Day 1:    Ahso's in Asakusa

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Mike arrived the night before around 7:00 in the evening, so the Boys took it easy after Mike's 18 hour flight.  The idea was that the best way to check out Japan was by checking out Tokyo so rising early, Mike and Bone headed down from Bone's 25th Floor apartment in the Roppongi T-Cube to break their fast. On the way down, Bone showed an awesome scene from Bone's Apartment of Japan's favorite dormant volcano!

Bone's Tokyo Pad" The Roppongi T-Cube!

 

Mount Fuji from the 25th Floor of Bone's Apartment Lobby

Realizing that there will be lots of opportunities for Japanese cuisine throughout the trip, Bone first took Mike to one of his favorite American breakfast joints in Tokyo Bubbies of Brooklyn ! Bubbies is a Brooklyn based chain that is noted for their Apple Pies. With a good meal and some coffee from StarBucks Mike shook off his jet lag and the Boys were ready to roll! Bone then took Mike into the Japanese maze also known as their Subway System, on the Hanzomon  Line to the oldest section of Tokyo, Asakusa  !

The Tokyo Sky Gate & Asahi Beer (the Golden Turd) Statue from the Asakusa Subway Gate

Bone took Mike to Asakusa since it is very much ground zero of Japanese history in Tokyo. It is the old center of Edo (Tokyo's first name) or shitamachi (literally "low city"), one of Tokyo's very oldest districts, where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past centuries still can be felt in the streets. Coming out of the Subway Station it was hard to imagine it was late December ! It was a perfect day in the low 50's,bright and dry as a Bone ! (Pun intended!) All too often in the summer Tokyo is a steamy humid mess but today was awesome! Since the week between Christmas and New Years is a National Holiday the streets were packed with locals and Japanese tourist from other parts of Japan, but very few gaijin.    

Yanquis about to breach the Kaminari Main Gate in Asakusa !

The first very cool, historic site Mike and Bone crossed was a gate ! The historic Thunder Gate! The Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is the one of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Sensō-ji Temple, which really is the main attraction. The gate, with its lantern and statues, is popular with tourists.

The Kaminarimon was first built in 941 by Taira no Kinmasa a military commander. It was originally located near Komagata, but it was reconstructed in its current location in 1635. This is believed to be when the statues of Raijin and Fūjin were first placed on the gate. Four statues are housed in the Kaminarimon. On the front of the gate, the statues of the Shinto gods Fūjin and Raijin are displayed. Fūjin, literally the god of wind, is located on the east side of the gate, while Raijin, literally the god of thunder, is located on the west side.

Two additional statues stand on the reverse of the gate: the Buddhist god Tenryū on the east, and the goddess Kinryū on the west side.  In the center of the Kaminarimon, under the gate, hangs a giant red chōchin that is 4 meters tall, 3.4 meters in circumference and weighs 1,480 lb’s. Being very fragile, the lantern is not an original piece.

It is instead a restoration that was donated in August 2003 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the start of the Edo period by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (now known as Panasonic).  Passing through Mike and Bone felt so blessed that they toasted the pass through with another Starbucks!!! 

Mike-san & Bone-san in front of the Iconic 5 Story Senso-Ji Pagoda

The Five-storied Pagoda was built in 942 along with the Main Hall by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. While it provided Mike and Bone an iconic picture, Mike and Bone could not-go-to-da pagoda because it was closed to the public (or just maybe gaijin's!) While not being able to get in to it, the Senso-Ji Temple Pagoda is one of the iconic pictures in Tokyo, found in most books (an postcards!) that reflect it's heritage.

Nikamase: Shopping ! Shopping !! Shopping !!!

 

Between the Thunder Gate and the Temple is the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries. It is a quarter mile long with more  than 50 shops, which offer local specialties and the usual array of cheap, plastic tourist souvenirs. The Boys found it odd that in every Buddhist Shrine in Japan, there would always be tons of shops and stuff to buy. Apparently the Japanese Buddhists are more capitalistic that Barack Obama!! 

The Boys DID Inhale, as well as Drink !!!

 

Another Buddhist custom along with the rampant capitalism is as you approach a Temple, you pass these huge incense stands where you buy (again with the money!) a stick of incense in memory of a deceased loved one. Once lit, you are supposed to essentially stick your face into the smoke, rub it on the back of your head, in order to fully absorb the good stuff. Next there are these water fountains where people cleanse their palate out of these communal gold cups (pictured above), which is a sure bet way to get some form of the Flu!

Mike and Bone both did the smoke thing, but Mike (probably wisely) passed on the fountain. Now refreshed and prepared, they went into the Senso-Ji Temple! 

The Senso-Ji Temple!

The Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺) is Tokyo's oldest temple, and one of its most significant. Formerly associated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism, it became independent after World War II. The temple is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. According to legend, a statue of the Kannon was found in the Sumida River in 628 by two fishermen, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari. The chief of their village, Hajino Nakamoto, recognized the sanctity of the statue and enshrined it by remodeling his own house into a small temple in Asakusa so that the villagers could worship the Kannon version of Buddhism. Queuing in line to walk the stairs Mike and Bone observed that the ritual was to get to the top of the stairs bow low three times AFTER throwing money in a long trough designed for all the raining yen that was flung in there! Again, it is all about the Benjamin's !!

The very tranquil Senso-Ji Grounds

Fat-Bone-san!

After the Temple the Boys wandered the Temples grounds grooving on the very cool statues and Japanese gardens they headed back to the Main Street for some fine Japanese cuisine!

Shabu-shabu !!!! (?)

By now it was pushing 1:00 PM and lunch was starting to sound good. So Bone treated Mike to a traditional Japanese Meal of Shabu-shabu!

Say what? Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water. The name is derived from the sound emitted when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot. Its origins are traced back to the Chinese hot pot known as instant-boiled mutton (Shuŕn Yángrňu). Shabu-shabu is most similar to the original Chinese version when compared to other Japanese dishes. The dish is typically made with thinly sliced beef. It is usually served with tofu and vegetables, including Chinese cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves, nori (edible seaweed), onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and enokitake mushrooms. In some places, udon, mochi or harusame noodles may also be served. It  is prepared by submerging a thin slice of meat or a piece of vegetable in a pot of boiling water or dashi (broth) made with konbu (kelp) and stirring it. Cooked meat and vegetables are usually dipped in ponzu or goma (sesame seed) sauce before eating, and served with a bowl of steamed white rice. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, leftover broth from the pot is customarily combined with the remaining rice, and the resulting soup is usually eaten last. Going into a restaurant that specializes in shabu-shabu, they made Mike and Bone take off their shoes (a tradition in many of the more traditional restaurants in Japan), and use slippers, they were ushered into a private room where a waitress in traditional Japanese garb, would bring the meal in by course.

Cooking the meat was much like fondue, cook the meat and the veggies to your taste, which was interesting because the meat came out a funky grey and was just,,,, ok! Not bad, not great, but a very cool thing to try! 

With the shortened December days, the Boys decided to move on to the next Tokyo District on the Tokyo Tour, which Bone thought was good because Ueno is Bueno!! 

Ueno Hill

Ueno Park is a big public park in the Ueno district in Tokyo. The park was established in 1873 on lands formerly belonging to the temple of Kan'ei-ji, (which part of still exist). It is one of Japan's first public parks, it was founded following the western example as part of the borrowing and assimilation of international practices that characterizes the early Meiji period. The home of a number of major museums, Ueno Park is also celebrated in spring for its cherry blossoms and hanami. In recent times the park and its attractions have drawn over ten million visitors a year, making it Japan's most popular city park.

Ueno Park occupies land once belonging to Kan'ei-ji, founded in 1625 in the "demon gate", the unlucky direction to the northeast of Edo Castle. Most of the temple buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Ueno in 1868 during the Boshin War, when the forces of the Tokugawa shogunate were defeated by those aiming at the restoration of imperial rule. In December of that year Ueno Hill became the property of the city of Tokyo, other than for the surviving temple buildings which include the five-story pagoda of 1639, the Kiyomizu Kannondō.

Shinobazu

The park has some 8,800 trees, including Ginkgo biloba, Cinnamomum camphora, Zelkova serrata, Formosan cherry, Somei-Yoshino cherry, and Japanese cherry. There is a further 24,800 m2 of shrubs. Shinobazu Pond is a small lake with an area of 16 ha, extensive lotus beds, and marshland. It provides an important wintering ground for birds. Species commonly found include the tufted duck, Eurasian wigeon, northern pintail, common pochard, little grebe, great egret, and great cormorant. The Baer's pochard, ring-necked duck, and American wigeon have also been recorded.

The central island houses a shrine to Benzaiten, goddess of fortune, modeled on Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa. The area was once full of "rendezvous teahouses", equivalent of the modern love hotel. After the Pacific War the pond was drained and used for the cultivation of cereals and subsequently there were plans to turn the site into a baseball stadium or multi-storey carpark. The lotus pond was restored in 1949, although much of it was again accidentally drained in 1968 during work on a new subway line.

Mike and Bone wandered around the park enjoying the great weather and checking out the Buddhist Shrine and the awesome pond which was reminiscent of the Central Park Reservoir 

The Ueno Shrine

While there were a few food vendors by the Shrine, Bone explained to Mike that during the Summer and early Fall that there were stall after stall of awesome ramen noodle roasted corn stands throughout the Park, which made the Boys a little hungry, especially since it had been about three hours from lunch, so for dinner, Mike and Bone went for another traditional Japanese Cuisine,,,, Sushi!!!  Bone knew of a great sushi shop in the Ueno Shopping District!

"Shopping on Steroids: The Ueno Shopping District"

The Japanese view shopping as sport, underneath the Rail line that go through Ueno there are 10 - 12 blocks of small stall shops, typically packed with people. Ironically most of the stalls sells rip-off American products like fake Nike shoes, New York Yankee caps, and plastic Gucci bags, nothing as interesting as what you find in the Nakimase in the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa,  Winding there way through the crowded streets, the Boys came across the objective: Sushi!!!!

There is something Fishy about the Sushi in Ueno!"

There is few things Mike likes more than Sushi!  How can you be in the land of the Nippon for more than 24 hours and NOT have at least a taste of a treat invented by the Japanese. While there are hundreds if not thousands of sushi restaurants in Toyko, Bone knew of this cool cafeteria-style sushi joint that has a revolving  plates of sushi. You simply take what you want or ask (in broken Japanese) for whatever you want that isn't displayed. At the end, you simply pay for the number of plates you eat. While it wasn't cheap ($10 bucks a plate!), it was pretty good. After 4-5 plates each, the Boys dropped a cool hundred bucks for raw fish and decided to head bacn to Bone' Pad to figure out plans for the evening.

Running Around Roppongi!

The 16 hour time difference between Grand Rapid and Tokyo, and Mike as with most, was starting to run out of steam on the first day. When Bone moved over, he "head-bobbed" most of his first week after 5:00 PM in the office. However this did not mean they were done! So Bone walked Mike up the 4 blocks to the closest thing to Time Square in Tokyo,, Roppongi Crossing!!!

For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, Roppongi was an enormously popular nightclub district that stood out from the other pleasure quarters of Tokyo for its mix of international entertainment and people. It was where Japanese and foreigners went to meet and play. With the crash of Japan’s bubble economy in the 1990s, however, the neighborhood declined, and it now has a reputation as perhaps Tokyo’s most dangerous district—a hotbed of illegal narcotics, prostitution, and other crimes.

Its concentration of “bad foreigners,” many from China, Russia and Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Southeast Asia is thought to be the source of the trouble. Roman Adrian Cybriwsky examines how Roppongi’s nighttime economy is now under siege by both heavy-handed police action and the conservative Japanese “construction state,” an alliance of large private builders and political interests with broad discretion to redevelop Tokyo. The construction state sees an opportunity to turn prime real estate into high-end residential and retail projects that will “clean up” the area and make Tokyo more competitive with Shanghai and other rising business centers in Asia. Roppongi Crossing is a revealing ethnography of what is arguably the most dynamic district in one of the world’s most dynamic cities. Based on extensive fieldwork, it looks at the interplay between the neighborhood’s nighttime rhythms; its emerging daytime economy of office towers and shopping malls; Japan’s ongoing internationalization and changing ethnic mix; and Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, the massive new construction projects now looming over the old playground.

The funny thing is that the "bad" part of Roppongi is only 2 blocks on either side of Roppongi Crossing. In that 4 square block area, you can get pretty much anything you want and will often be offered it! However 2 steps out of that area it is very nice, upscale shops and restaurants.

Bone took Mike to his favorite Bar in Roppongi, the Abbot for just one cold one. The Abbot is a second floor British Pub-type place that is easy going and fun. Of course being native Detroiters, Bone took Mike for one beer in Motown, just to experience how older gaijin dance with younger Japanese girls, and while there were pictures of all the Motown stars, there was very little Motown music! Since the next day was gonna be busy with a walk around the Emperor's Palace, and a Bullet Train Trip to Hiroshima, the Boys called it at 12:30 PM.