2009 - 2010

Day 5 - Ginza

Today we went to Ginza, which is sort of like the un-official capital of Tokyo (if a city can have a capital?). Our main purpose for coming to Ginza today was to see the Emperor of Japan in the Imperial Palace. This royal family only opens the gates to the palace twice a year and give a series of public speeches through out these days.

When we arrived we were greeted by tall skyscrapers, cool architecture and more of what we expected from the stereotypical “bussling Tokyo”.

The first stop was a large glass building called the “International Forum”. This place isn’t exactly an entertaining tourist attraction, but the building looks really cool and it is really close to the train station.

The next stop on our list of things was on the way to the Imperial Palace - “Character Street”. So we headed into the big city and walked for what seemed like quite a while, eventually we got to the main JR train station, which was filled  with shops, etc. We had heard of this “Character Street”, but I assumed it was an outdoor street with cartoon characters, either dressed up people, or statues or something like that. Well, it turns out its just an alley in the stations shopping center with shops for cartoon characters (Hello Kitty, etc.) - nothing too special if you ask me :P

After we got out of the train station, we headed out to the Imperial Palace grounds. This was a huge park in the middle of the busy city with large green gardens and a mote separating the city from the Palace grounds.

After walking through the long trail leading to the Palace grounds, we finally got the gates that are normally closed for most of the year. There were guards everywhere and security cameras in the bushes. Then we came to the security check where first we got our bags checked, then a metal detector run over our bodies and then a pat down.

Once that was done we got to a large open space with a huge building where everyone was gathering. Just as we stopped moving due to the crowds, everyone started waving their Japan flags really fast and cheering and we saw the Emperor and a group of other people appear at a window (most likely bullet proof). He gave his speech and before I could get a good shot, they were gone.

A Japanese man next to me had the same camera as me with a battery grip, pro lens and even a Nikon jacket! We actually had a very broken conversation until the next time the emperor came back for his next speech, which lasted 45 minutes or so. It was unreal, I was speaking English and he was speaking Japanese, but with a lot of guessing, hand signals and laughing we managed to hold a very friendly conversation!

After the second speech we said “Sayonara” and “Arigato” to our new friend and started heading out. On the way out we saw these two cute little girls in Kimono outfits. One of them was crying but I still went over to ask if I could take a photo. When I asked the mother quickly spoke to the little girls and the started fixing up their outfits for the photo. The girls stopped crying and happily posed for a photo with Amy (not this photo below, this was afterwards, I’m sure Amy will post that one).

We finally got out of the palace grounds and headed towards our next stop - the Toy Park - which is basically a huge multilevel toy shop. On the way we stopped by some nice gardens in the city to get some photos.
We got to the Toy Park fairly late by the time we got through the city and stopped at “Freshness Burger” (for a pretty crappy meal) and the doors were closed - they shut at 5pm

So because we missed out on that we headed to the Sony building. Out the front was a man carving out an ice sculpture. Inside was a multilevel exhibition of Sony products. Some of those products included “Rolly” the bluetooth enabled speakers  that roll around, dance and clap to the music; a really thin (and flimsy) laptop that was so small that a little piece of plastic had to drop down to fit the network plug in, a video camera on a wobbly platform to demonstrate antishake (next to one without antishake to compare) and my favorite, a dSLR that has HDR capabilities built in :)

After that we wondered around taking photos of the cool city night lights and eventually wanted to go find some food.

After walking around looking for somewhere more Japanese to eat, we were just about to give up when we spotted a little hut that was selling the same bean-filled snack as in Asakusa, so we stopped there and waited in line before going elsewhere. While they were queuing up, I decided to ask a near by local about where to go for dinner and to our surprise, this very kind lady by the name of Kazue who spoke great English and even walked us through the city to a good Japanese eatery.
Once we got to the hidden away restaurant in a back alley, Kazue even came in with us to help us order (as this place didn’t really look very English friendly).
We got in and the place was amazing! Very traditional looking where we got our own room for our group, a buzzer on the wall to call the waiter and we could either kneel or sit at the table.

While we were working out that to eat for dinner, we tried to convince Kazue to stay for dinner with us, but she had already eaten and was with her mum, so we exchanged details and planned on meeting again. This goes to show how nice the local Japanese people can be!