Saturday, July 26, 2014

Asakusa and Ginza – An Unexpected Day

After the many struggles the day before, I feared the worst on Thursday. It would be another hot day, and we planned to be out and about for most of it.

We started out by taking the subway to Asakusa, a section of Tokyo where hints of past centuries remain.

The main attraction there is the Sensoji Buddhist temple, and that was our first stop. Kai was in a good mood as we posed for pictures outside the entrance gate.

It was hot and muggy, our most uncomfortable day yet. Even my sister’s family who was used to humidity in the Washington DC area noted how much more humid Tokyo was.

But I was very glad that it didn’t seem to bother Kai so much as we walked past the numerous small shops that lined the path to the temple. We kept him hydrated and, unlike the day before, he did not voice loud complaints.

As we neared the temple, there are various rituals to participate in. One is to shake a metal container until one of 100 sticks fall out, revealing the number of a drawer from which you take a paper that tells you your fortune. Here is a photo of one of my nephews shaking the container.

There are good fortunes and bad. Kai’s was excellent.

While his cousins’ were not.

We then came upon a spot to light incense and then wave the smoke onto yourselves as the belief is that it has healing power. As Kai is really sensitive to smells and smoke, I didn’t think he would like this at all. But he was eager to participate.

Before entering the temple itself, you purify yourself with the temple water.

Inside the temple, my wife showed Kai to say a prayer.

After visiting the temple, we saw a bit more of Asakusa via the jinrikishas (rickshaws).

It was a fun way to see the sights in the area. And it was a lot cooler than walking around ourselves. The young men who took us around had to be in great condition.

After that, it was time to take the subway over to the Ginza, one of the tony sections of the city. We were meeting up with my father-in-law for lunch at Shabusen, a shabu shabu restaurant.

Shabu shabu is thinly sliced meats and vegetables that are boiled in water and served with dipping sauces. At this restaurant, you boil the meats and vegetables yourself. The meats take only seconds to cook. It makes for a fun communal experience.

After lunch, we went shopping on the Ginza. Well, mostly just looking with little actual buying.

And then my wife, father-in-law, Kai and I had to go to the train station to make reservations for the shinkansen (bullet train) for the next week when we would be traveling around other parts of Japan after leaving Tokyo.

Kai was content on his iPad and was patient while the rest of us waited in line to be served.

Unfortunately, we found out that the line we had waited in was for something else, and we had to go to a different train station. Not to go into all the details, we ended up waiting in two more lines, and the whole process took much longer than we had anticipated.

After being so patient through all the walking in the hot muggy weather, Kai finally got understandably very cranky, to put it mildly, as we went through the process of getting our train tickets.

My wife took Kai back to the hotel to enjoy the swimming pool while my father-in-law finished up the ticket purchases. Then my father-in-law and I went back to rejoin my sister and her family and did some more shopping.

Later, we all met back up and journeyed to a very small yakitori restaurant for dinner. We were glad to have my father-in-law with us as the restaurant was a very small place located on one of Tokyo’s many tiny streets in the Shinjuku area. We never would have found the place without him.

When I say the restaurant is small, that doesn’t begin to describe it. You literally had to sidestep sideways to make your way to the back. Then we walked up the narrow stairs to a small space on the second floor. Because we had reservations, the eight had a comfortable spot to sit together.

The place is a dive, and I say that in the fondest sense. It is the kind of hole-in-the-wall joint that middle-age men go after work to eat and drink. There wasn’t a single female patron in the place besides my wife and sister.

For dinner we ordered a variety of yakitori (grilled skewered food), including chicken, pork, beef, mushrooms, and asparagus. We tried pork cheeks and chicken liver among others. Kai enjoyed everything, except the liver perhaps.

The food was great! We ordered a lot and it was cheap by Tokyo standards. We stuffed ourselves at about a third of the cost of lunch.

Our lunch was upscale dining, whereas this is the type of place that locals hang out. It was great to experience both.

All of the food was excellent, but the best part of the day was that Kai was able to not just tolerate, but to enjoy so much of it. What I feared would be a stressful day turned out to be our best day yet.


  1. I'm so glad to hear you had a nice day! Thank goodness for ipads, huh! haha....and hotels with pools.

    I love that you are experiencing the dives as well as the upscale restaurants...very fun! I bet the bullet train with be an experience, too!

    1. Love the authenticity of that dive.

      Yep, it would likely be much more challenging without the iPad, though it is too much of a distraction at times.

  2. I've heard that Tokyo's summers can be brutal. The small out of the way restaurants are some of my favorite types to eat at. A place without a nice atmosphere has to have good food.

    I am sure Kai will enjoy the train ride. I especially love the food carts they push up and down the isles every so often. It looked like a fun day for your family.

    1. It has been brutally hot, but Kai is doing better than we expected with the heat.


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