Friday, September 12, 2008

A dose of art and eating our way out of Tokyo

Day 9 (Tues, 3 June 2008)

Last day in Japan. I'd spent months planning for this trip and it felt like it was all over in a flash. But, no time for brooding! We're determined to enjoy this day to the fullest.

We didn't have a lot planned, our flight was at 5.30pm and we wanted to have a leisurely day. Out of curiosity, we went to explore the hot bath at our hotel. Yes, Hotel Edoya actually has its own outdoor hot bath on the top floor.

There are two separate bath areas, one for men, the other for ladies. When you open the door to either one, there is a common shower area that looks like this. Basically, you strip down to your birthday suit, sit on one of the stools and wash your entire body clean with soap and water. In full view of everyone! (We were very early, no one was around, that's why we could take pictures).

Once you are clean, you go past a sliding glass door where there is an outdoor bubbling hot bath. You soak inside and enjoy the soothing powers of the water, as relaxed as you can get sitting stark naked in a public place. You can bring a towel but it's to be folded and put on top of your head (??) It's considered very rude to dunk the towel in the water. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! Forget all the demure ladies you see on Japan Hour with a towel wrapped around their bodies when they're in a hot bath, that's just for the benefit of the camera.

For such a conservative society, I'm amazed that they have such an uninhibited practice. The Japanese are as fanatical about their hot baths as Singaporeans are about food.

Needless to say, we didn't indulge in a hot bath that day (and probably never will). Instead, we went back to our room and packed up to leave Hotel Edoya. Check-out time is 12pm and the hotel can store your luggage for you, but we didn't want to have the hassle of going out and returning to collect our luggage, so we checked out early and brought our luggage with us. To get back to Narita Airport, we were going to take the Keisei Skyliner at Keisei Ueno, so we had earlier planned to explore the Ueno area that day.

Here are the kids as we were waiting for a cab. As you can see, it was another wet day. By the way, you see these transparent umbrellas everywhere in Japan. They're very cheap (less than S$5) but also made of the flimsiest plastic. Often, within a couple of hours of usage, you would find the material tearing from the top, leaving gaping holes for the rain to seap through. Another evidence of the disposable culture in Japan.

We managed to hail a cab and piled in. I told the driver "Keisei Ueno" and showed him a printout of the name in Japanese, just in case. Without a word, he started driving. I was a little disconcerted. Did he hear me? I repeated "Keisei Ueno", a little louder this time. Again silence. I decided he just didn't want to acknowledge me. Maybe he was upset that we had wet his cab. That was the very first and only impolite Japanese we had met on the trip.

Keisei Ueno station was just a 7min drive away. We went to buy our Keisei Skyliner tickets and then we left our luggage at the lockers in the train station. I had done extensive research on this, even to the extent of finding out the size of lockers available at the station! What, you didn't think we were going to explore Ueno with bulky luggage, did you? There was even a nice elderly man, the keeper of the lockers, who tried to help us stuff all our luggage into one single ginormous locker so we would pay less.

Feeling much less encumbered, we headed out towards the National Museum of Western Art (NMWA). Ueno is home to quite a few museums - the National Science Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the NMWA. It's all located around or close to Ueno Park which is next to the Keisei Ueno and Ueno stations.

Why the NMWA? Well, in Japan, we'd experienced theme parks, nature and city shopping. Let's round it up with some culture. I've always liked western art, especially of the 19th and 20th century Impressionist painters, and the NMWA has arguably the best collection outside of the western world.

It definitely did not disappoint. It has an extensive collection of Monet and art pieces by the great masters like Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Gauguin and Van Gogh. The highlight and signature masterpiece of the NMWA is undoubtably Claude Monet's Water Lilies. It is absolutely stunning.

I'm just going to show a couple of other famous works, although there were many beautiful ones.

Roses by Vincent Van Gogh (left), Woman with Hat by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (right)

In the museum basement, there was a window that showed how the museum was built to withstand earthquakes. As you can see in the picture, it is fitted with an earthquake shock absorbing device in its foundation.

Outside the museum in the garden are several Rodin sculptures, the most famous one of course, being The Thinker.

There was another that particularly intrigued Andre. It was The Gates of Hell, also by Rodin. He was examining the sculpture with morbid fascination. I had to explain to him that it was the sculptor's impression of hell, not that he actually visited and saw what hell was like! (Trust me, I'm pretty sure that's what he was thinking). He was disturbingly absorbed with the graphic depictions of torment. Hmm... maybe that would motivate him to be good??

Satiated with culture, we then looked for a place to satisfy our stomachs. Lunch was at a restaurant within the huge Ueno station. There's actually a large shopping arcade inside the station. Ueno station is not to be confused with Keisei Ueno, the former is operated by the JR rail company. The stations are across the road from each other.
Lunch was not very memorable, hence no pictures. What was more interesting was the array of takeaway food sold at the arcarde, as shown here. Everything looked so appetising!

Throughout the trip, we ate a fair number of Bento boxes. You might wonder if we were sick of it, but honestly, the variety is so great that I think you can have a different one every night for a month and still have not tried everything! Here is a picture of how they are typically sold in shops or supermarkets.

And this is a picture of a counter selling just croquette. I'm making a special mention of croquette because I think they are truly exceptional. They're sold almost everywhere in Tokyo and are perfect as a side dish or a snack. Light and crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. The standard one is potato, but there are so many other flavours like shrimp, fish and vegetable. I saw one with the chinese word for "cow" on the label and I asked the lady, "beef"? She shook her head, did a little scissors action with her fingers and said "kani". Crab! The "cow" word actually stood for "milk", as it was crab filling with a cream sauce. It was delicious.

Immediately after lunch, the kids still managed to find room in their tummies to down a couple of pizza buns from the bakery. We probably each gained about 2kg in Japan. But hey, it's our last day here, we're entitled to binge a little, right? Which meant it was time for...


We came across a little dessert shop tucked away in a corner. It offers Japanese desserts of different kinds but mostly featuring the favourite flavours of the locals - red bean and green tea.

We love red bean, especially the azuki bean used by the Japanese, so we placed an order for something which had red bean ice-cream, red bean paste, red beans, mandarin orange slices and some unidentified white jelly slices.

I don't think Kenneth and I had much, the kids polished off most of it.

With bulging bellies, we staggered back to Keisei Ueno station to collect our luggage and catch the Skyliner back to Narita Airport. This is another super fast luxury train, complete with vending machines. And rotatable seats, of course.

We're smiling here but you know we were all reluctant to leave this wonderful city.

At Narita Airport, would you believe we went to a cafe and ate more food? (Don't let our diminuitive frames fool you, they can hold a lot of fuel). And then we spent the rest of our loose change on... MORE FOOD! We bought snacks that were not available in Singapore. I was just astonished by the different types of Glico Pocky available. Brazilian Pudding! Coconut! Edamame bean! Blueberry! We also bought a box of azuki bean caramel (which tasted like red bean Fruitella) and Pringles in guacamole flavour.

So it's sayonara Tokyo. We really had fun, we would love to be back. This has been one of, if not the most, enjoyable family vacations we've had.

Lesley-Anne moaned on the plane, "now we have nothing to look forward to." Well, at least we can relive our memories while munching on our Edamame bean Pocky.


Anonymous said...

Mon, may I check if you can remember the taxi fare from this hotel to the Ueno train station?

Thank you.


monlim said...

Oh gosh! That kinda was a long time ago... but it was a short ride and the traffic was smooth so if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say about Y1,600? About S$20 back then but the yen exchange rate is less favourable now.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mon. That is helpful enough. Y1600 is reasonable. Sorry, one more question, do we have to call for the cab or just walk out on the street and wait for one?

I can't wait to eat at Umejaya!! ^_^


monlim said...

Chris: It was raining then so Kenneth walked out onto the street and hailed one to come to the hotel driveway. Depending on the time you leave, as long as it's not peak hour, should be alright.

I'm so stoked to hear you're following my itinerary!! Do let me know how your holiday goes when you return. Did you check if Hotel Edoya has heating? Might be cold there in winter.

Anonymous said...

Mon, I showed my girls your pictures and they were so excited about the miniature bulding. Your blog has saved me so much trouble in planning!

Oh, I didn't check if got heater :-P. I went through the hotel list that I could possibly find on the net (that fixed into my budget and timiing), all only mentioned about air-condition but non mentioned about heater. So I presumed they have a central control heating facility..? Actually I was about to give up on booking Edoya because it was fully booked on the dates I wanted, only 2 days back that there was one room available, I quickly grabbed! LOL


monlim said...

Chris: That's the only reservation I have about Edoya, that they only had air-conditioning when I was there. I remember thinking, wouldn't it get v cold in winter? But I guess they should have some system, I don't think they'll let their guests freeze!! To be safe, just pack warm :)

Anonymous said...

Mon, for the benefit of your readers reading this blog. The air-conditioning in Tokyo mostly work 2 ways, it double up as a heated during winter.