Friday, June 28, 2013

Americana Day in Tokyo

There comes a day on every international trip when we crave all things American. Today was that day.

I’m tired of pork. Tired of the rain. Tired of learning how to navigate a new city. Tired of new rules with a new transportation system. Tired of walking on the right when the rest of the people walk on the left. Tired of not understanding the most basic stuff. And tired of being tired.

Introducing Americana Day!

We slept in a little later and woke up around 8. We could have used more sleep, but we really did not want to miss the breakfast buffet. Once again,
the breakfast buffet was an odd assortment of Western and Japanese foods. Many of the Japanese food items looked good, but they are not what use westerners think of when we think of breakfast – rice, curried chicken, side dishes, green salad, etc. Tomorrow we are trying the Western Breakfast restaurant. We’re all hoping for waffles, pancakes, or (for me) French Toast. We’ll see what we get. (It was the same food, only served to the table rather than buffet-style.)

Being in a new city, and a very large one at that, means everything takes so much longer to navigate. We decided to start our day out on foot with some power shopping. First stop, back to the electronics super store to search for a new (bigger) lens for my new camera. Score one for B&H who works out to about $100 cheaper than the cheap Japanese electronics store for the same model. It is now on my birthday  / Christmas wish list.

We found a 100 Yen Shop (their answer to the Dollar Stores by us), but were almost out of yen, so we had to find an ATM. Next stop was the Disney Store (we forgot to buy souvenirs at Tokyo Disney). Struck out here as most items looked like things we could find back home. The only really unique item was chop sticks, but we are making out fine with the ones we bought from EPCOT a few years ago. In the same mall was a sporting goods store so Don continued the quest for a specific type of kick stand for his bicycle. Still no success.

We then spent a frustratingly long amount of time hunting around the Shinjuku Station for the right subway line to go 4 stops to find Hard Rock Café. It was at this point I was in tears. The Shinjuku Station is enormous. It has several different types of trains and subways coming into it, and each of them has several lines. Each type has their own entrance and their own ticketing system. The signs are mostly in Japanese, with just enough English tossed in to lull us into thinking there is a chance we’ll be able to do this without help.

We successfully made it to the right line going in the right direction. Got off and tried to ask for directions. We found some Americans trying to do the same thing. Somehow we were led to the exact wrong direction. 

Yes, it was still raining. The gentleman at a cell phone store gave us

directions and offered us an umbrella. I spent a year in Belgium without an umbrella, I never use one at home, but this trip is breaking me down to want to join the umbrella group. Tomorrow morning has a chance of rain, then the rest of our trip should be clear -- I hope! I’ve never encountered this much rain, even with living in Belgium.

We finally found Hard Rock Café Tokyo. It felt like a pilgrimage stop. We each enjoyed a nice, juicy burger. 

It was lunch time, so they tossed in a bowl of cream of corn soup. Since it was lunchtime, they were running a burger special – a 6 oz. plain burger for about $10. Ashley was set! We recently learned that Ashley's favorite soup is cream of corn. We didn't even know she liked ANY soup. This will help us with her quest to be a vegetarian.

The peach iced tea with unlimited refills was a whopping $6, but somehow the server forgot to charge us for it. At that point, it really didn’t matter. I wanted the iced tea that much! I was happy it came in a huge, American-sized glass. Don was thrilled to be able to read every word on the menu.

It wouldn’t be a trip for us to an international Hard Rock Café without a trip to the souvenir shop. Ashley left with a t-shirt, I left with a cotton shirt (similar to one I was eyeing up at Kohls a few weeks ago, but with a discreet Hard Rock Café Tokyo on it) and Don picked up a sweatshirt. With the non-stop rain, he left the store wearing the sweatshirt.

We had some time to kill and thought it would be fun to explore Tokyo on foot. How hard could it be? Well, the clerk at Hard Rock Café, who relocated to Tokyo from France, put us in the exact wrong direction. By this time it was 3:30 and we were meeting up with Hiroko at the baseball game at 5:30. What should be an hour-long ride we knew would take us twice as long so we found a station.

We were warned the trip to the baseball stadium would involve three transfers. Since we were not even at our starting location (Shinjuku Station), it would take four transfers. What we had not been told was that each transfer was to a completely different type of train, therefore each one required a different ticket and a different guess as to how much that ticket would cost and what platform to use to catch it. With a lot of help from ticket station guards (they do not have agents in Tokyo train stations) and by showing them our tickets to Seibo Stadium to see the Lions play, we made it to the right station 12 minutes before our agreed upon meeting point.

It was still raining when we got to the end of the line.

Fortunately the Seibo Stadium decided to put a dome across it about 10 years ago. For the most part we were dry. The dome covers the playing field, and the seats, but not the concourse with the food and souvenirs.

Everyone told us just how different Japanese baseball is to American baseball. We were just surprised by the similarities. It reminded us a lot of a Thunder game. The players were announced by position in English as they took the field. The mascot made some appearances. The first pitch was thrown out by a local celebrity (some actress/model). People cheered. Lots of food and souvenirs were for sale. Each player has an individual song that is played when he is at bat.

Some differences: this stadium had a blanket section for cheap seats in the deep outfield. This seemed to be the party section. There was a man in a kimono leading the cheering section, another one in the back beating a 6 foot wide drum, he was accompanied by a couple of other “musicians.” It was very festive. 

Beer was sold until the end of the game
(instead of until the middle of the 7th inning, for you non-baseball fans). The 7th inning stretch was replaced by a 7th inning victory balloon release (hopefully we got a good picture of this).  At one point with two men on, the entire stadium seemed to say a prayer and bow. I didn’t quite catch what was happening. Many people wore Lions shirts over their office clothes. I found that amusing.

The crowd seemed to cheer distractingly loud whenever the situation got the most tense (like when there are two men on base, two outs and a full count). Maybe it’s just me, but this is when I tend to get the quietest. I must go back to a Thunder game to see how others react.

We bumped into someone wearing a Phillies shirt, which led to a conversation. He is stationed with the Air Force in Japan. He keeps asking to be sent to Maguire, but so far he has been sent to London, Seattle and now Japan.

In the bottom of the 8th inning with two outs, the home team hit a home run. The crowd went wild and stayed that way. The Lions won! More blue victory balloons (available for purchase for 200 Yen (=$2) apiece, you supply the air) were released.

I feel like I’m supposed to say more about this experience, but truly it reminded me much more of a Thunder game than I would have expected. So many people told me I have to check out a Japanese baseball game that I feel as if I missed something. It was oddly a great way to spend a rainy night.

We were dreading coming out of the stadium and having to wait around for a train. They had this covered. There were four trains lined up designated as express trains to where we had to go. This eliminated a transfer for us and its terminus was where we had to go anyway. Hiroko’s friend bought us our train tickets (with our money) so he was able to purchase us tickets straight to the Shinjuko Station.

Only one transfer instead of three. There was only one choice of train at the start (many more at the switch, but Hiroko told us the key words to search for). We definitely made it back to the hotel in much less time.
Tomorrow we break out the all-day subway pass and try to explore as much as possible. This should be interesting. The subway pass I was so proud of purchasing at the start of our trip is only valid on some of the lines. I’d love a map that just shows what we CAN do with our pass, and not everything. I’d be just as overwhelmed in NYC, but at least there I can speak the language.

Here is to hoping for a better night’s sleep.

More pictures of Tokyo

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