Oct 31, 2006
To see more photos of my tour with Junko, click here
While mom was off in another part of the city having her own cultural experience (more on that later) with her workshop group, I hired a private guide to show me the lesser-known sights of the city. We met in the hotel lobby and I asked her to take me to the places in Tokyo I might not get to on my own. So we began by boarding the subway and going to the last stop on the Ginza line, Asakusa. There we visited a shrine where I learned about Raccoon Dogs (supposedly, praying to these dogs helps to protect against theft), and saw a small shrine dedicated the children who have died. Then we walked the neighborhood and over to the Senso-ji shrine, which is a large place. There you inhale some incense to help keep you healthy, you wash your hands and mouth to purify, and then you go make an offering and a prayer at the shrine. The shrine is dedicated to easing human suffering. So I sent out a prayer for my good friend April who is definitely suffering from her bad case of Pancreatic Cancer.
After the shrine, we walked the neighborhood and then hopped the subway for another shrine. This one was for pregnant women – you go there in pregnancy to pray for a healthy and safe delivery of the baby. So, that’s what I did. Rang the bell twice and did my bows and sent out a prayer for a safe and healthy delivery of the baby. Japanese women then bring their baby back 30 days after birth to thank the gods and get a prayer for the baby. SO while we were there, many Japanese families were there, al dressed up, with tiny babies in little outfits, waiting to give thanks and have a special prayer said in the baby’s name. It was neat to be in such a mama-centered spot!
I mentioned to Junko, my tour guide that I was interested in going to a noodle shop but was a bit intimidated by the whole thing. So after the pregnancy shrine, we went to a really delicious Udon noodle shop in that neighborhood. Not a foreigner in sight – all Japanese people, the menu didn’t even have photos – just Japanese writing…it was a place I would have never gone into on my own. Junko explained that there was a lunch special for about $8 which included Udon noodle bowl, Tempura shrimp, Rice and tea. We ordered and it was the most amazing bowl of noodle soup I have ever had. Delicious! I asked her abut the noodles…were the handmade by this shop? She asked the owner and he explained in Japanese (she translated) that they were handmade -- rolled out, finely sliced and then wrapped around a stretcher to make them longer and thinner. Then they were dried and then used the next day in the noodle shop.
After the noodle shop, we walked to another subway stop. It seems like Tokyo has a subway stop about every three blocks or so. This time we headed to Mitsukoshi, the traditional Japanese Department store – first we went in the basement (Department store basements here in Tokyo are mega food courts full of amazing things) and tried some chocolate samples, then we headed upstairs and outside and across the street where I saw the number one seaweed shop in Tokyo (A seaweed boutique if you will) and we wondered into a Japanese cutlery store where I got to learn all about Japanese cutlery (and why Japanese knives are the best in the world) and the proper technique for sharpening knives. The craftsman in the store spent almost 25 minutes explaining knife sharpening techniques to me, which I happily videotaped and absorbed because Mike and I are always uncertain about the best way to sharpen our knives. After the knife store, it was getting late and my feet were aching, so we headed back to the hotel.
Once I got back and immediately went to take a swim (I am loving the pool here). At the pool, I made another interesting observation/ discovery…none of the Japanese people that I have seen in the pool have actually been swimming…they all seem to just be running in the pool, or doing some kind of aerobic workout. For the most part, during the week I have spent at the pool, I have been one of the only swimmers who were actually intent on swimming in the pool. This discovery and realization suddenly makes the swimming pool scene in “Lost in Translation” all the more meaningful to me – no one in Japan seems to actually swim in the pool, but they do all kinds of aerobic workouts. It’s quite hilarious to see too.
A sudden realization:
Yesterday, before the tour I went to have a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I was sitting there reading the paper, drinking coffee, looking out on the city, eating yummy foods at a fancy place and all the sudden I realized that my days of having this kind of civilized, leisurely breakfast are soon to be over. I actually got teary eyed. I know I will have it sometime, but this probably one of the last breakfasts I will have alone, in a fancy restaurant until a good time after the baby comes. I took a deep breath so that I could really savor the moment. Then I vowed to make tomorrow’s (Wednesday – my last day without mom) breakfast really count. So this morning, I head down to breakfast all “ready” to enjoy my “last supper” alone in this gorgeous place. I sit down and am immediately accosted by the voice of some stupid southern, middle aged, good old boy wearing khakis and a baseball cap who is talking too loud about how drunk he got last night and how hot the girls were that he met, and blah, blah…it got and raunchier and raunchier. There went my peaceful serene last breakfast. Lesson learned: Be in the moment when its there. If you try to recreate something or delay an experience, you might miss it all together.
Across town, at the training center, my mom was having her own adventure. First, she forgot to bring her business cards – a major ordeal and faux pas here, which she solved by totally avoiding the people she knew would give her their cards. So she spent 3 days ducking into hallways so she wouldn’t have to explain that she forgot her business cards (they were with me at the Hyatt). On top of that they were serving grossly gelatinous foods for lunch and dinner so she didn’t eat much and the shower in her room there was absolutely impossible to figure out, so she took only baths. She arrived back at the Park Hyatt a few hours ago, and immediately had two beers in a row. Whew! She’s done! Hooray! Now we can play some more together. Tomorrow we are off to Kyoto.