( 4.4 ) ( 50
May 27, 2004 19:40
Pros: nice place, and
The cab ride to the airport is no problem and we got though passport
control without any issues. We are very happy to be boarding a plane
and not a train this time. When we go through security, Mark's backpack
is spotted for suspicious items and is searched. The can of fruit
salad we had left over from the train ride and the small can of
"Octopus in American Sauce" are removed. The options are
to open them (and eat them on the spot?) or check them as luggage
in their own small box. I decline both options and leave them on
the security counter. So whoever's Christmas stocking I have this
year won't have canned octopus in it. I'm sorry. Blame it on the
Chinese security guard.
The flight and arrival at Tokyo, Narita was fine. We made stops
to exchange currency, but couldn't change our Mongolian or Chinese
money which is a problem. We stop by the Tourist Information Center
and get some maps and directions. No problems getting our Japan
Rail (JR) Passes and the folks set up our tickets to get into Tokyo.
We ask about getting to our "hotel" and it takes the attendants
a few minutes of paging through maps to find it based on a printout
we brought along. Where is this place? They finally locate it and
give us detailed directions on which lines to take to get there.
They are very helpful. We take a bus to another terminal and the
second bank we try there will take our Chinese money which is great.
Still no love for Mongolia.
We get on an express train from the airport to Tokyo central station.
The ride is about an hour long and the seats are comfortable. On
the front of the train car is an electronic map which shows our
progress along the route. The country looks green out the window.
Many towns and rice paddies along the route, the rice is very pretty.
Tokyo station is very busy but everything is well marked in English
and we are amazed to easily find our way through the station to
the proper platform. The most difficult thing is learning to stay
to the left in the walking traffic. We ride to the next stop and
must switch here to a non-JR line which means we have to pay. As
we are fumbling with the ticket machine, the guy next to us stops
to walk us through it. More kindness. The ride out takes about 20
minutes and we exit the train station in our neighborhood.
It seems to be a regular "town" where many people commute
to the city but also work locally. There are shops and stalls around
the exit from the train, which eventually give way to restaurants
and bars and then to houses and apartments. All the streets are
very narrow (20' wide?) and the buildings are small. No grand estates
with lawns and all that. The effect is that you're walking down
a back alley lane when in fact it is the main drag in the town.
We walk the 15 minutes to our place and find our keys waiting for
us by the door. We step out of our shoes and into the slippers which
are waiting for us. The slippers are tiny and Mark is walking on
tippy-toe to stay in them.
The place itself (Hibari House) is essentially an upscale hostel,
where most people appear to be living here while working/studying.
There's a common room with tv, fridge, stove, table and this computer.
There are separate men and women baths, coin-op laundry and coin-op
showers. The showers give 8 minutes of water for $1, but you can
switch the water on and off as you go. With that little feature
you can shower using about 4 minutes of water only. We never would
After getting settled in we struck out to find some dinner. Not
far there was a quaint looking place with closed doors and Reen
stuck her head in and was greeted loudly by the owner, so we sat
on down. It is a sushi place. We were the only customers and sat
at the bar. It was quickly evident that we couldn't speak each others
languages, but were both eager to try. It seemed the sous-chef (the
main chef's wife) knew a few English words. With some hand drawn
pictures and smiling and pointing we indicated we'd like to spend
$15 each on dinner and sat back to see what we got. And of course
we're not quite sure what we got but it was very good. Mostly nigiri-sushi,
some rolls, salted soy beans, miso soup with tiny clams in it. Right
after serving up the first few pieces the chef spoke his first word
of English. Right out of the blue he said "Philadelphia".
We were amazed and nodded. Throughout the meal, the four of us continually
tried to communicate and had some success. We conveyed the basics
of our trip, both where we had been and what our plans were for
Japan. A major breakthrough that all four of us were proud of. It
was great to see that they were as eager as we were to communicate,
all smiles and laughs the whole time. At some point the chef complimented
Maureen on how well she uses chopsticks. High praise that Mark was
jealous not to have received himself. For dessert we had a frosty
beer on the house and left with many thanks and smiles. It was a
great first meal in Japan.
We headed back for bed and will set out early tomorrow to see the