Today was our 8-hour guided tour of Tokyo, provided by Sunrise Tours. I had taken the same tour, Dynamic Tokyo, when I went to Japan in 1994 and thought it was so good that we should do it this time.

We woke up at 6:30am (after going to bed at 12:30am…argh!) and were in our lobby for a 7:55am pickup. The bus, which was just a pick-up bus for several tours, came to our hotel right on schedule and after making 2 more stops, we went to a centralized processing place to pay for our tour (5% discount and a free sushi magnet because we paid with our Visa card ) and get on our tour bus.

Our tour guide was a young lady nicknamed Toyo and our driver was Mr. Sasaki.

First stop was Tokyo Tower, which looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower but is slightly taller and painted a reddish orange and white (it takes 10 men 3 years to paint it and it’s repainted every 5 years) The tower is 333 meters tall and was built in 1958, just in time for current Emperor’s wedding in 1959. We went to the observatory, about 150 meters up, and got to see a panoramic view of Tokyo. One floor down had clear sections of floor so you could look down…in typical Sharon fashion, I jumped onto it .

Next was the Imperial Gardens, which was part of the home of Shoguns hundreds of years ago. The gardens were beautiful, with lots of trees and a variety of bonsai that were upwards of 500 years old. We also saw 2 or 3 weddings taking place at the gardens. We attended a traditional Tea Ceremony here…tea ceremonies were started by a monk in the 15th century and the rules and manners of the ceremony were perfected in 16th. It represents tranquility, respect and harmony. Toyo had told us the basic rules for the ceremony, such as to talk quietly, what to say and what to do. The Tea Master completed the ceremony for us…purifying the utensils, making and whisking the tea until it’s frothy, passing it out for us to drink. Every movement is formalized, from which hand you use to hold things to when you eat the tea candy you have been given. Very interesting.

Next was lunch at the Mokushundo restaurant at the Chinzan-so Hotel. It was barbecue style beef, pork and chicken, as well as carrots, peppers, asparagus, onions and sweet potatoes. And lots of rice, well water and green tea. VERY good and very filling.

The hotel shares a garden with the Four Seasons Hotel. The garden was bigger than the last, with a 1,000-year-old 3-story pagoda, a 500-year-old tree, a shrine, several statues, most dating back to the 15th and 16th century, of gods.

While on the bus, Toyo would give us background information about what we were going to see next or just general information about Tokyo. FYI, it costs Toyo ¥85,000 (a little less than $850) per month for a 26-square-meter apartment (our bus was about 30 sq meters). It costs ¥40,000 (slightly less than $400) per month to rent a parking spot in a garage and you have to have proof of having the spot before you are allowed to buy a car! The average salary of a Japanese worker is about ¥5,000,000 ($50,000) per year. Japan has the highest number of restaurants per capita and the 2nd highest number of McDonald’s in the world.

Our next stop was a 15-minute picture-taking opportunity of the front plaza of the Imperial Palace. It’s a heavily guarded ancient wall and gate. Much more Japanese than interesting .

We next drove through the Ginza area and saw many high-priced places such as Coach, Mikimoto, Armani suits, etc. And lots and lots of people.

Next stop was a boat cruise on the Sumida River. We went under several bridges and were pointed out lots of sites by the pre-recorded tour guides (in Japanese and English). This part of the tour was a little disappointing…the boat had 2 levels, each with about 20 rows of seats that held 5 across. With so many people, if you didn’t get a window seat or next to one, your view was very obscured. We were the 3rd, 4th and 5th seat from the window in our row, so Steve went to the standing section in the back (also crowded, but he’s tall and could see over heads), Joe catnapped and I wrote this part of my journal.

We left the boat in a part of Tokyo called Asakusa. It has a huge shrine and shopping area. By day 18 of Japan, we were pretty much shrined out, regardless of the size. And the shopping was…touristy. Mostly crap . But we still managed to find a few items to buy.

The tour does not include return service to our hotel, which was fine since it wasn’t quite 5pm and we still wanted to stay out. So we had the driver drop us off in the Ginza area. We found another toy store but that was about it…most stores were either too expensive, something we had no interest in, or closed.

We hopped on a train and went to a town called Shibuya. By now it was nighttime and there was a LOT of neon signs and a lot of young people (late teens/early 20’s). We went to an HMV store (they sell CD’s) and I did the last of my “damage” with buying Disney CD’s (I got about 2 dozen this trip). We also walked around a trendy department store called The Loft for a little while.

Shibuya was a little too crowded for my tastes (I don’t get claustrophobic per se, but I tend to “shut down” in large groups of people because all I can see are boobs and shoulder blades) so we took a taxi to another town called Roppongi.

Roppongi was much less crowded than Shibuya but still had the neon and well-known establishments. We decided to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Food was typical for a HRC and sort of started to ease us back into a U.S. state of mind.

Went back to the hotel after dinner because it had been an early morning after a late night and we were all exhausted. Joe and I are going to pack tonight…Steve’s waiting until tomorrow morning. We go back to TDS and the Miracosta tomorrow, so we can see the premiere of BraviSEAmo after its 2-week rehab. Then it’s the 20-hour flight home on Tuesday afternoon.

I might or might not write an entry for tomorrow (Monday)…depends on how much pressed for time we are on our last day. I hope you weren’t bored to tears with some (or all ) of these entries…I was partially writing them for the people who I knew might be interested in our trips and partially for my own benefit so I could better remember our trip (my memory is really, REALLY bad). I hope y’all at least got some enjoyment out of some of it.

Until next time…

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