Thanksgiving week seemed like a perfect time to head over to Asia for the first time with the family. The girls were on school breaks and it’s typically a slower work week for my husband. But you may be wondering…Japan for Thanksgiving?? Japan did gift the USA with beautiful cherry trees…So, I am thankful for that! In all seriousness, Japan does celebrate on November 23rd, but they call it “Thanksgiving Labor Day”. Some businesses even give time off from work.
Once we arrived and started exploring, we realized that it’s a very busy time of the year. None the less, we had a fantastic time! We celebrated with the Japanese and a multitude of visiting Chinese during a temperate Fall week with flaming maple trees & golden ginkgo trees (cherry trees blossom only in the Spring…need to plan another trip for that spectacle)!
Similar to NYC on a mild fall day, lot’s of families & friends go out to enjoy the nice weather and beautiful foliage in the parks in Tokyo. Again much like NYC, Tokyo has predominantly pavement and tall building, so the parks get busy.
As we strolled through Yoyogi Park, which was near our hotel (Park Hyatt Tokyo), we noticed how clean it was even with all the social activities going on. The people seem to be very careful to clean-up after themselves. Even with all the crowds, I was amazed at how clean the city was and we hardly saw trash cans!
While walking through the Meiji Shrine gardens, we came across a couple that were having pictures taken in traditional Japanese wedding outfits. The bride looked perfect with her hair all done up and the porcelain-like make-up!
“Scramble Crossing” in Shibuya district, is the busiest intersection in the World. It can accommodate as many as 2,500 pedestrians with each rush-hour traffic signal change! Don’t drive here!!
Walking down a side street, one couldn’t miss this brightly decorated restaurant. It had blown-up images of their food plastered near the door for people to see what they serve (several other restaurants did that too). We had a good laugh at the dressed up she-piggy by the door, welcoming guests in!
The youth subculture’s favorite hang-out area is in Harajuku district in Shibuya. It’s full of high-end shops, restaurants and lots of youth! Several of the stores carry Victorian doll costumes that the “Lolita” like to wear. Women wear these outfits not just when attending parties, but as everyday wear even while eating a McDonald’s burger.
While exploring Shibuya, we walked past this cute scene…Two adorable doggies having a drink!
The statue of Hachiko in Shibuya, near the subway station, has become a popular meeting place. It’s in remembrance of the loyal dog, that would wait for his owner’s return from work, at Shibuya Station. While at work one day, the owner died, yet Hachi continued to wait for his ‘master’ every evening for the following 9 years. Now that’s devotion!
We spent part of a rainy day walking around Roppongi Hills. The building complex features offices, apartments, luxury shopping, fine dining restaurants, movie theater, a hotel and the Mori Arts Center which is in one of Tokyo’s tallest buildings. We toured the arts center and checked out the views from their observatory deck. You can see Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower, in the mist. It’s the World’s tallest self-supporting steel tower and 42 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower.
You can’t go to Tokyo without experiencing the Robot Restaurant. Imagine flashing lights, glitzy girls dancing to taiko drums and techno music with a giant panda, dinosaurs, ninjas and (of course) robots on a stage that, if you’re not careful, can get a hand or finger squished as the large apparatuses move about! Show on STEROIDS!! Nothing like it…must see for yourself!
It’s in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red-light district, a seedy part of town…so beware and have your hotel concierge pre-purchase your tickets, then have the cab driver drop you off in front and pick you up there too, so you don’t have to walk around.
Plan to eat before you get to the show because it’s not great food, barely OK snacks.
The Park Hyatt Tokyo is a fantastic hotel with great service, comfortable rooms and great restaurants. I really enjoyed the New York Bar UNPLUGGED that has great views and offers live jazz performances nightly. We had Thanksgiving Dinner next door, at New York Grill, that has an open kitchen. We didn’t have turkey and all the fixing, but instead we had steaks and seafood! Even though it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, it was a tasty meal non the less. We won’t forget it!
The Robotaya chefs were great at preparing our authentic Japanese meals from the fresh meats, seafood and veggies spread out in front. They cook them on an open-hearth style grill and the sake was perfect with the meal!
I can’t forget to tell you about one of my culinary highlights of this trip. I got to have lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza. Again, thanks to the assistance from the concierge at the Park Hyatt, who made the reservation 30 days in advance (the earliest Jiro allows).
Kenny & I got there early and waited in the basement of an office/retail building, for the doors to open. Jiro’s is small with a sushi bar that seats about 8-10 people and a few tables. We were seated with 7 other guests at the bar. We were given a pre-fix menu, listing the 20-pieces of sushi we will each be served. Jiro & his oldest son, careful assemble each piece, brush their special sauce on top and place it on each guest’s plate respectively. He quickly noticed and chuckled that I was a “southpaw”, then proceeded to place the rest of my nigiri, specifically for my ease of picking it up.
Everyone spoke in hushed voices, as not to disturb Jiro’s work. It was quite dramatic! The lady next to me lives in the States, but is originally from Japan. As we were looking over the menu, she got all excited for the “uni” to be served later. I’ve never had that before, so I figured it must be fantastic since she was so looking forward to it. I too got excited in anticipation of my first taste of “uni”. Alas, as soon as I placed the piece in my mouth and tasted the sweetness of the meat and texture, I grossed out. I REALLY wanted to spit it out, but I couldn’t since Jiro, was watching me! I tried not to gag as I forced myself to swallow it, but only with a full glass of sake! It must be an acquired taste…and I’m just fine with not acquiring it!
After getting stuffed with 20 pieces of sushi, we were seated at a table to enjoy honeydew melon and authentic Japanese green tea. It was a pleasant way to end the meal!
To experience traditional Japan, you must visit Kyoto. Kyoto was the old capital of Japan with literally thousands of shrines and temples. You can read about my day-trip on my previous blog post…
Until next time Japan!!