I’ve now visited during all seasons and can definitely declare that autumn is absolutely my favorite season in Japan. Spring, with its sakura blossoms, is also quite lovely, but the cedar allergies pack a wallop. Autumn is filled with that golden light, great foods, and beautiful changing leaves. And mikan and かぼちゃ (a small pumpkin/squash).
Woke up on day one and munched on some mikan that we had purchased at a shop the night before. Yum! The Japanese do this little satsuma oranges better than anywhere else. And they’re everywhere in the fall and winter. I absolutely live on them while I’m here, somewhat to the puzzlement of my traveling mates, who don’t understand my obsession with these bitter little fruits.
Then we headed out to my favorite coffee shop chain in Japan, Mister Donut. Not only do they have yummy donuts, they offer free refills on (quite tasty) coffee. And before 11AM, you can get a morning set for 300 yen; which is about what other shops will charge you for coffee alone, with no refills. The chain’s motto (or one of them) is “Mister makes you happy.” I absolutely agree. Their donuts aren’t really anything special, but there’s a charm to the shop that I can’t resist. (Much like my attraction to mikan.)
Afterwards we headed to Hamarikyuteien, former Tokugawa shongunate gardens near Tokyo Bay. (Right next to Tsukiji Market, we discovered. Well, our noses discovered first, then we confirmed visually.) We noticed that the park was participating in the Green 2012 campaign, which seemed to be about parks and green spaces in Japan. We strolled along some stalls that had been set up and came across a stamp rally. Woo!
Mikan, Mister Donut, and a stamp rally… all before noon?! This was the best start to any Japan trip, ever. It was like I was living my own personal Miller High Life. In Japan. Without Miller beer. In any case, it was great. We got our little stamp sheets, which directed us to 5 locations around the park. Stamp the appropriate Tokugawa shogun into the appropriate circle, come back and receive a prize. The prize turned out to be seeds for Petunias and chamomile, with instructions on how to easily grow them at home. Which is good, because while I inherited my father’s love of baseball, I did not inherit his green thumb.
The 300 year old pine in the garden.
Cloyce making friends with the largest aloe I’ve ever seen in my life. (We come in peace!)
Views of the gardens and the skyscrapers around it. This is one of the things I love about Japan, the coexistence of the very old and the very new.
An elephant made entirely of succulents. (No donkeys to be found.)
After a lovely walk through the gardens, we headed for the station to head to lunch. On the way, though, we made a slight detour to see the Hayao Miyazaki designed clock that is incorporated into a building facade near Shimbashi. I’d seen it from the Yurikamome before, but hadn’t seen it up close. This is another aspect I love about Japan, they just have stuff like this around. Just because. (Because it’s awesome and makes people happy.) Note, this photo shows only about 1/3 of the entire clock structure.
On the way back to the station, I spotted this cute bear. The bad pun is a bonus.
Lunch was at our favorite Hakata-style ramen shop in Tokyo, Jyangara. Love is too mild a word for how I feel about their ramen. I got their Hakata style with extra charsiu. And as we sat and ate, we rocked out to American pop/rock music of the 1980’s. When Duran Duran came on while I was eating my ramen, I seriously thought this was the best day ever.
Afterward, we popped over to Shinjuku to pick up some Laduree macarons for my host family. We were headed there for dinner and I didn’t want to arrive empty handed. I had wanted to get some whiskey in duty free (my host mom always had a whiskey soda with dinner), but they only offered it in one liter bottles. I thought it would be a bit strange to show up with a liter of whiskey in hand. So, macarons it was.
We arrived at my host family’s house just as my host dad was arriving home from work, still in the garage. I say good evening and asked if it was ok to go in that way. He told me to ring the bell. So I did, and my host mom came out to personally greet us. We arrived around 6PM and had the most wonderful time, chatting and dining on my host mom’s wonderful cooking. “Nothing special” she had written in her e-mail. Riiiiiight. In addition to edamame and a couple of beautiful salad-type dishes with fish and veggies, konyaku, etc., there was homemade tempura, which she must have slaved away on all afternoon. Later we were offered some fresh honeydew, from the cousins in Ibaraki. All washed down with plenty of beer and some Australian dessert wine containing gold flecks.
We talked politics, travel, fishing, baseball (my host dad still can’t get over my interest in the Japanese high school baseball tournament), and more. And laughed. A lot.
A perfect end to a perfect first day in Japan.