Today was our first full day in Japan and it was action packed. Yesterday we travelled to Tokyo from Yokohama on the Shinkansen or Bullet Train. As it turns out this was the slowest way to get to Tokyo from Yokohama. The Semester at Sea folks had organized a free shuttle to Yokohama Train Station and from there it was about 45 minutes by the regular train. To catch the Shinkansen you must depart from a different station, called Shin-Yokohama. From the ship we walked through part of Yokohama, caught the subway to Shin-Yokohama and then boarded the Shinkansen for the twenty minutes journey into Tokyo. Total time about 75 minutes or 20 minutes longer than the total time if we had taken the slow train! But it was another thing on our bucket list. John did travel on a bullet train in Korea but JoAnn had never experienced it.
I should probably mention how happy everyone was to disembark MV Explorer. The crossing from Hawaii to Japan seemed quite long to many students, nine days at sea. The day before we arrived in Yokohama was very rough. You might remember we had been out maneuvering several weather systems since departing Honolulu (including departing nearly a day late). Well the weather finally won. It was almost like a chess game that you think you are winning and then the opponent calmly says “checkmate.” We had sustained winds of 65 mph (that is hurricane force) combined with waves of 25′ … it was a very uncomfortable day. Many reports of things falling and even beds sliding across cabins (with people sleeping in them!). All this to say we were all very happy to see Japan the next morning. The storm ended about 3AM and this allowed us to get a few hours sleep.
Our first sight of Japan was Mt Fuji … it was breathtaking … A very nice welcome to the country. As we approached the pier a fire boat was streaming water to welcome us. On the roof of the terminal a band played and dancers danced. A very nice welcome.
Okay, fast forward to us arriving in Tokyo after a Shinkansen ride. We arrived Tokyo Station and decide to walk the 1.5 miles to our hotel. It was a beautiful day and we walked by the Imperial Gardens and through Meiji University before arriving at the Hotel Niwa. Our room is very nice but is about the same size as our cabin on Explorer. Pathetically, the highlight is high-speed Internet access 🙁 That is no reflection on our room which is perfectly fine … just a sad realization that we are geeks.
This morning started with a scrumptious Japanese breakfast, with possibly the best strawberries we have ever eaten. After breakfast we walked about 10 minutes to the Tokyo Dome Hotel, the pickup point for our tour. At precisely 8AM, the appointed pick-up time, Nagi-San approached and asked if we were doing the all day tour. She asked us to take a seat and returned to say we would take a taxi to the pick-up point. She escorted us into a beautiful taxi and we headed off.
Once we met up with the other passengers, only eight including us, the tour started. Our first stop was Tokyo Tower, a pretty standard observation tour, but one with a great view of the city and Mt. Fuji in the distance See the link below if you want to see a few pictures … you know a pictures is worth a 1000 words :-). After the Tower we headed to Meiji Shrine, which is a Shinto Shrine named after the Emperor Meiji. Next was the Imperial Place Garden and a drive through the Ginza shopping distinct. We then had a very nice Japanese lunch before heading to the Hama-Rikyu Garden. A short drive then we boarded a boat for a Sumida River cruise, after which John fought and supposedly defeated a Ninja in a sword battle. Finally, we visited Asakusa Kannon Temple, a Buddhist temple from the 17th century. The day ended with JoAnn fighting a Samurai for our freedom.