^^ A very merry, happy, jolly 2017, from our little family to yours.
Well friends, 2016 is over and I have to say … I don’t miss it one bit. Of course Lotte being born was the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but other than that, 2016 was kind of awful in a lot of ways. So we’re moving on over here, embracing 2017 with open arms and hoping that it’s a much kinder year.
We’ve had family in town since before the holiday so I’m way far behind on my WW postings, but for now, here’s a short look back at what we got up to in 2016 …
So last Monday after the marathon was really the first day that we had a chance to actually tour a bit around Tokyo, and we really made the most of it. Our time in Tokyo would be ending on Wednesday, when we took a bullet train to Kyoto for the rest of the trip, so we really wanted to pack as much in on Monday and Tuesday as possible.
We decided to start the day at the Senso-ji shrine, but even just getting to the shrine proved to be difficult for us, since we kept getting districted by everything else we were passing along the way. Tokyo is a riot of colors, excitement and impeccably dressed men and women (oh my gosh these women are so well dressed!), and we really just couldn’t get enough …
^^^ We took the subway to the Akihabara area and got off to walk around a bit. This vicinity is famous for its electronic shops (They sell toilet seats! Oh the toilet seats … how have I not talked about these yet!? They are INSANE. As in insanely amazing. They’re heated. They close and open on their own. They flush on their own or you wave your hand in front of a sensor and it flushes. Some have ocean sounds that come on when you sit … I mean?! It’s like visiting a spa every time you pee!), and in recent years has become well-known for its collection of anime and manga paraphernalia, as well. It’s so funky and fun, totally worth a walk through.
We also found ourselves meandering through the streets leading up to the Senso-ji temple, which was much more traditional Japan, as I had imagined it …
^^^ This guy … too funny!
^^^ This was our first view coming up on the temple. You can just tell right away that it’s going to be pretty amazing, and the surrounding area — referred to as Nakamise-dori — has streets filled with shopping for anything your little heart might desire, from food and trinkets to clothing and so much more.
^^^ Senso-ji, in all her splendor.
^^^ Senso-ji is known to be Tokyo’s oldest temple, and its referred by to locals as the temple of the Asakusa Kannon. Even though the temple receives 30 million visitors every year, it is still an important center of worship. There’s a great history of the temple and surrounding area here.
^^^ 100 yen (placed in an honour box) will get you an omikuji, or a fortune written on a small piece of paper. If your fortune is bad, tradition would have you tie the paper on a nearby string so the wind can disperse the bad luck. Above is the incense burner, which you’ll find in the temple forecourt. People come here to fan the smoke from the incense over themselves, believing it to have healing powers.
^^^ The area immediately surrounding the temple includes manicured gardens, Buddhist and other statues to pray at, and some other, smaller temple structures. The whole area is so alluring and you’ll feel like you never want to leave.
Of course leave you must, if you want to take in the rest of Tokyo! So after spending a couple hours at the temple and wandering around the surrounding streets, we decided to head off to check out the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo, with its Tokyo City View, Mori Art Museum and Mohri Garden. Unfortunately by the time we got there the weather had turned rainy and cloudy, so the Tokyo City View didn’t seem like such a smart idea, and the Mohri Garden — which I had been pretty excited about based on information I’d read in my guide book — turned out to be pretty lame, as well. (Maybe it’s better in the spring when everything is blooming? Probably, I assume.) There are a ton of shops in this area, though, and it’s definitely one of the more affluent, contemporary sections of Tokyo, so it’s worth checking out. So we decided to grab a coffee (hot chocolate for me!) and rest our legs, and to come back the next day when the weather promised to be better to do the city view and the art museum.
In the evening we had plans to meet up with a friend of my sister’s who just recently moved to Japan with her husband who is in the Navy. Our original plan to see another temple didn’t seem like such a good one anymore because of the weather, so she recommended checking out Robot Restaurant, a restaurant in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo that she admitted she had never been to before, but that everyone had been recommending. Not quite sure what to expect (Vicky said “it’s mostly about the entertainment, it’s not really a restaurant!”), we were game for everything, so we hopped online, bought our tickets (they’re a bit pricey at about $50 per ticket — with a discount! — so I would definitely do your research before buying them to make sure this is the type of entertainment you’d be into) and were off!
So let me tell you about Robot Restaurant — it is quite a spectacle! There were little kids in our audience, so I would have been interested to gauge their reaction afterwards, but the basic gist of it is that this is not a restaurant (they serve popcorn, beer and some other goodies for an additional fee), and it’s really just a bright, loud, crazy, kitschy show of shorts, put on by both elaborately dressed actors and, ahem, robots. I think there was a plot line (good vs. evil, big scary robot wants to destroy pretty, blossoming world, people who live in pretty world fight back and win? Maybe?), but really, it’s not about the plot line, either. It’s all about the theatrics, the costumes … and the robots, of course! It actually turned out to be a lot of fun, but it’s probably not for everyone, so like I said, I’d do a little research before buying those tickets!
If you do buy the tickets, though, here’s a bit of what you can expect …
^^^ That about sums it up!
^^^ Of course you don’t have to try on one of the costume heads when the show is over … unless you’re my husband 😉
^^^ Thank you, Robot Restaurant, for showing us a crazy, wild side of Tokyo that we probably would never have otherwise seen!
After the show were all starving (because again, it’s not a restaurant!), so Chris hopped on, you guessed it!, Foursquare, and found an awesome little tempura place nearby that he wanted to try. Again, the name is in Japanese, which isn’t much help for you, but I did take a picture of the front of the restaurant, if that helps!
^^^ If you’re a tempura fan, this is a great place to try out. They have traditional seating, too (on the floor, legs crossed), if you want, and if you sit up at the bar area, like we did, you can watch the chefs cook your dinner right in front of you. So cool!
And that was our Monday, friends! It was jam packed, but as it turned out Tuesday would be even more full. We started our morning on Tuesday at 3 a.m. (!!!) in order to make it to a viewing of the famous tuna auction at the Tsukiji Market, so stay tuned for more on that tomorrow!
So last Thursday we left for Japan, knowing full well that we would have quite the journey ahead of us. With Chris running a marathon on Sunday that he was not prepared for (an injury caused him to cease training almost as soon as he began), and with me and my preggers self, the 13-hour flight alone could have been problematic.
Luckily for us, it turned out to be okay. With my trusty pair of compression socks and tons of snacks packed away in our bags, we were ready! That’s not to say that the flight time just flew by, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as my worst-case scenario mind was imagining it to be. I will take a hot sec to complain about one thing regarding the flight, though, which was American Airlines’ inability to get me a vegetarian meal. Chris had signed me up for that option when we first booked our flight, and heading out to Tokyo they didn’t have any set aside for me (luckily for the first meal there was an extra laying around, but for the second there wasn’t, which meant I went without dinner, and preggers me does not like going without meals!), and for the flight home we called to double check about that and were told we had to sign up for it within a 24-hour timeframe of the flight leaving? What kind of craziness is that? So I didn’t have the veggie meal heading home, either. Major bummer.
Anyway, once we arrived (around 5 p.m. Tokyo time), we set off to find the apartment where we would staying with Chris’s parents, which was this cute little place in Shibuya, which really turned out to be a great location not only for the race (Chris said it was a short warm-up jog to the start line), but also for our general touristing later in the week, since it was close to two major subway lines.
About the subway. Chris had purchased our PASMO cards (for the subway) and our Japan Rail Pass tickets (for the bullet train to and from Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as between Kyoto and Hiroshima) ahead of time, so we had those in the mail to bring with us to Japan, and it was amazing having them. We even opted to upgrade to first class for the JRAIL Passes, and I’m so glad we did. The bullet trains travel at about 200 MPH, but we were still on the train from Tokyo to Kyoto for about 2 hours and 40 minutes and for 1 hour and 40 minutes from Kyoto to Hiroshima, so it was nice to have that extra leg room, a foot rest, and a nice quiet ride. Another note about transportation in and around Japan — subway is definitely the way to go. We took cabs a few times (and they are super fancy cabs, at that! The doors even open automatically for you!), but they are expensive, so it’s not really economically feasible to use them for all your transportation if you’re in town for a while, like we were.
Anyway, moving on! It was late when we arrived at our apartment on Friday, but we ventured out with the Connors for our first (of many!) noodle dinners in the cute little surrounding neighborhood. A town that loves noodles? I can get behind that 😉
Saturday and Sunday of our trip were marathon-themed, as we went to the Expo Saturday for Chris to register and get his race bib, and Sunday was the actual race.
^^^ Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and they dispense mostly (if not all) drinks, even HOT coffee and hot chocolate! They’re pretty amazing.
^^^ At the expo, gettin’ geared up!
^^^ Signing his name into history on the Abbott World Marathon Majors sign. As we would come to find out later, Chris is one of only about 600 or so runners to have completed all six world marathons in the World Marathon Series so far. Ummmm … you’re pretty impressive, my dear.
^^^ Honestly, all credit for getting around during our trip goes to this guy. The Connors and I were all too happy to give up transportation control to Chris, and we were well taken care of in his hands.
^^^ Our little family of three was ready on race day!
^^^ Chris will tell you this wasn’t his best race (because it wasn’t a PR, and it was a struggle to finish since he wasn’t able to train at all), but he finished in 3 hours and 36 minutes, which for any normal person would still be an insanely fast time. He’s now a six-time World Marathon Series Marathon F.I.N.I.S.H.E.R! Way to go, Chris Connor!
^^^ Unfortunately a lot of the restaurants we ended up eating at had Japanese names (obviously), so I don’t envision that my posts will be a lot of help in the food department. However, I think it’s pretty hard to go wrong with food in Japan, and we ended up using Foursquare a lot to find places to eat, which is fast becoming my food app of choice when traveling. It has yet to let us down! So for dinner after the marathon, we found this adorable hole-in-wall (thanks Foursquare!) noodle shop that sits about 15 people max and had the most insanely delicious noodles I probably ate the entire trip. We waited about 40 minutes to get seated, but they take your order while you wait, so pretty much as soon as you sit down the food was at the table. Pretty genius, if you ask me!
^^^ One of the things I loved most about restaurants in Japan was that at pretty much all of them the chefs making the food — and particularly the fresh noodles — were on display to watch. So. Much. Fun!
^^^ And … the delicious meal. Yum!
And that was our 2-day marathon experience in a nutshell, folks! It was perhaps the final time that the Connors and I will be marathon spectators for Chris (another reason the trip was emotional for me!) — although I would never say never with that one!
I’ll be back tomorrow to start chatting about Monday and beyond, when we got really down and dirty with the touristy part of our trip 😉
Well friends — we’re home. In the blink of an eye, our 10-day trip to Japan is over. This trip was so many things, and to be honest, it was sort of emotional. This was my first (and last) international trip while pregnant, and our last international trip as a couple before becoming parents.
This was Chris’s final trip to complete the six marathons in the World Marathon Majors series (have I mentioned how proud I am?!). It was the first and last time (probably) that I’ll have seen my in-laws while pregnant. This trip was amazing and eye-opening and exhausting and yes, at times, stressful (that can happen when you’re pregnant and vegetarian and traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language!), but all-in-all, I’d have to say it was every bit the life-changing experience I thought it would be.
It will probably take me a while to download and edit all the photos from my camera (as I try to fit that in with getting back into the swing of things with work … don’t you just hate that part of coming back from a trip?), but I’ve been trying to stay pretty up-to-date on my Instagram page, and in the meantime, here are a few additional photos from my iPhone to tide you over 😉
So for now, bis bald, friends! I hope March is treating you well …
Tokyo — Chris’s 6th and final World Marathon … COMPLETE!
Noodles in Japan are no joke.
The splendid gaudiness of Robot Restaurant (more on this later)!
Meeting up with one of my sister’s friends who lives in Japan was a highlight.
Super early morning Tuna Market viewing.
Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima Island
Not my oysters (don’t worry!), but yum!
Visiting Hiroshima was a sobering experience
When in Japan …
One of our favorite meals was our second-to-last night at the sushi train in the Kyoto Station. In case you’re wondering, yes, all those stacked plates are ours, and no, I didn’t eat any raw sushi 😉
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Biking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves in Kyoto, Japan
We were a bit too early to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom, but no matter what time of year you visit Japan, there’s always something pretty to look at