Sharon and I flew out of Honolulu International on Delta/Northwest Flight 329. We had vacationed there, spending Thanksgiving with our families. It was a nine hour flight, but we crossed the international dateline, so we left Friday morning and arrived at Narita Airport early Saturday afternoon. Many of the Japanese passengers wore gauze face masks on the plane. We would see a lot more of them during the two weeks we would be in Japan.
We touched down a little past one PM, about a half hour ahead of schedule. It was the smoothest landing I had ever experienced. Passport control was very fast, but it took awhile for our bags to arrive.
Entering the lobby, we saw no one waiting for us, so went downstairs to the train station and the Japan Rail Pass office. We turned in our vouchers for passes, told the agent when we wanted our 7-day window to begin, and were able to make reservations for most of our rail travel.
We went back to the lobby, where we found Ray Goto, Dove, Jacques, and David Duncan, faculty members from the Savannah College of Art and Design. We were in Japan because I had been invited as a traveling artist to a student group from SCAD. Bernard Chang was the other artist. Basically, we would teach 2 1-hour classes for 5 mornings. The afternoons could be spent sightseeing with the group, or on our own. We would spend 9 days with SCAD, then 5 days on our own. The last time we were in Japan was about 11 years ago, when we were guests of Osamu Tezuka Studios.
I exchanged dollars for yen at the airport, as they had a much better exchange rate than in the city. Even so, it was $1 for about 83 yen. The last time a dollar bought us 130 yen.
Dove escorted us to Tokyo Station on the limosine bus, and we walked the kilometer or so to the Mercure Hotel Ginza. I've stayed in Mercure hotels in Europe, and it is a very nice business hotel chain. This one had some very nice Japanese touches, including slippers, a yukata, and a neat bathroom.
The 7 story Itoya Art Store is a couple of blocks away, and I picked up a couple of brushes and a small watercolor set and a few things I had not seen in the US.
We met the faculty and Bernard (who flew in later that day), and the 8 of us went out to dinner. We ended up at a Chinese restaurant, as the Japanese restaurant upstairs could not accommodate us. The food was delicious.
Sharon and I went downstairs for breakfast at about 7. Students were already there for the buffet, which consisted of a mix of European, American, and Japanese. You could have miso soup, scrambled eggs, sausages, grilled fish, a green salad, croissants, and fresh and canned fruit.
We met outside a couple of hours later, and everyone was given a 10,000 yen Pasmo card, which is good for the metro and trains within metropolitan Tokyo. This was very convenient, and could be scanned in without even taking it out of your wallet. The hotel is in a great location in the middle of the Ginza, with a metro station just underneath, though we would more often use another nearby station. The metro system is very easy to maneuver once you understand it. The routes are named and color coded. Each stop has both a name and a letter and number code, so to get to Meiji Shrine you would go to the Meiji Jingumae stop, C-03, on the green Chiyoda Line. Arrows would point in which direction the train was traveling, and signs would indicate the next station.
The Meiji Shrine stop is just a few meters from the shrine entrance. There was a brief orientation, then everyone was off on their own or in small groups. We passed the torii gate that separates the outside world and sacred ground. Like all shrines, the surroundings are kept in a natural state with lots of greenery. We walked up the wide forest path to another torii, the entrance to the main shrine. We purified ourselves at a trough in the Shinto tradition--washing our left hand, then the right hand, mouth, then rinsing off the ladle. There was a traditional wedding taking place. During the course of the morning we would see four more weddings.
You could see SCAD students sketching here and there. Behind the shrine is an open field, and, beyond that, a kyudo dojo. We watched the archers for awhile, then returned to the shrine entrance, then to the town for lunch.
The Harajuku area is known for its Goth and Lolita fashions, and we passed a lot of young people dressed up. We found a small restaurant down a narrow flight of stairs where I had a delicious grilled salmon. Sharon had maguro sashimi with soba noodles.
Back to the main street, and a half hour walk later, we found the much smaller and much more modern Tojo Shrine. We saw a sign indicating a short cut to the train station, took it, and found ourselves a block from the restaurant. We could have saved ourselves a 8 block walk if we knew about this earlier.
We went on to Yoyogi Park, near the Olympic Stadium. It is a favorite place for 50's rockers to hang out. It was strange seeing guys with duck tails, leather club jackets and girls with poodle skirts just a block away from the Lolitas.