Climbing Mount Fuji with my dad was for sure The Highlight of my trip to Japan and South Korea, but it was a trip full of highlights. Some were repeats from last time I was in Tokyo two years ago, but many more were all-new adventures. I’ll start with the old favorites:
1: Tsukiji Market , Central Tokyo’s famous fish market, which we didn’t get to early enough (again) to see the giant tuna being sold for tens of thousands of dollars. We did track down the store selling the Best Knives in the World. We bought a few of the “Number One Knives,” not the “Number Two Knives.” Of course, before we’d been there, a Walmart knife was good enough. Now, we are Number One Knife snobs.
And we had the highly anticipated sushi brunch, which did NOT disappoint. That’s Japanese salmon, which you supposedly can only get in JAPAN (duh), and only this time of year.
2. Takeshita Dori, a crazy area in Harajuku, where you can buy all kinds of clothes, candy, toys. I think the average age of shoppers there is 18.
3. We stayed in the New Sanno Hotel, which is a military hotel (Dad, the Admiral. You remember). Natasha, the guard kitty, is still here. We met her 2 years ago. She’s still not excitable.
4 Now, for the new. I’d never been to Seoul before, so it was all new. Take-away impressions: There are SO MANY PEOPLE, and they’re all in a hurry and going the opposite way you’re going. There are stores and malls hidden everywhere, including the subway. There’s even a subterranean shopping center. The food is spicy and hot. All of it. Yum.
5. We stayed in the Hotel Aropa, which was ok. The location was great, close to the subway and the Namdaemun Market (great fun, open 24 hours). The room was small, but clean. Weirdly, there is a spa in the building, but it’s just for men. For kicks, if you are female, ask if you can go into the spa. The horror you receive from the front desk staff is pretty good. We did A LOT of shopping, in markets and in the giant Lotte Department store (go to the basement, look at all the food). Also checked out the Galleria, which is exactly what you expect.
Speaking of shopping, downtown Gangnam is apparently where you want to go if you want some work done. This medi-tower is 15 floors of plastic surgery offices. And it’s one of two, just on this block.
6. Changdeokgung Palace was the last used palace of Korean royalty. It’s the best-preserved and beautiful. It has a gorgeous secret garden in the back. It was 100 degrees and a million percent humidity the day we visited, so we made quick work of our token cultural visit (!). (We (I) wanted to visit the DMZ, which is a huge tourist attraction, but you needed to book a trip 3 days in advance, and we were only there for 3 days. I don’t think Pally was disappointed. She kept mentioning that North Korea always has 3 missiles pointed at Seoul.)
7. Gas mask dispensary in the Seoul subway. Maybe Pally isn’t so off the mark after all.
8. Back in Japan, the Trick Art Museum in Mt Takao, a medium long train ride from Tokyo. It’s a trompe l’oeil art museum, where you can “interact” with the paintings, which are on the walls and the floors. It’s pretty fun and we got some hilarious pictures.
9. The CAT CAFE!! Hapineko . It means “happy cat.” I’d been wanting to visit one of these for years. Finding this one was difficult, but the Admiral tracked it down after much asking clueless store employees and police officers in the area (How can they not know the cat cafe is RIGHT THERE???). It costs about 10 yen ($10 USD, more or less) to get in, but it includes cookies and a drink. You have to take off your shoes, leave your stuff, wash your hands, disinfect your hands, and promise not to molest the cats. It was awesome
10. Sumo! This time, we rode the bullet train (which I love) to Nagoya, about 2 hours or so away from Tokyo. We wandered through Nagoya Castle, which for some inexplicable reason had a bug and butterfly exhibit on one floor.
Short visit to the Nagoya Science Museum, which was random and fun.
Then, it was off to the sumo tournament. This was definitely a highlight. The fans were much rowdier here than they were in Tokyo two years ago. In fact, they were shouting and throwing their seat cushions in the air and getting hammered. HAMMERED. The object of sumo is for one large guy to get the other large guy to touch the ground with any part of his body besides his feet… or just to heave him out of the ring. You can go in skeptically, thinking this isn’t a real sport, but it doesn’t take long before you’re screaming your head off with the rest of the crowd. All in all, the tournament and the whole trip was Sumomentous. Sumonstrous. I can’t wait to see Sumore. (Su sorry for the puns.)