NYC to Tokyo: A Rush to the Asakusa Festival
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Excited isn't enough to describe how I feel as I left my apartment from Manhattan's Upper East Side to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Actually, I was exhausted. After working 5 nights out of 6, I went out to have lunch with friends, went shopping, and watched Shakespeare in the Park's Twelfth Night in Central Park that ran until midnight. Anne Hathaway was the lead and I couldn't passed it up.
By then, I had to do laundry and start packing as soon as I arrived to my place. The airport shuttle van was schedule to pick me up at 6am! I packed hurrily, thankful to remember to bring a pair of sneakers and my sister's red winter jacket she left in my closet - it was a lifesaver! The van was right on time and I found myself dozing off while picking up several passengers in the upper west side and midtown, before heading downtown to Newark Airport.
The plane ride was a 14-hour non-stop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Tokyo-Narita International Airport. I watched 2 movies and caught 6 hours of sleep that rejuvenated me from the previous crazy 36 hours.
We arrived in Tokyo-Narita International Airport and breezed through customs and immigration. I already knew the drill from last year's trip (see Japan 2008 blog).
The train ride was 90 minutes long. No worries - we got some nap time and I enjoyed people watching while on the train before arriving in Ueno Station. From there, we took the Ginza line to Asakusa station and was enveloped by the humidity that of Japan's summer upon exiting the station. It was already 5pm and the humidity was still high.
Outside, Asakusa, Tokyo's one of the rare remaining neighborhood with the old Tokyo feel, was crowded with people. Finding the ryokan we were staying at was a challenge. The directions I got from the ryokan was clear but we couldn't find or rather differentiate the actual street from the other smaller streets. After turning left prematurely, we finally found it. But oh no!
Thinking that my friend has booked his own room, a miscommunication between us, since I provided him all the information of our accomodations, he didn't booked a room for this one thinking I have already made the reservations! Luckily, the room which I was sharing with another friend can accommodate a 3rd person and the staff said it was okay.
Ryokan Kamogawa, a traditional Japanese inn, is located in the center of Asakusa, less than 2 blocks away from the Nakamise Shopping street, Senso-ji and the Kaminari-mon and Hozo Gates. Also ideal for travelers for its close location to several metro/train stations. It small, which most ryokans tended to be, it is clean and charming. The staff were friendly, helpful, and speaks English.
I knocked on the door and my friend, Izumi, opened it! Yay~! We hugged, kissed on cheeks, and caught up on what's what while drinking hot green tea.
An hour later, I wanted to do some sightseeing before it gets dark. Mike, Izumi and I went to the Senso-ji, leaving Matt to his nap, via the Nakamise Shopping Street where shops specializing in local delicacies and array of souvenirs lined this very busy street. I found a small shop that sells a tempura-like pastry with bean paste inside. It was yummy! There were also shops selling flowers - not just any flowers but Chinese lantern flowers.
We reached Senso-ji, Tokyo's most oldest and famous temple, and followed the crowd climbing the stairs to the temple entrance. As others threw coins, clapped, and said their prayers, so did I. The Asakusa Shrine is located on the right of Senso-ji. A 5-story pagoda stood on the opposite side and it was where the festival is located.
I love festivals! Why? Because it means plenty of shops and food vendors! Food everywhere! Takoyakis, ebiyakis, okonomiyakis, hotdogs and sausages in Japanese style, pickled cucumbers on a stick, izakayas, fruit-flavored shaved ice, spicy rice cakes - and it goes on! Most I don't even know the names.
On our way back to the ryokan, we passed through the Rokkun Entertainment District. The sun had set by then and izakayas, small Japanese bar, now lined the street, filled with people starting off their weekend. We knew where to go for dinner! We arrived at the ryokan and woke up Matt. While we got ready, we dicussed our plans for Mt Fuji.
All ready for dinner, we returned to Rokku Entertainment District where a line of izakayas dominated the street. The first izakaya we tried was full and luckily, we found one where a group just left. It was the only izakaya on the street with pink-colored lanterns!
Izumi ordered for us. As per Matt and Mike, no animal insides. LoL. So we settled for beer and various Japanese tapas of chicken, beef, pork, and fish.
A couple of hours later, we left, satisfied but not quite.
An hour later, 2 rounds of beer, a grilled ika (squid), and photos, we walked Izumi to the Metro Station, before going to a 7-Eleven for some water, stock up on some breakfast for the next day, and withdraw yen from the ATM!
An early night - midnight - was needed because we have an early day for Mt Fuji!