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Thursday, March 31, 2016

2016 JAPAN SAKURA ADVENTURE: Day 4--Ueno Park

I was agonizing at night trying to figure out how I would somehow transport my luggage down those steep steps when it occurred to me that I could avoid that possible disaster by just catching a taxi to Tokyo Station.  Problem solved.

As I had a few hours before I had to leave Toyoko-Inn for Haneda Airport, I thought, I've always had a hanami (picnic under cherry blossoms) lunch, with a few dinners, why not do this for breakfast.  I asked the front desk if I could extend my stay from 10 AM to 11 AM.  Sure, I was told, for 11,000 yen ($10).  10:30?  Well, what about 10:20 for free she said.

Waiting for the Sobu Line at 6:30AM, I noted that 90% of those in line were in dark suits and ties.  When the train came, it was full, so I had to insert myself between people, a standard operation here.  Why were they going to work so early?  

The cherry blossoms were also not quite at peak at Ueno Park.  Glad I came so early, for in a few hours you would not be able to see any ground for the mass of humanity.


On both sides of the walkway are these green and blue tarps, guarded by the lowest ranking people in the company or group.  They might have to sit here until 6PM when things really pick up.

I picked up a bento with sake and beer for my breakfast hanami:


Yes, this was breakfast, but it's just impossible to have a hanami without sake and beer.  My table is a large cubic rock.  Just as I was about to eat, one chopstick dropped unto the dirt.  It's amazing what you can do with one chopstick if you don't mind placing your mouth to the food and using your tongue.

I noticed twenty feet away a Sakura tree with white and pink stuff, so I went to take a photo of what they were:


Yes, cherry blossoms growing out of the trunk.

They are very organized here, with signs on where to throw what away.


That sign on the right indicates what you cannot do:


You can only smoke in special areas.  Unlike Shinjuku Park, nothing here about alcohol.  Those celebrating on those tarps do some serious drinking.  Other scenes:


Getting back to my my hotel, I noticed that the free breakfast was still being served, so I picked up a cup of miso soup and had it during my bath.  Another first.

I easily found my way to Haneda Airport, thanks to the taxi that bypassed the luggage problem.  Only $15 to possibly avoid a serious accident.  The ANA Lounge was large but modest, with almost no food.  I noticed what looked like how to get a short nap, and think you had to go to a special room to use this:


Did I tell you I bought another cane, which you can see to the right?  This one also came from Daiso...for $1.25.  The one I got in Bangkok was $3, while my German version was around $20.  I lost both of them on my Grand Around the World Journey.  Wonder when I'll lose this one above.  Another advantage of a cane is that a staff member came up to me for early boarding, and walked me to my seat.  I was the first, and no one came in for another five minutes.

I also noticed two rather large ads, for deep ocean drinking water and Miyazaki Beef:


On the flight to Kansai Airport, I had a beautiful view of a snow-covered Mount Fuji (and here it is almost April):

 

After I picked up my baggage, an ANA staffer with a cart came up to me and said he would deliver me to my destination.  Another plus for a cane.  I must look awfully handicapped.  The Nikko Kansai Airport is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  This is a beautiful hotel with, of all the things, a 24-hour Burger King outside on the second floor:


There are, actually also four fine restaurants here, and I was tempted by their $100 Japanese beef set, and I also noticed that those over 65 pay $25 for a $36 buffet.  However, I noticed a soba shop at the airport, so I walked back (the hotel is only three minutes away) and had the following:


A truly enjoyable noodle set with grated turnips and the largest ume I've ever seen, plus sashimi with mountain yam.  As it was just 3:30PM, I picked up a raw ham and mascarpone Subway, with a can of beer, which I had for my late night snack.


The Panda Tour group from Hawaii arrives at around 8PM tonight.  Tomorrow, off to Hiroshima.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 JAPAN SAKURA ADVENTURE: Day 2--Shinjuku Park

Shinjuku Park has always been in my top three of Sakura sites.  I showed up at 11AM on a Wednesday, and there was a line 100 yards long to get in.  One delay was that everything was being checked.  There was a long list of what not to bring in, especially alcohol:


The entrance fee was around $1.75.  Unfortunately, while lots of sakura in bloom, the peak was still a few days away.  This weekend should be great, but the crowds will be oppressive...and it is expected to rain.

As it was, there was a lot to appreciate:


There is a relatively new greenhouse here with various microclimates:


Even a beautiful blue jade.

I then checked out of the Tokyo Westin in my first experiment at thriftiness, and found my way to the Bakurocho Station, where exit C4 was said to put you 30 seconds away from the Toyoko-Inn Akihabara Kanda Hotel.  Unfortunately, life is not always so easy.  
  • At exit C4 you had to walk up a whole bunch of stairs to street level.  That was impossible for me with luggage.  
  • So I went back to the station and asked about an elevator.  Well, it turns out that this station has no elevator.  
  • They recommended my walking underground to the next station and finding an elevator.  Halfway there I saw an escalator, so up I went.  
  • Unfortunately, that took you only half way, and the only way back down was to walk.  So I struggled up.  
  • Amazingly enough, way up the road I thought I saw a Toyoko-Inn sign.  After a half mile walk, it was Toyoko-Inn, so I tried to check in.  
  • Wrong Toyoko-Inn.  They told me to go back from where I came and how to get to my hotel.  
  • The sign outside my hotel said $67 in American dollars.  However, that is the price if they had any room available.  I had to pay $97, which is still better than $350.  A large sign in their elevator said this was the largest hotel chain which experienced full occupancy for all their hotels in a 24 hour period.
  • The room itself is very adequate with a largish bed and fast wi-fi.  Plus they have a Sakura plant outside.

On the way over I saw a soba restaurant, so I went back there.  However, it was too complicated, having to put coins in a vending machine with language I couldn't understand, and the place looked seedy.  Fortunately, next door was a Domino Pizza, so I ordered take-out Spaghetti Bolognese, Caesar salad and corn soup, and bought a can of beer from 7/11.  I had an excellent Italian meal in my room.


Tomorrow I fly to Kansai Airport and meet my Panda Tour for a lot more cherry blossoms, mostly on Shikoku Island, Hiroshima and Osaka.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2016 JAPAN CHERRY BLOSSOM ADVENTURE: Day 3-- Tokyo

It was a gorgeous day in Tokyo with temperatures into 60's and a blue sky.  My free breakfast at the Tokyo Westin:


I noticed on the the two tables to the left of me two Japanese couples enjoying their meal.  I don't think more than 10 words were exchanged during their entire breakfast, and you can see why:


While the above buffet is rather expensive, I noticed that Burger King serves a very reasonable combination (divide by 113 to get dollars):


A hamburger or hotdog with orange juice and coffee for $2.50.

I then went to Shinjuku Station to make my Japan Rail Pass reservations for use after the Panda Sakura Tour, which I will join in two days.  I next found my way to Jindai Botanical Park to have lunch with Pearl:


I might add that there are at least half a dozen other statues by Bussi:


The cherry blossoms were still a few days away from the peak:



For dinner, I borrowed a Yebisu beer from the Executive Club Lounge and had in my room a Burger King Whopper with fries and onion rings, all the below for around $9:


While eating I watched the pre-game ceremonies of the Yokohama DeNa (the team was purchased in 2011 by a software company, DeNa) BayStars, and was impressed.  The whole thing must have lasted half and hour:
  • A hundred children dressed in the BayStars uniform paraded unto the field with flags and did a thing or two.
  • Then the lights were turned off and Minme sang the Japanese National Anthem, Kimi Ga Yo.  Usually this is an instrumental, a very short one.
  • In the spotlight, all the BayStar players were individually introduced.
  • Then, after 20 minutes, the lights were turned on and the starting line-up was introduced, where each player ran to his position, even the pitcher.
  • The manager is Alex Ramirez, who played for Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
I think tonight was opening night.

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