By 10:30 we're at the bus stop. Sue has met up with Aya, who drove an hour and a half so they could hang together all day, and I've booked an afternoon bus tour. First tho, something to eat.
We take the shuttle to the train station, which is the centre of All Activity.
Walk about a kilometer, go up a series of elevators and end up at a high-end food court, where we stand in line.
We choose to eat here because we like places that use alot of butter.
AND LOOK AT THIS!
Baskets under every chair!
Baskets under every chair!
For purses, cameras, shopping bags, small pets ...
It's all in the details people.
This is a clean, organized country.
This is a clean, organized country.
We part ways after eating; they're off to work.
I'm off to play.
First I have to cross the street.
In Vietman last year, crossing the street was a matter of weaving in and out of traffic, as there were no stop lights or cross walks.
The cross walks are a mile wide.
I had my first sighting of Mario Carts:
The meeting point for my tour is at The Prince Hotel. It's a short walk from the train station but its a huge resort hotel so it takes a few minutes to find the correct lobby and connect with the tour guide.
Her: You're 20 minutes early. Just wait in this area and I'll get you at 1:10.
A few minutes later, an older (older than me) lady brushes past me and stops at the concierge desk.
Older lady: My friend and I are here for the bus tour. But there is no bus outside. What are we expected to do?
Concierge: The bus is not here yet, it's early. Just wait here, near this lady, and the tour operator will get collect you at 1:10.
Older lady, speaking louder and slower: You are not understanding me. We. Are. Going. On. The. Bus. Tour. I SEE NO BUS.
Concierge: Yes, the bus will be coming at 1:10. Please wait here. With this lady.
Older lady walks across the lobby and goes to the check in counter, loudly complaining.
Check-in clerk, walking Older Lady and her friend over to me: If you'll wait here, the tour operator will pick you up at 1:10.
Older lady, to me: Are you on the bus tour?
Me: Yes, I think we're just to wait here...
Older lady: Have you ever seen anything so disorganized? And no one speaks the language. I just don't know what we've gotten ourselves into. I'm having second thoughts...
She leaves, taking her friend with her.
A few minutes later they're brought back, this time by a lobby manager.
Lobby manager: Your bus tour starts at 1:10. If you wait here, in this area, you'll be collected.
Me: They'll be here soon. You can wait with me. Where are you both from?
Older lady: Pasadena.
Me: It's beautiful there. My name's Jane, by the way.
Older lady: I'm Jennifer and this is Alexandra.
We shake hands just as the tour operator approaches us.
She introduces herself and points to a family of 3 (dark-haired, dark-skinned English speaking), young dad, mom and 8 yr old son who will be joining us.
She: The bus does not stop to pick up here, we'll transfer you all, by taxi, to the bus station. Taxi fare is covered, I'll speak to the drivers to ensure you are driven to the correct location. Please, come this way.
Jennifer: WHAT IS THIS? THERE IS NO BUS? What next? What nonsense is this? I demand an explanation. I'm not paying extra for this.
Me: It's going to be OK. They're going to taxi us to the bus station. Because there are 6 of us, we'll be going in two taxi's...
Jennifer: I am not going with them (points to small family). (She grabs my arm.) She's coming with us. And believe me, I'm going to lodge a complaint about this.
We head out to taxi pick up area, and the tour operator negotiates rides for us. Jennifer is visibly upset.
The bus station is in Tokyo, so we have about a 20 minute ride from Shinagawa.
When we arrive we are ushered through the station (a 10 minute walk, up and down elevators and across a lobby) down to a bus depot where we meet up with the 50 or so people on our tour. Hoping to distance myself slightly from the vocal, crabby Americans, I introduce myself to two older ladies who look happy.
Me: Hi; I'm Jane.
Them: We're Tilda and Berty from Perth, Australia...
Jennifer and Alexandra join us, complaining about the experience so far.
Tilda and Berty are just so thrilled to be in Japan, be on this trip, be part of a fun bus tour, that their joy overrides the American's grumbles.
Tour Operator: Our first stop on this tour is The Top of the World Trade Centre. Which is right above us, so we won't be getting on the bus. Just follow me, please.
Jennifer: WHAT? NO BUS? I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BUS TOUR? MORE WALKING? WHERE ARE WE GOING? I PAID FOR A BUS TOUR.
Me: We are already at the first stop, so we don't need to drive anywhere. Just stick with me, we're going to the top of this building.
Jennifer: WHY WOULD WE WANT TO DO THAT? I PAID FOR A BUS TOUR.
Me: There's probably a great view of the city. It'll be interesting.
The top of the World Trade Center is a closed-in windowed walkway all the way around the building. I wandered around by myself, taking photos at each opportunity, in awe of how big Tokyo is.
As our twenty minutes of allotted time is ending, I make my way back to the elevators to find a very upset Jennifer.
Random person on tour, to Jennifer: Is your friend going to be OK? That was a nasty fall...
Jennifer: She wasn't my friend. I just met her a few minutes ago. And yes. She is badly hurt. They really shouldn't let old people come on these tours...
Me: What happened?
Jennifer: There are no railings on those steps, and Tilda fell on the bottom one and smashed her face against the concrete stairs. There was blood and she was crying; she thinks she may have lost her front teeth. They're taking her to the hospital...
I feel just awful for the happy Australians and we're a quiet group that heads back downstairs and around corners and through lobbies to get to the bus station in the basement.
We're assigned seat numbers and get on the bus in an orderly fashion. I'm in 4C, an aisle seat close to the front. Beside me, in the window seat is a young Indian man. Just as we leave the station, I notice the two seats across the aisle from us are empty, so I say, "I'm just going to scootch over there. That way we both get window seats and lots of room to spread out. These must've been the Australian ladies' seats..."
We are on our way to the Imperial Palace.
Which apparently is closed.
So we'll park in the parking lot and see what we can from there.
The Royal Parking Lot:
The Royal Forest:
The Royal Moat (above).
It was at about this point, that the young Indian man who was my seat-mate suggested we hang out together.
Him: You are alone. I am alone. Here. I will take your camera. You can take my phone. We will take photos of each other, OK? We will have pictures of ourselves in this beautiful place? Yes?
Me: Uh, OK.
He wasn't happy with my nervous poses and told me to open my arms wide:
Our ten minutes were up and it was time to get back on the bus.
When I get to my seat, I find Jennifer and Alexandra sitting there.
Me: Uh, hi. Erhhhm, I was sitting here.... where are your seats?
Jennifer: These were OUR friends' seats. I told the bus driver that it wasn't fair that you should have them, because they were our friends. And besides, we had terrible seats at the back of the bus and that wasn't right. We paid good money for this tour, and we shouldn't have to sit so far away.
Me, to Indian Man: Sorrry, I guess you're gonna be stuck with me sitting awfully close to you...
Me, to Jennifer: Could you pass me my things? That? And that? Yes. They're mine. I was sitting there...
It's about a 15 minute ride to our next stop. On the way, we pass through Tokyo's busiest intersection.
At every red light, 3,000 pedestrians cross the road.
THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE AT EVERY RED LIGHT.
(Sorry about the crappy pics. I was in the aisle seat...)
Intersections are just so extravagant. WIDE crosswalks in every direction.
Tour Operator: We are here, in Asakusa! (Up until now, he's been talking about the streets markets and Buddhist temple at this stop). You will have 70 minutes to wander around on your own, and then we will meet at the river, at the cruise ramp. Your tour ends with a river cruise back to the bus depot. So, don't be late for the boat cruise, it will leave without you, it is public transportation, not private for thi
Jennifer: WHAT IS HE SAYING? I CAN'T UNDERSTAND A THING. WE HAVE TO GET OFF THE BUS? I DON'T UNDERSTAND. WHY CAN'T THESE PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH?
Me, to her: This part of the tour involves some free time to explore a Japanese street market and the Buddhist temple. And afterwards, we'll be taking a river cruise back to the station.
Jennifer: I have never. I'm not interested in looking at street markets or temples. (She looks at Alexandra:) Do you want to go on a boat cruise? This day is too long, and I'm done. I think we should just stay put. I'm comfortable here....
Everyone except Jennifer and Alexandra get off the bus and I'm looking forward to spending the next 70 minutes alone. Every so often, Suraj (my Indian friend) crosses paths with me and checks to see that I'm not lost. He gets in front of me, then takes a selfie of himself with me behind him. He's enthusiastic, fun, full of energy and so very happy.
Have you ever been to the Richmond Night Market?
This is like that. Times a million.
Japanese women are beautiful:
A couple of times I wished I was wandering with a Japanese person who'd be able to tell me what all these delicacies are:
At the far end of the street is Sensoji temple. It was built in the 7th century.
This is the gate:
This is The Temple.
At the bottom of the stairs is an incense burner. A big one.
You can buy an incense stick to put on there, as an act of worship or something. Most folks would walk up into the area and waving their hands, bring the smoke towards their faces and breathe it in deeply.
Once you walked up the middle set of stairs, you'd wait your turn til you got to the front/top. Then you'd throw your money into the box and say a prayer. There is a specific way to fold your hands and bow.
From there, you'd walk to the temple and bowing in front of another money box, throw more money in and repeat your hand motions and prayer.
The actual "holy" temple part, with the big Buddhist statue is behind a chain link fence. There are many, many signs about staying back, not taking pics (which is why mine is so blurry) and not touching anything.
(The man you see in the photo is vacuuming the carpet inside the holy part. He never looked up. Never smiled. Just hoovered like a boss.)
Off to the side, and in many locations out in the courtyard are these:
In case you couldn't read that, what you do is first pay some money, then, while praying, gently shake that silver container, until a long bamboo stick rotates out. On the stick is a number. Take note of the number, return the stick to the box and open the door with the number given to you on your stick.
Inside each drawer is a fortune, or a message from the gods, specifically for you about your prayer/wish.
And before I knew it, my 70 minutes were up and I was expected down at the dock. I was one of the last folks on the boat, and instead of looking for a shared seat in the windowed part, I opted for a spot at the back on a bench.
Me, to a group of travelers who had their stuff spread everywhere: Is there space here?
Her: There's just one spot left, we're saving two spaces for our friends.
Me: I'm traveling alone, is it OK if I squish in here?
My cruise companions are two women, retired high school teachers from Australia. They're not part of my bus tour, but are exploring the city with friends of theirs, a young Japanese couple who are pregnant.
The breeze off the water is lovely, my companions are kind, and the views are stunning.
Suraj finds me. He hasn't found a seat, or maybe he doesn't want a seat. There's too much to explore and see on our boat, so he's been hopping around like a 5 year old on a sugar high.
Him: Here, give me your camera
I hand it to him, and he wanders off, taking photos.
Australian teacher: Do you know him?
Me: Haha. That probably looked irresponsible of me, eh? Just handing my camera over to anyone who asks?
Australian teacher: Well,
Me: We're sitting beside each other on this bus tour. He thinks it's important for me to have pics of myself in all the places we visit, so he's been taking selfies on my behalf.
Seeing I'm not leaving my spot, Suraj has found another friend to take pics of him on the boat:
Shortly after this a small Asian woman hopped on my lap and asked if she could have her picture taken with me, the big blonde oddity. Her husband was close by with the camera and they were just so pleased with themselves when I said sure.
To be honest, I spent more time people-watching than sight-seeing.
This group of young people were re-enacting the famous Titanic scene. Only, instead of being on the front of the boat (as per the movie) they did it facing the back of the boat.
This is the famous fish market:
Know what I love about this city?
The way the river shore is a walking path.
Why can't Surrey do that?
We have a river.
Can't we make it a beautiful walkway?
And just like that, our 30 minute cruise was done.
This random sign greeted us at the terminal where we disembarked.
Waiting to greet me in the parking lot was Jennifer.
(Sorry, not a great pic.)
Jennifer: We didn't go on the boat cruise. Alexandra couldn't get off the bus. Her hip, you know. She needed help, and no one helped us.
Me: Ahhh, that's too bad. It was fun.
Jennifer: Well, we didn't miss anything. We sat in the terminal here, waiting for you and saw many interesting things. People all dressed up, for an important dinner. It was all rather fancy...
Me: That's great, then. Glad you had a good afternoon.
Jennifer: It was good we didn't go on the boat, we had a much better time here.
We all get back on the bus that's going to transport us to the Tokyo train station.
Suraj and I talk about life in India vs life in Canada. We swap email addresses and promise to share our pics with each other.
As I leave the bus, I start thinking about my options for getting back to the hotel.
I have a train pass, so my journey home is 'free'... all I have to do is as the Japan Rail agent which train I need to catch and which track it's on.
And then I notice Jennifer and Alexandra.
Me: How are you getting back to your hotel?
Jennifer: We don't know. We thought the bus would drop us off.
Me: Where are you staying?
Jennifer: At the Marriott.
Me: So am I!
Jennifer: How're you getting back?
Me: I was going to take a train.
Jennifer: Oh. We couldn't do that.
Me: Do you want to share a cab with me?
Jennifer: Oh. Could we? That would be good.
So I direct them to the taxi stand where there's a 40 person line-up.
Jennifer: Shit. This is going to take forever. I hate this. Is there another way? Do we have to go to the back of the line? Can't we....
Me, walking to the back of the line: It's very efficient here. Won't take more than a few minutes. Come on.
Grumbling, they joined me.
Five minutes later, we're getting into a cab.
Alexandra, who is completely done, asks if she can sit in the front. The older cab driver nods but doesn't smile.
Alexandra gets into the front seat, which is pulled all the way forward. Jennifer gets in behind her. I walk around to the other side and get in behind the driver.
Me: To the Marriott hotel please.
Jennifer: What? Are you an idiot? Don't you know where the Marriott is? What kind of cab driver are you?
Alexandra: I don't know where it is. It's the Marriott!
Me: It's the Marriott in Shinagawa. Do you need an address? I have it in my phone.
Jennifer: Oh for Pete's sake. Here. The address is on this. And she shows him a slip of paper that does not, in fact, have the address on it.
Me: It's quite close to the Shinagawa train station...
Driver nods, then barks at Alexandra: Seatbelt!
Alexandra, whining: I can't breathe. Everything is so tight. I can't reach the seatbelt.
I can see, from my spot in the backseat, that the shoulder strap is way behind her. So I stand up, and straddling the hump on the floor of the back, with my knees bent and digging into the driver's and passenger's seats, with my ass in the air and my torso leaning forward, I pull the seatbelt around Alexandra's mid-section while the driver pulls into traffic, swerving left and right to avoid parked cars.
Alexandra has her purse and her bag wrapped around her shoulders and pulled onto her lap, and with the seat all the way forward, there's no way I can get that lap belt to connect. So, still doing my balancing act, half in the front, half in the back, I untangle her possessions from her body, hand them to Jennifer and reach around her to get that belt fastened.
Jennifer: Does this driver know anything? Where is he taking us? It should only be a five minute ride. He. Is. Ripping. Us. Off.
Me: Oh, this is going to take at least 20 minutes.
Jennifer: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? IT WAS A 5 MINUTE CAB RIDE FROM THE HOTEL TO THE PICK UP POINT. What's wrong with you?
Me: Yes, it was a quick ride from the Marriott to the Prince Hotel. But don't you remember we took a 20 minute cab ride over to the bus station? We have to go back that same distance. Actually, we have to go back a bit further, because the tour ended at the Tokyo Train Station...
Her: I don't know what you're talking about. It was a 5 minute cab ride. Look. He's driving us in circles. It's already costing $10. We never paid that much on our way there. Alexandra, he is ripping us off. He is a criminal.
Me: Honest. He has to take us from Tokyo to Shinegawa. It's going to take awhile. We did this trip earlier today. In a cab. Don't you remember? It's going to be just fine. I'm splitting the fare with you, so it shouldn't be too expensive.
The twenty minute cab right was pure hell. I have never been so embarrassed. Jennifer kept questioning the driver's integrity and ability. Loudly.
Me, trying to change the topic: So, how much traveling have you done?
Jennifer: I've been all over the world. Many times. I travel continually. I was on an Alaska Cruise just before this, and we were in the Caribbean in the middle of a typhoon. And I'm here from Russia.
Me: Whoa. Nice life. How do you manage? This is an expensive hobby...
Jennifer: When I married my husband, I asked him how much money he had. He had lots, so I told him I wanted to spend it traveling. He wasn't a well man, kind of sickly, and thought he only had a few years left to live, but he wanted to spend them traveling with me. I was 40, he was 60. He ended up living for 20 years. And we traveled everywhere. He's been gone now, since 1997, but I still keep traveling...
Me: How old are you?
Jennifer: I just turned 80.
Me: Wow. So inspiring. I hope I'm still learning new things and exploring new places when I'm 80.
Jennifer: Where is he taking us? I've never seen such an incompetent driver...
He pulls up to the front doors of the hotel and both Alexandra and Jennifer get out and walk through the front doors. I pay the driver, apologizing for their behavior and wish him a good evening and a wonderful life.
Alexandra: Did you pay him?
Me: Uh huh.
Alexandra: We owe you half.
I walk over to the bell captain: We've just shared a cab ride that cost 3210 yen. They are going to pay me half of that. Could you help them?
He looks at me and then at them: Are you sure? Half doesn't seem fair. Shouldn't you divide it by 3 and then....
Me: No. Half is fine.
Jennifer: Half is all we're paying.
Him: OK, Well, then. Half of 3210 is 1605...
Jennifer: I don't know what that means! Here. Take what she needs from this. (And she throws a baggie of Japanese coin on the counter.)
Alexandra: Maybe we have to give her a bill? One of these? She holds out a selection of bills.
The bell captain counts out the money, showing them exactly what he's doing, explaining as he goes.
Jennifer: Well, I guess we're going to have to trust you aren't we?
Me: He has no reason to lie to you. Thanks for a great afternoon ladies. Was lovely meeting you. I hope you have some more fun things planned for tomorrow...
Jennifer to Alexandra: Wasn't she just the nicest ...
I left them in the lobby and escaped to my room.
It was 7 pm and I was hungry.
I lay on my bed for awhile, hoping I'd given my geriatric friends enough time to leave the lobby, then changed and jumped on the shuttle bus. I was the only one catching a ride back to the train station. He warned me his last ride back was at 9.
After wandering through the station, I picked a restaurant, stood in line, asked for a table for one, then ordered waffles. Haha. Not so adventurous after all.
Then I browsed. Because browsing in Japan is fascinating.
Sue had suggested I spend the evening in Shinjuku, with all it's Times Square-type bright lights. It was a few train stations away from Shinagawa... but by 9 pm I was kinda bushed. I really had experienced enough new things for one day.
By 10:30 Sue was back from her adventures, full of stories and laughter.
I have a feeling this trip is gonna stretch me.