Tokyo Skytree

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On November 17, 2011 Guinness World Records Company recognized Tokyo Skytree as the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower. Standing 634 meters tall Skytree is a remarkable addition to the Tokyo skyline.

It wasn’t until the end of May 2012 that Skytree opened for viewing. So by now Mr. Cakes and I hoped the frenzy had died down just a tad so we could reach both observation decks. We arrived at Oshiage eki around 7am hoping to avoiding long lines. 

About 7:10am we were met with this, a 70 minute wait. Believe it or not, that was good news! On another day we tried to get in but were told tickets had sold out for the day. Skytree expects to attract millions of tourists a week, which shouldn’t be difficult!

After making it through the line we were then shoved into an elevator that travels from floor 5 to floor 350 in a matter of minutes. Unbelievable speed! This observation deck stands at 350 meters. Just to compare, the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower) Skydeck is 412 meters high, while the Empire State Building’s outdoor observatory is 320 meters high with an indoor observatory at 443 meters high.

The view from Tokyo Skytree Tembo Deck (Fl 350) could not have been more worth the wait! 

After savoring the view we jumped in another line to reach the ‘Tembo Galleria’ which is the skywalk at 450 meters high. Stepping onto the 450th floor was exciting! I thought I was looking at the model version of Tokyo. Everything was tiny and well-organized, certainly not the street perspective I’m used to!

Seeing Tokyo from such a high vantage point, I realized just how far life has brought me. Mr. Cakes and I couldn’t exactly pin-point our apartment but we certainly realized that in this crazy town of 30 million people we have really made ourselves at home.

RECOMMENDATION: Go early to view and then enjoy Skytree Town and the surrounding shops in the afternoon. If you happen to be British and find yourself in Roppongi at 6am on a Sunday morning (Burke) I’d suggest you hop on the Hibiya Line towards Oshiage, nap en route, and then jump in line to enjoy Skytree. Afterwards hit the McDonald’s in Skytree Solamachi and prepare for your evening. There are only so many weekends left in Tokyo!

View from the ‘Glass Floor’ on the 340th floor.

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Take your family to work and leave early day

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In 4th grade I spent a day with my dad at the Caterpillar Tech Center for ‘Take your kids to work day’. It was a memorable experience including the 20 minutes it took for 5 engineers to get the VHS player working.

Last week I was invited by Mr. Cakes to meet him at work for ‘Take your family to work and leave early day’. I arrived at Otemachi eki around noon and spent the day at SMBC Head Office. From noon until 5pm SMBC organized a day to show the wives and children where their husband or father spends his day.

View from the 19th floor of head office overlooking the Imperial Palace Grounds.

Our group consisted of all the expats who are in the same 1 year exchange program as Mr. Cakes. I had not seen many of them since orientation 8 months ago. Time has really flown by!

One highlight of the day was the activity ‘What does it feel like to hold 100 million yen’ (about 1.2 million US dollars), in which stacks of yen were tightly bound and prepared for visitors to actually hold. We had no problem imaging what that would buy. Maybe a few more handbags and some new shoes? Mr. Cakes was more interested in a car.

After pretending we were wealthy our group was then ushered into a large auditorium to hear the president of the bank speak.

The rest of the day included lunch, a tour of the vault and then meeting the team in Mr. Cakes current department. I was able to see where all the blood, sweat and tears get poured. 

Above, Mr. Cakes and Burke looking pleased to be away from their desks. Below you can see how thick the vault door is.

Our next trip to the beach we will be thinking of family day at SMBC, or the next time we slip on these! Our take home gift from the day, his & hers.

The day at SMBC Head Office was fun and interesting. I’m sure the kids visiting enjoyed the day, but hopefully the company employees did as well, especially the ‘leaving work early’ part. 

Frito Lay

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In the States I have several go to snacks. My favorites are Cheetos, tortilla chips, and celery with humus. I was just remembering how much I miss American Cheetos when I saw these products at my convenience store.

The blue bag is a ‘cold Chinese noodle’ flavor while the red bag is kimchi flavor. Both are decent, no cheese involved as in the States, yet they still keep the shape and texture.

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Below, the flavor is cheese and fish roe, or fish eggs. Interesting combination, I have not tried these yet.

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The last snack bag I found interesting is a combination. The sun chip looking piece on the left of the bag is yakiniku (grilled meat) flavor while the right hand tater looking piece is grilled guts, or innards. I tasted both. The meat is really salty with a strong flavor, but the gut piece is a strange taste. I can’t really put it into words. I suppose you’ll have to visit to Japan and have a taste for yourself!

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World Press Photo Exhibit

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Since 2004 I have attended the World Press Photo Exhibit with my pal McKill. Our first year was in DC while every year until now we viewed the show at the UN Building in NYC. Last week I went solo to see the wonderful exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Wasn’t quite the same without her! 

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Located near the JR Ebisu eki the photography exhibit was a reminder of the tragedy, beauty, and incredible world we live in. Of course, there was no photography allowed in the museum, but you can view all the galleries online. Many of the stories were extremely compelling but a couple of the news categories covered the Japanese tsunami. The photo essays were extremely emotional for the viewers and even myself.

The World Press Photo Exhibit will be in NYC August 15 – September 9, 2012. If you are unable to stop in I truly recommend checking out the website and planning a visit to your nearest exhibit next year! I know where I will be, and who with! 

DIA: Beacon

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While I was in NYC a few weeks ago I decided to beat the heat and head upstate to visit DIA: Beacon. Although my blog is intended to share information on Japan, I had such a wonderful experience upstate I want to share this lovely day trip.

The gallery space is absolutely amazing! DIA: Beacon is housed in what used to be the Nabisco box printing facility. Built in 1929 the building consists of brick, steel, concrete, and glass. You can find more information on the history and current exhibitions here.

I have never been anywhere that has such a unique, open, and clean space used for modern art. Once you step into the Richard Serra ‘wing’ it is an absolute humbling experience. I wandered in and out of the huge sculptures for awhile and enjoyed the wonderful natural light brought in by the wall of windows.

What persuaded me to take the day trip was the Sol Lewitt ‘Drawing Series…’ which in part has been on view since 2003. These are all wall drawings and have an incredible visual impact on the viewer.

I highly recommend making DIA: Beacon a priority if you are visiting NYC or if you ever need a fresh space to visit for inspiration. From Grand Central Station it takes a little over an hour to reach Beacon and then you can walk to DIA from there. I arrived around noon and stayed until 5pm, which was enough time to not feel rushed. Although once I left I knew I’d want to come back. Hopefully next time I’ll have ‘Cakes’ with m

Lake Kawaguchi

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Before heading back to the States Mr. Cakes and I decided to celebrate 8 months in Tokyo by heading to Mount Fuji and staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn. Most ryokans house an onsen, a Japanese bath. By Mount Fuji the onsen water is from a hot spring, which has amazing mineral qualities that do not dry out the skin. In addition, our stay included dinner & breakfast, which is why ryokans are more expensive than hotels (but totally worth it).

Once we reached Otsuki Eki we boarded the Fuji-san train. It’s hard to miss!! From there we headed to Lake Kawaguchi to enjoy the scenic view. When we arrived to the lake it was quite cloudy and there was no Mount Fuji to be seen. So after walking around for a while we checked into our ryokan, relaxed and enjoyed a lovely kaiseki dinner. A kaiseki meal refers to a traditional Japanese meal and has come to be known as a spread of many small dishes that consist of local ingredients or specialties from the area. Our meal was beautifully arranged and you’ll see below we had lots to enjoy! Mr. Cakes especially enjoyed the crab leg!

When we woke up the next day we still had no sight of Mount Fuji! But then, just as we were preparing to check out, the clouds broke and there it was, straight out from our patio was Mount Fuji! It was an amazing sight. We could hear ‘ahhs & ohs’ from other rooms nearby so we knew we were sharing a special moment.

The rest of the afternoon we walked around the lake and enjoyed the view of Mount Fuji. But by late afternoon the clouds reappeared and Fuji was out of sight! After a relaxing stay at the ryokan and a peaceful afternoon Mr. Cakes and I knew it was time to head back to the city. We purchased our refreshments and boarded the train to Tokyo. Another lovely experience in Japan and another place I look forward to returning to.

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Nikko Part 2

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The second day in Nikko was one of the most special days I have experienced in Japan. Mr. Cakes and I woke up early to pack up our things and leave our bags with the front desk while we spent the day exploring.

We started at the path near the Shinkyoko Bridge heading towards the shrines and temples of Nikko which are deservingly listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rinnoji Temple surprised us for a few reasons. First off, a building has been built around the temple while preservation work is being done. It was so odd to see this tall warehouse in the middle of the woods. The central building of Rinnoji Temple is the Sanbutsu-doh Hall, or Three Buddhas. There was no photography allowed so the photo below is from a Nikko tourism website.

The Three Buddhas were quite amazing. The central one was receiving a facelift, but his blue hair could be seen. Once we walked out we felt like we stepped into another world. The Sohrintoh Tower is located behind Sanbutsu-doh Hall. This piece is 13.2m high and made of bronze. As you can see below, our view seemed surreal.

Toshogu Shrine contain many beautiful landmarks and buildings. Some of our favorites were the ‘Story of Three Monkeys’, the Karadou-torii which was the first bronze Torii in Japan, and one of many remarkable trees – the Kouyamaki which is estimated to be over 360 years old and stands with a 3 meter diameter. In addition the Five Storied Pagoda which is close to the entrance,was built in 650, but was burned down in 1815, then rebuilt in 1818 and stands at 36 meters high.

There were so many details to take in at each temple and shrine. It is impossible to share everything. I hope you get an idea of how special Nikko is. I’ll let the pictures, taken by Mr. Cakes do the rest of the talking! Enjoy!

By 4pm the fog was starting to roll back through so Mr. Cakes and I knew it was time to leave Nikko and head back to Tokyo. If circumstances were different we would have stayed for 2 more days. But all things considered we felt pretty lucky to have had those two days together in the cool mountain air!

Summer Tea

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One thing most people know about me is that Earl Grey (EG) is my favorite tea. So it’s a wonderful coincidence that EG is very popular in Tokyo! While coffee shops are almost always guaranteed to serve EG, many places have the iced tea option as well. 

This week I noticed my local convenient shop / deli had a couple new Lipton products. I’m not sure if Lipton offers a variety of ready-made teas in the States, but since I’m in Japan I figured I’d try some out.

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I certainly appreciated the EG milk tea, however I was pleasantly surprised with the Jasmine & Lemonpeel. It has a mild jasmine flavor with the lemonpeel providing just enough kick to liven up the taste! The lemonpeel flavor is much more tasty than a lemon additive to tea. Look out for these in the States, and let me know if you see them! I will be drinking more of the Jasmine & Lemonpeel, especially in these hot temperatures.

Nikko Part 1

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Two weeks in the Tokyo humidity and I was ready to make a break for the countryside. In order to maximize our time away from the city Mr. Cakes and I decide to catch the shinkansen (bullet train) Friday evening from Tokyo Station to Nikko Station.

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The snap above shows the Nikko train station, note the water fountain (rock) in the front. The water is very fresh tasting! I had to share the snap below because the public bathroom at Nikko (a train station none the less?!) had fresh flowers! What a nice touch.

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Saturday morning we woke up early and headed towards Lake Chuzenji to spend some time exploring the waterfalls and relaxing in the fresh air. To reach the lake from our ryokan we had to board a bus that takes about a 15-20 minute ride up. 

We knew ahead of time we were not seeing Nikko at its peak, which is Autumn and Winter, but we really weren’t expecting to see this. NO waterfall!

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The mist / fog added to the mystique of this lake town. But it certainly limited our visibility! Nikko is actually known for having more than 40 waterfalls. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Ryuzu Falls or Keagon Falls because of the fog. Despite the weather conditions we had a wonderful time in cooler temps. Both of us even need jackets! 

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One of our favorite sights was the Shinkyo Bridge or Sacred Bridge. You can see below the amazing view which includes mountains, the River Daiya, and the striking red lacquered bridge.

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The bridge itself is 27m long, 6m wide, and 16m above the surface of water. One end of the bridge faces the entrance to Nikko Park and the 16,000 or so towering cedar trees.

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Once we left the Shinkyo Bridge we decided to grab a bite to eat before heading back to our Ryokan (Japanese Inn). The specialty in the area is Yuba. Yuba is a thin-film that forms on top of soy milk in the tofu making process. It is basically a thin, delicate layer of tofu, tasty!

Since we were in a cooler climate the popular dishes were soups. Every restaurant seemed to serve udon with yuba, soba with yuba, salad with yuba, and so on! Mr. Cakes went with the soba and had some shrimp tempura as well.

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I chose tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) with miso soup and a side of yuba dressed with sesame oil. Oyshii! After enjoying such ‘country size’ portions we walked back to our room and spent the evening talking about our favorite moments of the day! 

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Home Leave Summer 2012

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I am back in Tokyo after a wonderful trip to the States.

Landing in NYC with temperatures close to 100 degrees was not the welcome home I was looking for! Check out the photo above, a hot & hazy view of Central Park. The weather slowed me down but didn’t put a damper on my trip home! I managed to enjoy my time in the city and then head to Chicago for a few days before settling in downstate IL to see my family. Below, you can see the amazing Chi sky right before a rain storm. 

The highlights of my trip, in no particular order are as follows:

Diet Coke, pals (Sister, Bunny, McKill, Rx, Ket, Atts), attending a performance of ‘Storefront Church’, day trip to DIA: Beacon, girls night in AC with McKill, staying at the Palmer House with XVC, grilling out with family, surprise visit from Mr. Cakes, making dinner for my 93-year-old g’pa, and lots of time/ wine with Neeta 7.

Above, a nice Midwest portion of protein, while below you can see that I am really enjoying summer time!

Now that I am back in Japan I realize how little time I have left to explore and enjoy this amazing country. In another week or so I will be back to a regular posting schedule where I plan to share my continued adventures and experiences from all over Japan.

Stay tuned!