This was the first day on our own. After only a couple hours sleep, we had a lighter breakfast and left for The New Hotel Otani to be picked up. I can`t believe I`m eating Mackeral; steamed carrots, turnip and squash, and curry with vegetables over rice porridge for breakfast. I really like it.
We used the maps that our local guide, Mayumi, provided last Friday to find our way to the hotel. We arrived a little early, so we made a preventive bathroom run. We came out to find a Page carrying a sign reading "Mr. Larry Gardner" on it. I didn`t think I took that long!
As we approached the pick up area again, an Indian woman was firmly saying, "I think you should be more sensitive. I must get something for my baby from my room!" She was most annoyed with a young man we were being directed towards. We thought these were our only tour mates. Oh God, was all that went through my mind. Is this how the day will go? The man was in fact in charge of pickup and needed to get us moving as there were three more hotels to stop and pickup more attendees before delivering us to the bus terminal for our tour.
The terminal was chaos. We finally got in the right line and on our bus. The local guide was a professional young woman with a thick Japanese accent and an annoyingly high quality to her voice. Her speach and instructions for the day were somewhat patronizing and repetitive. "You will call me (Name I can`t remember)-sam. You will only call the driver, Driver-san because that is his job, and only speak to him in Japanese." Such was her humor and the tone for our half-day tour. The screaming baby with the smelly diaper that clearly annoyed her, and almost broke my eardrum when his daddy brought him behind us so the guide could talk was a test of all our resolves.
Tokyo Tower looked like an orange Eiffel Tower. We were escorted to the highest enclosed observation platform, 333 meters high. The views were magnificent, but I couldn`t hear a word the guide said. She practically ran ahead of us all morning, creating a stressful atmosphere and always began talking when she arrived whether the rest of us were there or not. Needless to say, we did not tip her. But, we got great shots of Tokyo from above. The observation floor just below us provided scary but really cool views through the floor to the ground way down there.
The Imperial Palace was closed, and we were escorted around the outside garden along the streets. "There are the two and three-story watch towers, but you can`t go into the palace grounds, so you`ll have to come back on either December 23rd or January 2nd(the Emperor`s birthday) when you can meet him and the Empress. They will stand behind bullet-proof glass on a platform above you and give a five-minute speach five times a day." Really? I think not, bitch. Why was this on our tour, we thought?
Our favorites were sites we planned to visit on our own because the Sanja spring festival was this past weekend and we couldn`t attend: Asakusa Shrine and the Nakamise Shopping Street between its sacred gates touting an experience from the Edo period (Tokyo`s old name).
Again, our guide was useless but she did help me auickly find my good fortune paper when I shook out a stick from a metal fortune-providing tube. And, she directed us to the entrance of the shrine. When we approached the inner sanctum, we were turned away by the monk. Our guide sealed her no-tip fate.
The building and concomitant shopping experience, complete with smudging station, were worth it though. I prayed, smudged, and prayed again. My cup of tea. But, we needed iced coffee, so we found a lovely cafe to rest our weary bones and aching feet; eat rice dishes and rest a while. The young wait staff were friendly, kind and spoke enough English to make our virgin excursion into unescorted Japan a joy.
We also did some shopping. The sweet older women with no English, but kind faces, nice smiles and helpful, patient hearts assisted me in buying a few souvenirs.
We found our own way back to a train station and through the subway maze to our hotel. We crashed at 1:30 pm and never left our room to eat again. We are just that tired. The best layed plans...
It was still a good day, and tomorrow we`re off to Mount Fuji.