|12.6K+ miles! Wow! Thanks, Waze App!|
Sunday, April 16 - We landed at Narita Airport which is a fair distance outside Tokyo and took an arranged shuttle to downtown to our hotel for the next few days, The Centurion Grand Akasaka Hotel. This was a quirky little place (they had birds in the lobby and would rent you nail clippers) and our room was tiny, but we did have a queen-size bed and actually grew to really love the place (awesome shower, more awesome bidet and fresh kimono robes every day). The Akasaka neighborhood we were in was great and walkable with lots of food choices and very close to a subway station.
Our first food (and beer!) was a short walk from our hotel to the Yona Yona Beer Works where we had some good craft brews and some excellent house-made sausages including our favorite, the edamame bologna. We took it easy tonight and turned in early after a little local exploring so the jet-lag wouldn't creep in on us.
|Japanese bidets are the best!!|
|The little street our hotel in Tokyo was on was lively, authentic and colorful.|
|Businessmen, ladies and senior citizens all belly up to the food bars scattered throughout the Tsukiji Fish Market where just about anything and everything (alive or dead) is available to eat there or take home.|
|A little rain fell as the evening approached but the beauty of this modern city remained. We met up with our small food tour group back over in the Ginza district. We had three stops on this interesting and (mostly) tasty tour. First up was a yakitori restaurant where the grilled chicken on a stick was delectable, next was a daifuku sweets shop where the tasty delicacies are made with sweetened bean paste instead of sugar. Our last stop was very interesting (and very popular here since there were 75 restaurants doing the same thing in this one area), but we were not the biggest fans of monjayaki which is basically a cabbage-based pancake cooked at your table either by the diners themselves or the waiter/waitress.|
Tuesday, April 18 - We awoke to more rain today, but it pushed out just in time for a morning city tour of Tokyo.
|Fresh kimono robes every morning!! We love our little hotel!!|
|The first stop on our morning city tour was Tokyo Tower which is actually just a bit taller than it's famous sister over in Paris.|
|With the rainy weather breaking, the views from atop the Tokyo Tower were stunning.|
|Ok, look, this is how it all went down. You judge for yourself...our beloved Nashville Predators were down 2-0 and the end of the second period to the Chicago Blackhawks while we were a half a world away at our last stop on the city tour, the beautiful Asakusa Kannon (Senso-ji) BuddistTemple, and so I simply,and respectfully, waved some prayer offering smoke over my Preds hat and asked Budda for a little help. We won 3-2 in overtime and went on to sweep the series from one of our greatest rivals. And then went on to play for The Stanley Cup. So think what you want...|
|No, Ashlee, you can't bring this lantern at the Senso-ji Temple home for the back yard...way too hard to pack.|
|After the tour was over, we went back to the Imperial Palace park and gardens and wondered around for hours. We found even bigger, deeper moats on the other side of this gigantic area of green amidst this bustling city.|
Wednesday, April 19 - We got an early start today for a full-day tour out to the Mt. Fuji area a couple hours bus ride from Tokyo.
|After lunch we also took a boat ride on Lake Kawaguchi for more spectacular views of Mt. Fuji.|
|And finally, we rode the Mt. Kachi Ropeway to the summit for even more fantastic views of its gigantic neighbor and the city of Fujiyoshida below.|
|Another thrill for us was riding the bullet train (shinkansen) back from the Mt. Fuji area to Tokyo. We are not sure how fast we topped out at during the trip, but our WAZE app captured our speed at 147 mph at one point.|
Friday, April 21 - We spent the day at sea today heading south and curling around the main island until turning due north. There was plenty to do (and eat) on the boat and our day just flew by.
|Our first night at dinner was formal and we met a nice couple from England at our table. The fun and fancy night was capped off with a cool champagne waterfall in the main atrium.|
Saturday, April 22 - Our first port on the cruise was the bustling city of Busan, South Korea. Time to mark another new country visited off the list! We had arranged an excursion with the cruise line that included a visit to the amazing Ja-Gal-Ch'i Market and also the solemn Beomeosa Buddist Temple outside town in the Geumjeonsan Mountains.
|Coming in to the port of Busan, South Korea. Love the little lighthouse on the rocky island on the right.|
|Immigration going to South Korea and then coming back to Japan was incredibly slow and tedious on the boat. This stamp is our only proof we were even in South Korea since they never stamped our passport...weird.|
|We took another cruise-ship-booked bus tour inland today out to the Tottori Flower Park, one of the largest flower parks in Japan. Mt. Daisen makes for a beautiful backdrop as well.|
|This Starbucks in Kansui Park in Toyama has been awarded for some of the world's best service and maybe it should win for the best backdrop too! Wow!|
|Lunch in Toyama was provided with the tour and, buddy, it was AUTHENTIC! This little pickled squid that was in our bento box was a bit rubbery, but we managed to get them down.|
After lunch we took a short bus ride from Toyama to the town of Tonami which is famous for its Tulip Festival at the Tonami Tulip Park.
|The Netherlands don't have much on the Tonami area of Japan with its large and beautiful tulip farms|
|The huge Tonami Tulip Park and Festival was amazingly beautiful and fun.|
Monday, April 25 - Next stop: Akita, Japan
Tuesday, April 26 - Welcome to Hakodate, Japan
|We returned to the top of Mt. Hakodate for a night-time (and MUCH more crowded) view of the same hour-glass before we headed out on the ship later that evening.|
Wednesday, April 27 - Our last new port of the trip: Aomori, Japan - Why not save the best for last, right? This turned out to be my favorite stop on the cruise. We had seen a few cherry blossoms on our trip up til now, but here's where you come to really see them in all their glory and they were breathtaking as is this entire area.
|Hirosaki Park: A short drive inland from the Aomori port.|
|The famous Hirosaki Castle with Mt. Iwaki in the background. This picture takes itself.|
Thursday, April 28 - This was our last full day on the cruise and we were at sea all day continuing our loop around the main island of Japan and heading back to the port at Yokohama.
|We were offered a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship's gigantic kitchen and food-prep area which was very interesting. I mean whomever carved these melons is a real artist!|
Friday, April 29 - We got off the boat today and had another full day in Tokyo to enjoy this fantastic modern city.
|Our arrival back into Yokohama Bay was early and we got up with the sun to enjoy it. |
"Someday in the sky, we'll see the same sun on the rise,
Wherever you go, far as Tokyo
I can say, I'll see you again..." - LP, "Tokyo Sunrise"
|Here's it is up close. A 1/40th replica of the one in NYC given to Japan by France back in 1998.|
|Getting back to shopping...yes, shopping...like I said, it's awesome in Japan. These fancy vending machines are everywhere and they are full of fun surprises for a small price...yes, they are for children and we were getting them for our niece...no honest, we were!!|
|The fun Odiaba District really lights up at night in so many ways.|
|I ate local to the end with my last meal in Japan being this tasty pork ramen.|
Saturday, April 30 - Sad, but a little homesick as well, we left Tokyo today with just a short layover in Chicago and were home for 7 PM on the same day...the beauty of traveling backwards! This was one of those great trips that we hope isn't once in a lifetime, but if it turns out to be it was pretty amazing from start to finish and a great way for me to start the other half of my life (note the optimism!). It's a beautiful, interesting country with warm, friendly people with history and culture on their side. Arigato, Japan, for a wonderful time and so many fond memories!