Monday, August 31, 2009

Japan Holiday – Day 2

I was up about 7am after a sleepless night. Actually we'd both slept very intermittently and we think it was due to the time difference.

The first thing I did when I got up was look out the window. Although it's not a Bank Holiday here, we had typical Bank-Holiday weather! Rain!!!

We have a full-day tour of Tokyo planned today, so we're hoping it'll brighten up. The Tour was picking us up from the hotel reception at 8.55, so we just had time for a quick breakfast, (carefully avoiding the sprouts and steamed carrots – noooo!) in the mostly empty restaurant. It was still raining, but we remained optimistic.

In typical Japanese efficiency, at 8.53, our Tour Guide arrived and we boarded the coach. Now imagine the worst rain-storm you have ever been caught in. Now multiply that by five and you have something approaching the conditions here. "The Typhoon is coming…" uttered by the representative when we landed was starting to sound very likely! We learned the Typhoon has a name: 'Typhoon 11'.

We stayed on the coach for around 20 minutes and then swapped to another – the weather was now getting much, much worse.

The Tokyo Tower
IMGA0003The Tokyo Tower was first on our itinerary. It looks rather the like the Eiffel Tower, but its orangey-brown paint job suggests it has another use. When it was opened in 1958, it used to be the tallest in ??? at IMGA0004333 metres high, but now, many other towers around the world dwarf it. The Tower's function is to act as a transmitter for Japanese analogue TV. However, it'll soon be switched off and replaced by its much, much taller digital equivalent – just under twice its 'brother's' height.
IMGA0013The rain spoiled the view from the observation tower 150 metres up as the glass was covered in rain, but between us, we managed to get a few good shots.

The Meiji Shrine
Next stop, the Meiji Shrine – dedicated to the spirits of the former Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken.  The entrance to the shrine is guarded by two huge heavenly "gates", with their pillars made from 1700 year old cypress trees.  By now the rain was getting bad…really bad! To add a bit of fun to the conditions, there was also a very strong wind blowing too. We learned at this point that the planned boat-trip had been cancelled

The Samurai Statue
IMGA0025This was a statue of a famous Samurai who served the Emperor.





The Imperial Palace
IMGA0024As we approached the Imperial palace, we saw the famous 'twin bridges'. They would have looked even more spectacular if it had been dry! Did we mention it was pouring with rain?

P1000469The entrance to the Imperial Palace was well-guarded, and the general public are only allowed into the grounds twice a year – 23 December (Emperor's Birthday) and 2 January (new year celebrations)

We also drove past the State Guest House, where foreign heads of State sleep – a sort of posh Japanese Travel-Inn!

P1000475 Just before lunch, Ann tried out the loo. Interestingly, it had running water sound effects! Once Ann finally got off the loo, we had lunch in a restaurant in Shiodome City centre complex – it was traditional Japanese fare of sticky rice; Yakitori (Chicken kebabs); Tempura (prawns and vegetables dipped in batter and fried); tofu swimming in something and Miso soup (looked like washing-up water, tasted much better!)

Our Guide announced that he was handing us over to a colleague for the afternoon part of the tour.

Tasaki Pearl Factory
The factory was very interesting. We were all led to the lift and after going up a few floors, ushered into a room where there a few chairs and a podium. At that point we were all given a coloured 'tag' with a number on it. A young guy came on stage and took us through the process of how a pearl is formed and how it's cultivated. The best bit was when he then produced a small timer-type device and invited one of the audience to press the button on the front. This then randomly displayed a numbers and after a short while stopped. We were asked to check the tags we were given. If the number married-up, the winner got a fresh pearl. The best bit was when the guy sitting in front of us pressed the button and when the numbers stopped it matched his tag!

After a few rounds of 'pearl-fishing' we were shown to their showroom and encouraged to browse. There was some beautiful stuff here, but well out of our price-league. We only had to wait around five minutes and the coach re-appeared. After boarding, we noticed that many of the staff had come outside – in the pouring rain – ready to bow to us all when we left. Reeeeeespect!!!

The Asakusa Kannon Temple
P1000476 Our final stop was to a Buddhist temple founded in 628 AD. Guess what, it was still raining as hard as before, and once again even with an umbrella, we got soaked.


P1000482

The Temple was surrounded by lots of gift-shops and we picked up some postcards.

There was also a fountain where you could splash yourself with sacred water, or if that didn't suit, inhale P1000480some sacred smoke. The sacred water area was very busy, but the smoke area was deserted - maybe because it was out in the open, in the rain.
 
On our return journey, we came through down-town Tokyo where there lots of specialist shops. Even shops that make the fake plates of food you see outside restaurants here.

We were dropped-off right outside the hotel just after 5.30. That's almost seven-and-a-half hours in-and-out of the cold pouring rain. After sprouting web-feet and waddling back to the room, we were missing all the water, so we had a quick bath. We're quackered knackered, so we couldn't be bothered to do out, and so took the lazy option and ordered from the room service menu.

In amongst all this, the Government changed today!

A 'free' day tomorrow and the weather forecast is the same as for today – eeek!