I haven't written since I came here because I have just been so tired after all of the trips we have been taking. Who knew I'd go to bed at 8:30pm???? I blame some of it on jet lag. I'll give a brief explanation of what we did each day.
We flew into Tokyo. The plane ride over was sooooooo long, 12-14 hours long. On the plane, it was mostly Japanese people, and all the announcements were in Japanese. The flight crew wore cute outfits, which were different to the ones that you typically see in American flights. They gave us a few different meals and snacks. First they gave us some rice crackers, as well as towels to wipe your hands. For "dinner" they had a choice of chicken or fish (not an Airplane! reference) with noodles, veggies, and a roll. It wasn't really that good, but it was airplane food, so what would you expect? They also had little sandwiches that had tomato, bacon (?), and lettuce on them. For "Breakfast" there was yogurt and I think scallops? I can't really remember. They had an assortment of movies on the flight, so I got to watch "Doctor Strange" and "Fantastic Beasts and where to find them". There were also some games, but they were pretty boring. The flight attendants had asked us why we were coming to Japan and we explained to them that I was studying there after traveling around for a little bit. Near the end of the flight a few of the flight attendants brought us a bag and some "bouquets" made of candy. In the bag was a little inflatable plane of the one we were on, complete with flight number and decorated with hearts! They also gave me some cards with common Japanese phrases for me to use. There were also an assortment of other things from the flight, like some keychains and such. It was super sweet!!!!! Once we got through customs we had a car take us to our hotel in Tokyo. Tokyo is SOOOOOOO big!!! There are tons of little shops and restaurants down every alleyway. Once we got to the hotel we were exhausted and went to bed. Our toilet (trust me, toilets here are interesting) has the little jet that you always hear about. It's really weird.
I woke up really early (5am ish) from jet lag. We went to breakfast at the hotel which was an odd mix of things. It had sushi, it had eggs, and it had pastries. There were even grapefruits with straws in them! It was good, but odd. We had a guide that took us around Tokyo named Mike. He was originally from New York, but he ended up liking Japan so much that he decided to stay! In the morning We walked to the temple that was 10 minutes from our hotel. It was so pretty!!!! There seemed to be some kind of festival or something going on because the temple was super crowded and there were people in all sorts of outfits carrying sacred looking objects and playing instruments. Mike taught us how to purify ourselves at the handwashing area outside of the temple and then he showed us how to pray at one. You bow twice in front of the offering table, clap twice, pray, and then bow again. There was a buddhist temple and a shinto shrine. That praying was at the shrine. Also at the shrine were statues of Lion dogs, one with its mouth open, and one with its mouth closed. It represented the Alpha and the Omega. Since there was some kind of festival going on, there were tons of vendors. We got to try a crab stick (like actual crab meat on a stick!) and Takoyaki. Takoyaki are little pastry balls filled with octopus. The takoyaki was not very appetizing. While traveling around Tokyo, I learned a few things. 1) There are vending machines EVERYWHERE!!!! Most of them can be payed for by using the same card you would use for the subway. They have an assortment of drinks, from water to coffee to cola! 2) Very few Japanese bathrooms have a way to dry your hands. Most Japanese people carry around handkerchiefs to dry their hands with instead.
We went to a garden that had been the playground for Shoguns, and had a 300-year old pine tree. Each tree there was styled and groomed so immaculate that it must have taken so much work to do. We even got to see some cherry blossom buds. For lunch we went to the fish market and went to our first Japanese sushi go round. It was so crowded, yet so good. Half the time I didn't even know what I was eating, just that it was delicious! They also had an interesting way of dispensing green tea. There was a little bottle with Matcha in it that you pour into your cup, and then you push a button and hot water comes out. It was so good!! We went to Shibuya crossing, one of the most busiest crossings in the world!! It was so crowded. We went to a shopping area that had so many anime and manga things!!!! I have never seen so many in my entire life! We also went to Akihabara, the anime central of Tokyo!!! There were 9 story stores just filled to the brim with anime stuff! For dinner we went back to our hotel for some sushi bowls. They were delicious!
We got up early and ate some breakfast at the hotel again. Then we were off on our day trip! We went to a town called Nikko, which is about 2 and a half hours by train from tokyo. The only way I can possibly think to compare it is like a little Nashville, Indiana. There were tons of little shops and restaurants all around the city. It was also up in the mountains which means it was so pretty! We went to Nikko to see some more temples and shrines. It was about a 20 minute walk from the station but man was it worth it! Everything there was so beautiful! Once we climbed up what seemed like hundreds of stairs, we got to the base of the temple. That was where we saw the Pagoda. There were also little shops that sold blessings from the temples. I ended up getting lots of little ones. Nikko was a day of lines, lines to get up to the temple, lines to go higher, lines to go in the temple, lines to leave the temple. We made our way up (super duper high, higher than the tokyo sky tree) to the grave sight of the person who ran the temple. Then we went through a temple, but we were not allowed to take photographs. Because of the language barrier I was not 100% sure what was going on, but I believe we got blessed by the people at the temple. We went to another temple and were told about the dragon painted on the ceiling and about the chinese zodiac. After seeing all these amazing temples we made our way down to get some lunch. We stopped at a place along the way. I had ramen which was simply amazing. There are no words to describe how delicious it was. On our train ride home, we had stopped for a long period of time. Since they only made announcements in Japanese, we had no idea what was going on. It turns out that we were 8 minutes ahead of schedule, so to fix that we had to wait awhile, so we didn't mess up the schedule. At our hotel for dinner we had okonomiyaki, a dish from Hiroshima. It was like a pancake filled with cabbage and noodles. It doesn't sound good, but it was.
Today we left Tokyo to go to Hakone! After one more quick breakfast at our hotel we took a Shinkansen (bullet train) down to Odawara, and then a bus to Hakone. Hakone is so beautiful. It is in the mountains and is so quiet. Its nice after the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We went to Lake Ashi, where you can sometimes catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji past all the clouds. We went on a boat to go see this, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see it. Oh well. It provided some beautiful photos, so I'm not too upset about it. We went to a restaurant around Lake Ashi and I tried Oden. It was.... Less than pleasant. The broth was not too bad, but just trying to figure out what exactly was in this bowl was quite an adventure. The toilet in the restaurant was also quite odd. I opened the door to wash my hands and the toilet seat opened up on its own. It's like its sentient. So weird. Then we went on a cable car ride up a mountain to see where this volcano had started to erupt in 2015. It reeked of Sulfur, but was pretty cool to look at. Our hotel we are staying in tonight is a traditional ryokan. It has an onsen (hot spring bath) and they serve some traditional food for dinner. Our room is also covered in tatami mats, we have a Kotatsu (heated table), and our beds are on the ground. Its like a really tiny house. They also gave us Yukata, a sort of robe that you can wear around. Its so comfy!! I took a bath in the public bath here at the hotel. It was kind of awkward at first, but it felt so good! The hot water is so refreshing and relaxing. The dinner was kind of weird. It had a lot of flavors I was not used to, or that I just didn't like. There was a cooking pot on the table that we made our own food in, and the staff brought us different foods, such as a crab cake, sushi, and ice cream. It was definitely an interesting experience.
Even though it is so early, I am going to go to bed soon. I am exhausted from all the traveling around, fun as it has been. I'll leave it with a few notes: 1) 99% of all dogs I saw in Tokyo were tiny and had some form of clothing. 2) 7/11's are big here! Also, if you haven't seen my photos, go do so! https://www.facebook.com/clare.impicciche/media_set?set=a.10208587414259461&type=3&pnref=story