Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tokyo: We're Here!

Ueno Park Lotus Pond, across the street from our hotel

We're here!

Our day started (for me) at 2:30 a.m. when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep because of nerves. I was anxious about a number of things: how long would the security line be at the Maui airport? Would our flight to Honolulu be delayed? Would we have enough time to make our Tokyo connection? Would we have to go through security again? How would the flight be? Once at Narita Airport in Tokyo, would we be able to find the train that would take us into the city, dropping us a couple of blocks from our hotel? What would the hotel be like? Yada, yada, yada.

The 747 that would take us to Japan

In the departure lounge

As it turned out, it was much to do about nothing, something I was already realizing as we drove to Kahului Airport in Maui. I'm getting much better about "letting go," and finally told myself to just chill. We got the car returned. We got to Honolulu. We had plenty of time. We didn't have to go through security again. Our flight was wonderfully comfortable. We arrived safely in Tokyo. We found the train (due to advance research), got our tickets, rode in, found our hotel, love it. 

In flight

The flight itself was great. We had looked into the cost of business class seats, then quickly decided we didn't want to go that route. Instead, we got economy plus bulkhead seats and purchased an extra seat between us so that we'd have lots of room. It was brilliant. Very comfortable, and fun. We became buddies of one of the flight attendants, and when Mark went back mid-flight and asked about the possibility of getting some cocktails, she and another steward simply gave us four small bottles of Blue Sapphire gin. "We'll just say they went to first class," they said. It worked for us. 

Another humorous side note:  People have occasionally asked if we are brothers. This happened again yesterday. I guess people assume that if two men of our age are traveling together, they must be brothers. But people have also commented that we look very much alike. We don't see it; but it happened twice on the flight. A man sitting behind us struck up a conversation (actually - and this is also not the first time this has happened on a flight - he stood up to let someone out to use the restroom, and he saw me writing in my journal and commented on my beautiful handwriting) and asked if we are brothers. Then, later, a young stewardess delivering water or something asked if we are twins! Commenting on both statements later, Mark said, "We should have said, 'Like, that would be really weird'" (us being a gay couple and all).

Upon arrival at our hotel, we asked for a recommendation for a local restaurant. The first question the desk clerk, with her limited English, asked was, "Italian?" "No," replied Mark, "Japanese." She looked surprised, then pulled out a huge binder and showed us a place just down the street. It was very cool. We were served by at least four different middle-aged women in powder blue kimonos, one of whom, in a very motherly way, crouched down next to Mark and went over the English language menu - in Japanese. I wish I'd been able to take a picture. It was precious, watching this very matronly woman converse in Japanese, pointing out various things to Mark, him occasionally nodding and saying a word or two of Japanese. 

Our table was right by the window with a view over to Ueno Park, but it looked exactly like these tables. One carefully sits down, then deposits one's legs in the cavity beneath the table - a compromise between traditional and modern styles of eating. Shoes are left under the little step, and the servers approach the table, take off their sandals, then step up onto the platform.

We finally settled on eel and rice for both of us, with tempura for me and sashimi for Mark. This was the first time I had ever eaten eel (can't imagine why). I had read in some guidebook that eel is delicious, and it was (but it subsequently repeated on me the rest of the evening).  My biggest challenge - which I'm afraid will be ongoing - was using chopsticks. I may have to resort to YouTube videos on the subject. I just can't seem to get the hang of it. Oh well, I've got three weeks to master it ...

The aftermath

Today, we will be exploring Ueno Park, Asakusa and surrounding areas. Unexpectedly, we discovered that the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno is opening a special Michelangelo exhibit today and that, among other famous works of art, this museum has Rodin's original "Thinker." Who knew? When in Tokyo, go see Renaissance and French Impressionist art!

A map of our area. Our hotel is on the street at the base of the pond.

But there will also be plenty of temples, shrines and other attractions today, including the massive Senso-ji Temple (extreme right of map). The adventure has begun.

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