation rate than Disneyland in Anaheim.)
It was our last night - we would be leaving Tokyo the next evening, so we had to begin the sad chore of packing...complicated by the fact that I'd bought even MORE gifts and on the flight to Tokyo my suitcase was already over the 50 pound weight limit. I'd purchased a large Tokyo Disneyland shopping bag (which zipped closed) so I figured I'd use that as a carry-on, and put the heavier, denser items in it.
Since our flight didn't leave until 9:20 p.m. we'd have most of the day to visit a park before catching a bus to the airport. We'd decided to visit Tokyo DisneySea that final day, but we weren't planning to be there at park opening. Instead we'd get up and pack, check out, and leave our bags with the bell desk while we went to the park.
It was still raining when we went to bed, though at least it was no longer raining neko and inu! :-)
Coming next: A final day at Tokyo DisneySea
The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 7/03/14.
The next post in this blog is Tokyo Disney Resort Part 8 .